This week we saw some confected ‘controversy’ over Bernie Vince and Patrick Dangerfield’s chat and smiles after Geelong downed the Demons with an after-the-siren kick. An online poll sought to determine if ‘you have an issue with Patrick Dangerfield and Bernie Vince having a laugh after the final siren?’ (to which tweeters resoundingly answered ‘no’), and Dangerfield wrote ‘Known each other for over a decade and not allowed to talk about family post game… #itsagame #spell’. Numerous others weighed in, with the overwhelming feeling being that friendships between footballers are not a bad thing.
Indeed, when on Monday Koby Stevens retired from the game, a result of his battles with concussion, replies to his Instagram post announcement were filled with love from his current and past teammates and opposition players. It seems, from a casual observation, that ❤️❤️ red love hearts ❤️❤️ are the favoured message of support and friendship from players these days.
But what of historical footy friendships? On 23 January 1935, The Argus reported – under the heading ‘Football Friendships’ – that that evening there was to be ‘a meeting of League and Association players, past and present’ at the Sir Charles Hotham Hotel’. Wels Eicke, who had played for St Kilda, was organising the meeting and he had ‘received encouraging promises of support in his endeavor to form a players club. The idea,’ The Argus said, ‘is to link in social union players of all generations. All players are invited’ (p. 15).
The Record, based out of Emerald Hill in Victoria, in August 1936 expounded on the virtues of the football friendship, noting that ‘Friendships Made on the Football Field Linger After Players Retired From Sport’ (August 22, 1936, p. 4). They told their readers that ‘Although Hughie McLaughlin has been away from South these last two years, and is battling valiantly to place Footscray on the football map, the Dublin boy’s heart is over with South, his first love.’ Apparently, it seems, ‘he is as popular with old team-mates to-day as ever, and at Footscray it gave quite a pleasurable thrill to watch his old ‘cobbers’ look around for ‘Irish,’ and run to exchange greetings. At the finish of the match, Hughie and Len Thomas walked off the field with an arm around each other’s neck.’ Most prosaically, The Record noted, ‘Friendships made on the football field do not fade overnight. Long after their names are only a memory in the football firmament, do they remain.’
In 1936, The Telegraph noted that sporting-based friendships can be a way of ‘strengthening national friendships’, particularly when thinking about relations between Australia and Japan (June 6, 1936, p. 7). And an annual meeting of the De La Salle Old Boys’ Football Club, in their club rooms, as reported on by the Cootamundra Herald in 1939, enabled ‘Arthur Touhey, of South Sydney… the opportunity to renew his friendships with his old school pals’ (March 10, 1939, p. 3).
For enduring friendships are always desired: when Mr F. Killingsworth was being celebrated by the VFL in 1938 ‘for his services as chairman of the League permit committee’ (for which he was presented with ‘a wristlet watch’), he was reported as saying that ‘he had always endeavored to do his best by the game, the League and his club … He hoped that the friendships he had made at the League table would endure for all time’ (The Age, April 28, 1938, p. 15).
And in 1924, when the Perth Football Club visited Victoria and played matches here, Mr. W. Stooke, the manager of the Perth team, noted ‘that football should be the means of creating a bond of friendship among all who played it.’ The Victorian Football League, it should be noted, had previously disagreed with this sentiment, and had refused permission for Victorian teams visiting ‘the Westralian goldfields’ to play football over there (The Daily News, July 31, 1924, p. 7).
But footballing friendships, of course, don’t exist in a vacuum. The Sunday Mail, in July 1927, meditated on the nature of friendship, noting that ‘friendship, like love, must be largely taken for better, for worse. If one waits to find perfection in a friend, one will probably wait long and die unfriended at last (writes Mrs. Fitzroy Stewart).’ They continued, telling readers that ‘One of the few good things left us by the Great War is the fact that warm friendships can exist between men and women; and this type of friendship is in no way touched either by love or by impropriety. Men do not always wish to make love to a woman. Many a man honestly wants a frank and friendly comradeship. He wants a woman to talk with, who will understand his heart, mind, and thoughts; and who will excuse his frequent faults and failings.’ Well of course he does!!
Historical analysis has suggested that initally ‘true friendship was reserved for an intellectual elite consisting principally of men’ (Stepchildren of nature, p246) but here we see it existing in many realms. For The Sunday Mail also had a note on male friendships: ‘There may not be many Davids and Jonathans in these days; but friendships between men are frequent. Sport, politics, business, the army, navy, and air forces show many instances; as do the worlds of golf, football, and cricket.’ The article ended: ‘People get the friendships they deserve’ (July 10, 1927, p. 19).
We hope that you all get the friendships, and the weekends in footy, that you all deserve!