Spots of Time

January 20, 2003

The Australian Open

A Strange Display of Multiculturalism

"Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!"
"Oy! Oy! Oy!"
"Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!"
"Oy! Oy! Oy!"
"Aussie!"
"Oy!"
"Aussie!"
"Oy!"
"Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!"
"Oy! Oy! Oy!"

The Australian national cheer sucked the silence from the air. I cringed inside, certain we'd be kicked out of the stadium within minutes. While Australian fans are known for vocal support of their sports teams, this was not a cricket match or a day at the footy (Australian Rules Football). We were sitting in the stands of The 2003 Australian Open and a serious game of tennis was in progress.

Our group numbered close to 200 people and ranged in age from 14 to 30 years old. We were all wearing the Australian colors (green and yellow) in the form of bright yellow T-shirts, green and yellow face (and sometimes body) paint and colorful pointed Asian-styled bamboo hats. Wimbleton this was not.

My neighbors in Melbourne had invited me to join their church youth group on an outing to the Open. It wasn't until we arrived at the gate at 8 a.m. that I had any clue to what I was getting into. The majority of the group had arrived at 7:30 am - the gates didn’t open until 9 am - and were first in line across all 10 of the entry gates. They weren't kidding when they said we wouldn't miss them!

Once the gates opened we took our positions on Court Three, ready to cheer on the first of two Aussies playing that day (Jaymon Crabb). For such a large group, we were amazingly organized - the cheers were funny, silly and unique - but always coordinated and well done. Many of the group had spent the night at the church, learning and practicing the cheers. I was particularly impressed with a synchronized musical mobile phone interlude. The other spectators were equally impressed - our cheers were frequently applauded, and at any one time at least 25% of the audience eyes were on us instead of the players. Audience participation was also high – from hand clapping at appropriate times to the singing of the National Anthem to doing the wave (in fast and slow motion).

Admiration of the group's enthusiastic support of the Aussie players also extended to the media. EuroSport asked Matt Cutler, our fearless leader and the group’s coordinator, to do a brief commercial break for the station – followed by loud group cheering. And, the next morning pictures of our group were in THREE separate papers - including a large picture in the front section of The Age, Melbourne's main newspaper. The caption read: "Australians come out in mass to support their players. Here the fans wear Vietnamese-styled painted hats in a strange display of multiculturalism." Matt was also interviewed and quoted in several articles that showed up in the days after our appearance at the Open. This was his sixth year coordinating the group, and the numbers had swelled from 6 the first year to close to 200 this year. In a post-Open email he sent out recently, he said he has high hopes for group tickets to Center Court next year. I have no doubt he can get it done and am a little sad I won't be part of the crew in 2004.

At noon our group decided to move stadiums to cheer on the other Aussie player - Joseph Siriani. This was no small feat for 200 people who all needed to sit together. It was decided we would infiltrate and surround a large group of Dutch fans that were already in the stadium. Once the Dutch player finished, it was likely the fans would leave and the space would be ours for the taking.

We arrived midway through the match, and slowly made our way into the packed stadium, filtering in around the Dutchies in groups of two and three. Once most of our group was settled, we joined the Dutch in cheering on their fellow countryman. Though none of us spoke Dutch, a few did their best to imitate the Dutch cheers - usually to a disastrously humorous end. Toward the end of the match, in appreciation for our added support, one of the Dutchies yelled out: "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!" Our group responded enthusiastically and appropriately, and the union of forces was cemented. Finally, at the end of the match, the Dutch fans stood up to leave. Our temporary alliance was about to be dissolved, but what to say? We looked at each other quietly as the group began to filter up the stairs. Then, all of a sudden, one of the Aussies stood up and cried out: "Dutchie! Dutchie! Dutchie!" The Dutch fans broke out into huge smiles, and without missing a beat answered the call:

"Oy! Oy! Oy!"