Memo AFL: crowds will often behave as expected

Last Friday night, I took a tribe of Essendon fans from country NSW to Marvel Stadium in Melbourne to see their beloved Essendon Bombers play Hawthorn.

Why would a Collingwood fan commit such a sin? Well, the Bible says "associate with the lowly" (Romans 12:16), and you can't get much lower than Essendon supporters.

Once there, I began doubting the wisdom of the ejection of a Carlton fan a week earlier for calling an umpire a "bald-headed flog" as fans seem to call umpires bald-headed flogs all night - even those without any serious hair loss.

I'm glad the AFL decided against sanctions on the Carlton fan. I heard there was talk of making the Blues supporter pick up half-eaten meat pies and hot dog wrappers after the game, but I think that's rubbish.

Perhaps the AFL realised that being a Carlton fan these days is punishment enough for any crime.

Seriously, musing on the AFL's statement on fan behaviour last week, I can't help feeling a little confused.

The 365-word manifesto states: "For over 100 years, the footy has been a place to come together, barrack, cheer and share in the experience in whichever way you choose. There has been no directive from the AFL to change this."

However, I find myself agreeing with AFL Fans Association president Gerry Eeman who believes "there's just a sense there's been an over-correction".

I agree with Mr Eeman's sentiments that fans are feeling watched, and that it's making them feel uncomfortable.

During the game last Friday night, I noticed security guards walking back and forth to the fence in front of us. It didn't make me feel safe, rather, it made me feel like something serious was going down and it was a distraction to enjoying the footy.

If the AFL's claim there has been no directive to change the way we experience the game is to be believed, why are there these new "behavioural awareness officers" lurking in pairs, donning blue vests sporting the words "report anti-social behaviour" ... remembering that Marvel Stadium is owned by the AFL?

Some will say that if you're not doing anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about. Well, how do you usually perform when you think you're being overly watched and, therefore, judged?

Psychology has already revealed to us the pygmalion effect - whereby other people's expectations of a person affects that person's behaviour, even to the point of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. And worse, there's the golem effect - if lower expectations are placed upon individuals, then those individuals will display poorer performance.

Consider the research of Professor Douglas McGregor in the 1960s.

McGregor studied two types of workplace managers: managers who believed their workers were lazy and would only work if they were constantly watched (theory X managers), and managers who believed their workers did not need constant supervision as workers were inherently happy to work and wanted to exert themselves and pursue objectives (theory Y managers).

He rather humorously discovered both types of managers got from their workers what they expected.

This only proves most of the jeering at the footy is just bravado. When put to the test, people really do love each other.

With increases in CCTV use, police numbers and even police powers in recent years (not that there's anything wrong with that), you'd be forgiven for thinking that crime was on the decrease.

Unfortunately, Australian jails are at record high levels, and increasing. Surely, this explains judges granting convicted criminals suspended sentences?

The joy of Friday night's win for my Essendon friends was short lived.

On our way out of Marvel Stadium, the most senior supporter in our group tripped and fell, breaking her arm and smashing two of her front teeth out. She eventually joked "now I look like a Collingwood supporter."

As this accident happened at a busy exit, there were thousands of supporters who saw what happened.

Not one Hawthorn supporter jeered or laughed. Everyone who walked by either displayed a hushed respect for her predicament or tried to help in any way they could.

A lot of love was shown that night by supporters of both teams.

This only proves most of the jeering at the footy is just bravado. When put to the test, people really do love each other.

Twitter: @fatherbrendanelee