Footy fan clubs aren’t what they used to be. Alana Schetzer discovers the new breed of supporters group helping change the colour of the game.
CHANCES are when you think of a typical football fan, you imagine a bloke with a scarf wrapped around his neck, meat pie in one hand, beer in the the other. Think again. As the AFL expands its reach across the country, an increasingly diverse cross-section of fans are getting actively involved through a new breed of niche supporters groups. We meet some of the fan clubs that break the mould.
Pink Magpies, Collingwood Football Club
When the Pink Magpies marched in this year’s Gay Pride parade, they were booed. Another example of gay bashing? No, says the group’s convener, Ian Bell. ‘‘It was because we are Magpies supporters!’’
The AFL’s only official supporters’ group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual people, the Pink Magpies began in 2001 and instantly gained support from president Eddie McGuire and club managers. The group went to ground in 2005 after the departure of founder Richard Watts, but was resurrected last July with Bell, 62 at the helm.
“Primarily we are a supporters’ group and we support Collingwood. Then we also have a social club function and we have a dinner in the lead-up to the season,” explains Bell, sitting in the Westpac Centre, the Pies’ headquarters on Batman Avenue.
Today the group has about 20 members, many of whom sit together during matches. Bell, an artist, is hoping to organise some Pink Magpies flags so supporters can show their true colours.
While he doesn’t want the group to become a vehicle for pushing gay issues, he says it’s important that people from marginalised sections of society have a place that understands them.
“The group exists to support Collingwood and we happen to be gay,” he says. “But my personal opinion is that we know of several NRL players and international sports people who have come out. Yet we don’t have an AFL player, apparently – despite there being 700 or so – who is openly gay. It’s about identification. It is important that people acknowledge that gay people go to the footy and follow their teams.”
Bell says it’s up to other clubs whether or not they want to establish their own GLTBT supporters’ groups, but he hopes the Pink Magpies can serve as an inspiration.
Women of Carlton, Carlton Football Club
Dressed in a sharp suit, public relations consultant Judy Mullen looks every bit the business professional. It’s only when she wraps her Blues scarf around her neck that her alter ego – the passionate football supporter – emerges.
As president of Women of Carlton, one of a handful of dedicated women’s supporter groups in the AFL, Mullen, 51, oversees a group with 300 members – and rising.
Mullen helped establish the group in 2003 with the aim of creating a comfortable environment for women in what remains a male-dominated sport. “That, and to provide a connection to the club,” she says. “Women want to be involved in the club and there aren’t a lot of opportunities to do so in their own right, unless you’re a wife or a girlfriend of a player.
“We have members who wouldn’t feel comfortable going to the football on their own or about coming to a function by themselves, so it’s a safety-in-numbers thing,” she says. “We have a lot of women who meet in a group to come to the footy and it’s actually really nice. It’s developed a lot of friendships.”
She says the club has strongly supported her group’s initiatives. In the early days, the group organised theatre shows and wine events, but Mullen says it soon became apparent the members just wanted to talk football.
“They’re serious about their football,” she says. “We have dinner with the boys and match-day lunches. We had one event where we had an umpire come in and explain umpire rules. We loved it.”
The group is growing and has appointed ambassadors to spread the word, including sports commentator Samantha Lane, model Megan Gale, and Rebecca Judd, model and wife of team captain Chris Judd.
As well as working to bring women into the heart of the club, Women of Carlton supports two players every year through the Guernsey Club, rewarding footballers who perform well on and off the field.
The Huddle, North Melbourne Football Club
More than a fan club for the Kangaroos, the Huddle, based at Arden Street, also serves as an education and social hub helping to connect recent migrants and disadvantaged youth to the local community.
Driving instructor Yaseen Musa, 51, has been a member of the Huddle for almost six years, since migrating from Eritrea. His entire family is involved with the group, including his six children.
‘‘The people I live with come for the services, like the homework club and computers for adults. And they play footy, too,’’ he says. “Everything you need is here.’’
The Huddle provides both a means for staff and players to get involved in the community, and a vehicle for introducing supporters, who otherwise might not get involved, to football.
The group is particularly popular in Kensington, Flemington and North Melbourne, and there’s more than 6000 people involved in one way or another. One of their most popular programs is the African Warriors football club, comprising African refugees and immigrants.
Beyond his involvement in the Huddle’s programs, Musa is a passionate Kangaroos supporter. He names rookie Majak Daw, the first Sudanese-born AFL player, as his favourite current player, but his all-time favourite is Wayne Carey. ‘‘When he was playing, he really was the king.’’
Other AFL supporter groups that break the mould
The Tommy Hafey Club, Richmond Football Club: Launched in 2003, the Tommy Hafey Club is the Tigers supporters’ group for business people, where corporate networking and a (wagyu beef) pie go hand in hand.
Pets, Melbourne Football Club: Even Lassie and friends can show their football colours, with the Demons offering pet membership for $30 a year. A Demons blanket is part of the membership package.
Jakarta Hawks, Hawthorn Football Club: Just because you live in another country, doesn’t mean you can’t support your AFL team. The Jakarta Hawks is for supporters who live in Indonesia.
Lawdons, Essendon Football Club: Are you a lawyer? Barrack for Essendon? There’s a special supporters club just for you – Lawdons. Started in 1999 by Judge Tony Howard, the Lawdons allows legal eagles to mingle and share their love of the law and the game.
The Black Swans, Sydney Swans Football Club: Founded two years ago, the Black Swans connects indigenous players and supporters to local events and projects in Sydney.