If you saw the coming home celebrations of the Icelandic Football team you were probably smiling from ear to ear just as I was.
The scene had a little bit of everything. A strong sense of belonging and connectedness, with a hint of Viking spirit, and just a little bit of Eurovision thrown in for good measure.
If there ever was a team deserving of such a wonderful tribute it was this one, over achievers to the ultimate degree. The fact that they managed to take the scalp of England along the way added a little extra to the celebration.
Without a major victim it would still have been a wonderful achievement but with the Poms on the end of another loss, Iceland’s celebration had even more punch. I think the rest of the world might have enjoyed it as well. Woe is England!
The celebrations included the most incredible display of drumming and clapping in perfect unison. The average punter, both young and old, the players and officials all combined through common action, sound and emotion. It was moving, heart-warming and stirring to watch.
My thoughts immediately leapt to Australian expressions of passion in the crowd. We are culturally quite different and often less organised and structured in the way we parochially express ourselves towards our team of choice.
Media voices have called for some increased coordination and structure around Australian sporting cheerleading. Emulation of overseas passion in our major sports is commonplace. I think we should look internally rather than externally, but before comment, let’s look at a few things we do well and a few things that we don’t.
From a football perspective, our supporter groups have created some choreographed chants and songs that do add colour to A-League matches. Throughout the first decade of our immensely entertaining competition we have grappled with our own identity.
I personally love an Adelaide or Brisbane crowd, it always feels very local, other xlubs (such as mine) present a more aggressive and intimidating atmosphere that often feels slightly forced and copycat.
As the Wellington Phoenix supporters expose their milky white flesh when leading going in to the last ten minutes I feel a wonderful sense of comfort knowing that there is no imitation occurring. They have found their voice in a somewhat disturbing and semi-nude manner, yet their voice it is.
We are certainly no match for the comedy and cleverness associated with English supporters. A quick Google search will provide evidence of that and keep a football fan entertained for a couple of hours, yet we have a couple of nice moments.
There are some good examples of the Australian voice at the core of our barracking. The iconic Yabba and the simplicity and blunt nature of his jibes captured our voice perfectly. The man immortalised at the SCG in statue form provided the benchmark for all Australian larrikinism.
Lines like ‘I wish you were a statue and I were a pigeon,’ possess a wit and irreverence that is hard to emulate and convey an appropriate level of respect for the English.
Perhaps the most famous football cry in this country has been the ‘CO-LLING-WOOD’ chant that reverberates around the city of Melbourne when the Magpies show some grit. Sure, not the most creative chant yet its emotive power is evident.
If, and it’s a big if, fans can step back from parochialism they would see the more aesthetic beauty and solidarity behind the chant. Who am I kidding, it’s Collingwood!
Imitating the stretching of Mervyn Hughes prior to a spell was a stroke of genius by the M.C.G ground and will live in folklore in this country. Seeing Merv recently makes me think he should have kept up the stretching regime in retirement.
Unfortunately, despite these highlights we also have some fan-bases that are letting us down.
Quite frankly the average AFL supporter chants are pathetic. Shouting out the name of a team and clapping three times afterwards is weak and not the stuff of poets.
The rather painful team songs can also be cringe worthy, especially from the newer sides that lack the longevity to make corny melodies sound proud and motivational.
Rugby league crowd involvement is more of a myriad of abuse and vitriol stemming from angry and violent people who feel that decisions rather than poor play are costing their team a chance of success.
I long for witticism such as the cry from a plump, chesty bond singlet wearing man at Belmore Sports Ground back in the late 80s. Glen Nissen had run away to score a quality try when the gentlemen sang out in perfect pitch, ‘It’s a Nissan, that’s my car.’
Rugby union crowds seem to sit in silence while kickers line up endless conversions or penalty attempts at goal. The crowd claps, points at scarves or at the chest area on their jerseys after the successful kick. This is all rather uncreative and disappointing in itself, yet it is still quite often more interesting than what occurs between the kicks.
Netball has a mighty lot to answer for. With two daughters and as coach of one of their teams, I have seen more than my fair share.
My only explanation is this. Due to the absurd amount of time that umpires spend blowing whistles, the only way the patrons can actually be heard is to purchase inflatable sticks and bang them together furiously, while screaming in the most high pitched voice known to man.
Coming home from a Swifts encounter leaves one with serious concerns that they are suffering from the early signs of tinnitus.
The mind numbing rhetoric of ‘the fanatics’ borders on being an international embarrassment. Don’t get me wrong, their passion for Australian tennis is admirable but incredibly bright clothes with nautically themed headwear seems a little out of place at the tennis in my opinion. Their ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussies’ have become decidedly weaker in recent times.
At Melbourne Park this year a gentlemen not fifteen metres from me simply called out, ‘oh shut up,’ after the seventy third rendition of ‘there’s only one Lleyton Hewitt.’
It’s high time we acknowledged that we are no match for a humming Asian throng in an Asian Cup qualifier where the constant buzz becomes a wall of intimidating sound. Nor can we compete with the San Siro amidst the theatre and atmosphere of the Milan derby.
We can’t match a Green Bay Packers crowd in the depths of winter, with the cheese heads drinking beer and standing topless in sleet and snow. And that’s the point, we shouldn’t try to match them.
There is a touch of imitation about much of our supporting. Let’s cut the American ‘Let’s go Stosur, let’s go.’ Get rid of sensible men in smart looking shorts at Australian golf tournaments shouting out, ‘get in the hole’.
We might be better to embrace our own voice when it comes to fan engagement, just like Iceland. Rather than attempt to emulate the sound created in stadiums, leagues and sports around the world, let’s be ourselves and let our unique climate and tone speak for itself.
Supporters groups, stadium management and TV networks seem to want a more organised approach. Let’s not. If games are played with an undecipherable hum, without inflatable banging and cleverly constructed chants then so be it.
We all love sporting contests from the other continents. Let them do it their way and we can do it our way. Attempting to cleverly reconstruct the Icelandic celebration could be quite comical, especially after our renowned alcohol consumption level has been adhered to, as would an Australian rugby crowd attempting to match the Welsh in a voice ‘battle’.
Let’s just keep doing our thing. It’s been a lot of fun up until now.