Footy fans feel the fever growing as AFL season kicks off

OVER summer, Ballarat, like most of the country, is one big happy green and gold sporting family.

But then something happens during the autumn. The city breaks up into a score of different tribes, each with their own colours, customs, prejudices and scars.

The AFL season kicked off last night at Etihad Stadium with Collingwood versus Fremantle.

Today supporters of Richmond, Gold Coast, Greater Western Sydney and Sydney will see their teams playing for premiership points for the first time this year, followed by Carlton and Port Adelaide tomorrow.

Then it is the turn of Geelong and Adelaide, North and Essendon, Hawthorn and Brisbane, the Saints and the Demons, and finally West Coast and the Western Bulldogs.

It has been five and a half months since Hawthorn defeated Fremantle on that one day in September. That’s time enough for the city’s Hawks supporters to gloat. As of this weekend, Hawthorn and every other team has a clean slate.

For Collingwood barracker Warren Heal and the rest of the Magpie army, the march began promisingly enough with a goal to skipper Scott Pendlebury. In typical AFL fashion, the league has ensured everyone else is playing catch-up football already. Thankfully it didn’t last.

Ballarat North’s Bawden clan has had nearly six months to stew on the Tigers’ exit from the 2013 finals series at the hands of Carlton. 

Today Richmond heads to the Gold Coast instead of its usual round one encounter with the arch-enemy.

“I’m not fussed about this weekend, to be honest, as long as we kill Carlton next Thursday,” Shannon Bawden says, matter-of-factly.

Sarah McGaffin still revels in that result and, as Carlton fans are wont to do, already has the Blues pencilled in for top four. 

For Essendon fan Leon Underwood, the season proper can’t come quickly enough. He has had enough of jabs (ouch) from rival supporters about the controversies that have dogged the Bombers for a year. The only way to answer them is with wins on the field.

“It has been a long summer built off the back of the longest season as an Essendon supporter,” Mr Underwood says. “I’m confident the Bombers are fine. 

“I’m not worried we don’t play until next weekend. I’d like to see a couple of other teams crumble first. I’d love to see Collingwood, Carlton and Richmond all get knocked off before Essendon plays a game.” 

That is a brave thing to say. Mr Heal is his father-in-law. 

Brisbane (nee Fitzroy) fan Rod Owen is another who must wait a week.

He describes himself as a realist rather than a optimist.

“A good result for the Lions is to win more games than last year, which means 11,” Mr Owen says. 

“I’m not saying I’m lining up for grand final tickets this year, but I might line up for a ticket to the first final.”