Humphrey B. Flaubert Talks Football


Footyzine #4, winter 1997, published by Eddie Greenaway

Footy is not a social event. Footy is not a day out with the mates. Footy is not about queuing up for a beer, even if it means missing the start of the quarter. Footy is not about going "woof" whenever Christou kicks it, or "Roos" whenever Roos goes near it, or "Ossie Ossie Oi Oi Oi" or "Doggies - woof!" or "Ball!! Yes!!" or any other phrase from the book for people who have an intense fear of thinking for themselves. Footy is about arriving at a game with an unsettled, uncomfortable, nervy biliousness rising in your stomach at the possibility of victory mingling with the possibility of defeat, which, apart from a brief distraction whilst you marvel yet again at the amount of gnarled misshapen-headed, brutal people there are in the world (the only other places you get to see them are on the non-sleeping carriages of interstate trains and outer-suburban Sizzler restaurants), turns into a white-knuckled fear as the game progresses and any scenario other than the following occurs:- your team kicks ten goals to none in each of the four quarters, holds the opposition scoreless until the dying minutes, and none of your players goes down with a knee injury. Given the frequency with which this occurs, footy is largely about pain. Another emotion that features heavily is bling, inconsolable hatred - not the showy, "we’ll all be mates in the pub afterwards" variety, but a quiet, barely expressed loathing that sits deep in the soul and festers for years, unable to be exorcised. It comes from watching your team being beaten. It comes from regularly seeing other teams have the last laugh. It comes from years of building oneself up to pounce upon the slightest possible sign of future promise - such as the Reserves having a win - and with the unflagging dependability of night following day, watching that promise slip away to the tune of some other hated team song. It comes from reading your team patronisingly dismissed in the press. It comes from listening to the smug but ultimately vacuous carping of supporters of regularly successful teams, who are fond of the expression "out of the woodwork" as some kind of pathetic defence to throw you whenever you enjoy a brief moment in the sun. It's these non-experts, along with loudmouthed supporters who criticise their own team for not "kicking it long", or blame the umpire for every achievement of the opposition, who join the ranks of the most hated - that being, of course, the opposition.

There is a pecking order of course. Some teams are hated by all, such as Collingwood, largely for their supporters' mythological belief that Collingwood is somehow more than just another AFL team, Carlton for their Liberal Party moneyed image, Adelaide for their non-authentic, loaded-dice, anti-Victorian orgies at Football Park, and West Coast for their faceless, aerobics-instructor-robot players and their familiar style of opening a match with a flurry of goals kicked by some snivelling chinless front-runner, generally unattended in the goalsquare, followed by a deathly boring grind with your team almost, but never quite, catching up for the rest of the day. These are all truly hateable, easy to direct one's pent-up frustrations towards. But I'll tell you who really deserves everyone's hatred - the people who have introduced MARKETING into this game in the last two decades. Indeed, this deisease has spread to every conceivable area of top level sport in Australia.

Don't mistake this last comment as some kind of sad, Luddite reaction to anything new, some kind of farty old desire to bring back the days of Mopsy Fraser muttering "this is it, son" to Ted Whitten as he approaches to calculatedly deliver the hospitalising blow. No, this is simply a recognition of the fact that sporty marketing in this country seems to be in the hands of people who don't know much about sport, and think the eighties were groovy. Fear seems to have been AFL marketing's sole motivation - a pant-wetting fear caused by some long-lost statistics that predicted the rise in popularity of basketball amongst the youth of our nation. "The youth of our nation will defect to basketball!!" cried the AFL power-mongers. So,, bring in the marketing man who comes up with the brilliantly blinkered solution of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em", and suggests everything short of actually making the football spherical and hoop-bound, to turn the AFL into the NBA. So we see the insidious emergence of the phrase "The Sydney Swans" to replace the unmarketable "Sydney F. C." The blind U.S. apeing is nauseating enough, but there is a more sinister reason lurking at its core. Suddenly, AFL merchandising appeared with team badges which featured the phrase "The Tigers" in much larger print than the word "Richmond". Why? Well if we can just get the kiddies to call their favourite team "The Tigers" then they won't mind as much if their team's full name is "The Richmond - Hawthorn - Melbourne - St Kilda - Footscray - North Melbourne Tigers", will they? What more proof do you need of the complete inappropriateness of AFL marketing than "The West Coast Eagles"? Sorry, but have you ever heard of anyone saying they come from the "West Coast" without actually sporting an American accent? And you'd have to work hard to come up with a less American mascot really, wouldn't you? IF the Eagles weren't such a hateable team on their own merits, they'd be number one on the list anyway for representing everything unimaginative and short-sighted about marketing. They should be called "The Marketing Opportunity Eagles". Either that or just call them "The Chicago Bulls" and get it out in the open.

But it hasn't stopped at football. Every goddamn sport in this country has followed suit. Even cricket. CRICKET!!! Americans don't understand cricket for shit's sake. It's the most quintessentially un-American sport there is, and yet we find ourselves calling the Queensland Sheffield Shield team The Queensland… (can you guess… go on…) BULLS. Yes. When I think of Queensland, I think of that particular animal immediately. And "The Victorian Bushrangers"??? What's fucking wrong with "THE VICS"???!! That is a great nickname, full of arrogance, catchy, and not to mention the fact that every single person in the country knows exactly what you're talking about. But is the problem that you can't get some tosser to dress up in a giant "Vic" and ponce around the ground having mock fights with the other team's tosser? Right, well that's OK then. And the bloody netballers are doing it, and the bloody national soccer league is doing it - soccer!!! A code that produces such fantastic names as "Sheffield Wednesday", "Heart of Midlothian" and "Kickers Offenbach" and the best we can do is "The South Melbourne Lakers"??? And just what fashion guru has been responsible for the designs of AFL pre-season guernseys? Even the so-called mighty Collingwood, with the tradition that they must constantly remind us of, allowed some genius to send them out looing like a cross between a bar code and a pre-seventies TV test pattern. Why? Marketing, of course. Have a new design every so often and little Johnny will bug his parents to buy him… oh, fuck it.


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