The responsibility of the sports fan

I can tell you, without prompting, what was my worst moment of the 2014 AIHL season.

It was during the grand final, and it wasn’t the fact that my team, the Melbourne Ice, was looking unnaturally lethargic against the uppity Mustangs, to the extent that the Ice eventually fell 6-1 without firing a shot.

It wasn’t even the increasingly rapt and raucous cheering of the Mustangs fans as they realised their Goodall Cup dream was coming true. (Actually, it was hard to begrudge them their joy and, let’s face it, I would have been yelling louder if the Ice was on top, so good for you, Clippyclops.)

No, my worst moment of the season, my least favourite memory of that afternoon, was the moment when former Ice star Joey Hughes, now a Mustang, was on the wrong end of a heavy collision in front of the Mustangs’ bench, and didn’t immediately get up. He stayed down, and we couldn’t see from the stand how badly hurt he was. And he remained down. And a small chunk of the Melbourne Ice fans found their voice; booing him, and goading him, and basically cheering his pain.

Joey Hughes, vertical and pain-free, for the Mustangs. Pic: Hewitt Sports.

Joey Hughes, vertical and pain-free, for the Mustangs. Pic: Hewitt Sports.

How shithouse is that?

Love him or hate him, and Joey is a guy who inspires both emotions in fans, especially having retired from the Ice and then reemerged as a Mustang, but he is all heart. He gives and gives, on the ice and off, and in this collision he had gone down hard. (Happily, he did eventually get back up.)

Dancing on the pain of any hockey player who is down and not necessarily getting up is pretty low, I reckon. As is mindlessly, or maybe not mindlessly booing a man to the point that he contemplates leaving the sport that he loves.

I’m not even going to go into the potential racism or deeper rivers that run under the current furore relating to opposition fans constantly booing Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes in the AFL.

All I have to say is this: I believe that our job as fans, whether watching hockey, footy, cricket, boxing, tennis, bocce, trugo, whatever, is to love our sport. That’s why we’re there, right? I felt all kinds of emotions during that AIHL grand final last year, and mostly sadness that the Ice couldn’t find their usual mojo when it mattered. But I loved being there, I loved being one of more than a thousand hockey fanatics, lifting the roof of the Icehouse and urging on our heroes, whether it was the Mustangs’ O’Kane, Hughes, or that bloody Swedish guy, Viktor, who did all the damage, or Lliam, Tommy, Army, Bacsy, Brown, McKenzie, the Wongs, Graham and the other Ice players.

Adam Goodes: it's time for empathy, not taunting.

Adam Goodes: it’s time for empathy, not taunting.

I believe, generally, that you should work, where you can, to be a force for good in the world. I’m not religious; this is not some sermon from a pulpit. But if you’ve ever travelled, you would know that the reality is that we live blessed lives, here in Australia. Sport is a place for us to have fun in our comparatively awesome lives, to ride the emotional roller coaster, to desperately care about things that actually don’t really matter.

To try and boo a player out of the sport because you consider he’s a ‘sook’ (which is to make the big and, frankly, extremely generous assumption that the fact he’s an outspoken, proud Indigenous man has nothing to do with your booing) is against the contract of being a fan, as I see it.

I can remember once having a word with a Richmond supporter at a Tiger game. Well, he was wearing head-to-toe Richmond gear but did nothing but bag out the Tiger players, screaming that they were useless, that they were hopeless, that they were gutless, etc etc. I finally said to him, mate, you’re giving them a far bigger whack than any of the Brisbane Lions fans also in attendance. Go buy a Lions scarf, go to the Lions’ cheer squad and lead them in the Tiger-hate. He slunk off. The Tigers somehow crawled off the mat and won with the last kick of the day. He was nowhere to be seen as we belted out the song.

I was left thinking: why was he even there? Just to release his wider life frustration into the air? Just to scream abuse at his team, depressing the shit out of all the other Richmond fans around him?

Please understand I am not trying to sound lofty, or like I know how the world works any better than anybody else. Actually, as I get older, I come to realise more and more how little I know. I have no bigger voice than anybody else and recognise that there are a thousand different views on this topic.

But my view is this: when you’re at a sporting event, cheer, don’t boo. Encourage your heroes, don’t kick the shit out of their opponents. Because there’s a difference.

In fact, think about the energy you put into the world, on a daily basis, in the real world as well as the sporting arena.

Are you a positive person? Are you working to make the world better? Or are you just chopping down the Adam Goodes of the world, or a writhing-in-pain Joey Hughes, because you can smell blood and you’re anonymous in a crowd or on social media, and because, well, you can?

This has been an extremely depressing week. Hopefully, it leads somewhere better than where we are now.


  1. Tim Stringer says:

    Well written as usual Nicko. They should have been cheering for Joey considering he continued playing after that with I believe a fractured leg and a muscle torn from the bone. Preach on brother!

  2. juddexley says:

    That was so perfectly said that I now no longer need to write it myself. Well done mate.

  3. Nicko, I want you you to put aside 10 minutes in a couple of years time to chat with my grandsons. You know the park and the BBQ will be going. On Sunday after going down in a controversial fashion to the North Stars, eldest G’son Will age 5, said to his Mum, “I hope that uncle Lliam doesn’t feel too sad about losing because he does know I was cheering for him” I really don’t want him to lose that view of the world. AND he was right. Having fans support is so much more powerful and life affirming than having folk who sit and take pot shots at those who are down. Thanks for your clarity in speaking on the matter.

  4. If you knew the real reason he was being boo’d then you’d know it wasn’t because of him lying on the ice. He wasn’t the only ex-ice player to be boo’d

    • I stand by what I wrote, Peter. I was there. There was intense booing while he was down. (Will Brodie also noted it, in his book ‘Reality Check’. Page 259.)
      To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s historical, got some hidden unknown origin or is straight-up personal; it’s still booing a bloke who may be badly hurt.

  5. Theresa says:

    Amen, Nicko. Amen.

  6. Default position ideally is that fans go and support their team vocally, the literal definition of barracking. The atmosphere at any sports game is better when that is the case. I certainly go to games in that spirit.

    One of the most alluring elements of sport is the capacity to cast aside normal, rational existence and participate in the pantomime of “us v them.” Its cathartic, as you’ve alluded to in the example of the boorish RFC fan, the ugly side of the coin. At some level “our boys” can only be the glorious champions of all that is good, flying the flag of fair play, exquisite skill and undeniable will if there is something lesser to measure it against. A hero needs a villain. Usually it is the referees! Occasionally it is a fierce rival, I think we project a lot of that onto Joey Hughes. Footscray fans in the AFL have built up a similar narrative around Ryan Griffen. In both cases I think the poorest elements of the behaviour are a direct contrast to the absolute highs they have contributed to or participated in as one of “us.” While it is shit behaviour, in a perverse way it is quite a strong acknowledgment of their influence.

    It is a difficult thing to draw the line on and rationalise. I’m not sure it can be done, or should be. Sport is inherently irrational. Thousands of people don bright coloured uniforms, travel distances, exchange money they earned in exchange for hours of their lives to watch, cheer and jeer men in equally brightly coloured uniforms get bossed around by an unpopular mediator in a different set of colours while they push around a piece of vulcanised rubber, or an inflated dead animal. It’s weird. It can be wonderful.

    • Andrew, I reckon you got the key word there, ‘Pantomime’.
      That’s the difference: Us v Them style: boo behind you behind you! has a fun aspect to it, remains in the realm of harmless entertainment.
      Actually jeering a hurt player, or booing a player with potentially racially motivated workplace-bullying intent steps way outside it.
      I love ‘pantomime’ booing and Australian larrikin taunting and chirping. LOVE it.
      But not once it turns nasty and harmful with intent.

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