The controversy over booing at AFL matches has extended to the showpiece Anzac Day event as unity and respect before the game gave way to bitter division after Collingwood’s thrilling victory.
The Magpies scraped home by four points from a fast-finishing Essendon to win the 25th meeting of the two clubs on Anzac Day, 10.13 (73) to 10.9 (69).
But the booing of the Pies’ skipper Scott Pendlebury raised the hackles of his coach Nathan Buckley.
“Shame on anyone that booed a champion,” said Buckley to the remnants of the MCG crowd of 92,241 after Pendlebury was forced to pause during his acceptance of his third Anzac Day Medal.
Essendon fans had just witnessed their team fall short, having been on the receiving end of some contentious ‘non-decisions’ by the field umpires in the frantic final quarter.
The Bombers had trailed by as much as 33 points deep into the second quarter, but four goals from Joe Daniher and lively second-half performances from Dylan Shiel and Zach Merrett dragged them back into the contest.
The Bombers were streaming into attack when the siren sounded.
Pendlebury was clearly the best on ground, claiming his third Anzac Day Medal having played in 13 of the matches for 10 victories.
However when accepting the award his attempts to thank Essendon and invoke the unity of Anzac Day were interrupted by loud and sustained booing.
The issue of crowd disrespect has increasingly become a problem for the AFL, particularly after the controversial booing of former Sydney Swan dual Brownlow medallist Adam Goodes.
Many believe the attacks on Goodes were racially motivated and came after Collingwood president Eddie McGuire’s intemperate “King Kong” remarks on radio.
Geelong champion Gary Ablett was also roundly booed by Hawthorn fans during the Round 5 match at the MCG, although the AFL played down that incident.
Ablett was in the fans’ sights after having ‘liked’, and then ‘disliked’, Australian rugby union star Israel Folau’s Instagram post condemning homosexuality on religious grounds.
AFL football operations boss Steve Hocking said on Tuesday that Ablett professionally dealt with the booing.
Collingwood coach Buckley was having none of that on Thursday, immediately castigating the crowd after accepting the Anzac Day trophy.
“I’d just like to acknowledge that we are blessed to have an opportunity to play on this day,” he said, while he also acknowledged his father who served in Vietnam.
“Thank you to the AFL. Thank you to the Essendon Football Club and we as a football club are very proud of the opportunity to represent on this day.”
Buckley’s leadership on booing stood in stark contrast to the AFL’s downplaying of the issue, possibly because as a player he was on the receiving end of years of abuse.
Fans of both clubs were vocal on social media about the right to boo, or not, with most blame put on the umpires, including by former St Kilda coach Grant Thomas.
Magpie Steele Sidebottom had earlier claimed the vocal crowd had played a role in the Pies win, saying it had lifted the players as the Bombers fought back.
“They were coming,” he told Channel Seven immediately after the siren.
“I’m really proud of the boys … wins like this that really bring the group together.”
In the aftermath, there’s little chance of that between Collingwood and Essendon supporters.