Bum-pats, high fives and hair ruffles

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THEY GO high, they go low, but can they go far too far with their on-field footy celebrations? LAWRENCE MONEY investigates this strange phenomenon:

Funny how sportsmen’s on-field celebrations evolve. In Aussie Rules 30 years ago a goal was often rewarded with a pat on the bum for the goal-kicker by his exuberant chums. This was seen by social analysts as a sign that Aussie males were becoming more comfortable about their bodies because bum-patting was relatively unknown 20 years earlier.

Even so, it was important back then that the bum-patter looked away as he planted his hairy paw on his team-mate’s backside, just in case there was any misinterpretation.

No VFL/AFL player, to my knowledge, ever went as far with bum-patting as Chilean soccer player Gonzalo Jara who two years ago famously inserted an index finger along with his bum-pat, causing the insert-ee, Uruguayan player Edinson Cavani, to retaliate with a chest-push that saw Jara fall melodramatically to the ground in the best traditions of his code.

The bum-pat that went too far
The bum-pat that went too far

In the US, where they have a prodigious number of expressions for the posterior (fanny, hiney, tush etc) the bum-pat is known as “butt-patting” and was put in context recently by Red Sox baseballer Craig Bresloe. Asked why butt-patting was acceptable for sportsmen but not for stockbrokers, Bresloe replied: “I would say the question should be, why don’t stockbrokers do it?”

In Aussie Rules, the bum-pat gradually morphed into high-fives, not just between the goal-kicker and the bloke who passed it to him – but with as many of the team as geographically possible. Bum-pats were still around but they were becoming rare. High-fives were supplemented by low-fives, a sort of open-palm brushing of hands which has become endemic. You don’t need to kick a goal any more to earn a low-five – even ushering the ball over the line without penalty generates low-fives with everyone except the umpire.

Social analysts have declared that the low-five is as much a gesture of camaraderie rather than any reward, a team-building tool that helped bond the playing group.

So, when did the hair-ruffle come in? I was at the Demons-Saints game this month and watched James Harmes near-decapitated by his team-mates after a first-quarter goal. Every Dee within 200 metres rushed in to attack his cranium. Such was the cascade of ruffling hands that Harmes’ head was pushed to his chest and I half-expected to see him in the injury list at the end of the match with a dislocated neck.

James Harmes cops a group ruffle
James Harmes cops a group ruffle

By my estimation the hair-ruffle entered AFL in a serious way around the turn of the century and is a natural evolution from previous methods of celebration and reward. Hair-ruffling can also be a gesture of sympathy – you sometimes see a hand reach down into a tangle of players to ruffle the follicles of some poor recipient of a hospital handpass, lying squashed underneath.

Last week Geelong’s Steven Motlop demonstrated another use for hair-ruffling. Ten minutes into the second quarter against the Pies, Motlop feigned a push at the Pies’ Taylor Adams then hair-ruffled the irritated Adams as he walked away, perhaps hoping for retaliation and a free.

So, for reward, team-bonding, celebration or provocation, the hair-ruffle is perhaps the most versatile technique yet devised on the AFL field. The downside is that it is blatantly discriminatory. What about nude nuts like Nathan Jones, Jarrad McVeigh or Gary Ablett? The best they can expect is a cranial spit-and-polish.



ABC 774 (2017): “Taylor had Rance covered. They were engaged”

Dwayne Russell (2017), re a player starring on return from appendicitis: “He should have his appendix out every week.”

Allan “Yabby” Jeans (1985): “It’s an untrue misapprehension.”

Malcolm Blight (2009): “Bartel’s a lovely player, I’m a bit partial to those lovely players…”


Author: Lawrence Money

Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria’s best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age — and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines — before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.



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