“Alright tapers… time for the third line! And quickly, the club’s gonna pull the lights on us in 45.”
The unrelenting cracking sound as strips of masking tape are torn from their rolls fills the training room at Ikon Park, as the Carlton cheer squad set to work. Quickly but carefully, they’re making the banner for Mick Malthouse’s record game as coach tonight.
As you’d expect, the floor is covered in large letter-shaped ribbons of white paper, which the members tape into place based on the sayings approved for use by the club.
Jovan Kurilic has been head of the cheer squad for seven years. On this Tuesday night, as with every other banner-making session, he stands at the start of a sort of production line, printing out the letters onto large sheets of paper while some kids form a circle at his feet as they cut the letters out to be taped down into words.
“I think what I like most about the banner nights is it’s when I most feel part of the club,” Jovan says.
“Obviously it feels better when the Blues win like they did on the weekend, but you still get a natural high from being involved like this. Plus, we’re like a big family here: I’m good friends with people that I wouldn’t be friends with otherwise, and I’m guaranteed to see most of them every week this way,” he continues, reaching for the homemade baklava and peanut brittle people have brought to share.
These days, the banner itself is made out of drill cotton rather than crepe paper, and re-used from week to week to save money and time.
“We still use crepe paper for heritage round,” Jovan explains, “but with the quilt it means you don’t get issues with rain or wind breaking it before the players run through.”
The workrate of the banner-makers slows when Liam Jones and Cameron Wood show up to lend a hand, the rolls of tape briefly swapped for selfie sticks as the conversation shifts from family reunion to tactics for tonight.
In a year when AFL clubs are talking ‘fan engagement’ and ‘pre-game initiatives’ to bring people back to the grounds and hiring people to oversee this, the humble match-day banner remains one of the most important activities in maintaining the relationship between club and supporter.
“It’s just exciting – to make the banners and to see them raised on match day,” says Matt, one of the longest-serving members of the cheer squad.
While some footy fans consider the tradition bizarre or outdated, Matt doesn’t see nights like this dying out in his lifetime. “Nah, I don’t think so, it’s too much a part of footy culture,” he explains.
Jovan agrees. “You know, making the banner might be ignored or not seen as quite as important – I’m pretty sure Carlton’s gonna employ one of those fan engagement officers soon actually – but the club’s aware of how important this is for community development along with the match day operations and charity stuff.”