Ready To Embrace The Hate

I’m going to show my age here.

Back when I was a kid, there was an event that aired on Channel Ten. I’d been waiting months to see it – the advertisements had footage of the actual event, I later realised, but bloody Channel Ten sat on it for ages – it was the first Wrestlemania. By today’s standards, it was a pretty ordinary show, but back then, I was glued to the TV. I’ve watched it dozens of times since, as well.

On commentary, a man by the name of Jesse Ventura (former Navy Seal and soon to be Governor of Minnesota) used his gravelly voice to add to the spectacle, often supporting the underhanded tactics of the bad guys and calling out the beloved heroes when they did something even remotely outside the rules. One of his lines in relation to one of the “bad guys” has always stuck with me.

“You may not like him, but you still have to respect him. A dangerous man.”

He then added, “I personally do like him”, just to make you acutely aware of where his allegiances lay.

Jesse was referring to the great Rowdy Roddy Piper with that line.

Boos rained down on Piper as he walked to the ring, and as they did, Piper smiled. It was more than just a fake smile in a fake world. It was a genuine smile. He wasn’t just part of the show – he was THE show. He knew that as much as people loved their heroes, they needed a great antagonist opposite them. The theatre needed a villain.that was him, and he was happy to play that part.

It is not an easy role to own.

And as we enter into the 2024 AFL season, it seems as though Jason Horne-Francis may now be ready and willing to embrace the role AFL supporters have pushed him into as the villain of the league.

“I just really want to play the best footy I can, and if that means getting booed, then I really don’t mind,” he said when speaking to reporters.

His comments made me smile.

The league needs some bad guys.

There may well come a day when Horne-Francis plays your team, takes the game on, busts through a tackle and slots a goal. He will turn to the crowd as they boo him. He will let their hatred rain down on him, and drink in the boos like they were fine wine – the bad guy in your own personal pantomime. Just like Rowdy Roddy Piper, he’ll learn to embrace the hate, to feed off it, and to love it. Because he knows, as I do, the truth about what just occurred.

What he does, and how he does it… is your fault. You drove him to it.


The best villains always believe they are correct. Think about the most compelling villains you’ve seen in movies. They always have a point, don’t they?

The great villains are always misunderstood. However, if you take the time to look at things from their perspective, they could even be right. Some refuse to believe that Horne-Francis could be right. Some don’t want to believe that he was within his rights to move from North Melbourne to Port Adelaide.

They can’t have him be right – it ruins the perception of him they cling desperately to.

Let’s face it – at this stage in his career, Horne-Francis could run into a burning building and save an old lady, her dog, and her budgie, and his detractors would disparage him for not closing the door quietly on the way out.

That is where he is at, right now. People hate him, and try as he might, it is likely not going to change. Why try?

I wondered when we would get a player in the league who genuinely embraced the hatred of opposition supporters. It can’t always be left to Toby Greene, right? Maybe JHF answers the call?

Jason Horne-Francis was always going to be on the receiving end of some abuse from the North Melbourne supporters in 2023, but what occurred when he played other sides was something that was quite unexpected. Not only did Kangaroos fans harbour ill-will toward the then-19-year-old, but it seemed as though supporters of all clubs didn’t like him all that much, either.

Port did not confront the Kangaroos until Round Nine – a regulation thumping of the cellar-dwelling North Melbourne by a polished Port team – but the negativity toward Horne-Francis commenced long before it.

He was booed against Collingwood, Sydney, and the West Coast Eagles… must have been those sneaky North Melbourne fans masquerading as opposition supporters – they’re not to be trusted!

By the time he faced off against his old team, the booing and catcalls were commonplace for JHF. He was already owning them – they had become part of the character he portrays in the AFL. He was the villain because they insisted he was.

Prior to the 2023 season, Jason Horne-Francis decided that North Melbourne was not for him. He wanted to head home and play his footy close to family. For most others, this would have been something that was discussed and weighed up before the draft, but North were convinced Horne-Francis was in for the long haul.

When he opted out after just one year, he put a target on his back. Some saw him as everything that was wrong with the game – a number one pick packing up his bags and wanting to run home when things got tough. Others saw it a little more realistically – he was a fish out of water at 18 years of age. People tend to forget that a lot of these players really are just kids. I know what I was doing at 18. It wasn’t much of anything, and it certainly wasn’t being the centrepiece of an entire supporter-base’s expectations.

As expected, Horne-Francis had his ups and downs in year two. In many ways, he was a boy in a man’s body, trying to bash and crash his way though stoppages as though he were five years older. Make no mistake, the time will come when he does lay waste to would-be tacklers, but at 19, it was a huge ask, and his league-leading number of free kicks against were testament to that.

Still, there was no questioning his desire.

Horne-Francis plays footy like he just stepped out of a time machine. Tough and rugged, with a relentless attack on the footy, he dares the opposition to stop him, fighting and clawing his way out of, and sometimes into trouble with the footy tucked under his wing.

And as he does so, the boos rain down on him.

Only now, he seems to be fine with them. It is about time he started drinking them in and allowing them to drive him to be a better player. Port fans will give him the adulation he deserves, as will the AA selectors in good time, perhaps even the AFL CEO as he places a medal around his neck the Monday after a Preliminary Final. He doesn’t need love from elsewhere. Port will give him all he requires..

There is a huge difference between being liked and being respected.

Jason Horne-Francis may never become the player that is liked by opposition supporters, and let’s face it; they can boo him all they like. However, he can, and is on the fast-track to becoming a player they respect. His play commands it, and as he grows stronger, faster, more composed, we are going to see a young man become close to unstoppable as he drives those legs and powers through the tackles the opposition attempt to lay on him.

Rowdy Roddy Piper is no longer with us. The great man passed away in 2015, but after being the most hated man in wrestling for years on end, he basked in the love of the fans before hanging up the tights.

Not that I want to see Horne-Francis in tights, but I wonder if, when all is said and done, people will look back and realise that for all the boos, all the anger, and all the hatred, they were able to witness a boy become a man, and perhaps a man become a great of the game.

Maybe they’ll wish they took more time to appreciate him as the dangerous man he is.



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