Nathan Buckley said “shame on anyone” who booed a champion, Luke Beveridge saw the funny side.
Jimmy Bartel said he had never heard Gary Ablett get booed until Easter Monday, 2019, while most Geelong fans have heard him get booed at every match since he returned to the club last year. Okay, so we are already a little confused?
Let’s add a little perspective. Consider the question: “Do you think they’ll boo on the weekend?”
Have we lost all perception of the fact that this is an absurd question? Think about the act of ‘booing’, and the term ‘boo’.
Is it not rather absurd? Is it not the noise unthreatening ghosts used to make in children’s cartoons? Yet adults ask this question of each other with their tongues nowhere near their cheeks.
Now picture yourself at a sporting event, and one side of the crowd is booing an opposition player.
Forget why, just imagine them doing it. Their physical actions are rather ridiculous, even funny.
With the benefit of hindsight, those Essendon fans who immediately booed harder when Buckley shamed them on Anzac Day – especially the ones the camera caught – look at worst disrespectful, and at best rather embarrassing.
Their cheeks were as red as Eddie McGuire’s must have been on the final siren.
So booing is both confusing and embarrassing, but it is also very selective. When we boo, when we tell others not to, and whether we like the person or team we boo, or others are booing. A couple of examples spring to mind.
West Coast famously booed Adam Goodes in Perth, for, we think, having been racially abused?
Okay, that might be disingenuous, but so is booing Goodes for whatever he was booed for, but then cheering Andrew Gaff for punching an opponent in the face. This was the same supporter base.
And here the waters become extremely murky.
“We weren’t cheering him for punching someone in the face we were cheering him as a show of support”, West Coast fans might say. But this is the problem with crowd noise: how can we work out what the intent is?
So you were cheering Gaff for support, but not booing Goodes for racist reasons? Okay, got it.
Then there are the Essendon fans. So many were unhappy about Jobe Watson’s treatment by many opposition fans – famously, West Coast were also involved – yet they seem to enjoy booing when it suits them.
They booed Gary Ablett on the weekend, for liking a post on social media nearly two weeks earlier, just as they booed Scott Pendlebury the week before. It seems they are suddenly okay with booing again.
Their defence for the Pendlebury incident was the umpiring and the cheating, namely when Pendlebury himself staged for a free kick.
Now maybe this is reopening old wounds unnecessarily, but if booing cheating was a justification for their actions, the Essendon fan-base would still be booing their own team for the supplements scandal.
Staging for one free kick, or systematically cheating the entire AFL world? I know which I think is worse.
But of course, I have committed the most common fallacy in this entire debate. I just treated Essendon and West Coast’s entire fan-bases as collective entities.
This is a seemingly unavoidable thing, because as has already been argued, there is no certainly in this debate, whether you are for or against booing, there is no reason to individualise it, because booing can only create controversy when a massive number of people do it at the same time.
So I’ll use a Chris Scott-ism: if you are okay systematic cheating, but not okay with maybe staging for a free, you are a nong.
Only uncertainty can reign supreme in this discussion. It is the very nature of ‘the line’, and my issue with it.
It is not so much that we cannot locate a line – think cricket sledging – it is that we loose perspective that sledging or booing already is crossing the line. It is taking an action that outside of a sporting context would be considered anti-social.
So, there is no answer, and there possibly is no question. There is hysteria everywhere around booing everywhere in AFL circles at the moment, but no one seems to be able to work it out what to do, or what to think.
Sampling many different arguments put forward by significant AFL people I will leave you all with this advice: you can boo umpires because of the ‘pantomime’, yet you cannot boo umpires.
You pay to go to the footy, so you can boo whoever you want, but paying to go to the footy does not inherently give you the right to boo.
You can boo Australians of the Year if you disagree with their title, and you can cheer physical on-field violence, as a show of support for the player who committed it.
So just continue to boo whenever you feel the need, and for whatever reason. But remember, you will look nongish when you do it.
I might not have made anything clearer, but soon we all be able to get back too booing for the right reasons, whatever they might be.