Jeana Vithoulkas looks at what team we support and why
Last week late on Friday afternoon I was in the Trivelli cake shop in Coburg when two young men came in and ordered 26 cannoli. The staff scrambled to make sure they had that many an hour before closing time.
"That's a lot of cannoli," I said to them. "We want to celebrate Hawthorn's win," they declared, referring to the preliminary final game against Collingwood. "You're Hawthorn supporters?" I asked, surprised to find them in what is overwhelmingly Carlton/Collingwood territory. Sometimes you find some stragglers from Richmond, Essendon, St Kilda or Footscray.
But Hawthorn? "Sure are," they replied. "You're on the wrong side of town," observed the Napolitana who was serving them. "Don't we know it," they said. I wonder how two Italian boys in Coburg barrack for Hawthorn and I start to wonder about who we support and why. How are our tribal allegiances formed? For some of my friends the choice was always clear. It's in the blood.
Kerrie Homan supports Collingwood because her grandfather played for them, her father and all his family lived there.
"The Football Club served food to the poor during the depression and if you played for the side, they never forgot you and if you needed help, they were there," she says. "That kind of thing instils loyalty." Mary O'Connor supported Fitzroy because her grandfather captained the side. She was heartbroken when they went to Brisbane and has never followed them since. Her five sons, like many other Fitzroy supporters, have adopted different local teams. I support Collingwood because that's my father's team.
I'm not sure why but I think it's to do with the fact that Lou Richards has Greek heritage. When my father first told me this, I didn't believe him and was sure he was making it up.
Lou Richards called games, was on World of Sport and League Teams. He was embedded in Australian culture did not fit my idea of a Greek. Michael, an Italo-Australian, is a Collingwood supporter in a Carlton family. His father supported Collingwood because he lived there for several years after arriving in Australia. But when Ron Barrasi went to Carlton, his father followed Barrasi because he was Italian.
Although Barrasi's heritage is Swiss Italian going back to the mid 19th century, it's understandable why Italian migrants in the 1960s were keen to claim this true champion of this very Australian game, as one of their own, no matter how spurious the connection. "I stuck with my father's original choice," Michael explains, "but the rest of my family adopted Carlton along with him." Ben from the west goes for Fremantle. Originally he supported West Perth in the local league, his grandfather's team - his grandfather grew up there - when it was still a residential area.
"But the Eagles were formed and that destroyed the local league so I couldn't bring myself to support them. I chose Fremantle because by then it was a national game." A friend from South Africa realised that he needed a football team shortly after arriving in Melbourne, in order to fit in. He chose the Saints because he lived there. "For years they lost, so any footy discussion ended pretty quickly as soon as they found out I barracked for St Kilda. 'Oh shame' they would say." But then St Kilda started winning. "All of a sudden, people were talking about players and marks and goals, not to mention the scandals. So I had to start following it." I didn't need to ask, why he didn't dump the Saints and start barracking for Port Adelaide.
Your team is your team. Like family, you can't change your football allegiances. You stick with them through the good times and bad. I have always viewed people who switch teams as fickle, and without substance. It was one of the early lessons I gave my son after a Collingwood - Richmond game at the MCG in 2006. We sat in the rain, watching Collingwood get thrashed and at the end of the game, he said: I'm going for Richmond. No, I said. You can't do that. You have to stay loyal. You can't switch to another team just because Collingwood lost. Some things in life are like that. We have emotional attachments, tribal loyalties that have no rational, logical basis, but they're important nevertheless. All those painful, wounding Collingwood grand final losses that I have sat through, those dark days when we were known as the most racist team in the competition that left me shamed; they are a part of my life experience, a part of my narrative.
Even how we come to adopt a team says something about us. Like being Greek, I'm stuck with Collingwood. I reminded my colleague, Rhea about this the other day. She adopted Collingwood a few months ago because of Eddie McGuire's public condemnation of racial abuse by spectators at Andrew Krakouer and North's Majak Daw. But this week, she's not so sure about her newly adopted team due to the president's comments about a 'football tax'. "Rhea," I say to her. "You can't chop and change teams according to political vagaries of presidents. If that was the case, Carlton would have no supporters left at all."
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