Real footy fans don’t boo – but trying to ban it is just silly

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In early 2021, the Wests Tigers hosted the North Queensland Cowboys in a match at their spiritual home, Leichhardt Oval.

Big game, too, because it doubled as a tribute to Western Suburbs legend Tommy Raudonikis, who had died earlier that week.

The Tigers produced a distinctly Tiger-ish first half, trailing 28-6 at the break.

As the players trudged towards the tunnel, the Tigers faithful stood as one, hanging over the fences and railings of the grandstand, cupped a hand to their mouths and booed and booed and booed.

One alleged adult leaned over the tunnel and berated the players like he was scolding an infant.

For whatever reason — let’s say boredom and not vodka — I tossed out a tweet: “I know the Tigers were poor, but real fans don’t boo their side as they leave the field.”

Instantly, a shitstorm of hate and vitriol rained upon me from a great height. Fans pay good money and can say what they want, I was told. Come down from your ivory tower and mix with the real people, I was urged. “Who are you to be the arbitrator of what a ‘real fan’ can and can’t do?” argued Bigboy21707061.

Well, I’m not. It was just an observation as a lifelong sports fan who for whatever reason decided to support teams that cause the most heartache. Take it or leave it, Big Boy.

Real fans don’t boo but they’re allowed to boo if they want as long as the booing doesn’t shift from good-natured, free-spirited booing into guttural, hateful booing — much like the racist booing that drove Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes out of the AFL.

It’s hard to fathom that another Swans and Indigenous champion, Lance Franklin, can be subjected to the same type of sustained jeering at the MCG almost 10 years to the day since Goodes asked security to remove a 13-year-old Collingwood supporter for calling him an “ape” at the same venue.

Lance Franklin was booed by a small section of the Collingwood faithful at the MCG.Credit: Getty

Yet here we once again are talking about booing and its merits.

The AFL fired off a statement on Monday condemning the booing of Franklin. After dithering on the Goodes situation for three years, the AFL seems to think strongly worded media releases sent in record time can erase the mistakes of the past.

Collingwood also dispatched a statement with great haste on behalf of captain Darcy Moore, coach Craig McRae and chief executive Craig Kelly, apologising to the Swans and Franklin. Following the systemic racism at that club, as outlined by the club’s Do Better report from 2021, it had little choice.

Then came the Swans’ release: “Booing isn’t a right – it’s offensive – and players should not be subjected to it in their workplace. We have been here before and, sadly, it seems some people have not learned from the past. We encourage fans who witness any poor behaviour at the football – including repeated booing – to call it out immediately.”

Sydney fans got behind Adam Goodes in 2015 after the dual Brownlow medallist and two-time premiership player was subjected to a sustained campaign of booing from opposition fans.Credit: Christopher Pearce

How authorities, whether it be leagues, clubs, or stadium operators, outlaw booing is anyone’s guess. Who determines the difference between fan frustration and just outright abuse? How does a flouro-clad security guard make a call on something so subjective?

What happened to Goodes, who was booed at almost every ground, was clearly laced with racist undertones. Conservative commentators had belted him for months, he was condemned after being named Australian of the Year, and the more he spoke up about Indigenous issues the more he was booed until, in 2015, he eventually retired.

It’s impossible to categorise the motives of an angry mob but, in the case of Goodes, it was patently obvious what was at play: an Indigenous man used his voice, called out the rubbish he’d been hearing since he was a child, and people didn’t like it.

What happened with Franklin is a little harder to define. Swans forward Tom Papley, who isn’t Indigenous, was also booed during Sunday’s match. As one Pies fan, whose opinion I value, offered: “Collingwood supporters boo every good player that carve us up and always have. No story.”

Tom Papley also found himself in the sights of Collingwood fans.Credit: Getty

It’s a story because of what happened to Goodes and the strained relationship between fans and Indigenous players in all codes.

The NRL looked to be having its Goodes moment last year when South Sydney fullback Latrell Mitchell was the target of long, sustained booing at matches, culminating in ugly scenes against the Roosters in the final round.

In the first match at the new Allianz Stadium, Mitchell was booed and jeered throughout the match.

The important context here is Mitchell won two premierships with the Roosters before joining Souths, their foundation club rivals, in bitter circumstances in 2020. The following season, he broke the cheekbone of former Roosters teammate Joey Manu in a tackle, fuelling the fire between himself and his former club.

And he’s Latrell, one of the most abundantly talented and aggressive players in the game who, like Goodes, speaks up about issues important to him.

Souths officials tell me the constant booing of Mitchell at away matches has largely disappeared since calling out a teenager who directed an alleged racist slur at him during the round two match against Penrith at BlueBet Stadium.

There’s an argument that champion players like Franklin and Mitchell deserve respect from opposition fans because of their standing in the game. Indeed, the AFL and Collingwood media releases detailed Franklin’s long-list of achievements like none of us had ever watched the game.

Shouldn’t the same edict be applied to all players, regardless of their records? A fragile rookie deserves less booing than a champion who has played senior football for 18 seasons.

What about umpires and referees? Why are they any different to a player? Shouldn’t they be protected from abuse as much as anyone? Why is it open season on officials but not big-name players?

As we debate the merits of booing in Australian sport, I cast my mind back to last week when the Golden State Warriors met the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA play-offs.

Lakers star LeBron James is booed mercilessly at every away match, and it was no different at the Chase Center in San Francisco for game two of the series.

As LeBron argued with an official after receiving a tech foul, the crowd started to boo.

Among them was George Kittle, the San Francisco 49ers tight-end who knows a thing or two about cranky away fans, cupping his hands and booing from his courtside seat.

Boo, George, boo.

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