In a recent meeting with AFL club presidents and chief executives, league boss Gillon McLachlan put on notice an agenda he wants to work through later in the year.
“… and we better look at guernseys,” McLachlan said, some noting he raised his eyebrows and a changing the tone of his voice, all at the same time.
In the meantime, some clubs have run away with their own agenda.
Sydney, once known as South Melbourne, will be wearing a ‘heritage jumper’ this weekend – in an away game against the Western Bulldogs, once known as Footscray.
Founded in 1874 as South Melbourne, the club entered the Victorian Football Association wearing blue-and-white hoops (as Geelong does).
In 1880, the uniform became red-and-white hopes with navy blue shorts. The blue stayed until the end of 1906 when South Melbourne was a founding part of the nine-year-old Victorian Football League.
Sydney this weekend will revert – in an away game – to white jumper with red V line adopted by South Melbourne in 1932 and kept even for the club’s initials years in Sydney.
The Opera House silhouette was designed for Season 1987 when the VFL started expansion in Perth and Brisbane.
Heritage rounds are gone but – as the Port Adelaide Football Club keeps saying – heritage matters.
It matters so much to Sydney that the Swans have decided they will not wait for the AFL to restore heritage rounds (last played in 2008). They have created “Swans Heritage Week”.
The Sydney-based AFL club declared on Tuesday: “Swans Heritage Week will be marked every season at a game in Melbourne and will feature the Swans heritage guernsey.”
“We have,” says Sydney chief executive Tom Harley, “enormous respect for our heritage and what has come before us.”
At Geelong, of all places, Harley – while surrounded by thousands of red-and-white fans still captivated by the “Bloods” heritage – was reminded how that heritage matters to club supporters who in 1982 watched a cash-strapped South Melbourne seek a new future in Sydney.
The past never fades for these devoted Swans fans.
“(The game against West Coast at Kardinia Park on Sunday) was a timely reminder of the amazing support we enjoy from all our Victorian supporters, many whose passion for the club dates back to the South Melbourne days at Lake Oval,” Harley said.
The same might be said of the more-battered Fitzroy supporters who this week in 1996 lost the independence of their club – a founding member of the VFL in 1897 – by a league-sponsored merger with Brisbane.
The Bears of 1987 became the Lions of 1997 and beyond (to keep the Fitzroy nickname that once was Gorillas).
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How heritage matters to a new club merging two identities, two histories and two supporter bases is to be appreciated in the symbolic jumper Brisbane wore at the weekend at Adelaide Oval against Adelaide – without any publicly stated protest from Crows chairman John Olsen, who has expressed his wish to veto the guernsey donned by any visiting team.
Rather than dress in their white clash jumper, the new Lions of Brisbane honoured the old Fitzroy by wearing the red, yellow and blue adopted by the Melbourne-born club from 1974 when red replaced Fitzroy’s original 1883 base colour of maroon.
It also pays, as noted with Sydney putting its heritage jumper on the market.
But heritage should not be embraced, honoured and used as a marketing tool with differing tones (and rules) in a competition that prides itself on equality and equalisation themes on the field, such as the draft and salary cap.
Heritage certainly matters to the Port Adelaide fans who continue to turn up at AFL games – all across the nation – donning the black-and-white bars first designed in 1902.
Their dream of seeing Port Adelaide – like Sydney – have an annual heritage moment, be it the home Showdown against Adelaide or all Showdowns at Adelaide Oval, cannot be ignored.
McLachlan knows it. He said as much in the aftermath of the farce of the 2014 AFL elimination final – the first AFL final at Adelaide Oval – in which the incredulous edict from league headquarters was for the higher-ranked Port Adelaide to find a clash jumper so Richmond could appear in its traditional black guernsey with the yellow sash.
The compromise was for Port Adelaide to wear its bars (on jumped hastily prepared in Fiji) and Richmond dutifully developed its yellow clash jumper (that became a successful grand final outfit in 2017).
McLachlan’s lesson? As he put it: “Who would have thought grown men would care what other grown men are wearing? But that passion is to be ignored at our peril.”
Heritage matters. Congratulations Sydney. Best wishes to Brisbane. And everyone else?