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Touch Of The Fumbles: Port's banana skin

Touch of the Fumbles

Tom Richardson reflects on Showdown 41. In which Port Adelaide threw a proverbial banana skin and one of its supporters threw a literal banana. Guess which one we're all talking about today?

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Port Adelaide threw a proverbial banana skin on Saturday night.

And the Crows very nearly slipped up on it.

Heading into a game with an also-ran Power side decimated by injuries, there was plenty of the usual guff about how this was a Showdown, and how form and respective ladder positions mean nothing.

I’m not sure anyone really believed it, though, with the possible exception of Ken Hinkley.

But when Port skipped out of the blocks with the game’s opening two goals, it was clear that the old Showdown cliché existed for a reason.

Here’s a wild conspiracy theory: is it possible that Port was only playing crap all year in order to catch us out on Saturday night?

I wouldn’t put it past them.

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Travis Boak does to Jarryd Lyons what Port almost did to Adelaide on Saturday. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

In any case, this was always a banana peel kinda game: eve of the finals, an expected cakewalk ahead of a tougher test the following round.

It’s just the sort of game in which the Crows of two years ago would have slipped up.

That we managed to avoid the banana peel was largely down to the heroics of 250-gamer Eddie Betts and his five majestic goals. The first and last of them (our first and last of the game) were Eddie par excellence: a spoil, a shimmy through traffic and a toepoke in mid-air to open our account and a ridiculous snap from the boundary-line to ice the game.

These are the moments we should be talking about today, revelling in the relief that we somehow avoided Port’s figurative banana skin.

But we’re not.

Because one of their supporters decided to throw a literal banana.

How sad.

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Eddie Betts: five goals in his 250th. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

In fact, there have been lots of things thrown in the past 24 hours or so.

A woman in the crowd lobbed a piece of fruit at Eddie Betts, which led to a bunch of barbs being hurled around on social media, culminating in Port Adelaide throwing the proverbial book at their imbecilic supporter, who was duly punished with an indefinite ban.

Although, given the way they’ve played for much of the past two seasons, a more meaningful punishment might have been to not ban her indefinitely.

We talk wistfully about being colour-blind when it comes to race, but to what degree was this incident informed by the colours in which we drape ourselves?

Best I can tell, the social media backlash (which, these days, tends to be the arbiter of the mainstream media’s response) fell into a few distinct categories:

Evidently, I’ve lived a life so sufficiently sheltered and/or privileged that I had no idea throwing bananas as a racist taunt was a “thing”.

So I’ve learned something new this week. How sad.

And I was, in any case, oblivious to the ugly episode as it played out in the south-eastern pocket of Adelaide Oval.

Largely because I was too caught up in celebrating Eddie’s game-sealing goal, and partly because I was standing on the mound behind Eddie’s traditional north-eastern pocket, biting my tongue as I endured the boorish ravings of the dickheads perched behind me.

The second half of the match was a veritable stream of bile ranging from some fairly silly but nonetheless annoying jibes at the expense of the goalless Jay Schulz (delivered in a mock German accent) to a litany of insults draped in casual homophobia against any number of players of either team.

And yes, the offenders were decked in Crows scarves.

Meanwhile, not far away, another pair of Adelaide supporters got into a stand-up argument because one happened to have chosen a vantage point that was obscuring the other’s view…of the replay screen.

I assume someone pointed out that he’d get a much better view of the screen from the comfort of his own home.

Which is, in fact, one of the ironies for those that make the effort to attend the football week in, week out.

I’ve been to every Crows home game this year, including Saturday’s Power-hosted Showdown, and half the time I find myself only appreciating the on-field drama when I watch the replay later on TV, when the commentary emphasises all that’s good and brave and exciting about the contest. Instead of spending three hours in an echo chamber of misanthropes bemoaning and exacerbating every skill error, every mis-kick, every shrugged tackle.

Because the simple and sad fact is, no team has a mortgage on asshole supporters.

It’s one of the oddities of football fandom.

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Tex flies for a big mark. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

We deck ourselves in our assorted apparel (I stick doggedly with the blue-heavy 2001-issue scarf, the only one that could almost pass for a dubious winter fashion item if you end up wearing it out for the rest of the evening) and assume some form of kinship with a bunch of strangers while you cheer on another bunch of strangers, whose performance somehow determines your mood for the entire week.

Just how powerful that assumed kinship is becomes clear to me whenever I attend a Power-hosted Showdown, when the familiar surrounds of Adelaide Oval suddenly take on an eerily unfamiliar feel. It’s like some kind of Bizarro World: everything is as it was the previous week, but somehow different.

My usual seats near the Eddie Betts pocket belong to someone else, someone draped in black, white and teal and cheering for the other team; and while I still celebrate every Crows goal, I do so with a hint of antipathy and unease.

I’m not complaining though. It’s fair to say I’ve fully embraced the tribal factionalism of our two-team town. But given that degree of zealotry, it’s probably not surprising that we have fostered a culture wherein some nuffy thinks little of hurling a banana at an indigenous player who stars for the opposition.

It’s unfortunate for Port, especially so given the club’s exceptional work in indigenous communities, spearheaded by their Aboriginal Programs Manager, Paul Vandenbergh, who reportedly brought the banana-throwing incident to public attention, posting the now-infamous video on Facebook.

Port is, after all, a team that professes itself as “Open To The World”. It is the team of Gavin Wanganeen and Byron Pickett and Chad Wingard and Shaun and Peter Burgoyne and so many other indigenous players who have done extraordinary things on the football field that have enthralled, entranced and annoyed, depending on your predilection.

How is it that a supporter can have (presumably) cheered all of their achievements and yet reserve such racist venom for a player like Eddie Betts?

We talk wistfully about being colour-blind when it comes to race, but to what degree was this incident informed by the colours in which we drape ourselves?

There is so much to dislike here. I am sad for Eddie, and I am sad for the name-and-shame witch-hunt, a response so much easier but so much less helpful than considering why this woman felt compelled to act as she did, and how many steps removed her actions were from those around her who were hurling not objects, but insults and middle-finger salutes at the celebrating Betts.

Fortunately there are things to like, not least Port’s response, which has been not hysterical but constructive and measured.

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Rory Sloane and Brad Ebert had a bruising tussle throughout the game. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

I can empathise with those Power supporters on social media bemoaning that they would all now be tainted, in a national spotlight, as ferals.

Many Crows supporters had that same internal cringe in 2003 when a couple of Adelaide fans allegedly (though it was never proved) hurled cupfuls of urine at the Collingwood bench during a match we eventually lost by five points from a Chris Tarrant kick after the siren.

Of course, if that had happened 10 years later, the perpetrators would have been named and shamed on social media within moments.

Then there was that silent facepalm so many of us performed when a few ageing choristers decided to give the arriving Sydney Swans an impromptu rendition of “The Pride Of South Australia” at Adelaide Airport, just before they smacked us to bits in the 2012 Qualifying Final.

In other words, as supporters we are all, always susceptible to being tarred by the actions of the worst (or lamest) of us.

You get to choose your team; but you can’t choose your fellow supporters.

So I can assure Port Adelaide that the actions of their (former) member have by no means reduced the esteem in which I hold their club.

I dislike them just as much as I ever did.

And not because they have a few asshole supporters – for they’re hardly the Lone Ranger on that front.

And not because they’re a good side or a bad one, or because they came so hideously close to cruelling our top four chances on Saturday night.

But just because, as their slogan so helpfully points out: they are Port Adelaide.

And in a better world, the simple story of Showdown 41 would be that the Crows just managed to avoid slipping up to the old enemy – thanks in no small part to the heroics of a former Carlton recruit called Eddie Betts.

That’s the banana skin we should all be talking about today.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, published each Monday during the AFL season. Yes, it’s shamelessly biased. Even up the score in the comments section below.

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