Fans recognised for their passion and support during the pandemic


AFL FANS ASSOCIATION (AFLFA): GIVING FANS A VOICE

Fans have again gone above and beyond to support their teams during a second COVID-impacted season, with several recognised for their next-level passion. The AFL Fans Association 2021 award winners are:

  • Fan of the Year: Swans diehard and Cheer Squad member Sarah Bears
  • Supporter Group of the Year: Demon Army Ticketing Team led by Rachel Hare and Beth Lockhart

The winners of each category will receive a certificate and a $100 Chemist Warehouse voucher.

AFL Fans Association president Cheryl Critchley says all supporters have again shown incredible loyalty, with many retaining memberships despite being unable to attend some games.

“This year’s winners showed amazing dedication and ensured that others remained connected during the pandemic, and able to attend games despite complex COVID-affected ticketing,” Cheryl says.

Fan of the Year: Sarah Bears, Sydney Swans (see below for Q&A)

Sarah Bears is an exceptional footy fan and person. Sarah was unable to attend many games in 2021 due to COVID, but the dedicated Swans Cheer Squad member, who lives in the Sydney suburb of Minto with her husband Mark and four children, spent the season bringing cheer to others.

Aislinn, 18, Isla, 14, Declan, 11, and Callum, 10, also love footy. The boys have autism and enjoy supporting their club and attending games at the SCG. When they couldn’t go due to COVID, Sarah made banners for her family to run through and posted their fun online, much to the joy of fellow fans. It also attracted the attention of her club, which featured Sarah in a Facebook video

“During 2020 I made banners for each round of the AFL fixture due to COVID-19,” Sarah says. “If there was a theme like Pride Round, the slogan would be related to the theme. In 2021, we started making banners to encourage our team to win for those of us in Sydney stuck in lockdown.”

Sarah helps make the Swans’ run-throughs when they are playing in Sydney with crowds. She works hard to inspire her team and those around her. “I am always in the front row holding a flag or a flogger,” she says. “My youngest son holds up a huge sign saying, ‘Tricky Hickey’ as that’s his favourite player.”

A special education teacher, Sarah uses footy in the classroom. “I have Swans gear in my classroom and my students all know the Swans club song and who my favourite players are,” she says. “A close friend gave me enough Swans gear so that each student in my class had a Swans cap and scarf.”

Supporter Group of the Year: The Demon Army Ticketing Team (see below for Q&A)

Melbourne-based Rachel Hare, Beth Lockhart, Amy McIntyre, Mandy Horsburgh, and Sophie Galer spent season 2021 helping fellow Demon Army (cheer squad) members navigate the complicated ticket system.

COVID restrictions meant that when they could attend games, the system was complex. For some, it was also daunting and confusing when digital tickets were required. Members who used to be able to simply swipe their membership or a paper ticket had to download them on a smart phone.

The ticketing team stepped up from handling interstate matches only to navigating the brave new world of COVID-affected games. Rachel, Beth, Amy, Sophie, and Mandy combined their skills with spreadsheets, mail outs and data entry to work wonders.

First, they’d call for registrations. With more than 700 members, they were never sure how many would want to attend and how many seats they’d have. It varied, but they managed to negotiate tickets for those who needed to be at the front, wave floggers, or avoid flags in their faces.

They also helped members who struggled with online systems or didn’t know how to download apps and digital tickets. By buying all the seats and distributing them, they ensured the allocation was filled every time. If someone couldn’t attend, they found another user.

It involved a huge amount of work but helped ensure the Demons had maximum support as they stormed into the finals. The ticketing team can’t be in Perth for the preliminary final, but their efforts are appreciated by all involved.

Rachel has been watching the finals on her couch “yelling at the TV” and is hopeful the Dees can make the Grand Final. “It looks like we'll still be in lockdown, so I won't be able to host a small party, like I'd hoped,” she says of her plans if Melbourne does get there. “Maybe I'll have to settle with painting my fence red and blue and zooming with the Demon Army.”

Beth is also watching the finals on the couch and as someone who travelled to China for an exhibition game, not being in Perth hurts. She believes her team can go all the way. “Of course!” she says. “Winning the final match of our home and away season with a captain’s after-the-siren-goal to secure the minor premiership really consolidated the belief of the player’s and knowing that at some point in the year, they have beaten the remaining finals teams.”

Previous winners

2020 
Fan of the Year
: All fans for their dedication during the COVID-19 Pandemic

2019
Fan of the Year: Megan Harris, Rainbow Crows Secretary and Events Coordinator, and Official Crows Support Group Committee Member and Match Day Property Coordinator
Supporter Group of the Year: Side by Side Fan Page (Collingwood, run by Claudio)

2018
Female Fan of the Year:
Colleen McKaye, Crows Supporters Group (cheer squad)*
Male Fan of the Year: Shaun Dux, The Demon Army
Supporter Group of the Year: The Demon Army (cheer squad)

2017
Female Fan of the Year:
Annie Green (Adelaide Crows Supporters Group)
Male Fan of the Year:
Ryan Sinclair (Demon Army)
Supporter Group of the Year:
The Demon Army

2016
Female Fan of the Year:
Jan Courtin (Sydney Swans)
Male Fan of the Year:
Robert Smith (Adelaide Crows Supporters group)
Supporter Group of the Year:
The Adelaide Crows Supports Group (Cheer Squad) and Essendon Cheer Squad

2015
Female Fan of the Year:
Lesley Benham (Collingwood)
Male Fan of the Year:
Liam Briggs (Port Adelaide Cheer Squad)
Supporter Group of the Year:
The Alberton Crowd (Port Adelaide)

To obtain contact details for our winners, please contact: AFLFA president Cheryl Critchley on 0418 312 596. Email: president@aflfans.org.au or media@aflfans.org.au.  

AFL Fans Association 2021 Fan of the Year Sarah Bears. Instagram: @sydneyswanschick

Sarah Bears

How long have you been a Swans fan?

Being the only NSW team when I was a child, it was the natural choice. My grandfather watched all sport, so footy was always on TV. As I got older, we would go to the Sydney Swans games back in the days where entry was free. Footy is something we do as a family. My youngest son and daughter are footy crazy like me and are diehard Swans supporters, however we watch all the AFL games every weekend on TV. The whole family has a Swans membership, and we attend every home game together.

Your sons both have autism?

I am a huge advocate for autism awareness. We are an autism family and footy is something we can do as a family. My oldest son doesn’t always cope with the loud noise at the football; however, he is still able to watch the game with noise cancelling headphones. This is how we came to be part of the cheer squad – he didn’t enjoy the experience of sitting in our member seats. The cheer squad seating area is alcohol free, less rowdy and has a family feel, and the kids could participate more in waving flags and floggers. The people in the cheer squad that we sit with are now people we consider family.

How do you incorporate footy into your classes?

I am a special education teacher in South-West Sydney, and I have a class with seven students. I absolutely love my job so much that it doesn’t feel like a job! I have Swans gear in my classroom and my students all know the Swans club song and who my favourite players are. A close friend gave me enough Swans gear so that each student in my class had a Swans cap and scarf. I also have a set of hats I keep in my class storeroom for the kids to wear when they go outside for PE and sport lessons.

How did your homemade banners come about?

During 2020 I made banners for each round of the AFL fixture due to COVID19. The slogans varied, so if there was a theme like Pride Round, the slogan would be related to the theme. The Swans had the highest number of injuries in the 2020 season so we had quite a few debutantes, therefore I would make a banner for all the debuts. This was very much a family affair, so we would also make banners for milestone games for players. In 2021, we started making banners to encourage our team to win for those of us in Sydney stuck in lockdown.

How involved are you in the cheer squad?

I attend banner making each week, and even give up a few days at the start of each year to make the banner shells. My youngest daughter also attends this with me. We are also on the banner ropes, holding the banners for each home game. For us it is an honour to serve our club. We were part of the Fight MND banner making this year at the SCG (when the Swans Cheer Squad volunteered to make a banner for the Collingwood-Melbourne game that was moved to Sydney), and I was interviewed by the AFL about what it meant to be part of the banner making and holding for this special round. In the cheer squad, I am always in the front row holding a flag or a flogger. My youngest son holds up a huge sign saying “Tricky Hickey” as that’s his favourite player.

Why do you love the Swans so much?

It’s a way I can keep connected with my grandfather who passed 11 years ago, however it’s also a way I can pass his love of footy on to my kids. I love the club for the culture and inclusiveness it promotes. The club personnel are always delightful and willing to help, and they are so appreciative of the contributions the members make. I also love how much the players love the members and are always willing to have their photo taken with my kids or sign their hats. I also believe the culture the club promotes filters down to the members – I have made so many friends I now call family through this club, and we are a united front for our club and team.

AFL Fans Association Supporter Group of the Year – Demon Army Ticketing Team.

Rachel Hare

What role have you played this year with ticketing?

In seasons past there has been no need to allocate tickets so this has been as much of a learning process for us too. I think we've changed our ticketing method a handful of times, only to perfect it for Melbourne to go into lockdown again! But in general. we'd purchase the entire bays worth of tickets and share them with all that requested tickets. We'd get requests for aisle seats, undercover seats and to sit with specific people, the seat allocation was a big puzzle! It would be a nightmare for one person to do alone, I'm so happy we have such a great team.

What has been the biggest challenge?

COVID. We'd have to guess what the 25 per cent, 80 per cent capacity in seating plan looks like and re-jib the seating plan while purchasing the tickets if the plan didn't match the actual layout. Helping those that have never used Ticketek up until this year get their tickets on their phone, we're just lucky that everyone has been so patient with the process and so lovely.

How excited are you about Melbourne’s form this year?

It's been amazing, the consistency is something we're not used to (still not used to it to be honest). The games are all so exciting to watch! The last game against Geelong - what a thriller!

How are you following the finals?

On my couch, yelling at the TV! Much to my husband's dismay (Essendon supporter!)

Do you think they can win the Grand Final?

On their best day I really think they can. The team has proven themselves all year and I think they've proven to us as supporters they have the mental strength to take it to the best of teams, which is a very foreign feeling! 

If the Demons make it, how do you plan to watch?

It looks like we'll still be in lockdown, so I won't be able to host a small party, like I'd hoped. Maybe I'll have to settle with painting my fence red and blue and zooming with the Demon Army.

How hard would it be not being there?

Extremely, I watch the grand final every year and have always imagined what it would be like to attend and have your team play. I guess we'll also have to make it in the years to come. 

Why do you love your club so much?

The people behind the scenes. I love the game and the club but watching with your best friends every week, regardless of outcome, just makes it that much more special.

Beth Lockhart

What role have you played this year with ticketing?

Ticketing became crucial this year, with the removal of general admission, and membership barcodes deactivated at turnstiles. In previous years, I have taken a more behind the scenes approach when I volunteer with the Demon Army. I usually assist with the run-throughs – helping with construction, spell check, and spacing (kerning) of the wording and any pictures/sponsor’s logos and occasionally on to the ground (usually interstate matches). With COVID-19, run-throughs fell to the wayside, and even fundraising went digital. Previously, ticketing of the cheer squad areas has been limited to interstate matches and matches with larger crowd attendances.

What has been the biggest challenge? 

The dynamic nature of the season and the variations in crowd numbers, meant the availability of seats changed week to week. The digital nature of the ticketing caused a number of our members to come unstuck, so there was some IT troubleshooting required as we navigated the different ticketing agencies, different phone operating systems, and COVID tracking implementations.

How excited are you about Melbourne’s form this year?

Incredibly excited. We saw solidification of our midfield and the rise of so many young players.

Do you think they can win the Grand Final?

Of course! Winning the final match of our home and away season with a captain’s after-the-siren-goal to secure the minor premiership, really consolidated the belief of the player’s and knowing that at some point in the year, they have beaten the remaining finals teams.

How are you following the finals? 

With COVID restrictions in place, I will be following nervously from the couch.

If the Demons make it, how do you plan to watch? 

If restrictions ease, hopefully with my footy family.

How hard would it be not being there? 

Having travelled to China to watch them play in an exhibition match, it will be devastating not being able to get to Western Australia.

Why do you love your club so much? 

I have strong family history of supporting Melbourne and have been involved with volunteering since I was old enough to count change at the barbecue on Thursday evening training sessions at Junction Oval.