sportsroom

Burn baby burn - the unbearable grief of Warriors fans

Denial, anger, posting to Facebook, bargaining, depression and acceptance - all the stages of grief have been on display in the ongoing coverage of the Warriors-fans-turned-reluctant-celebs who burned their jerseys on Saturday night.

For those who missed it, the Warriors lost rather badly at the weekend, blowing a lead the size of Texas in little old Penrith, much to the disgust of pretty much everyone not from Penrith.

Samantha-Jayne Baran’s partner and father-in-law took the loss particularly badly. The two men expressed their displeasure by burning their jerseys – an act of financial self-sabotage so great (even the most dreadful Warriors jerseys retail at well over 100 smackers) that the social media footage was instantly picked up by eagle-eyed news hounds.

As gauche and overblown as the coverage has been (with the initial story followed by Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's understanding comments, followed by Samatha-Jayne’s expression of regret - we’re already into round three) it does serve as an apt illustration of where Warriors fans are at with their team. Some have forgone bargaining and depression and moved straight to harming their replica kit.

It’s hard to blame them. After a season of steadily building towards something significantly less awful than we’ve become accustomed to, it took just 17 minutes of backpeddling against the Panthers for the Warriors to reverse right past square one and tumble back into a place they last visited when Lee Oudenryn was on the wing. That’s a dark, dark place.

When the light gets snuffed out like that, the lighter-fuel tends to come out.

The Baran family’s reaction adds a uniquely Kiwi addition to an apparel-torching canon that includes, of late, San Francisco 49ers fans burning Colin Kaepernick jerseys in protest at the quarterback refusing to stand for the national anthem (note: there were no reported jersey burnings when Jarryd Hayne left the franchise); OKC Thunder fans burning Kevin Durant singlets when the 6ft 9in ‘small’ forward quit the club for Golden State Warriors; and Cincinnati Bengals fans taking things a step further by urinating on former quarterback Carson Palmer’s jersey before then burning it.

The practice has become so common that sports websites have whole sections dedicated to it.

In New Zealand, where supporter clobber tends to be on the pricy side, jersey burning is still relatively rare. In 2011 anti capitalist group Socialist Aotearoa burned cardboard boxes with adidas logos glued to them outside Eden Park. Images from the protest suggest no actual All Blacks jerseys were harmed in the incident, presumably because purchasing them was well beyond the financial means of the prostesters.

Back in 2005 when the mining boom was in full swing, there was no such reticence in cashed-up Australia, as this video of a NSW State of Origin jersey being ritually torched on Caxton Street outside Suncorp Stadium shows.

The drunken “QUEENSLANDER” chants that accompany the char-grilling are easy enough to decode – not so much the attendant bagpiper who appears to playing Flower of Scotland.

While there’s not a lot to be feared from an occasional jersey roast, let’s hope the Barans’ display isn’t a shift towards some of the more unhinged acts that routinely accompany sporting disappointments in other parts.

If would be a shame, for instance, if stoning the team bus, as happens regularly in uncivilised outposts such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and London, became de rigueur here. Or if angry pitch invasions, a staple of football matches across the globe, became a part of Kiwi sports fandom.

As it happens, the 53rd anniversary of the most shocking example of the danger of ugly fandom the world has witnessed will be marked later this month.

On May 26, 1964, angry Peruvian fans stormed the pitch when a late equalising goal in a football international against Argentina was disallowed. Police fired tear gas into the crowd, sparking a panic that left 320 people dead.

Newspaper reports noted that at least 100 cars were stolen by thieves who took advantage of the disorder outside the stadium, while 21 prisoners escaped from Lima prison.

Back home, the fact that a couple of fans burning their jerseys in the year 2017 is considered an event of such national significance that major news organisations will scramble to copy each other’s stories in order to report it actually seems like quite good news - although it's doubtful Warriors corporate staff trying to flog tickets for Friday night's match against the Dragons in Hamilton see it that way.

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