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A genuine villain

Touch of the Fumbles

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It’s a strange truism of football fandom that we don’t support our teams because they’re intrinsically good. Indeed, often, we don’t even recall exactly why we do support them. Generally, just because we always have.

The standard schoolyard taunt would be something along the lines of: “Why the hell would you support (say) Melbourne? They’re crap!”

Which they unarguably are. But that’s not really the point. True enough, it’s infinitely more rewarding if your chosen team happens to win more games than they lose, but that in itself isn’t why you support them. Sporting teams are like family – you stick by them even when you don’t like them very much.

And, one hopes, over the years the ebb and flow of talent and fortune will see some modicum of success come your way.

Strangely though, the teams I actively dislike are rather less set in stone. Rather, they wax and wane with the years, much like the makeup of the AFL ladder itself.

For example, only two seasons ago when forced to pick a side to back in the 2012 Grand Final, Sydney was a no-brainer; a fairly inoffensive club with a fierce work ethic, strong team discipline and (importantly) a poor historical win-loss record against the Crows. Now, though, having repeatedly toweled us up, pilfered the Man Whose Name We Don’t Mention here at Fumbleland, and lured Buddy Franklin with a contract so ludicrous he’s taken to destroying expensive cars as a hobby, I actively barrack against the Swans in almost any given match. They’ve shot up my “Hated Teams” ladder with a bullet. Ergo, Freo, who for years were almost everyone’s second favourite side, with a charmingly hapless approach to the game consistent with one-time coach Damien Drum’s stated philosophy that “skill is only one element of football”.

However, now that they’re moderately successful, they’re far less sympathetic. They’re also coached by Ross Lyon, are consequently excruciatingly boring to watch, and showcase on-field personae such as Hayden Ballantyne and Ryan Crowley. All of which has seen them climb the “Hated Teams” ladder faster than Essendon have plummeted down the AFL Ladder proper.

But it’s not necessarily a team’s success or personnel that dictates my distaste for them. Richmond’s beige results should by rights see them hover mid-table on the Most Hated list (where they also traditionally reside on the premiership ladder). However, I was once berated fiercely by a Tigers supporter, a mate’s brother’s wife who took issue with my slightly patronising post-mortem of her team’s 2001 season. This dressing-down subsequently translated into a loathing of the yellow-and-black that took many years to dispel.

The Western Bulldogs, too, were right at the top echelons of my Most Hated list for a while in the late 90s and early 2000s, when the Crows were consistently unable to beat them. In hindsight, I’d concede their supporters probably had more reason to hate us than vice versa, given we’d twice denied them a Grand Final berth. But that led them to develop a sort of Geelong-Vs-Hawthorn pathology, and for years they simply wouldn’t allow us to prevail.

After I travelled to Melbourne in 1999 for our Round 16 clash at the MCG — watching them chase down a 40-point three quarter time lead to win by two — the Bulldogs settled in for a lengthy stint in my Top Four Most Hated AFL teams. But eventually, things change. The Tony Liberatores and Nathan Buckleys of this world retire and suddenly the Bulldogs and Magpies of this world seem slightly less objectionable. Even the Hawks are somewhat more sympathetic without Buddy.

So there was no undue triumphalism when we beat the Bulldogs yesterday, a hard-luck, down-on-their-cash outfit just beginning to hone a winning brand of football in a young brigade. There was just the relief that, for once, we managed to pinch a close one, and optimism that our season remains alive.

As one of the almost 10,000 who ventured out in the light sheen of Friday night rain to witness Tex Walker’s comeback to competitive football, there’d be reason to feel that things are right with the world this week.

If it weren’t, of course, for the fact that Port Adelaide suddenly sits atop the AFL Ladder, and glib terms such as “real deal” and “genuine contender” will now be slung about with reckless abandon. As the club with a mortgage on the top spot on my “Most Hated” list, the Power’s success is particularly vexing, albeit entirely deserved. If it’s a strange truism of football fandom that we don’t support teams because they’re intrinsically good, it’s also true that we often actively dislike teams for the same reason. Hawthorn in the 80s, North in the 90s, West Coast in the 2000s; they may have been awesome to behold in full flight, but they were also just downright annoying. So I won’t begrudge Port their newly rediscovered success. If anything, it makes them even more unlikable; and football needs its villains. How else would you know who to barrack against?

Tom Richardson is InDaily’s political commentator and Channel Nine’s state political reporter.

On Mondays during the AFL season he will be found in InDaily’s sport section, writing this lament – or chronicle of triumph. Time will tell.

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