Sunday 20 May 2012

AFL Fans: I don't get it

The following of a particular sport personality is something that I can identify with. I get it. Being a fan of somebody or something is definitely a concept that I'm familiar with. Although I don't follow sports myself, I can understand idolising a particular person for being at the top of their field.

Anyone who knows my girlfriend will know that she idolises Valentino Rossi and Michael Clarke. They've both proven themselves in their respected professions, and are handsome to boot; What's not to like about them? I personally do idolise people from other fields; Musicians, game designers, movie makers and actors. I do this because again they've proved to the world that they're good at what they do, and I not only respect them for it but look forward to their future creations.

Barracking for Australia in the Olympics or the World Cup? Again, I totally get it. There's a certain amount of national pride that most people feel in this country, and to support your fellow citizens in an athletic contest against the rest of the world is somewhat patriotic. I personally am not really phased about the outcome of the Olympics; Proving that we are "better" I think is a bit of an arrogant concept to begin with, but I understand it.

Barracking for an AFL (Australian Football League for the rest of the world) or Rugby team though? I honestly don't get it. My entire life this had eluded me, and I frequently get the piss taken out of me for it.

For the longest time I didn't have a "team" in AFL, and would be chastised for it. Members of my family (my father, my brothers) all went for the Hawthorn Hawks back when Jason Dunstall was a household name. Despite this, I didn't identify with AFL and therefore didn't side with my family on this point. If anybody asked me what team I went for, I simply said "I don't follow AFL." I soon learned that this was not an acceptable answer. Apparently, males have to support AFL and therefore have a "team".

After getting sick of the attention I would constantly get for not "going" for a particular team, I chose to go for the Collingwood Magpies arbitrarily because one of my best mates went for them, and immediately found out that I had made a fatal decision. Little did I know at the time (this is going back 7 or 8 years now), Collingwood are apparently the most despised AFL team in the country by everyone who isn't a Collingwood fan. I had somehow made a choice that was even worse than not going for a side to begin with.

I moved interstate to Brisbane a few years later and my Collingwood supporter past was behind me. It was during my tenure there that my friend Yani decided to take me along to see a live AFL game. Now, I understood the rules at a very basic level (e.g. I knew that they had to "mark" balls and kick "goals or points"), but I was worried that as I didn't have a team to go for I'd immediately be outed as an imposter by the real footie fans.

My colleague Phil just said, "Choose a team, doesn't matter which, and scream "BALL!" whenever they're in a tussle. You'll work it out."

We were going to watch the Brisbane Lions and the Carton Blues battle it out that evening. I suddenly had a realisation:

I don't have to choose a side arbitrarily now, 'cause I actually live in a city that has their own team! I'll go for the Brisbane Lions!

This was a choice I was comfortable with, as I could logically back up the reason why I was supporting this team. This choice would throw me into jeapordy later however, as a few months after that I ended up taking a job in Sydney. My ingenious plot had worked against me, and I was left without a team again. I could continue to support the Brisbane Lions, but really I couldn't justify it. Either to myself, or anyone else.

I had moved into a share house with a couple of Geelong Cats supporters. They would fire up the game on a Saturday afternoon, and sink some beers while screaming at the TV. I explained to them that I didn't really understand a great deal about AFL and that I didn't have a team.
"No worries," They said, "We'll teach you what it's about, and you can go for the MIGHTY CATS!"

That was that. I would watch the occasional game with these guys, learn the rules over time and I would have a team to support. They'd keep me clued in regarding their ladder situation and the personnel changes, so I would be informed enough to actually carry a football-related conversation whenever I got trapped in one at work or at a social function. It was working perfectly until something happened.

The Geelong Cats made it in to the Grand Final against Collingwood. I was now in a position that I was "barracking" for a team that was going against my former team, if you could call it that. In actual fact, I didn't really care which side won, I was there more for the social aspect.  I went along to the pub to watch the game with a bunch of mates, including Yani who had actually taken a job in Sydney also before I had moved down.

As it happened, Geelong won and we were all happy except for Christian, the poor solitary Collingwood supporter in the whole pub. It was then that my web of lies began to unravel.

"You told me that you went for the Lions..?!" Yani says. I stood there, frozen, mid-sip of my beer. I didn't know what to say.
"Well, er, I did go for the Lions, in Brisbane."
"Whoa! It doesn't work like that Josh! You pick a team, and you stick with it."
I had been outed, my façade has shattered. Everyone who was still standing, which luckily was only Yani and Katie at this point, was looking at me. Katie chimes in.
"She's right, you can't just go picking another team! Turncoat!"
My face went red as I tried to formulate a response that would adequately diffuse the situation. I don't recall what I said in the end, but they weren't buying it.

...and the truth is, I really don't get it. These two girls went for teams in towns that they'd never lived in. Hell, they may not have even been to the places that they were from. Why such loyalty? If they chose the team because of a particular player, eventually that player may change teams and will eventually retire. Same with the coaches. Even from a geographical sense, these teams swap and change with other teams all over the country. It doesn't matter where a player is from, they can play in any team they like. Which means that over the course of their lifetimes, the entire roster would cycle and the only thing that would remain unchanged would be the name of the club. Yet, they endure.

What about if this happens in the future, will you still barrack for them?

I can only surmise that it is some sort of warped Brand Loyalty. Like Coca-Cola versus Pepsi, or Holden versus Ford. In the video game console space, there's a big PlayStation versus Xbox war, but again I don't get it. I have one of both, and prefer the Xbox over the PlayStation for a few different features. The moment those features are no longer better than the PlayStation offering however, I'll happily switch camps and may prefer the next iteration of the PlayStation over the next Xbox. I've owned a PC and a Mac. I've owned an iPhone and a Windows Phone. My current TV is a Samsung, but my next might be a Sony. Or an LG. I don't know, I'm happy to weigh up the features of them all and buy the one that is better at the time.

The problem with this warped brand loyalty is that people get in serious fights over these arguments. The internet is full of angry forum posts saying why one thing is better than the other, and I'm mostly okay with this if it isn't fuelled from an emotional standpoint. People at football games get in fight. Yeah, the physical kind where somebody gets punched in the head. What on Earth have these sporting teams done to indoctrinate their fans so completely.

Just another fight at a football game. Wait, what?

I guess what I'm saying is this. You're all fanboys. You hold on to the idea that your team is somehow worthy of your loyalty for eternity despite the fact that the team you first swore your oath to has cycled 10 times over and doesn't even have one of the original members left. It'd be like if you were still hopelessly devoted to Metallica even after James, Kirk and Lars are replaced my younger members and they aren't even playing the same music anymore.

I don't get it. If you are a supporter of a sporting team please leave me a comment if you are able to somehow identify a variable that I have not considered. I truly want to understand this.


  1. Statistically speaking, brand loyalty and socio-economic status share an inverse relationship. ie: The less money you have, the more likely you are to remain loyal to a certain brand.

    Education level and socio-economic status share the same relationship. Does this suggest that someone with minimal education is more likely to be a rabid sports fan? you tell me.

    Once upon a time, religion was the opiate of the masses. These days, sport is filling that gap.

  2. Replies
    1. That's exactly what I'm talking about. There's a very real emotional attachment that sports fans have with their chosen sides; It's not the "fan of" mentality that I don't get, it's the fact that they're focusing on the branding as the object of their loyalty and rather than a persistent individual.

    2. "There's a very real emotional attachment that sports fans have with their chosen sides", well yeah, it's their passion and passion is an emotion, it's bound to spark up some fire and remove all logic behind why you're really going for a team years after you invested all this energy into it for one player alone.
      Sorry, we're probably going to have to agree to disagree on this one and ensure I watch any St. Kilda games on my own, lest you see the beast unleashed ;)

  3. You need stronger resolve. I never backed down and chose a team to support, I just deal with the flack of not following AFL. It's worth it because if you refuse to talk about it often enough, people stop talking about AFL to you.

  4. I'll have a crack at giving my point of view. You know I love my sport. Footy (AFL) and basketball (NBA), much more so than any others. I'm a big Hawthorn fan, because my Dad was, and a Chicago Bulls fan because when I was first introduced to the NBA by my brother, MJ was still destroying the league.

    Why do I pledge loyalty to these teams as entities? It seems logical that if I gain enjoyment out of watching these sports played at the highest level, then I should be barracking for the most talented and dominant group of players at any given time, right? Well, I think there's something to be said for the "journey." The satisfaction from seeing your team achieve success after x weeks/months/years/decades of falling short can be immense. For me, this is definitely a big part of the attraction. You are correct about the playing lists, in 15 years from now there will almost definitely not be a single player on Hawthorn's list left from today's. Over that time, players will suffer career-ending injuries, be delisted, retire and be traded. Also during that time, though, almost every new season, new promising young talent will arrive at the club. I will watch some of these young blokes develop from lanky 17 or 18 year olds, into strong-bodied and highly skilled elite AFL footballers. Even if Hawthorn sit at the bottom of the ladder for a season or 2, there will always be at least 1 or 2 players that are out there every weekend, hungry for the contest, showing moments of brilliance, leaving everything they've got on the park. The kind of endeavour that has and will give me hope for future club success until the Hawks can embark on their next September campaign.

    Another factor, I think, is the rivalry and needling between sports fans. As you've alluded to, this can obviously be taken way too far, to the point of violence, which is plain asinine and unacceptable to me. I don't think there's anything wrong with a bit of friendly ribbing, though! It's great fun to hang shit on your mate after your team flogged his over the weekend, even knowing that you could very well cop the same the following week. That shit holds zero weight if you're changing teams every 6-12 months based on the in-form sides of the competition ;)

    At the core for me it is the playing list, and how it develops and evolves - whether for good or bad - over the years. The emotional attachment, for me at least, is to the people that make up the club. Not the name or the colours or the logo or the club song, even though these things hold symbolic value and sentiment. I read an interesting hypothetical question somewhere to footy fans.. Something along the lines of: If the entire playing list and coaching staff of your team were swapped with another, would you continue to support your club or make the changeover with them? For me, it's easy, I'd change teams.

    This somehow got waay tl;dr..
    but that's my $0.02


    i <3 hawks and bulls.

    1. If I had never been an Aussie Rules player myself, I might never have been interested in Football at all, yet, I DID play, and as a result, you kind of have to choose a team. Be a player without a favourite team? Illogical. Hence, as you know, I favour the Hawks as well.

      That being said, as soon as I stopped playing, which was obviously quite a few years ago now, my interest in Aussie Rules has pretty much diminished into obscurity. If someone asks me "which team?" I'll say "Hawthorne". If they want to know which player? I'll probably say "Dunstall" since I really haven't followed the sport since years before he retired.

      Honestly I know jack shit about the current lineups, and really don't have a personal interest in it, although I do understand those that do - I'm just interested in different sports now, ie: MMA.

  5. Hahaha, nice one.

    While I was really hoping for a silver bullet response about some factor I had somehow missed, you do explain why you have passion for the game quite well.

    I have tried unsuccessfully to tie myself to a team, but I just don't feel it within me. I can kind of see where you're coming from, and maybe one day I'll identify with it more. Also, maybe not.