Boo to your heart’s content but when it comes to hurling abuse keep it (relatively) family friendly and on topic.
That was the overwhelming feedback from punters piling into Optus Stadium following a week in which the AFL has faced allegations it had yielded to “political correctness gone mad” following a series of evictions and bans for fans.
Carlton supporter “Frankie” was booted from the Blues upset win over Brisbane at Marvel Stadium last Saturday for calling an umpire a “bald-headed flog” while strongly denying allegations a homophobic slur also formed part of his colourful repertoire. And two days later Magpies fan Simon Grech narrowly avoided the same fate for what he described as “barracking too loudly”.
A Richmond cheer squad member is currently serving a three-game club-imposed ban after allegedly instructing an umpire to, “Be consistent, you green maggot” and in May Carlton’s cheer squad was reprimanded after chanting, “Umpire, you’re a wanker”.
The spate of incidents prompted the AFL to release a statement this week denying it had issued a directive to crack down on abuse hurled at umpires and players but at the same time warning “offensive or aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated.”
Fremantle die-hard Wayne Johannes spent most of yesterday’s clash between the Dockers and the Power with his mouth taped shut in silent protest at what he believes is a heavy-handed approach from the AFL.
“My go-to statement is green, yellow or pink maggot so when I heard about that poor Richmond bloke I thought I’d better bring some tape along,” he said.
“I can understand booting people for racial comments or over-the-top swearing because there are kids around, but showing a bit of passion? Come on.”
Colourful Collingwood fan Jeff “Joffa” Corfe this week threatened to boycott AFL games until all fans received an apology from boss Gillon McLachlan. He said supporters were afraid to barrack.
Asked whether the AFL had overstepped its remit in attempting to control what happens in the stands as well as on the field, most fans at the Dockers and Port match yesterday agreed there was a line that should not be crossed but opinions were more divided on exactly where that line lay.
Steve Matthews, manager of a Year 5 team with the Whitfords Junior Football Club, said there was a delicate balance between creating a family friendly environment and sterilising the atmosphere of games. “At first (when I heard about the evictions) I thought what is the world coming to and the umpires should have a thick enough skin to put up with that kind of rubbish,” Mr Matthews said.
“But at Whitfords we are all about trying to teach kids respect for each other and the umpires and so I actually think those ejections were warranted.
“Coming to an AFL game and having to listen to clowns carrying on and putting the umpires down in front of a bunch of kids is not on.”
Just a few seats away 11-year Fremantle member Kelli Gordon, cheering from the stands with her young niece, disagreed.
She said booing and calling umpires names was part of the theatre but that getting physically aggressive was a no-no.
“I don’t think bald-headed flog or green maggot is that bad,” she said. “There is a fair bit of colourful language that gets used in this section but I’ve never personally had an issue with anything anyone around me has said.”
Fellow Fremantle fan Ron Caunt could not pass up the opportunity to stick the boot in to cross-town rivals West Coast, whose fans he labelled “much worse when it comes to hurling abuse”.
“As long as whatever is shouted is said in a non-aggressive way than it’s fine with me, that has always been part of the game,” he said.
Fans agreed there was no place in the game — or in the crowd commentary — for racism, homophobia or sexism and that the best barbs combined wit and originality.
Long-time Dockers fan Bev Hunter said she felt crowd behaviour had deteriorated in recent years but that “at the same time politically correct standards have also risen”.
She said alcohol was often a contributing factor for those that got out of hand. “It seems you can’t go to the footy without drinking nowadays and that fuels poor behaviour.”