On Saturday night I experienced something I had never experienced before.
A will and desire to perhaps change how I’ve been raised. How I was brought up. How I have thought for 31 years of my life.
I didn’t discover a new religion or even a fancy new way of eating. No it wasn’t a new band or an amazing movie that I’ve been told was good. In fact it was much better than all of that.
I discovered a new sporting club that I feel needs my support.
I discovered the Gold Coast Suns.
You see, for those not in the know, they are the 17th team that was granted entry into the Australian Football League in 2011. They play their home games at Metricon Stadium and they aren’t exactly the most well supported team in the competition.
And it might sound weird spouting on about discovering a team that has now been in the competition for close to 10 years, but you don’t really discover them until you experience seeing them live.
As someone who now feels he is a genuine Queenslander as much as the three cane toads he avoided on the way to the bathroom or the 17 cockroaches he is currently avoiding as I type, I feel it in my duty to support a code of football that gets as much attention as I used to on Tinder. And although I technically live in the wonderful city of Brisbane, I also feel as much part of the Gold Coast as the next tanned blonde buff surfer.
So yes, there are the Brisbane Lions. But that is a team who has been established in the sunshine state for over 30 years. Added to that the history of Fitzroy to which they merged with over 20 years ago, they are part of the landscape.
But the Suns aren’t. And they’re struggling.
Without a single finals appearance to their name, they have struggled to get on field success. Compared to the other new franchise in the AFL that came a year later in the Greatest Western Sydney Giants, they have really failed to go as far and as big as perhaps was expected of them.
And then there is the support base.
Being based in Australia’s sixth biggest city you’d expect there to be some solid foundations ready to go. But you’d of course be wrong as it’s the Gold Coast. And sadly the last successful sporting team that lasted more than five years is harder to find than Blockbuster Video store.
This fact is backed up by their membership base, which sits at just over 12,000 and is by far the leagues lowest. Compare that to the number one club in Richmond who just set an AFL record of 100,000 members and you’ll easily see how they struggle to get support.
This leads me to my experience at Metricon Stadium on Saturday night.
I should first say that I am a die hard, passionate Carlton supporter and the fact they won and broke a 13 game streak of losing when I saw them made me very happy. But I’m going to put that aside here for the Metricon and Suns experience.
Seeing people wear Suns merchandise first of all. The first time in my life I had seen such a thing. Which shouldn’t be a surprise as they clearly have (some) supporters. But seeing more than one in a group of people was just…odd. Odd but nice. Sort of like eating French fries with ice cream. Odd. But nice.
Then there was the ground. Metricon Stadium. A stadium I had only visited during the Commonwealth Games. I have to say I’m a fan, it’s cute, it’s humble and it’s new. So taking the trip there was pleasant and fun. As was the mood of the supporters, which let’s be honest was a majority of Carlton fans but the red and gold Suns supporters were jovial, nice and friendly. Not something you often find before some AFL Games.
Then the show. The lead up. And everything before the game.
There were some energetic mascots who got the crowd involved. Giveaways of flags and banners. Suns branding everywhere you could see. A fun little game show style video being played pre-game engaging Suns players with supporters. And lots of kids wearing Suns clothes. Lots and lots of kids. This shows that they are sowing the roots for a future support base. There may have been no atmosphere on the night compared to other AFL games I’ve been to but the sheer enthusiasm and joy these young fans had for a side barely as old as they were was intoxicating.
And finally the game itself.
Let’s not lie and say it was a great game. Let’s not lie and say it was a packed house (just over 10,000 to see the two bottom sides in the competition). Let’s not lie and say it was a game that will go down as one of the best of all time. But there was something unique about it. Almost a suburban footy feel but again, something different. It felt like a club that knows what it is doing with the show, with the future, with the location and with the people it wants to attract.
You see the fans that were there weren’t over aggressive. They weren’t disappointed in their side losing. They were having fun. They had hope. And even when they went behind and never looked like coming back, they still cheered. They still appreciated brief moments. They still appreciated their team. Something that as a Carlton supporter is never seen when my team loses, as they do frequently.
The added moments too? Having actual Suns players engage with kids at half time with their parents and really getting them involved. Having the players who lost and would usually walk off the field with their heads bowed down in sadness still come up to fans after the game to shake their hands and hand them footballs. Having fans leave the game still smiling, still joking and being nice and jovial and still supporting a side that needs every ounce of support it can get.
So I’m declaring it right now. If I was allowed to right now change my life and go for a new AFL team it would be the Gold Coast Suns. And for every moment I remain in this part of the world I will go to every game, cheer every kick and goal and support a side that brings something new and unique to the established Australian sporting landscape.
So join me by getting on the Suns bandwagon. I’ll save you a seat. There are plenty free.