So, the issue of booing players raised its head again as Scott Pendlebury accepted the award for the best player on the ground in the ANZAC Day clash between Collingwood and Essendon.
As Pendlebury accepted his third ANZAC Medal, the boos rained down from the Bombers fans, angry at their perception of the umpiring on the day. Did they have a case? Yes indeed, they did.
But was it the right time to air their grievances, as a champion of the game accepted a thoroughly-deserved award? Probably not.
In light of that, I have to ask – when is the right time to air their grievances?
Nathan Buckley strode to the microphone after being presented with the winners’ trophy and let his thoughts be known.
“Shame on anyone that booed a champion,” said Buckley in defence of Pendlebury, but his words also seemed to speak to the booing of Gary Ablett just three days earlier. It was a stirring moment from a man I have come to respect more over the past 12 months than any other in football. He is a man who says what he believes, and believes in what he says.
However, in this case, I could not help but think that Bucks was a little off the mark. Either that, or his memory is starting to fail him.
You see, I watch a fair bit of footy, and though with the amount of head knocks I’ve had over the journey, memory loss is as close to inevitable as it gets, I can remember what happened this season pretty vividly. Buckley’s own Collingwood Army have been perhaps the biggest culprits when it has come to booing anyone.
They booed Andrew Gaff relentlessly in his comeback game at the MCG. Gaff responded like the champion he is, racking up 35 touches.
I’ve heard the excuses over the past 12 hours – that Gaff deserves to be booed, and that there is a justification for the actions of the Collingwood fans, but not of the Essendon fans who booed on a day when courage, integrity and sportsmanship should be held in the highest regard.
Then how do you explain the booing of Dom Sheed in the same game? What did Dom Sheed do that was so reprehensible that it warranted the Collingwood fans booing him every time he touched the ball? Kick a goal in the Grand Final?
Yep, that’d be it.
Is that booing okay? How about the booing of Gary Ablett BEFORE any issues relating to the liking of social media posts became an issue? It happened against Collingwood as well in Round One. Go back and have a watch. And have a listen.
And when the booing of Gaff, Sheed and Ablett took place, where was Nathan Buckley then? Where were the protests of the Media PC brigade, led by Gerard Whatelely and Mark Robinson, as the Magpie Army voice their displeasure at every single opportunity?
They were silent.
And that’s where the problems begin.
You cannot simply pick and choose when and where AFL fans can and can’t boo. It is not black and white (pardon the pun) as to whether or not a player should be booed for whatever actions he may have, or in Sheed’s case, may not have committed.
If you’re wanting to place restrictions on what can and can’t be booed, and what is acceptable and what is not, who makes these decisions? Who polices it, and what is the ultimate goal?
Our sport is built on passion. From the early suburban rivalries in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide to the all-encompassing wars waged between country towns as they battle for supremacy. We all invest of ourselves in this game, and our passion is at its highest when it comes to following our chosen professional team. It is passion that drives this game. Whether it is love, hate or anguish, the feelings derived from football are always extreme.
With competition for the minds and hearts of the football public coming thick and fast from international sports, as well as home-grown products, passion is the one thing that will keep fans invested in the AFL product, and the booing of Essendon fans yesterday, whilst saying a lot, says one thing louder and clearer than most – they are invested in their team!
But apparently now you’re supposed to suppress the passion.
The PC brigade is on the warpath once more, instructing you to be better than you have been, to rise above booing an opposition player, or team, or an umpire. They don’t like the way it looks. It might see someone’s feelings get hurt.
What are they actually asking supporters to do?
Do they want to stop the abuse players receive over the fence? Fair enough - I’m all for that. Do they want to stop the online hatred directed at those in the game? Great, let’s do it. But do they want to stop supporters from giving voice to their feelings in person at games by eliminating booing from matches?
If they are, they’re absolutely kidding themselves.
Yesterday, people were booing to get a point across. They were pissed off, and rightfully so, at the way their team had been treated during the game. Several glaring umpiring errors were costly to their team, and as the game concluded, it was easier to focus on them than the deplorable decision making of their players coming out of defence in the last few minutes.
Dylan Shiel, Adam Saad and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti all made monumental errors as they took control of the ball late in the piece, and attempted to go forward. They were just as critical as any umpiring decision on the day, but when players make mistakes, the club owns it. When umpires make mistakes… who owns them?
I’ve heard several people state that Pendlebury was booed because he kept his head down to draw a free kick in the last quarter of the game. You can’t legitimately think that was the reason for the booing, can you? His head was where the ball was, and whilst I have absolutely no doubt that he knew contact was coming, he went anyway. It was not worthy of boos – it was bloody intelligent!
The Essendon fans booed because they had every right to. They are proud, passionate and vocal – it is exactly what I want from supporters of my team. I wanted them to be invested. I want them to be loud and proud, and I want them to let everyone know when they feel they’ve been hard done by.
And they were yesterday.
As the media drums beat and those with high profiles start the dance that will see you made to feel bad about booing someone at the football, remember this – the AFL is nothing without you. It is your passion, your commitment to your team, and your investment that drives the game. You are the bums on seats and the eyes on screens the AFL so desperately needs above all else. If you’re dictated to, and it rubs you the wrong way, your voice is your weapon to retaliate.
If you don’t like something you see, boo.
If you think your team is being robbed, boo.
And if you simply don’t like a player, damn it, boo til your heart is content!
I will be watching with interest this evening as Jared Polec and Jasper Pittard make their way back to play their old team for the first time. Do you think the Port supporters will be happy to see them? Will they sit on their hands and clap politely like they’re watching at the theatre?
Nathan Buckley doesn’t like the boos. That’s okay… he doesn’t have to boo.
Gerard Whateley doesn’t like the boos. The fragile little fella doesn’t have to boo either.
But I like to boo, and I will if I don’t like something. And if you don’t like that, I ask you – what other avenue do I have to voice my displeasure at the footy?
The only other way is to get up and leave. Is that what the AFL wants?
Didn’t think so.
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