People Think I'm Joking When I Say I Support GWS

You see, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Giants but this year they’ve mended my broken footy heart.

It kinda sounds like a Knock Knock joke.

Them: “Who do you follow in the footy?”

Me: “GWS”

Them: *Insert stunned eye emoji face here and/or shocked laugh*

Yep. It’s GW-Yes for me. When it comes to the AFL I follow the League’s newest franchise, Greater Western Sydney.

WTF? And WHY? You ask.

No, I’m not from Western Sydney. I don’t have a brother, cousin or partner who plays there or another understandable link. I don’t really love orange. But I do love their song. It’s glorious, especially because it sounds like something straight out of a pantomime with the crowd ready to shout “behind you!” at the cast.

You see, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Giants but this year they’ve mended my broken footy heart.

I was born and bred in cold Ballarat in regional Victoria, where gold was first found and winters are colder than the north pole. The city took a giant sporting leap forward when it entered a team in the VFL (the state league competition under the AFL) in 1996. Growing up a drop punt away from the North Ballarat Footy club, and with spurs on my feet, my papers were stamped early: I was a Roosters supporter.

Ballarat. In summer. Image: Getty.

While I watched AFL on the telly, listened on the radio and loved an outing to Melbourne to take in a live game, for a country kid the big league was something that happened in the Big Smoke. But I was in heaven because I had footy at my back door.

The Roosters made the Grand Final in their fourth year, unfortunately losing in 1999 and then in 2000. Eight years later the club would win their first flag, then the next two, capturing a hat trick of premierships at Etihad Stadium.

Boys I went to school with, and part-time footballers from regional Victoria who had come to Ballarat for their crack at the league and to go to uni, finally got their time in the spotlight. They took it up to, and beat, AFL-aligned clubs and full-time athletes. It was a win for the little guys and the footy club from the sticks that could.

Players from those teams caught the eye of recruiters and were drafted to the AFL, namely Issac Smith who, after winning a flag with the Roosters in 2010, went on to play in three premierships with Hawthorn.

High-5 Isaac Smith. Image: Getty.

Fast forward nearly a decade and, after a couple of nightmare years on and off field, namely a disaster of an administration, North Ballarat disbanded from the VFL at the end of the last season.

For me, and everyone involved with the Roosters, it was heartbreaking. Our club was here one day and gone the next. Even though South Melbourne and Fitzroy went on to merge with Sydney and Brisbane I can understand how the Bloods and Roys faithful felt at losing their beloved club.

But back to the mighty Giants.

When I worked at a suburban newspaper in Melbourne I covered the TAC Cup under-18 competition and several players from one team were selected by GWS in its first ever draft. The likes of Toby Greene and Adam Tomlinson are today some of the Giants leading players. I’ve followed their journeys from day dot.

The new franchise thing has always fascinated me. Yes, they were gifted all the draft picks and all the money by the AFL but so were the Gold Coast and, contrastingly, their path thus far has been a big fail.

Culture has been the biggest difference between the clubs.

Me and my fave footy player Toby Greene.

From the outset, the Giants bought in experienced football people, from legendary coach Kevin Sheedy to footy boss Graeme Allan, as well as welfare manager Craig Lambert. Craig and wife Melissa relocated their family to Sydney’s western suburbs and inherited an instant brood of teenage sons. Melissa would take them under her wing and give them cooking lessons and help impart all those things teenagers’ fresh out of home need to know.

With a steady administration in place, and seasoned footballers from other clubs such as Melbourne’s James McDonald playing out their careers at GWS, but more importantly offering crucial leadership on and off the field, the Giants began to grow under co-captains Phil Davis and Cal Ward, who have proven themselves to be among the competition’s great leaders.

Leon Cameron came on board as coach to guide the most talented list in the League, the embarrassment of riches meant young talent was squeezed out but the club continued to attract the big names, namely premiership players Shane Mumford and Stevie Johnson.

Stevie J uses Jack Riewoldt as a chair during the 2017 AFL Second Preliminary Final match between the Richmond Tigers and the GWS Giants at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Image: Getty.

GWS won its first final in 2016, stunning rivals Sydney and progressing to the Preliminary Final, only to be mauled by eventual Premiers the Western Bulldogs. The pattern was repeated last year with a loss to Richmond in the second last game of the year.

A couple of years ago the footy world feared the Giants would make a mockery of the League, with the best squad they could win the flag year after year. The beast the AFL created was upsetting the traditionalists.

But then the narrative changed.

The Giants have copped shocking luck with injuries over the past few years, but strangely that's been a positive because the Giants are now seen as human. If they won a premiership now I don’t reckon too many would really begrudge them.

The Swans' Dan Hannebery spies the scoreboard after the match against GWS at the SCG on Saturday night. Image: Getty.

So, with my beloved Roosters no longer cockadoodledooing I've embraced the Giants. I enjoy their style of play, love watching some of their guns in full flight, and of course there’s the song to sing after a win.

The Giants have made footy fun for me again. I was rapt with their manic pressure and focus in Saturday night’s Elimination Final victory over Sydney, and with West Coast beating Collingwood I will get to watch them live in Melbourne this weekend.

GWS’ arrival in the AFL was far from conventional. They don’t have the history, support and tradition of the competition’s oldest and most iconic clubs.

But they've won me over.