The Spirit in the Sounds
It was a day of sounds. It always is on ANZAC Day, but not always like this.
92,000 stood to the sound of silence pre-game, it strikes you every time you hear it across the weekend. But at the MCG on ANZAC Day it strikes the loudest.
You don’t hear silence at the football very often, especially when the crowd eclipses 90,000, but ANZAC Day is about more than football. In case you need a reminder about that - listen.
It is a minute to reflect upon what this day is all about. As well as how privileged we are to be at the MCG or be one of the millions at home, watching the most important home and away game of the year.
The second distinctive sound was anything but.
Scott Pendlebury has been the greatest ANZAC Day footballer of all time. Today was his tenth ANZAC Day victory, an achievement that no player has matched. Pendlebury was rightfully awarded the ANZAC Day Medal for the third time and was clearly the most dominant player on the ground. More importantly, as he has done throughout his entire decorated career, he played the game in the right spirit, was a pure class act and displayed great leadership and sportsmanship. A third ANZAC Day Medal means he equals the record held by the legendary James Hird, an exceptional footballer who lifted to a new level on this day.
When Pendlebury was announced as the winner and presented with the medal by two war veterans, the MCG was drowned out by the vitriolic sound of boos. This was the very same MCG, that had just witnessed perhaps the best game of the season to date. A four-point nail-biter complete with sensational highlights such as Will Hoskin-Elliot’s terrific second quarter mark and Joe Daniher’s monster bomb from outside 50 on the half time siren. Yet, the angry boos erupted and engulfed the stadium.
Some commentators have argued that the Essendon supporters’ boos were directed at the officials. That has to be the most likely scenario considering it is difficult to fathom what Scott Pendlebury could have done to warrant such treatment. Let alone the war veterans who were presenting him with the prestigious medal named in honour of those who fought for our country.
However, the title of Collingwood captain has never been a popular one amongst Essendon fans, especially when he was largely responsible for their close defeat.
Claiming the boos were directed at the umpires does not cut it. It is not an excuse.
Essendon fans, you have well and truly missed your target. Therefore, you need to be accountable for the consequences of your actions.
The umpires had already left the arena to the soundtrack of overwhelming boos. They were probably getting changed and giving Scott Pendlebury the three Brownlow votes by the time your boos reemerged.
And what was the opening line from Scott Pendlebury that tipped a large portion of the Bombers faithful over the edge?
“Just on behalf of both sides, I want to thank the crowd.”
A clearly (and rightfully) baffled Pendlebury was forced to stop his speech until the booing ceased. Unfortunately, for him it didn’t. So, he had to battle through with his respectful appreciation of the crowd that was largely, mercilessly and mindlessly booing him.
“I want to thank the crowd you guys were amazing today. To Essendon, I think that is what ANZAC Day football is about, it was played in a great spirit.”
What a stunning juxtaposition.
In the inaugural ANZAC Day clash between Essendon and Collingwood, Nathan Buckley may have missed the appropriate target in the final minute of that classic draw. But he has well and truly paid the penance. Because twenty-four years later, he hit the target right on the chest.
“Shame on anyone who booed a champion.”
They made the same mistake again and booed.
The now uncontrollable crowd, completely drowned out the tribute to all the footballers who died during the war. You probably were not able to hear it at the game and on TV but this is what was said underneath the wrath of boos.
“The ANZAC Trophy provided by the RSL in dedication to those footballers who served in times of war, the names of VFL footballers known to have sacrificed their lives during active service are inscribed on the trophy.”
I can’t imagine how the families of those heroes must have felt during that presentation.
Yesterday we wrote about the AFL’s contribution to ANZAC Day and how today’s game is much more important than football. The Essendon supporters who booed the presentation of ANZAC Medal devalued that today. Which is the real shame.
It is also fascinating and sometimes scary how rationality can be lost at the football, as the fiction takes over. But if you cannot separate what you perceive to be bad umpiring from an ANZAC Day tribute, then the umpiring is the least of your worries.
Perhaps, amongst the noise, you need a quiet minute to reflect on that.
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