Banner (Australian rules football)
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The banner, in the context of Australian football, is a large crêpe paper and sticky-tape constructed banner made weekly by each team's cheer squad. It is hoisted before the start of every Australian Rules Football game. When hoisted before each game, it reveals an encouraging or celebratory message to the team; then, as the players take to the field, they run through the banner, breaking it. Traditionally, the captain, or a milestone achieving player leads the team when breaking the banner (although there are some exceptions). The banners have become standard at all AFL games.
Banners are made from crêpe paper and sticky tape, and are attached to two long poles which are used to hold the banner up for the players to run through. Banners are generally at least 8–10 m long, and over 3.5 m or 4 m high – crêpe paper is not strong, and so a lot of sticky tape is used to keep the banner together, particularly at the poles. There are two general ways that the banners are taped together: taping parallel lines every six inches along the length of the banner for its entire height, or; taping in both directions to produce 1 ft square panels. With extra tape on the edges and at the pole, this makes the banner a fairly sturdy construction which the players have no trouble breaking through.
Thicker tape is used at the top of the banner, and thinner tape at the bottom. This enables players to run through the banner and not get caught in the tape. 4 inch thick tape is the thickest tape most cheersquads use, and 1 inch is the smallest.
Some cheer squads, such as that of Carlton, have a permanent upper half made from cloth, and tape crêpe paper only across the lower half through which players run. Each week, they will reuse the top half by taping new letters to it.
Most banners have one base colour, which in the past was almost always the team's main colour, and writing in the team's secondary colour or colours; for example, Essendon, who wear black with a red sash, would have a black banner with red writing. However, these days it is not uncommon for teams to invert the colours.
The precise history behind the banner is very much lost to folklore today, but has its roots in the way Australian football fans have supported their teams for many decades. In the past, supporter groups would take long, fabric banners to hang over the boundary line fence - these would be tens of metres long, about three feet high, and reused weekly. Fans also would wave poles to which were attached streamers in their teams' colours. These support techniques are only vaguely related to the modern day banner.
The first banner-like device was very simple: streamers in the team's colours were tied across the exit from the players' changing rooms in an interwoven lattice pattern. As the captain would lead his team out, he would burst through these streamers. In all probability, it was the excitement of seeing the players destroy something, even if it were just crêpe paper, which warmed the fans to such a practice.
In the 1950s, small banners began to appear. Because they were (and still are) cumbersome and tedious to construct, they were reserved only for special occasions, such as finals games. Like the modern day banner, they were constructed from crepe paper, and held up by poles on either side. They would be held up a short distance from the dugout for teams to run thorough. It is likely that they began to appear when supporter groups decided that special occasions deserved more effort than just streamers tied across the dugout.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, banners began to evolve into the modern-day form. Each week, the cheer squad would gather, and construct from crepe paper and sticky tape, a banner with an inspirational message on each side. Banners were now several metres tall, and the few supporters holding the poles from the base were replaced with three supporters holding tethers from the top of the pole and five or six at the base, for each pole. It is generally hoisted 20 or 30–m away from the fence, and the team will gather in front of it as their club song is played before the captain leads his team through it.
There are five main functions that a banner can take. As it is a double-sided construction, which the cheer squad usually hoists in all four directions to allow all fans to read each side, most of these are seen each week.
- Inspirational Messages: these are generally found in the form of a four-line rhyming message. They can be fairly predictable, and usually will the team on to beat the opposition and continue up the ladder.
- Demotivational Messages: when an opponent, particularly a hated one, is coming off a bad loss or is having a bad year, it is common for cheer squads to use the banner to annoy the opposition fans - this is particularly prevalent amongst the more heat rivalries, such as Carlton and Collingwood, or Adelaide and Port Adelaide.
- Celebration of Milestones: when a player is playing a milestone game - that is, his 50th, 100th, 150th AFL game or club game, or a record-breaking game - it is standard practice to reward that effort by emblazoning his name and often a picture of him on the banner. In these circumstances, it is accepted that the milestone player will lead the team through the banner instead of the captain.
- Advertising Club Events: one side of a banner will often be used to advertise an upcoming family day, best and fairest night, or to spruik for memberships at the beginning of a season.
- Advertising Sponsors: while not historically a feature, it is now accepted that club sponsors will pay the cheer squad to have their logo on the banner. Usually, the sponsors name will feature on plastic sheathes into which the poles are slotted, and the banner is attached between the two.
Banners outside the AFL
It is common for junior clubs to prepare small banners when one of their players is playing a milestone game. This arises from the fact that banners are much loved by children when they go to the football, and clubs like to oblige their desires. Junior milestone banners are generally no bigger than 2×3 m, and the team usually lines up to form a guard of honour for the player before he bursts through his own banner.
The Melbourne Storm come through a banner when they take to the field at their home ground, AAMI Park and at their old ground, Olympic Park. Banners have never been a part of the NRL, but cheer squads from Melbourne were keen to bring the AFL practice into their adopted sport, as Victoria, in particular Melbourne, is Australian Rules Football heartland.
Banner incidents, customs and superstitions
Crepe paper and sticky tape is not renowned for its strength. As such, the banners will often rip in places, or even be completely de-poled if the weather is very windy or wet. Seeing an opponent's banner de-poled is always a source of amusement for fans, leaving their opponent open to ridicule.
In Round 1, 2005, Melbourne and Essendon paid tribute to Melbourne's Troy Broadbridge, who was killed in the Boxing Day Tsunami with a special banner precession. The two cheer squads set their banners up side-by-side in the centre of the wing, and the teams observed a minute silence before breaking through their banners at the same time. The banner tribute is currently unique, but it is likely that such tributes would be carried out if similar circumstances were ever to befall Australian football again.
Some players have superstitions or routines regarding the banner. One such superstition is that some players like to be the first one through the banner. Even though it is customary for the captain (or milestone player) to lead the team through the banner, it is often the case that the superstitious player walks up to the banner alongside his leading captain, and then reaches out to touch the paper first.
Other players, notably Matthew Richardson and formerly Brendan Fevola, avoid touching the banner altogether. While they will run through it, they will usually trail the pack, and try to avoid any hanging paper. Richardson's superstition led to a special banner being made for his 150th game – it had a very large opening in the centre base to allow Richardson to lead his team straight through it. Other routines include always kicking a football at the banner before running through it, or simply running around it or under it instead of through it - Nick Stevens (retired, formerly Carlton), Cameron Mooney (retired, formerly Geelong) and Brendan Fevola (Casey Scorpions, VFL) are current examples.