Friday, February 10, 2012

Cockheads and culture

Last week I saw the worst and best of Melbourne. Appropriately, it was a night experiencing the two sides of the city that we pride ourselves on most - sport and arts (music).

I've been to three hours worth of A-League soccer now and haven't seen a goal.

Melbourne Victory fans show their class
At least last week's match between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart - with the confusing cheers of 'Go Melbourne' - had dramatic edge to it thanks to the new rivalry, even if nothing actually happened (true soccer fans would argue that point). An AFL does leave a certain feeling of emptiness, but only after an eventful and exciting match, which someone has led and someone has evened. Not so with a nil-all soccer match.

Anyway, I like soccer well enough. With cricket turning into a circus I pay it a little more attention through dry sporting summers.

When Melbourne Heart were established I wondered why anyone would switch teams, but last week I saw first hand exactly why. I also saw evidence of the sheer lunacy of those liquor licensing laws we marched against a couple of years ago.

I am a casual Heart fan, simply because I didn't have a strong enough emotional investment to the Victory to stick with them when I first heard about their crowd behaviour towards Melbourne's new team last season, and because one of their players does yoga at the same studio as me. As good reasons as any.

Thinking I knew what the Victory crowd were like - I live in Richmond and see the effect they have on Swan Street, which is worse than the drunks at 2am, with numerous police required to supervise the mob whenever they play at home - I wanted to buy something to show my colours. A mild act of antagonism more than support for my team. I'm glad I didn't. My passionate Victory friend booked seats at the 'Victory end' and I felt like an undercover Nazi in Israel, without the legitimacy behind their hatred. Since when do we segregate general admission supporters?? I reckon it just exacerebates the problem and spite towards those down the other end, which included official-looking scarves that read "FUCK OFF MELBOURNE HEART" and repetitive, mindless chants such as "You're supporters are fucking shit". They abused the one or two Heart supporters (at least those brave enough to wear their colours) as they walked off to the toilet and vicously told them not to come back.

Apparently "THERE'S ONLY ONE TEAM IN MELBOURNE, ONE TEAM IN MELLLLLBOURNE ...". in which case I'd have thought scoring at least one goal in a local derby shouldn't have been to difficult for them.

Excuse my own language but I've never come across a collective at any event that could be so aptly described as cunts. And there wasn't even full strength alcohol available to the crowd.

My friend says its just passion. Well yeah, and I'm pretty passionate at AFL games, but passion isn't so great when it manifests itself in unwarranted abuse.

I sat in silence throughout the game, genuinely afraid of the reaction should I dare to vocally support my team, in my city. I've been to AAMI stadium in Adelaide in my Essendon jumper, drunkenly but playfully obnoxious and vocal - more towards my own team who lost by 96 points - and actually had a laugh with the Adelaide fans nearby. I've sat in the Fremantle members section in same Essendon jumper, the only on in sight, and treated politely as a welcome guest!

AFL has bad and abusive supporters, people who give me the shits because of how angry they let it make them, and the cheer squads just reflect poorly on society in general. But I've never seen anything like this before, so toxic, spiteful, abusive and threatening just because people followed a different team. So I walked in a Heart supporter with a remembered, if now secondary, allegiance to Victory; I walked out a Heart supporter who dislikes Victory the way I dislike Collingwood. So I have a greater emotional investment in A-League now I guess, but I won't be rushing back to games involving Victory and have no one to go to Heart games with. Whatever. Footy starts soon.

So I trudged off from the game and headed for a bar in Collingwood to see a local band called Immigrant Union, feeling a little disillusioned with my species.

SLAM rally 2010
Reassurance was swift. Having paid $10 entry I met three close friends and 60-odd friendly strangers who all came together in a bar that may not have been able to put on live music under the enforcement of the old liquor licensing laws to enjoy something beautiful, communal and not in the slightest bit divisive. Melbourne's music scene is underrated, especially by the millions who walk past it every day. There is so much happening I don't know how to find the best stuff and suffer choice anxiety. A well-travelled friend says its the best for bands and venues in the world. Probably a patriotic overstatement, but one backed by Dandy Warhols drummer Brent DeBoer who lives here now (he 'liked' the Facebook status saying as much). It doesn't matter anyway, we have something golden here and it needs to be protected.

I might be a music snob. There may have been 20,000 more people at the soccer that night. But I can tell you which of the two events I went to that night contributes more to this city's cherished liveability. And there were a hundred other gigs going on around city and suburbs at the same time. And everyone was there to have fun - with friends and strangers - and celebrate a cultural, artistic, soul-nourishing experience. There were no fights or abuse, but there was alcohol.

And I'm yet to see a fight at any gig I've been to. Sport can bring people together as easily as it divides. My favourite ever AFL moment was jumping up and down hugging and high fiving strangers when Essendon beat Collingwood on 'AnZaharakis Day' (any opportunity). That's why I love going to the footy.

Live music just brings people together. It's almost certain I'll be surrounded by a bunhc of awesome people I will/would genuinely like and get along with at any gig I go to. That's why I love Meredith/Golden Plains so much. That's why I love living in Melbourne.

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