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Hey interstaters, take it from a Vic. We don’t care if you win

Brisbane players celebrate their 2001 grand final win over Essendon. The Lions had the support of unaligned Victorian club fans.

Hey interstaters, take it from a Vic. We don’t care if you win

Rohan Connolly    

Like a lot of things, football is game which can go in cycles, and the AFL’s evolutionary wheel looks like it’s just done another full turn.

And if your measuring stick of the national competition is the fortunes of one footballing state versus another, you must think there’s a lot of hand-wringing going on in Victoria right now.

With the finals upon us, there aren’t a lot of Victorian teams left to, as some would put it, “fly the flag”. From a collection of 10 formerly VFL clubs, just three – Geelong, Richmond and Essendon – aren’t already off on end-of-season trips or plotting how they tackle 2018.

That’s as few Victorian clubs as have contested a finals series since 2003, when only Collingwood and Essendon made it. And it’s a long way from the four seasons in a row between 2008-11 when half-a-dozen local teams were a chance to play off on grand final day at the MCG.

So there must be a lot of angst about that in Melbourne, right? Well, actually, no. Not even a ripple of discontent. Indeed, there’s probably far more concern about the impact on local mental health should 37 years of pent-up frustration of the considerable Tiger army be unleashed via a Richmond premiership.

It’s time to put to rest one of the great misnomers about the Victorian football public from beyond the Murray River border. How do I put this nicely? We don’t care. Not only are we unfazed every time a non-Victorian team walks away with an AFL premiership (and, let’s be honest, that’s been going on for more than 25 years already) we’d actually much prefer it to having one of our local rivals lording it over us.

Yes, seriously. And if you think a Collingwood, Carlton or Essendon supporter is going to breathe a sigh of relief because another Victorian stablemate like Richmond ends up winning a premiership rather than a West Coast or Adelaide, you’re delusional.

Not like the old days? I’d argue from a Victorian perspective that when it’s come to interstate rivalry in a football sense, there actually never were old days to begin with.

The arrival of the state-of-origin concept in 1977 was huge for Western Australian footy fans who’d bristled not only about seeing oodles of local talent lured east, but then turning out against their homeland wearing the Big V.

That very first state of origin game 40 years ago, when WA whipped those arrogant Vics by 94 points, was rightly the cause of much jubilation in Perth. In Melbourne, meanwhile, it was viewed more as an end-of-season training run.

That run of amazing May Tuesday afternoon WA-Victoria clashes at Subiaco in the early 1980s were fantastic to watch. And the fact that the Vics lost all of them by a kick didn’t seem to bother anyone in these parts much at all.

The only time state games drew anything like a decent crowd in Melbourne were after South Australia had beaten Victoria several times in a row. And what little interest there ever was in Victoria in stoking the fires of interstate rivalry was completely extinguished by the advent of the AFL.

There was no desperate defending of the barricades when West Coast became the first non-Victorian club into a grand final in 1991. Plenty of deserved plaudits for the Eagles when they won the flag the following year against Geelong and again in 1994.

Just two years after that, Sydney, the Swans having gone without a premiership since 1933, had the bulk of the unaligned cheering them on against North Melbourne. That was even more the case when Brisbane upset Essendon on grand final day in 2001. And so on.

In 2004, when Victorians contemplated for the first time a grand final without a local representative, one major newspaper got too clever by half insisting that the footy public wouldn’t even bother watching, and was roundly pilloried for the suggestion. We’re just not that parochial.

And every time some local politician feebly insists during grand final week that a Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Richmond or Hawk fan jump on the bandwagon of a rival they truly loathe simply because they reside in the same state, they are routinely called out for at best naivety, at worst downright ignorance.

Ask an unaligned Victorian football supporter who they’d like to win the flag this finals series and you’ll more than likely hear the following: “We like how Adelaide play, another Sydney flag wouldn’t hurt, and if the Eagles did it from eighth, you could hardly begrudge them.” Geelong? “We’re sick of them.” Essendon? “No, thanks.” And Richmond? “We’re scared.”

That’s how Victoria is viewing this September. We’re not trembling with fear at the prospect of interlopers from interstate. We’re not nursing bruised pride because only three of our clubs were good enough to earn a crack at the premiership.

And we’re most definitely not throwing our weight behind clubs we really can’t stand simply because they have a “3” at the front of their postcodes instead of a “6”, a “5” or a “2”.

  1. Hi Rohan

    Good article. As a WA boy and West Coast member of 30 years (living in Melbourne), I understand your argument and agree there are plenty of Vics who would agree with you. But there are plenty, including in the media, who would not. The most obvious manifestation is the lack of respect given to non-Victorian players. This is partly because they are not in Melbourne and are ‘out of sight, out of mind’, rather than actual animosity. However, listen to the Superbox podcast dealing with Matt Priddis after his retirement, as a case in point. Not one word of congratulation on a great career from anyone on the panel, just a criticism of his retiring after signing a new contract and pointing out his weaknesses. If he had played for 11 years for a Melbourne-based club, he would have been at least on the level of Jobe Watson. This cursory (and quite disrespectful) treatment is typical of the treatment of all but a very few ‘superstars’ from outside of Victoria. There remains a ‘VFL flavour’ to quite a lot of media coverage, albeit nowhere near as bad as it was.

    Just my (somewhat jaundiced) view.


  2. Rohan Connolly

    With respect Michael, I think you’re conflating two issues. One you raise, which goes to lack of interest in non-Vic clubs, is probably often quite true (though I’d suggest not in a malicious way). What I’m talking about, though, is actively barracking against their success on grand final day simply because they are a club from outside Victoria. I just don’t think that happens.

  3. Interesting point Rohan, but I’d really love to know whether GWS fits in this “we don’t care as long as it’s not Richmond” narrative.

    My interaction with the Vic footy supporting public is limited to online engagement. The GWS response is polarized between “They play great footy and I enjoy watching them” to the “it’s a plastic franchise that no one supports who will dominate the Premiership and screw over the small Victorian clubs”. There isn’t much in between.

    I’d love to think that GWS would get non-aligned Vic support, but I don’t know that they would,

    Your thoughts?

  4. Hi Rohan,

    I can tell you for a fact that I feel physically ill when Collingwood, Carlton or Essendon win the premiership. Being a mad Richmond man its a mortal sin to give a compliment to any of the aforementioned teams.

    I was at the 2001 GF and took great pleasure in watching the look of disbelief on the faces of Essendon supporters as they watched a much ridiculed team come from behind and cause an upset.

    You are totally correct when you state that a Victorian would rather see the premiership go interstate than go to one of our fiercest rivals. If Richmond miss out, we live in hope that the rest of the victorian teams do too.

  5. It is great to hear Victoria are no longer parochial.

    I look forward to grand finals being played in the state of the highest ranked team, the MCG no longer being referred to as the home of football, and Victorian clubs ceasing to talk about premierships won in the VFL, unless they wish to also start recording Ports 33 premierships as well.

  6. Bang on Rohan. As a Collingwood supporter, I can’t think of a worse outcome this year than a Richmond flag. I would rather see GWS win it, notwithstanding the enormous leg up they have received from the AFL. They play attractive footy and I don’t know anyone who follows them. I also can’t forget the torment I endured from spioiled tiger fans during my schooldays back in the seventies!

  7. Hello, RC. Great observation indeed, tend to agree with most of it especially that since the beginning of the national competition it has killed off the state of origin games & all that parochialism

  8. Rohan, I had thought you were right, but as a Crows member who’s lived in Melbourne for 22 years, this wasn’t my lived experience of the last week. If I had a dollar for every person who told me they were barracking for Geelong last night because “I have to support the Victorian team” I’d have a solid down payment on a grand final ticket. There’s also been a fair bit of speculation in the print media and on various podcasts about how bad an Adelaide v GWS grand final would be. Things have changed, but it still simmers.

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