The first AFL Fans Association Awards recognised a range of people and initiatives that helped make the 2015 season enjoyable for fans, as well as the fans themselves.
AFL Fans Association president Gerry Eeman "We are thrilled to announce the winners of our inaugural awards. The highlight is really the Fan of the Year (Female), Fan of the Year (Male), and Supporter Group of the Year. These are incredibly deserving winners who have made a significant contribution to football. They personify what football is all about. Fans are a big part of what makes our game great and deserve recognition for their dedication and passion. Without the colour that they provide, Australian Rules loses much of its character."
Fan of the Year (Female) Award: Lesley Benham (Collingwood)
Fan of the Year (Male) Award: Liam Briggs (Port Adelaide)
Supporter group of the Year Award: The Alberton Crowd (Port Adelaide)
Best AFL venue: MCG (60.9 per cent), Adelaide Oval (18.8) and Etihad Stadium (11.6)
Best AFL footy show: AFL 360 (31.9 per cent), Marngrook (21.7) and The Footy Show (13).
Best AFL commentator: Dennis Cometti (21.7 per cent), Anthony Hudson (18.8) and Tim Lane and Brian Taylor (11.6)
Most exciting player: Eddie Betts (20.3 per cent), Jake Stringer (17.4) and Chad Wingard (15.9)
Best performer from the 2014 AFL National Draft: Isaac Heeney (42 per cent), Angus Brayshaw (20.3) and Jordan de Goey (11.6).
Best player in the 2015 home and away season: Nat Fyfe (40.6 per cent), Todd Goldstein (14.5), Matt Priddis (13).
Best defender: Alex Rance (46.4 per cent), Robert Murphy and Heath Shaw (8.7)
Best forward: Josh Kennedy (WC 42 per cent), Eddie Betts (17.4), Chad Wingard (14.5).
A little bit about the winners:
Fan of the Year (Female): Lesley Benham
When Lesley was about nine she volunteered at Victoria Park, helping the groundsman with chores. She was an inaugural (and continuing) volunteer at the Christmas Day lunch run jointly by Collingwood FC and the Salvation Army. The lunch has been going for more than 20 years and provides Christmas Day lunch for local disadvantaged people.
When Collingwood was struggling, Lesley purchased many season tickets which she donated back to the club (including 15 in one season). She also bought season tickets for Fitzroy and Footscray when these clubs were struggling. She continues to buy a Richmond season ticket, which she donates back to the RFC. For the 1990 Grand Final, Lesley ripped up 167 telephone books which were thrown up in the air behind the goals.
Lesley was involved in establishing and re-establishing the Pink Magpies group for gay and lesbian fans, and was instrumental in the AGM push to have the use of the Collingwood jumper, club colours and club song protected in the club constitution. She also ran a club raffle dubbed Sleeping With Your Favourite Player, where winners received pillowcases with 2 player’s numbers, stats and autograph. She continues to help the cheer squad with banner-making.
Outside of her passion for footy, Lesley works for the Salvation Army with homeless men and received the Salvation Army’s "Compassion Award".
Fan of the Year (Male): Liam Briggs
Liam lives and breathes the One Club ethos of Port Adelaide's revival. He is a dedicated member of cheer squad and was previously banner coordinator. At Power games, Liam holds up the banner for players to run through and then encourages fellow cheer squad members as chant leader. He grew up in a Port Adelaide family and he and his father are both runners for the Port Adelaide Magpies team in the SANFL.
When not helping out with the Port Adelaide Magpies, Liam is a regular at all Port Adelaide pre and post-match events and is always at the front of the March from the Mall, leading chants. He accompanied singer-songwriter Caitlin Webb in several performances at fan events throughout the year. Caitlan penned a song called Not Giving Up about Port Adelaide, which is close to its $1000 fundraising target. The proceeds have been donated to Foodbank – the Port Adelaide Football charity.
Supporter group of the year: The Alberton Crowd
The Alberton Crowd formed as a supporter group in 2011, around the time that PAFC was at a very low ebb. The genesis of the Alberton Crowd started with friends Dimi Sianis and Phillip Rollas, with several other passionate fans soon joining.
The Alberton Crowd remains a small unofficial independent supporter group and raises funds for PAFC by selling Alberton Crowd scarves. Most of the proceeds go to sponsoring a PAFC player. In 2015, the AC sponsored player Johann Wagner from The Recruit. It has been instrumental in introducing the much-loved soccer-style chants you hear at Port Adelaide games. They have now also adopted some US college basketball chants – for example the singing I Believe.
The group has a strong public social media presence with more than 6500 followers on their Facebook page. They generally meet up pre-game at Hotel Richmond and everyone is welcome to join, including opposition supporters. The group generally takes a group photo before starting the walk to Adelaide Oval.
Their unofficial motto is: "for the fans, by the fans".
Fans also voted for:
- Best fan-friendly initiative in 2015: Dumping Sunday and Monday night games (31.9 per cent), kick-to-kick (30.4) and reduced MCG food prices (18.8)
- Least fan-friendly part of the match day experience in 2015: LED advertising (24.6 per cent), followed by gambling ads (23.2) and variable ticket pricing (21.7)
- What fans want fixed in 2016: More Grand Final tickets for competing team members (31.9 per cent), followed by less loud music and LED ads (15.9) and fewer gambling ads and bring back the curtain raiser tied on 14.5.
- Which future star would you most want in your team? Patrick Cripps (24.6 per cent), Jake Stringer (23.2), Jess Hogan (18.6)
- Who will be the big mover in 2016? Port Adelaide (31.9 per cent), GWS (24.6), St Kilda (14.5).
AFLFA membership is free and fans are encouraged to join at www.aflfans.org.au.