For those who may not be aware I gave up on the AFL in July of this year in the fallout to the Adam Goodes racism saga. I felt that my underlying beliefs and ideologies had grown too far apart with what was being branded as the typical AFL fan.
Those who know me know that football is my life, however. I have two key roles with amateur football here in Western Australia and assist with a WAFL club in the state league.
When I made that decision to give up on the AFL a funny thing happened, I grew within myself and challenged the environment I was in at a grassroots level to be better. I did not feel I could make a difference at the highest level, but I was ideally placed to make a difference at the grassroots.
With my focuses changed and my determination channelled, my role in assisting umpires in local football received widespread praise. I felt like I had made a difference and made the game better for players and fans. It was a nice achievement but not what I was most proud of in 2015.
For that prideful moment, it was challenging the accepted norm of football clubs allowing their players, members and supporters to behave and act in a manner unbefitting any social environment. To get away with things that should not and would not be accepted in any other area of our daily lives.
While the focus in the AFL landscape was on crowd behaviour in the back half of 2015, I had to face the reality that I was living in a football world which made AFL crowds look timid. I had quit the AFL because of my beliefs and ideologies, yet the truth was that this was challenged more by behaviour at grassroots level.
Threatening behaviour, abusive language and unruly crowds were what I kept seeing across the 2015 season and it was time to change it. Focus was always on the negative, it was time to focus on the positive.
In some cases it was a direct conversation towards an offending party, in others it was a quiet chat to a key member away from the emotion of the game. I even implored league administration that the behaviour needed improving and perhaps that fines and suspensions were the one way to hit home.
Ironically though, the best method happened to be by expressing my thoughts on paper. It seemed to hit home the loudest and challenged people to want to create a better environment for everyone involved in football.
Over finals across the state and nation there were a number of incidents reported and unreported of inappropriate crowd and player behaviour. All that I had witnessed over the year, fighting, swearing and threats, could also be seen at grassroots grounds across the nation. Not where I was though. Not in the league which I had challenged across the year to be better. We had all gotten better. We were better. Prideful moment, you betcha.
I always liked to think that I had a different perspective on football and even the world in general. I liked to believe that having this unique perspective and by using my words and subsequent actions I could challenge accepted norms.
I remember writing a piece right here on The Roar in the aftermath to the Adam Goodes saga and the majority of replies were in that abusive and threatening tone that has become the underlying culture of AFL football and its fans. It was disappointing.
Yet those disappointing comments are not what have stuck with me. It were the handful of very generous and heartfelt comments from people who accepted my views and believed that I could make a difference, that we deserved to be better.
So I made a difference at grassroots level. Now, I want to make a difference at AFL level.
I learnt at the grassroots level that words followed by actions can work. The Roar is an amazing forum to be able to use words to reach a mainstream audience. A perfect place to challenge all AFL fans to be better, to give the best environment a sporting contest can give.
Do I expect this piece to receive praise and immediately change the AFL landscape or AFL fans into becoming more tolerant and accepting of an embracing environment? Heck no. But this is a start point.
We are better than what we are. Just like this off-season, where AFL clubs and players are trying to improve, this off-season every AFL fan should be up to the challenge to improve themselves. Come back in 2016 ready to go and ready to make a difference.