Brett-Deledio

“You traitor.”

What kind of person deserves to have this said about them? A person who plots to kill the King? A wartime spy who betrays his country by leaking military secrets to the enemy? Tony Abbott? Kevin Rudd? Both?

Or someone who starts barracking for a different football team?

The answer is probably all of the above. If you’ve changed teams and have the guts to ‘fess up, you’ll probably be received with the same expressions of disgust and incredulity as you would if you admitted to any of these other transgressions.

Swapping teams has been stigmatized as something you just don’t do, something people never fail to remind me of when I tell them I switched from Richmond to St Kilda when I was 10.

I know you’ve probably judged me now I’ve told you that, but let me plead my case.

I started supporting Richmond, aged seven, because it was my Dad’s team. It was 2001, one of only two years in the previous 20 that Richmond would make the finals.

Unaware of the Tigers’ history of inconsistency, I geared myself up for years of glorious success with them. For my adoration, Richmond rewarded me with three spiritless years at the bottom of the ladder and a wooden spoon.

My heart and faith broken, I decided to jump the sinking ship and get on board with the up-and-coming St Kilda, a calculated decision I still don’t regret 10 years on.

Over that time, I’ve shared in the success of the St Kilda team of 2004 to 2010, a team which reached six finals series and three grand finals – albeit with no premiership – broke club records for winning percentage, longest winning streaks and highest winning margins multiple times, and featured Coleman and Norm Smith Medal winners.

Richmond, by contrast, made their first finals appearance since 2001 only last year, and don’t look like accomplishing that feat again soon.

I believe the team we choose to support should be the one that we feel will give us the most happiness over time, and help us get the most enjoyment out of our sport-following experience.

Yet most people choose a team to follow for reasons totally unrelated to their long-term happiness. Instead, their decisions are predicated on much less significant factors such as what suburb they were born in, what team they grew up watching, the team colours, song, or in my case what team their mum or dad supports.

This isn’t to say I don’t understand the general belief that changing teams is a felony, or that being there for a club’s low points make you appreciate the highs all the more.

I get all that. Footy clubs are as devotional as any faith to most supporters – especially in Melbourne – and it follows that anyone who can’t stick with a team through thick and thin is an infidel, not worthy of being considered a ‘real’ supporter.

But AFL is now in an era where loyalty is valued without being guaranteed. Franchise clubs are popping up around the country like groundhogs, people have second and third teams – let’s face it, if you don’t support Collingwood, you support anyone playing them – and more players chop and change teams each year in search of more success or more money (Lance Franklin, anyone?), putting pressure on their families and friends to switch allegiance too.

With so many reasons to change teams, and more people doing so, why do supporters of AFL still refuse to accept people who switch just because they want to?

It’s time people understood that following a sports club – any club, not just AFL – should not be about peer pressure or a sense of duty or loyalty to others, but about the pleasure you personally get out of being a part of your chosen teams’ quest for success.

If this involves changing which club you support, then so be it: there’s no reason to be ashamed about wanting to get the most enjoyment you can out of footy. (In fact, isn’t that the very reason people watch the game in the first place?)

And you can bet I’ll never stop supporting this idea.