Reporter Josh Massoud from The Daily Telegraph newspaper in Sydney drew some interesting debate when he published the below article recently. Titled Invasion of the Sherrin, it documents the passion of AFL expansionists….
“Until Batemans Bay, the drive along the South Coast of New South Wales is extremely pleasant. Then AFL goalposts start to appear.
For any rusted-on League fan, this sudden cross-code assault destroys the otherwise picturesque vista of rolling green hills, rugged beaches and ye olde cheese factories.
Each time I travel down the Princes Highway, the Victorian border resembles the advancing battleline of an insidious army. If it feels like an invasion, that’s because it is one. And it’s claiming outposts in the most unexpected places.
Take Port Douglas. Sitting at the base of Cape York, the chic reef resort town is about as deep into Queensland as you can venture. Here in the deep north, outsiders might expect the residents to wear Maroon pride with the same satisfaction as their all-time favourite XXXX singlet.
But instead they wear singlets of a different kind. Tiny lycra ones with the AFL logo. Everywhere in town, teenage boys hobble around in ridiculously little shorts ironically favoured by those in the coldest parts of Australia.
The old timber pubs have tipping competitions, but the bar flies argue about Bombers and Blues instead of Raiders and Rabbitohs. On weekends, their televisions show both codes but the audio ditched Ray Warren for Bruce McAvaney sometime ago.
Locals say a generational influx of Victorian sun-seekers is responsible for Port Douglas becoming an Aussie Rules oasis. They say the southerners arrived with the zeal of evangelical missionaries, spreading Sherrins like the good book and converting the mungo heathens into true believers from the crib.
When I see 90,000 people flocking to the MCG for a premiership game, it’s impossible not to admire the fervour of AFL fans. Their sport is truly their religion and their lifestyle. Like immigrants holding fast to traditions from the motherland, they refuse to accept the sporting custom of their new homes in either NSW or Queensland.
But rather than clamour in enclaves, these expats boldly speak in strange tongues about shirtfronts and melees. They actively pester councils to pour more money into oval-shaped fields. They bombard bars in droves and demand the best screens show AFL. They set up grass-roots competitions and erect large streetside banners that implore people to join.
They might not be large in number, but their absolute visibility creates the illusion of a much stronger force that in turn benefits the cause. Like a battalion of introduced cane toads marching through the habitat of a benign and defenceless native fauna, they are relentless and single-minded.
When I visit places like the NSW South Coast and Port Douglas, places the AFL is ruthlessly infiltrating, it’s depressing to see so few signs of resistance. Imagine a parallel universe, where League ex-pats attempted the same heists in Shepparton or Port Fairy. They’d be run back across the Murray River with pitchforks, or worse still, burned at the behind post.
Yet for some reason, League people, like hapless koalas, laze in blissful ignorance of the devastation that will ultimately threaten their way of life. This is not a criticism of the NRL, merely an observation of sheer difference in mindset between supporters of each code.
The fact that League now out-rates AFL on the box has been widely acclaimed as a good thing for the NRL, particularly with a new TV rights deal being negotiated. But this trend is also disturbing evidence of the casual nature of League fans, who prefer the comfort of watching from home rather than the effort of getting along to the game. For proof, look no further than the NRL Anzac Day equivalent, which couldn’t even attract 35,000 fans.
Starting from a long way behind the eight ball, NRL clubs have done remarkably well to build their membership numbers from ground zero levels just five years ago. The next step, however, is considerably more difficult. To compete with the AFL, the NRL needs to somehow engender the same dominate-at-all-costs attitude that its rivals carry in their genes.”