Dark side of footy fandom stripped bare

Men in navy-blue polo shirts and black-and-yellow scarves take cautious sips of their beer. They stare straight ahead with rapt attention, not wanting to miss a moment of the action unfolding before them. Its as though they were watching a crucial one-on-one contest on the wing between Dustin Martin and Patrick Cripps, rather than a stripper writhing on a pole in the front bar.

Its 6pm on the first big night of football at the MCG for the year. The all-male pre-game crowd is priming themselves at one of Melbournes only topless pubs before the match between Carlton and Richmond just across the park.

Richmond's Royal Hotel, which is one of the last topless pubs in Melbourne.

Richmond's Royal Hotel, which is one of the last topless pubs in Melbourne.Credit:Justin McManus

Bouncers are surveying the scene at the Royal Hotel: theres some high-vis here, a man bun there. Autumnal light streams in through the frosted windows, illuminating the lined faces of older men and the bearded cheeks of those much younger. Footy jumpers rather than suit jackets are the clobber of choice. It's a jovial atmosphere but charged with the latent aggression that comes in a room like this, as if the air were full of odourless gas that could explode at any moment.

Its been a torrid time for the AFL. Drinking, racism, violence, sexism. The first round of the AFL season and the penultimate week in the womens league were consumed again by barrackers behaving badly. Online trolls attacked a woman for kicking a football; packs of men fought each other in the stands; Indigenous players continued to bear the brunt of racist slurs.


What defines Australian rules football fan culture in 2019? Its a hard question to answer but there is a sense that we have reached another crossroads in the evolution of the games supporters. The default setting is often to make comparisons with distant eras or other sports. Its pretty easy to look good next to the attitudes of the past or flares, hooligans and riots.

But the darker side of what some people – or lets be clear, some men – believe theyre entitled to do when they put on a beanie has festered. Forget club divide, the biggest rift is now between those who demand attitudinal change and those who would rather things stay as they are, or even wind back the clock to some golden age of the 1980s.

This has crystallised with the introduction of the AFLW. Just witness the reaction to Bob Murphys use of the acronym "AFLM" to describe the mens game in his column in The Age this week. A small thing, perhaps, but not for some. On Facebook, one commenter posted: "No real man would say AFLM lol". This was in response to a piece about the new masculinity among football players.

The AFL is a tightly controlled industry but the way the public consumes the game is not. HQ and the media can try to lead the way, but there will be large sections of supporters who will bristle at being told what to do. Political correctness, some might call it.

The Royal Hotel is the least PC place you could find, and pRead More – Source

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