WE ARE the navy Blues, the song goes. But what happens when navy turns to light blue or white to purple? CHRIS de KRETSER reports on a painful experience watching the football:
PLAYING for the jumper has been a fundamental tenet infused into every league footballer’s psyche from the time they first kick a Sherrin.Not any more in the AFL. They would be hard-pressed to know the basic colours of their club guernseys from one game to the next.
Take St Kilda’s magnificent trouncing of the strongly-favoured Richmond on the weekend. It was one of the greatest displays by the solitary flag-winning Saints in their history.
Desperate to consolidate their finals credentials, they were boosted by the cause of inspiring former captain Nick Riewoldt’s brave sister Maddie, this game now dedicated annually as a fundraiser in her honour after she lost her fight against bone marrow disease.
But did St Kilda need to change its dominant red stripe so drastically to purple to signify the occasion? The greatest Saint of all, Darrel Baldock, would have turned in his grave to see such a desecration of the club’s traditional jumper.
And that’s not taking anything away from the wonderful cause that St Kilda and Richmond have adopted for the Riewoldt family’s campaign for bone marrow research.
There was plenty of purple in the crowd to mark the occasion without changing the Saints strip. The only purple in the AFL should remain solely on that dreadful Fremantle jumper.
But if St Kilda’s purple was difficult to stomach you could have done even more damage to your digestion by viewing the Hawks in their gaudy pink and brown (or was it black?) striped concoction in the very same round. Hawthorn may have been one of the power clubs of recent footy history but they have never inspired much admiration for their jumper colours, classic or alternate. However, that version last weekend could be a serious contender for the worst jumper in the history of the game and there have been several strong contenders for that title over the years.
The pink stripe was also for a worthy cause – the Pink Ribbon campaign against breast cancer. Perhaps that is why the jumper sells for $130 on the club website, a $10 premium on the classic.
A few years ago, after Essendon’s Adam Ramanauskas battled cancer, the club wanted to mark the Cancer Council’s Daffodil Day with a yellow accented jumper. It was ruled out by AFL chief Andrew Demetriou with a compromise yellow hem permitted instead.
So why this change in AFL thinking? Are we to have a different jumper for some cause or other every week from now on? Are the marketing people ruining the game?
A few minutes after the games had finished on the weekend there were ads on TV for the special jumpers. But it’s hard to believe that changing the traditional jumper would have produced any meaningful extra revenue for the cause. As many “real” jumpers would have sold as these “fake” ones, the traditional club guernsey a lasting keepsake which means something.
The most successful of these special games has been the Big Freeze for Neale Daniher’s campaign against motor neurone disease. Neither Collingwood nor Melbourne has opted to change their jumpers but have raised plenty of money through the sale of their traditional strips. Of course, the famous Melbourne colours are frequently adjusted to white for clash matches, as they were at the weekend. Norm Smith would not have allowed it!
There has been a sell-out of blue beanies before each of the three Neale Daniher games so far, raising heaps for this great cause. A purple or pink beanie could raise similar funds without tampering with the club guernseys. They stand out in the crowd along with the coloured hats, wigs, banners and flags that usually mark these games.
You can forgive the jumpers used for blockbuster games on Anzac Day and the indigenous round. They have been designed using poppies or Aboriginal art but maintain the traditional club colours.
The marketing dollar has often ruled the roost with other jumper changes
The first was by the wealthy, establishment club Carlton as an advertising promotion for M&M sweets back in 1997. The Old Dark Navy Blues, so dear to the heart of the club that it is enshrined in their song, must have sounded hollow as it was sung by the players clad in those sickly light blue jumpers.
Out went tradition at one of the league’s oldest and most successful clubs for the almighty dollar.
Let’s move on to the alternative strips supposedly devised to avoid a clash of colours and make it easy to distinguish each team for players, fans and TV viewers.
The game was played for more than a century without the need for an alternative strip. Played in much worse ground conditions than today. I can remember no confusion over the traditional jumper even in pouring rain and knee-deep mud. The cry “Ball!” still rose from the Richmond and Essendon fans when an opposition player was caught in possession on the opposite side of the ground.
Players and spectators had no trouble distinguishing between the Essendon and Richmond sashes or the Collingwood, North Melbourne and Hawthorn stripes.
We were even able to pick who was who in the replays on black and white TVs.
Many of the alternative strips now are white with a prominently displayed club emblem, an easy fix like the all-white colours a jockey dons when there are too many horses from the same stable in a race.
Essendon and Richmond have executed a simple switch to black sashes on red and yellow jumpers. That’s a small mercy for Essendon fans who had to put up with a red sash on a dirty grey jumper when the club was first forced to devise an alternative strip.
One old-stager used to moan to me that John Coleman would never have kicked the ton and Dick Reynolds would have never won a single Brownlow if they had been forced to wear that jumper.
Once again, it’s those marketing types to blame. They say football clubs around the world all change their strips with many European soccer clubs revealing a new set of jumpers each season.
Of course, that means your kids are encouraged to buy a new jumper each year as well.
What has always differentiated our game is that the designs of our traditional jumpers have hardly been altered since each club first wore them.
Changing the colours of the jumper is a sacrilege.
With money talking so much, is the day not too far away when a club sells its Grand Final jumper for the colours of some new wiz product? Think of how much they would make selling those jumpers if they managed to snare a flag!
Author: Chris de Kretser
CHRIS de KRETSER was founding editor of The Sunday Sun and the first sports editor of The Herald Sun. He was also night editor and sports editor of The Sun and publisher of Sports Weekly magazine. He was Deputy Olympics Editor of the Herald Sun during the Sydney Games, editor of MX, picture editor of The Herald Sun and Sports Confidential columnist.