Every single AFL supporter at some point in their lives has become frustrated with their side. Whether it be an unexpected loss, a run of bad form or even as simple as only just getting over a side supporters perceived as “weaker”.
Perceptions go a long way in football – where teams appear to be placed, who should win or lose, how much the margin should be. In many cases, fans frustrated with their teams stop showing up to games they are perceived by many to have lost before a ball has been bounced.
I am certainly not immune to the frustrations of AFL football. There have been times where I have probably wanted to massacre a pillow in frustration or scream at the top of my lungs at the players running around inside the little magical box we call a television.
Believe me, the amount of times I have screamed ‘kick it’ to a player but for some communication error, they refuse to listen to me. I am only sitting on my couch in my lounge room, trying to coach them. Like every single one of us do.
Everyone has the right to feel frustrated, angry, sick to the stomach and an array of similar feelings towards their side. It shows we care about our club. For some sets of supporters, it is more about a way of life than a game of 44 men kicking a pigskin around an oval.
During the depression and other events that impacted Victorians livelihoods, Australian Rules football was the one shining light in their otherwise disappointing lives. Even today, when a supporter might come back from a low paying job that they only do to survive, they come home to look forward to the weekends to see their side running out in the hope it might brighten up their lives, even for a weekend.
It is this hope that often brings supporters to the edge and often cross the line, bypassing sense and reason, instead taking the road to blind faith and high expectations. This often means that supporters who witness a good win, lift the bar of expectations to expect to beat any side below that bar. Then, when their side loses, they cannot fathom how it happened and take their frustrations out on either the players, coaches or other supporters, whether they are of the same following or not.
Unfortunately the biggest bandwagoners are often associated with the successful clubs. Success breeds followers, who in turn can disassociate with the club when it has its inevitable downward spiral. The traditional Victorian clubs Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Geelong, Hawthorn and Richmond have all had their fair share of bandwagoners.
If the side is travelling well, a bandwagoner is hard to spot, however as soon as the going gets tough, the bandwagoners get going. Carlton has not had much success of late, but once they secured Mick Malthouse, the amount of fans who jumped on board and then within two seasons had jumped ship, was beyond belief.
At Collingwood, there are fans who just cannot fathom that the Pies could not string together successive premierships and damn that Buckley deal that ruined the whole club. It does not matter if I supported it then, we are not winning, so it was a bad deal. Do not worry, when we start winning a few, I’ll be praising the club’s smart thinking.
Over at Essendon, the fans were put through hell in the supplements saga and stuck by their coach in what was quite an amazing rally of faith, whether than be blind or true. But the moment the Bombers start losing matches? Much like the Queen of Hearts in Alice and Wonderland ‘it’s off with their heads’.
After so much success over the last decade, Geelong fans have been known to drop their heads at the first sign of a decline. After winning a premiership in 07′ and winning more than 20 in a row, the Cats fell to Collingwood in a one-sided contest early in 2008. A famous caller rang in to Triple M at half-time and said “I’m at the train station and I’m not alone”. After winning that many on the trot, many Cats fans had walked out after a rare disappointing display.
Hawthorn fans right now are the envy of the competition. Bandwagoners are hard to come by because they are the back-to-back premiers. But if they do not win it this year and start to dip early next year, there will be a tidal wave of bandwagoners waiting to find the lifeboats to get to a remote island.
Richmond fans are often the ones all the other clubs pick on. Not because of their feralness like Carlton or Collingwood, but for their unique ways of self-imploding once it appears they will either miss the finals or choke again. Microwaving memberships has become synonymous with this great club, and while there are finals on the horizon, if the Tigers go out in straight sets or do not win a final, watch out or the Tiger roar.
From what I’ve witnessed, being in Victoria, the best clubs for the least bandwagoners are Melbourne, Western Bulldogs, St Kilda and North Melbourne. It is no surprise that three of these four teams hold the least premierships of the Victorian sides. The other, has not won a flag since the 60s.
This is where the correlation of success = increased bandwagoners comes in. If a club has provided success over a period of time, whether than be a few years or a few decades, fans clutch onto that success as if it should last forever.
For clubs that have not expected success or had much relief over the last few decades, it is no surprise, when the going gets tough, the supporters just cop it on the chin.
This is why I could not speak more highly of Melbourne and Western Bulldogs fans. Regardless of where they are at and how bad results get, their fans from my perspective have always stuck by their side. Even in the dark years, Melbourne supporters seemed to turn out.
This is not to say those clubs do not have their own bandwagoners, but they seem to have less. No doubt if they start finding success, they might gain a few temporary bandwagoners, but it is yet to be seen.
Unfortunately there is nothing anyone can do about bandwagoners, all one can hope is that the club understands these people are not reflective of the overall supporter base. Sure, even the most reasonable supporters vent their anger at times, but true supporters stick with their team through and through.
Speaking from experience, if you go through the hard times, you appreciate the good times so much more. So while your side might not be experiencing a good run of form or have snuck below your expectations, stick with them through thick and thin. That is what true supporters do.
The message is do not become a bandwagoner, because success is worth more after disappointment and it tastes so much sweeter.