While footy banners technically do grow on trees, they don’t just appear out of thin air.
Which was why mystery surrounded Fremantle’s banner for their round eight clash against Hawthorn in Tasmania in 2016.
Tendai Mzungu, sitting on 99 games, was named as an emergency but did not travel with the team to Launceston.
But when Tommy Sheridan came down with an illness after the flight, Mzungu was flown in the next day.
Sheridan was given every chance to play in the clash but was a late withdrawal, seeing Mzungu come in at the last minute for his 100th game.
So imagine the surprise when Mzungu’s milestone was celebrated as the cheer squad unveiled the banner.
Such was the intrigue surrounding the banner, afl.com.au dedicated one of their five talking points to it in their post-match coverage.
Never miss a milestone
Tendai Mzungu had been named as an emergency for the Dockers but came into calculations for his 100th AFL game when Tommy Sheridan was a late withdrawal through illness. Far from letting the milestone slide by unnoticed, however, the Freo fan club was right on top of its game, managing a tribute to the versatile utility on the matchday banner and simultaneously begging the question as to how they’d known he’d be playing. Perhaps it was a case of superb preparation and a spare banner making the journey from WA, perhaps it was a genuine last-minute rush-job or perhaps it was something they’d seen written in Ross Lyon’s morning tea leaves.
The banner was a credit to the Victorian banner team.
While the Freo’s WA banner team take on banner-making duties for all home games, the Victorian cheer squad make the banner and travel to all interstate clashes.
Yes, that includes games in Darwin.
Megan Bignell, who has been a member of the Victorian cheer squad since 2013, said Mzungu’s surprise banner came down to seeing a post in a Freo fan group on Facebook.
“We woke up in the morning of the game and I saw something on Facebook that said Tendai had flown to Tassie,” Megan said.
“So we made an extra panel just in case. He wasn’t supposed to be playing that game, but he could be a last-minute inclusion.
“So we had the congratulations Tendai panel at the ground and at the very last minute, we unfolded the banner and stuck the panel on.”
The AFL is especially cautious of leaks of information about last minute changes to teams, primarily due to the betting markets. So the cheer squad’s quick thinking led to some questions being raised, even in Ross Lyon’s post-game media conference.
“When we put the banner up on the ground, everybody was shocked as he was such a late inclusion into the game,” Megan said.
“Everyone thought we must have had inside information.
“We didn’t. We were just really on the ball on social media to see whether he’d flown over or not.
“It really made Tendai’s day, having that on there. After the game, we met with him and he asked how we knew he was playing that day, whether we had two banners just in case he played.”
Even when there aren’t any late changes, making a banner takes a lot of dedication from Fremantle’s two banner teams.
“There’s a lot that goes into making a banner,” Megan said.
“There’s probably only five or six of us (in Victoria) that make the banners. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of crepe paper and a lot of tape!
“But I wouldn’t give that up because I love going out on the ground and being able to hold it up and watch the players run through it.”
For the Victorians, banner making means dedicating one day of the year to a single task – cutting out letters.
“Over in Perth, because there are more people, they cut the letters out on the night they make the banner,” Megan said.
“We have a whole day at the start of every year where we all get together and all we do is cut out letters.
“We have a massive box of letters and numbers stockpiled to last us the whole year and we just go out and pull out the letters that we need for each banner when we get the text.”
Because members of the Victorian banner crew go to great lengths to travel around Australia for a game, Megan said it was tough to stay at home when Fremantle played Essendon at Marvel Stadium in round one.
“It was really hard watching round one from home, and same with the AFLW, when we played over here against the Western Bulldogs,” Megan said.
“We travel to every single Freo game outside of Perth during the season and all of the AFLW games as well.
“It was really hard knowing that they were only just down the road and you couldn’t go.”
Like many Freo fans, Megan can’t wait for footy to return, but it’s not just because she misses the game.
“I’m struggling with the no football! Last weekend, I was sitting at home thinking I was supposed to be in Adelaide this weekend for our game,” Megan said.
“I can’t wait for it to start back, even if there’s no supporters to go, I just want football back just so there’s some form of sport.
“Within our banner crew, we’re like our own little family. There’s a select group of us that won’t go without a couple of days without talking to each other.
“We’re like a little family and we’re always ringing, messaging and checking in on each other.
“As soon as we knew our restrictions were being lifted, we organised something this weekend as a get together. Two months without seeing each other is a really long time!”