Crowd Behaviour: Six Golden Rules

April 1, 2012 @ 11:50 am posted by Michael Allan

So footy in Melbourne has kicked off and we could not have asked for any better games to kick us off. Richmond looked competitive against Carlton, Hawthorn just had the edge over Collingwood with incredible goals to Franklin and Gunston in the last quarter, and last night Hamish MacIntosh missed a shot after the siren to cost North Melbourne a victory over Essendon. And while all this was going on, on the other side of Australia, Fremantle upset Geelong in a match that involved hard contests, fights and a miraculous winning goal form Pavlich.

Yes the footy has been fantastic in Round 1, however after going to both the Thursday and Friday night clashes and reading about the aftermath, I feel the AFL’s biggest concern is off the field and not on.

Last year crowd behavior seemed to make it’s way into the papers more than usual. During the NAB cup racial insults were hurled at Franklin, a North Melbourne supporter punched Daniel Motlop and Eddie Mcguire put the issue into focus when he clearly ushered for a St Kilda supporter to be thrown out for insulting Andrew Krakouer’s criminal record while large reports of insults towards Stephen Milne’s criminal history from Collingwood supporters.

This last case caught my eye the most. Is calling Andrew Krakour a criminal really that bad? Particularly when he makes a symbol to his inmates as a goal celebration. Were fans allowed to call Ben Cousin’s a “druggie”  or bring up his past when he played for Richmond? I would’ve thought so. Honestly I’m not surprised the fan was thrown out however, imagine the security guard who doesn’t do what Eddie Mcguire tells him to do. He’ll be outed, shunned and probably dismissed for bringing negative publicity to his company. Is this really fair? Seems more like bullying on Eddie’s part to me.

I hadn’t thought about this issue for a while, the leadup to the season is always focused on the big games and not these sorts of issues. However what unfolded at the game’s over the the weekend has again made me question, what is acceptable at the footy? A question that the AFL seem to refuse answering.

On Thursday night sitting in the AFL reserve, I knew before the game had started that we were in for a rough night. Now that isn’t because I’m a realistic Richmond supporter and knew Carlton were clearly better than us despite pre season form going into the game, it was because behind me was a loud, incoherent undoubtedly biased  Richmond supporter sitting directly behind me. As the Blues ran onto the ground it occurred to me that he probably wasn’t the full dollar. As the Carlton themse song played he sang  along “We’re the team that always let you down”  obviously stolen from the sledging material of a nine year old.

Now there were heaps of Carlton fans around me. Aside from me, my mum and the witty man behind me I could not see another Richmond supporter. Infront was a large group of young Italian blokes and then the usual Carlton mob all around.

It didn’t take long for them to become fed up with the lone Tiger’s antics. Any free that went Carlton’s way either meant the Carlton player was acting, the umpire needed glasses or had money on the game. Every Carlton goal meant that a Richmond free went missing and everything inbetween those led to some reference to Carlton being cheaters. The Carlton boys infront got involved with him shortly after the first quarter started. They argued and swore back to him while old ladies further back told him to “shut up and watch the game.” Every time this happened he’d reply “I’m not swearing, I can say whatever I like!” The swearing part was right, which is much more than the Carlton blokes infront could say, but he was certainly making the game unpleasant to watch. This cycle lasted for entire game Mum and I were probably the biggest losers out of this as we had to sit inbetween and overhear these childish arguments, only when the game was out of reach for the Tigers in the 4th quarter did he finally quieten down. But was his behavior really that bad? Were the Carlton fans overreacting to man who clearly had mental issues? What is worse in a “family environment”  over the top loud swearing or simply obnoxious opinions and being downright annoying? I think the answer from most honest fans would be “depends on what team colors he’s wearing.”  If the Carlton group of blokes were in a Richmond area with the same Richmond supporter as well, who would the rest of the crowd favor then?

Now while this story may seem very tame as it did not lead to any evictions or physical fights. If we can answer “was this behavior acceptable” from a relatively mild incident like this, we could perhaps stop the bigger accidents that do occur. During the fourth quarter the Carlton man infront brought everyone’s attention to a scuffle in the forward flank on the opposite end of the ground. The end result was that everyone in first 4 rows were evicted from the ground, I have no idea what happened but something of that magnitude is concerning. Perhaps it could’ve been avoided if there was a “code of behavior” in place.

The second incident I saw took place when I was working at the Collingwood v Hawthorn game. I was in the Hawthorn members area, however some fans would stand behind them from both teams. Personally I was oblivious to any crowd behavior problems. Why would anybody care about the crowd when the two likely grand finalists are neck and neck in the final quarter? However after Gunston kicked the sealer things began to get hostile. A Hawthorn fan in a seat had stood up and was now nose to nose with a Collingwood supporter, both ready to fight. Security separated the two, as expected the Hawthorn members said the angry Collingwood fan started it and as a result only he was evicted. As the situation died and the security were escorting the Collingwood fan along the concourse a separate Hawthorn fan got out of his seat, ran up the aisle to continue yelling at the evicted man, this led to the two pushing each other before security again seperated the two, only the Collingwood fan was evicted. Eventually security’s manager came to the scene where after hearing the story told the second Hawthorn fan he too was evicted.

After this I thought that I’d seen the worse, sadly the next day I read in the Herald Sun that some young Carlton fans beat up an old Richmond lady and that they were looking for witnesses? Witnesses? How is it that at a game with hundreds of cameras focusing on every bit of play to pick up sling tackles and bumps, we fail to have vision that shows criminal offenses in the crowd?

It seems to me that if the AFL does not take a stance on this issue then these occurrences will continue to happen in any night games involving two Melbourne clubs. I have made a list of rules as to the etiquette off football fans at grounds, if followed I’m sure we’d get less fights and evictions.

1. Absolutely no racist or prejudice comments: Probably the one and only stance the AFL has taken. Definitely the easiest thing to say no to considering society worked this out a long time ago now.

2. Swearing must not be directed at anybody: I think minor swearing should be tolerated as this is a very passionate sport for the fans however swearing at umpires, players or people in the stands sends a very negative message towards children to have the right to be at the game. I usually swear under my breath which goes unnoticed. Obviously not all North Melbourne supporters are going to say “Bugger” when Hamish MacIntosh misses after the siren.

3.  Do not aggressively interact with strangers around you: Most crowd rows seem to begin with simple things. “That was a push in the back umpy!” “Stop complaining ya dickhead!” And it goes on from there. People should be free to say what they think, but unless they call up talk back radio (or write on that doesn’t mean they’re inviting your analysis.

4. Have a high tolerance for the people around you: In my history of watching AFL the only person who I have ever told to shut up and sit down is my Dad. You came here knowing you were going to be in a public area with people with different opinions than you, if it affects you that much you can now watch every game live at home.

5. Police the people you go to the game with: Very few people go to footy matches alone. People need the attitude of making sure they’re mates are doing the right thing rather than “sticking up for your mates no matter what.” I remember a Hawthorn v North Melbourne final I went to where a drunk Hawthorn fan was becoming aggressive towards a North Melbourne father and son in front. The issue was taken care of much quicker than the security guards could because the Hawthorn mates told their friend to pull their head in and took him away from the situation then apologised to the North Melbourne father after.

6. Do not act obnoxiously loud and continually bash the other team: I put this rule last because it is the only rule I am unsure on. It must be said that some people go to big footy games looking to fight. I know where to find a large group of drunk Collingwood supporters and I know what to say to make them fight me. However I do feel that in most cases rules 3 and 4 should overrule this one. I think the most humiliating thing for somebody to do is to sledge a player who they don’t know the name of. For example last year at Richmond v Dogs a man yelled out “Leave Deledio alone 22!” In my books, Dylan Addsion should be off limits to that man. Complaining about every umpiring call is also annoying and going on about it also grows tiresome quickly. Perhaps the rule should be don’t sledge the umpires until the replay is shown clearly proving your case. However even in this circumstance, umpires are umpires and you should move on pretty quickly.

So there are my six rules to crowd behavior, they’re easy to follow, tricky to police and rely on self evaluation of fans. Perhaps it would be easier to make sports grounds like MCG a dry zone but that would be unfair to people who go to the footy, drink and do the right thing. It is a tough issue in which only one thing can be made clear, the AFL refuse to take a stance on the issue and are yet to make an attempt to fix the problem.


About John Harms

John Harms is a writer, broadcaster, publisher, historian, speaker and teacher. He loves stories.

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