‘Thank you’: The AFL’s heartfelt letter to fans
Thank you, footy fans. That's the clear message we want to send to every member and supporter of AFL clubs around Australia as we prepare for the return of football on Thursday night, with Richmond meeting Collingwood at the MCG to kick off Round 2 of the 2020 Toyota AFL premiership season - the first game in more than two months
It is exciting to have footy back for you, our most loyal fans.
The AFL Commission and the AFL, led by Gillon as CEO, want to thank you for your support. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your ongoing passion and commitment to your AFL clubs.
It has been important that we get our game back on for you - the millions of people who support our 18 AFL clubs and 14 AFLW teams - and also for all those who support and participate in community football across every part of Australia.
We know how passionate football supporters are. We have seen how club members have rallied around their clubs during this pandemic - support that has been so important to clubs to be able to navigate through unprecedented times.
Your ongoing support of the game has been vital through this period as we worked with governments, chief health officers and medical authorities to return our game, and to make sure we did it in a way that protects our players, officials, their families and the wider community.
At a community level, across the country, it's a different pace of return for the game depending on how we are going in each part of Australia, but more and more girls and boys, women and men, are preparing or training for the chance to be back among their teammates.
We know how important football is to local communities, and the significant impact this has had on local clubs and the volunteers who power football across Australia.
Many clubs and leagues will look very different, and there are regions and areas where football may not resume in the short term and will have to wait for 2021.
We said at the start of this global pandemic that while we are a game, we are not the main game, and our biggest responsibility as a code was to do whatever we could to help the community to flatten the curve and keep people safe.
On behalf of the AFL, we want to thank all governments and health officials, all the medical workers and essential services workers across Australia, and the wider community, who have worked so hard and so long to protect us and reduce transmission.
Our game thanks you all for providing us with the environment where we have an opportunity to return to playing AFL games. We understand that with that opportunity comes a responsibility to have in place the appropriate protocols, approved by government and health officials, to ensure the safety of all.
The football may look different without crowds at the start, but our players and clubs are excited to be back out there and can't wait for the ball to bounce.
We want to thank our AFL clubs, players, coaches and umpires, nearly all of whom are currently living under stricter conditions than the communities around them to ensure we can play our games. We particularly want to thank West Coast, Fremantle, Adelaide and Port Adelaide for temporarily moving to the Gold Coast in order to ensure the season can get under way.
We want to thank the game's broadcasters and major partners, who have stuck with us and allowed the game to bounce back after an unprecedented period, and also our AFL staff, who have worked tirelessly to ensure our return to play.
But again, we want to come back to our fans. In a challenging environment, loyal members have pledged themselves to clubs, knowing their support was vital as we all adjust to a new and different Australia.
Thousands and thousands more of our fans are offering their support in any way they can, desperate to cheer their teams on again. Thank you to every one of you.
At the time our game was forced to halt - something that had never happened to us during the Depression or two world wars - the Commission's clear position was that we had 18 AFL clubs and 14 AFLW clubs, and we would emerge with 18 and 14 teams respectively.
To repeat, we will do that.
We will also continue to support football at all levels. Our Commission, the AFL and our game will continue to invest in the next generation, continue to provide opportunities for girls and boys to play the game, continue to provide facilities for those who want to be part of a club, and welcome everyone who wants to be part our game.
There is a role for you, be that as a player, a coach, an administrator, an umpire, a volunteer, a supporter, a member or a fan.
Let's bounce the ball and get started again.
An open letter to fans from AFL chairman Richard Goyder and chief executive Gillon McLachlan
PIES ALWAYS FLY FOR DEAN
They might have been absent from the TV for months but the Mighty Magpies always get wall-to-wall coverage in Dean Valmorbida's house.
The 22-year-old Collingwood super fan, who has turned his bedroom wall into a black and white shrine, described the competition's hiatus as a "big blank".
But optimism was now sky-high for the Magpies fanatic, who hopes his beloved team can go one better this year.
"I do think the past two seasons will be ringing through all their minds," Mr Valmorbida said.
"It's just a matter of how we handle the pressure come finals time."
Mr Valmorbida, whose side plays in Thursday's Round 2 opener, was trying to view the lack of footy as merely "an extra-long pre-season" to cope with his sporting withdrawals.
Collingwood's players have always been top of mind though, helped by dozens of signed photos and memorabilia he has amassed over the years.
"It started out with just a couple that were given to me at a young age," Mr Valmorbida said.
"From then on, I started to love decorating my wall and it's grown over the years."
PLOTTING THE CREPE ESCAPE
Hawks fans Justin Barnes and Patrick Daly have pompoms at the ready as they count down to footy's return.
The duo, Hawthorn cheer squad committee members, have spent the last few weeks making the decorative balls out of crepe paper.
But it's in the loungeroom - not the grandstand - where they'll be furiously waved when the ball sails through for a goal.
"We've been able to make a lot of new stuff to replace some of the old," Mr Barnes said of his time without footy.
"I've been going to games since I was a kid, so I hope we get to see crowds again by the end of the year."
Mr Barnes and Mr Daly said they'd don their Hawks guernseys and enjoying a pie at home during their side's upcoming clash.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER FOR DOGS FANS
The delayed AFL season just might be an omen for Bulldogs fanatic Sharon Cutajar.
"Have you not heard about the last team to win a Grand Final in October?" Mrs Cutajar said.
"It was us and we are going to do it again!"
Mrs Cutajar is such a passionate Doggies fan granddaughter Ruby, 6 dubbed her "cray-cray nanna".
Football's return left the 54-year-old with mixed feelings given crowds weren't allowed.
But she still couldn't wait to watch at home alongside her sister and niece when the Bulldogs meet St Kilda on Sunday.
"My heart is pumping just about the thought of watching the Bulldogs again," Mrs Cutajar said.
NORTH FOLLOWERS KEEP IT IN THE FAMILY
Kangaroos fans are bouncing with renewed hope after a win before the break.
North Talk podcast's Ross Payne, is "really excited" ahead of the season's resuming but has "struggled" without footy for the past two months.
Mr Payne's family of North Melbourne fanatics will congregate at his uncle's place to cheer on the Shinboners against flag fancies GWS on Sunday.
"I've got quite a big family and all of our extended family even on my wife's side all follow North Melbourne," Mr Payne said.
However, it will be a bittersweet feeling for the 36-year-old.
Mr Payne's father, who he'd attend games with since childhood, passed away in February.
"I went with my dad every week since I was young," Mr Payne said.
"Even just watching a game on telly without him is going to be a bit different."
Mr Payne is himself set to become a father later this year, revealing he "may have already bought a North jumper" for his first child.
Originally published as 'Thank you': The AFL's heartfelt letter to fans