While other sports take centre stage overseas, it is the great game of AFL football that is fully entrenched within the hearts of minds of the majority of Australia. The offseason is spent scouring the form guides to find the best young talent that will be injected into the 18 different clubs that cover the length and breadth of Australia as we eagerly await the start of each season.
When the season rolls around, we brave the crisp wintery weather and fill stadiums across the land to hopefully cheer our chosen team onto victory. It is this simple please that it ingrained within millions of Australian that makes our game so great.
It most cases, you are born into a family that support a specific club and are brought up supporting it. A chosen team of a family can span generations and over the years is strengthen through their inherent love of their chosen club.
Back in 2008, the AFL celebrated their 150th year anniversary which is a testament to the game and its strength. The fact that the pure and simple pleasure of watching 22 men kicks the ball through two sticks has stood the test of time is what makes the game so great.
Even as a series of archaic men that sit on the rules committee try and manipulate the rules to in their eyes, fit in to modern ideas, fans are still filling stadiums and making our code the most popular sport in the land. While the overall culture of footy fans and the quirks which exist have played out across a myriad of media types, the specific cultures that represent those who follow them are the lifeblood of footy and all that it encompasses.
Take the much talked about North Melbourne outfit as example of the undeniable rich culture that can exist within football clubs. The acclaimed ‘Shinboner spirit’ is still used to refer to camaraderie and determination of players or members of the Roos, despite North Melbourne switching its official nickname from Shinboners to Kangaroos in the 1950s.
This binding spirit still pervades the club’s players to this day. For many of their loyal fans, it is the ‘Shinboner spirit’ is what swayed them to originally support the club. In 2005, one of the North Melbourne greats, Glenn Archer was named the ‘Shinboner of the Century’.
It is the Roos’ great belief in this mantra that ensures that the club has overcome recent challenge and continue to thrive.
Perhaps also consider the predicament of the Demons. Founded in 1858, the Melbourne Football Club is the oldest professional football club in the world and its founding members are responsible for creating Australian Rules Football.
The very fact that their existence has been questioned is an insult to the loyal members of the Demons that are continuing to stick by their beleaguered club in the face of adversity. If it were not for the Melbourne club, the other 17 clubs and their supporters would not have been created.
Many critics directed their vitriol at the AFL for shifting the Swans up north but even to this day, the South Melbourne roots are prevalent through the use of the term ‘Bloods’. The colloquial nickname stemmed from the 1945 VFL Grand Final. The game, played in extremely wet and muddy conditions, is remembered as ‘the Bloodbath’ for its overall continuous violence.
It is the mantra that is still attached to the Swans jumper to this day and is displayed through the seemingly never say die attitude that the Sydney Swans player posses. In a town where AFL football plays second fiddle to other codes, it was imperative that the Swans plays showed that steely resolve to win over fans. Fast-forward to 2013 and Sydney could not be in a stronger position both on field and off it.
Tom Willis, the co-founder of Australia football also recommended the formation of the Geelong Football Club in July 1859, a few months after the Demons created. The formation of the Cats allowed those living in country areas to embrace a club and form their own, unique culture. Geelong are now a modern day powerhouse and this is demonstrates the power that a regional area can have on a truly national game.
On the contrary, both the Gold Coast Suns and GWS have been thrown into the cultural melting pot that is AFL football and it is up to them to form their own unique footy culture. While the Suns are now showing a glimpse into what to expect in the future, the Giants are still yet to form their own identity both on and off the field.
It is imperative that they find this sooner rather than later as a cogent footy culture on field is reflected into how their growing supporter base supports theirs.
In this modern era, we often neglect the little things that make this game so great. In many respects, we need to strip back the modern inconsistences that exist within our game and appreciate the things that make our code so unique.
The fans indomitable love for the game is special and in many cases, dates back hundreds of years. It is imperative that we embrace it in the years to come, rather than tame it.