MELBOURNE • For the first time in two years, Geelong's Simonds Stadium was sold out on Saturday as more than 28,000 Australian Rules football fans turned out to watch the Geelong Cats take on the Sydney Swans and the return of Adam Goodes to the game.
It was hard to tell if they were there owing to the focus on the Swans and Goodes over the past fortnight, or purely to cheer on their respective teams. But what was clear was the message from both teams to the crowd: Barrack (cheer) with respect.
As fireworks erupted, the players ran together through one banner emblazoned with the words "fairness, unity and respect". Then, there was a pre-match video from Geelong where players delivered the same message to the gathering crowd. On each side of the field behind the goal posts, Cats and Swans supporters held up the same sign, one red, one navy blue: "Be a Goodes sport. Say no to racism."
It would have been difficult for Goodes not to have felt under pressure. But he should have felt more welcomed than nervous, with an overwhelming show of support for him despite the few critics who weighed in.
He felt compelled to sit out two weeks ago as crowd taunts and cruel commentary peaked. Since then, expressions of solidarity towards the former Australian of the Year have come in thick and fast.
HE'S HAD A ROUGH TIME
He just wanted to put the focus back on to his footy. He didn't play a very good game but I'm not going to single him out.
JOHN LONGMIRE, Sydney Swans coach, on Adam Goodes wanting to put the whole episode behind him
The crowd, though not perfect, largely took heed of the call to be good sports on Saturday night. The bulk of any disappointment felt by the two-time Brownlow medallist and Indigenous ambassador would be owing to the result and not the audience, with Sydney ultimately going down to Geelong 63-95.
Goodes declined to speak to the media after the game. However, his coach John Longmire said he hopes the respect Geelong fans showed towards the player signals an end to the booing controversy.
"I hope that the whole football world and community in general can just focus on the good things in footy," he told The Australian.
"The whole discussion and debate, while probably uncomfortable at times, it certainly turned and there was a great swell of support from the whole community, particularly the football community."
He admitted that Goodes was not at his best in the defeat but said: "He just wanted to put the focus back on to his footy.
"He didn't play a very good game but I'm not going to single him out."
That some people, however, were less than impressed with Goodes, was impossible to ignore. Some maintained a strong level of antagonism towards him, though all rejected any suggestion their views were associated with racism.
When pressed, their reasoning revolved around a belief that he was an attention seeker.
But that seemed odd since it was the crowd and their booing, not Goodes, that ensured all attention was on him for the past few weeks.
"He's brought the game into disrepute," said Geelong supporter Daniel Kent. "He's always trying to make it all about him. There are 71 other Aboriginal players and you don't see them getting booed or making it about race if they do."
Yet, plenty of others have spoken out in defence of Goodes, and shared their own experiences to raise awareness of the social plight of the Aboriginal people.
Warren Mundine, chairman of the Indigenous Advisory Council, was so affected by the incident that he shared the impact of racism on his own life in a piece for a current-affairs magazine, while highlighting Goodes' charitable work with Indigenous people and the broader community.
What happens from now will be the true test - whether people have simply temporarily toned it down or have truly begun to change their hearts about the treatment of Indigenous Australians like Goodes. THE GUARDIAN