Round 4: Hawthorn Hawks Vs Geelong Cats (MCG)
||Tim O'Brien, James Sicily, Blake Hardwick, Daniel Howe, Billy Hartung
||Teia Miles (Omitted), Jaeger O'Meara (Knock to the Knee)
The teams are in for the Easter Monday clash and although it's only an extended squad, you can bet there will be a few omitted.
If you ask me though, there is a far more important decision at the selection table for Hawthorn.
Hawks fans – are you in or are you out?
As I mentioned in my debut for Hashtag Footy, noise from Hawks fans has been a pet peeve of mine for a quite a while. There is nothing more frustrating than watching a home game at the 'G, when Hawthorn are outnumbered around the contest, as well as in the stands.
With the Hawks now 0-3 after an embarrassing 86 point loss at the hands of the Suns, the already poor support is at risk of becoming significantly worse.
"Just bruised souls tonight, boys"
That was the final comment from Clarkson as he exited his press conference on Sunday night. Both the players and fans need to decide if they are willing to fight through the bruised ego.
Round 1 against Essendon saw a crowd of 78,294, with Bombers fans outnumbering Hawks by a large margin. The noise when Hawthorn was on top was dwarfed by Bombers fans whenever they took the ascendancy. Yes, it was an Essendon home game and yes it was the “return of their boys”, so I was happy to give our fans a pass on that occasion.
However, Round 2 wasn’t much better. The first Hawthorn home game of the year only brought an embarrassing 37,420 through the gates and the noise was frankly laughable at times. The Hawks piled on 5 first quarter goals to what can only be described as warm applause around the ground. Then as Adelaide to control in the second half, not an ounce of energy could be taken from the Hawks home crowd.
As fans, we keep expecting this great team to show up year after year, but are we doing the same?
The Hawks come up against their old rivals Geelong this weekend with their backs firmly up against the wall. Staring a 0-4 start square in the eyes, a loss would see a record that the Hawks haven’t had to deal with to start the year since 1998.
It would also see the media collective preparing all kinds of hot takes to write about. The rumblings have already begun.
Was trading Mitchell & Lewis a mistake? Is it time for Clarkson to go elsewhere? Where are the kids? Have the wheels finally fallen off for Hawthorn? I’ll be sure to point out all the garbage astute articles as they are written, but I am much more interested in another question.
Are the wheels falling off the Hawthorn Bandwagon too?
Before I delve into this, I have an admission to make. I’m not a Hawthorn member. I haven’t been for some time.
I am fortunate enough to be an MCC member and I cannot justify spending more money for an extra membership with no extra benefit. Let's be honest, the Hawthorn bank account is doing a-ok without my extra hard earned deposited. Instead, I support with my feet and my voice. There isn’t a Hawthorn game at the ‘G that I don’t attend and I make up for my refusal to go to the Docklands, by attending the odd game in Launceston.
Ok with that out of the way, let's tackle how us Hawks fare as supporters.
Crowd noise is not something that can be easily analysed. I don’t own a decibel meter and even if I did, I go to Hawks games to watch the footy not record noise levels. A more tangible factor is crowd attendance. As we know, Hawthorn breaks it's own membership record every year and led the league in 2016 on the membership tally.
But does membership translate to attendance?
Hawthorn along with Collingwood and Richmond have been in the top three the last two years, for total membership. With all three teams located in Melbourne and playing the majority of their home games at the MCG, it gives us a solid comparison to pit the Hawks numbers against.
In 2016, all three broke the 70,000 barrier and while the Hawks home crowd average of 36,814 is significantly lower than that of the Tigers and Pies, there is a simple explanation for that. Playing multiple home games in Tasmania at a much smaller venue skews the Hawks crowd numbers and therefore looking at home games played at the MCG for all three is much more relevant.
The Hawks more than hold their own when looking purely at the MCG numbers for '16, against those of Collingwood and Richmond. However, let’s not forget a minor wrinkle of detail as we digest these numbers. Hawthorn was chasing their fourth premiership in a row, while both Richmond and Collingwood fans were disillusioned with how their sides were performing.
To get a clearer look at these numbers, we can compare from a couple of different perspectives.
1. How does Hawthorn’s attendance stack up against itself over this period of premierships and increased membership?
2. How does it stack up against a membership peer during a successful period in their recent history? Let’s be honest, that discounts Richmond, but luckily the Pies won a flag not too long ago in 2010.
Take a look at question one first, let's focus purely on MCG home games for Hawthorn between 2013-2016. We essentially have averages of 56,000 and 49,000 alternating every year over the four-year period. While that might seem like a quirky coincidence, it's perhaps not. The lower attendance years of '14 and '16, the Hawks played 7 home games at the 'G compared to just 6 in '13 and '15.
In the odd years where Hawthorn only play 6, these games are generally reserved for just the big blockbuster matchups, whereas the even years have the extra game and a few more interstate/lesser contests. What does it say? The Hawks numbers are perhaps a little protected by who they play at the 'G and some help on numbers from opposition fans.
Looking a little further into this idea. The Hawthorn individual game numbers over this period show a clear indefensible fact. The lowest attended home game year on year: '13: 28,112 (GCS) - '14: 17,906 (GWS) - '15: 33,182 (CAR) - '16: 41,833 (MEL). Those numbers are shocking for a club that has over 75,000 members.
Now for question two and it's not pretty. The Pies won the flag in 2010 and were just one win away in 2011. A recent high period for Hawthorn's closest membership rival. Take a look at the home MCG averages for Collingwood in 2010 and 2011 and compare them to those of Hawthorn 2013-2016. The gap to Hawthorn is 10,000 at it's smallest and near on 20,000 at it's largest.
Sure, you could account the difference to the members Hawthorn has in Tasmania (9,000 in 2016) but no team has more interstate members than Collingwood. Comparing attendance numbers with identical opponents also highlights the difference between the two fanbases. Geelong was both teams biggest rival over both periods, where Hawks/Cats games averaged 74,080 compared to that of 84,978 for Pies/Cats battles.
The answers aren’t great, Hawks fans.
Being a Hawthorn supporter is like hitting the jackpot, no matter what decade you were born in. This era of Hawks have been very good to us and it's time to return the favour.
It's a frustrating feeling being in the minority at a Hawthorn home game. There is more to being a Hawks supporter than paying for the membership so the number keeps ticking over on the badge sewn into your loyalty scarf, or to ensure finals tickets, should the team play into September.
A potential down year is where you find out who the true Hawthorn people are. As the club continues to boast leading the league with record membership numbers, don't be fooled. The 75,000 on paper means nothing when the team is locked in a 4th quarter battle against Geelong and the 18 Hawks on the field, need the help of the plenty more in stands.
A Hawthorn home game needs a true home atmosphere. A true home ground advantage.
It's our turn Hawks fans. "DO SOMETHING!"