At Football Park in 2003, in front of 40,000 fans, I got my one and only chance to run out onto the field of action in an AFL match. In Nathan Burke’s St Kilda Game’s record breaking match, I got the call up and helped the St Kilda Cheer Squad lift their banner before the game. I have to admit I was like a kid on Christmas Day.
Growing up going to the footy I looked forward to the tradition and theatre of the two cheer squads presenting their banners to the crowd for approval. Irreverent, controversial, triumphant, carousal messages the crowning glory each week to the time consuming and lovingly prepared crepe masterpieces. Each messages read, analysed and judged before the competing teams burst through them to the tune of their club songs.
One of the distinctive and time-honoured parts of our game, the banners are held together solely by sticky tape and the blood, sweat and tears of volunteer labour. The Cheer Squad developing each week’s run-through, purely for the love of their team and players. Is it any wonder then that the cheekiness and light-heartedness was lost when the fun police decided to interfere? Banners becoming more and more generic as clubs wary of offence took more control of the messages displayed, or in the case of Collingwood, taking the responsibility off the cheer squad all together.
The Western Bulldogs have climbed to the top with their on-field dare and dash, a climb mirrored in the unofficial banner rankings too. The club taking a chance and accepting the offer of life-long fan and comedian Danny McGinley to write material for the banners. Not all have been accepted but his wit has brought a new edge to the banners and even some banter between clubs.
Last season against Port Adelaide the Bulldogs ran through a banner that read ‘A Bulldog’s love, never in doubt, port tastes yuck and gives you gout’ when the two met again this season Port ran through a banner that read ‘Port may give you gout but it’s great with cheese, Bulldogs give you nothing but fleas’. Gold.
In tribute to these efforts to bring back the art of the banner, let’s take a look back at some of the more unforgettable banners cheer squads have produced.
Fair to say emotions were high when the merger of Fitzroy with Brisbane was announced, after Fitzroy’s plans of merging with North Melbourne was scuppered by the AFL. Fitzroy’s pained cheer squad took to their banner to make their thoughts known. One a clever play on Queensland’s famous advertising campaign of ‘Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next’ becoming “North Melbourne One Day, Brisbane the Next’, the other less poetic but far more pointed ‘Seduced by Brisbane, Raped by North Melbourne, F****d by the AFL’. Remaining Fitzroy banners required AFL approval, but with their point made I don’t think the Fitzroy fans really cared.
LEST WE FORGET
Anzac Day is one of the most revered days on the Australian calendar. With support from the Victorian RSL, since 1995 Collingwood and Essendon have commemorated this day with their annual clash at the MCG. Among many fitting tributes to the fallen on the day, both clubs now burst through one banner recognising the men from both clubs who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our nation.
On Anzac Day 2013, St Kilda and Sydney met in the first AFL home and away match contested overseas. Like the contest earlier in the day at the MCG, both sides burst through a single banner with a simple message ‘Thank You Wellington – New Zealand’. The AFL had reached a new frontier.
SEE THE BOMBRES FLY UP?
Of all the words you’d expect a cheer squad to misspell you wouldn’t think it would be their team’s nickname. But that is the unfortunate situation that befell the Essendon Cheer Squad before a game between Essendon and Carlton. Fans definitely saw the funny side of it with many still referring to the club as the ‘Bombres’ to this very day.
WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY
Not all unforgettable banners are positive. In 1995, the AFL first took steps towards eliminating the shadow of racism from the game, by punishing Magpie ruckman Damien Monkhurst for vilifying comments he made towards Essendon champion Michael Long. The next week the Collingwood cheer squad made their thoughts on the matter clear and showed how much opinions needed to change.
ADELAIDE ANNOUNCE ITS ARRIVAL
A full house at Football Park were in attendance for the Adelaide Crows debut in the national competition. Their cheer squad nailed their first duty, catching the mood of the crowd while also cheekily referencing a well-known Pork ad with ‘Get some Hawk on your Fork’. The Crows took their direction to the letter blowing away a powerful Hawthorn team by 86 points.
A look at unforgettable banners wouldn’t be complete without the less successful moments.
Rain, wind and hail are the mortal enemy of crepe paper creations and many a banner has been lost to their devilish forces. Among the countless stats kept in the game, whether these heart-breaking banner ends have proven to be bad luck or not has not been recorded.
The most infamous banner moment took place in 1983. The banner celebrating Kevin Bartlett’s 400th Game was suitably reflective of an outstanding achievement. 10m High and 20m it had taken 500 hours to make and took 29 cheer squad members to hold up. A little too much sticky tape was needed as, after falling over trying to pierce it, the Richmond champ compared the strength of the banner to a brick wall.