As readers of Around the Grounds already know, I was born and raised north of the Barassi line, the mythical but uncannily accurate boundary in New South Wales somewhere south of Gundagai but north of Wagga Wagga. It’s where the football goal posts somehow morph from one configuration to another. If you’re from north of the line, Australian Rules football, its rules, conventions, language and fan culture can seem a little curious.
Back in 1982 when I was still a schoolboy and making a handsome holiday living as a scoreboard operator at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the proud but ailing VFL team South Melbourne began playing games on a Sunday afternoon at the famous old ground. It was a novelty for a stadium that had been accustomed only to rectangular shaped dimensions and the sound of the off-side whistle.
Molly Meldrum calls it…
A few years before that, on a fondly remembered weekly music programme called ‘Countdown’, its compere and footy enthusiast Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum predicted to his national TV audience that a tune called ‘Up There Cazaly’ would be a hit. It was.
These were the first inklings of what, four decades later, has become a fully-fledged programme of AFL national expansion. South Melbourne long ago were transformed into the perennial powerhouse (currently having a rare down year) Sydney Swans. Similarly, even further north of the Barrasi line on the other side of the Tweed River, the spirit and some of the identity of Fitzroy FC live on in the form of the Brisbane Lions.
AFL expansion is now in a new and very interesting phase. In South East Queensland the Gold Coast Suns (who debuted in the AFL in 2011) are forging ahead, albeit incrementally, in the shifting sands of Australian sports toughest market. They play with a good spirit and having many appealing traits, including the image of a beach patrol tower in one corner of Carrara stadium. It’s expansion of the purest type, however, despite the best efforts of the players and coaches involved, a premiership flag seems a little way of yet.
Snappiest team song in the league
Back in Sydney there’s a football Ferrari driving the streets called the GWS (Greater Western Sydney) Giants. This is a footy club sown from the arid (in AFL terms) ground west of the Homebush Olympic stadium. The sort of country historically aligned with Rugby League. The AFL is having none of this orthodox view of football demographics and has set up a super team that plays as a tight unit, has an array of the best talent available, is well coached and is currently sitting third on the ladder, patiently stalking the front runners Geelong. To my eye there seems to be plenty of scope for improvement for this team that wears the orange, charcoal and white of the new football order and runs out to the snappiest team song in the league, (composed by Harry Angus of the Cat Empire).
The bid decision!
It’s compelling stuff so I’ve decided, to the disapproval of my friends who know nothing but a lifelong allegiance to one club only, to abandon my previous alignment with Collingwood to support the ‘team from the mighty west’.
I’m not the only one doing this either. Every day on my morning walk in Hobart I pass a car with not one but three Giants stickers on the side window. We are out there.
In just a few weeks the Giants will play North Melbourne at my summer home of Blundstone arena. I’ll be going along to support the charcoal and orange and to hopefully sing along with the catchy and clever team song.