Image: Herald-Sun –

Kevin Sheedy built this game up. The AFL website read ‘Melbourne 1, Scully 0’. The media constantly talked about the return of Scully, speculating on the kind of reception he’d get (clue: it was very poor). If you listened to the game, despite a low 20,000 in attendance, you could clearly hear the booing every time Tom Scully touched the ball when GWS played Melbourne at the MCG. MCC members got right up to the GWS bench and cat-called him as he came off for a spell.

And yet the AFL, in one of the most atmospheric environments our game has seen in recent years, saw to take down banners and remove a gentleman’s money-stuck jacket.

Now, banners should be removed if they contain profanity, as one reportedly did. However, the notable banner, up above the Punt Road end, simply had Scully quoted and painted on a bedsheet. This banner was reportedly taken down for ‘violating size restrictions’, and thus impeding the view of the game for other supporters.

Yet, go and watch the footage. Noone is standing behind the two gentlemen holding up this banner.

In a stadium that had a person in every 5th seat, there were concerns about blocking a view. Apparently.

Then there’s the gentlemen who had the money stuck to his jumper. On 3AW, he claimed that security attempted to eject him for profanity, which he has then stated the crowd shouted down. Following this, security asked him to remove the money.

Patrick Keane stated that banners ‘should not be negative of players from opposition clubs’. However, the AFL can quite happily depict their post-game item as ‘Melbourne 1 Scully 0’. Fans are expected to be passionate, loyal and follow their side through thick and thin, but in the event of a player’s defection they are also expected to not say a peep about it. This despite the media, the AFL and GWS coach Kevin Sheedy talking this game up for the entire week, with Sheedy using a Melbourne stereotype to rile supporters up.

Furthermore, there is something to be said for free speech. It’s not often that such a range of emotions and events culminate in the situation that occurred at the MCG on Sunday. Chris Judd still receives boos every time he plays at Paterson’s Stadium, and the banners held up on Wayne Carey’s return to Melbourne following his incident with Anthony Stevens were asked to be removed due to often being profane. But if a banner or supporter is within the rules and they go above or beyond the usual effort expected for a particular cause, there should be no reason for them to not be allowed to display their passion and emotion. The Hare Krishna GWS supporters in the cheer squad did just that and looked like they had a great time of it. Yet the Melbourne supporters going to similar lengths were stopped by the AFL because it didn’t fit their guidelines of how they want supporters to act.

The AFL seeks fan involvement, then stifles it when it doesn’t suit the AFL’s agenda. They can’t have it both ways.