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An article about how the Fanatics began

The Fanatics officially began in 1997 with an aim to form an organised, passionate & patriotic support group that would follow Australian Sport at home & around the world.

From this small beginning, we now run regular jaunts to a wide range of sports and party events around the world, while working closely with Tennis Australia, Australian Rugby Union, Cricket Australia, Australian Soccer Assoc, the National & Australian Rugby League, the AOC & various other national sporting organisations.

These days we concentrate on two things; organising Bays for like minded Australian sports fans to congregate in & putting together cost effective & affordable travel options to the world's biggest events.

How did it all begin?

What started as a bit of fun between 6 mates traveling through India following the 1996 Wills World Cup, ended up taking off in a big way.

In the beginning there was a core group of us who had been to the '91 & '94 Soccer World Cups, '92 & '96 Olympics, the '96 European Wallaby Tours, countless Grand Slams, cricket in '97 South Africa, '97 Ashes tour & at the SCG since we were in High School.

Since 1997 we have worked with the national Rugby, Tennis & Cricket organisations as well as SOCOG, AOC, NFL and a few others.

All the interviews provided on the press page will give you a better understanding of the history. You can trace it right back to Steve Waugh's 1996 Travel Diary where we wrote a three page entry.

Alternatively, this is an old interview for an Australian Tennis Magazine which we did in 2001 & I have reproduced that interview here. While it is only about the tennis trips it's pretty thorough about the beginnings & the question of who are the Fanatics?

How did you move from being an amateur sports fan to the man behind the Fanatics?

I had actually been following sport around the world for a few years. We had been to a few cricket tours, rugby tours, soccer world cups & tennis grand slams.

It really started in 1997 when I was hanging out in New York on a bit of a world backpacking tour. As you know '97 was the year Pat won his first US Open and we managed to get tickets to the final from scalpers. There was myself & a good mate of mine, Col, and we had the second last row of the stadium. Anyone who has been to flushing Meadow will know that the last row is a LONG way back.

Anyhow following the Venus Williams v Martina Hingis game probably 20% of the crowd left and there was a few spare seats lower down. We noticed a few Aussies over the other side of the stadium, so we moved over to them and started singing some old Aussie songs at the change of ends & between sets. There was about 10 of us and we made a fair bit of racket.

When Pat won, he gestured for us to come down closer to the front. We couldn’t get near the bottom level, but his brother Pete came out to the back of the lower stand where we were and gave us a business card of a pub that Pat had organised a party at.

We turned up and got stuck into it. I had been hanging at the bar with Julian O'Neil & Willy Carne, so it was late in the night when I met Newk & Rochey. We were in the bathroom & using the urinals. Rochey was on my left & Newk was on my right and we had a chat and they asked me to come down to the Davis Cup in Washington later that week and they would get me some tickets so I could pump the other Aussies up and the players. They told me the name of the Hotel they were staying at and that was it.

Friday morning came around and I made my way to the Greyhound bus station in NY, but I couldn’t remember the name of the Hotel, so I rang about 30 hotels in Washington before I found Rochey. It was just after 6 am and I called his room, Sue his wife answered in a daze and passed me onto Rochey. Rochey didn't mind & the tickets were left at the front gate.

We ended up loosing the tie, but Newk, Rochey & the boys thanked us and Newk asked me to contact him when I got home to see if we could get this started in a big way.

How did the group start?

I met up with Newk, Rochey & Pat at a Starlight Charity Dinner on my return. Newk pulled me aside and said they were serious about getting something together for this year.

They wanted Australian crowds at home to get more vocal behind the boys and travel to support their teams when we travel overseas.

Newk was pumped up & drummed home the fact that when they play away the crowds go nuts and yet when they played at home the crowds were quiet. He wanted the Aussie crowds to become the extra team member & to realise what a big part of Davis Cup the home crowd is.

I met with the head of Tennis Australia, Dawsy, one day in Sydney and we got things together for Mildura. Obviosly it was a very bad result but it was the birth of the Fanatics in an official format. We had 40 people there who took a 17 hour bus trip from Sydney. They were mostly my mates but they laid the foundations to what this has become. We have now had a little over 2,900 different people at Fanatics events. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

How would you describe the Fanatics?

Passionate & Patriotic young Australians who love to support their countrymen & women.

Do you believe an organised group such as the Fanatics has a big impact on what team will win? How much do the Fanatics help our Australian players on court?

I would like to think so and the players definitely tell us that the support is crucial. Before we played France in Nice, Newk was asked about how the Aussies would cope with the local fan support. He answered by telling them in a very Newk like way that they are not going to believe the noise that the Fanatics will make.

The French had no idea until 400 Fanatics assembled on Nice’s promenade that morning. It was true, there were about 1000 Aussies there & we took over the stadium-the noise was deafening and I believe we negated the home crowd advantage. I remember having goose bumps listening to the French & Aussie crowds going at it.

After we won Rochey mentioned in a newpaper article about how The Fanatics had been a big part of Australia’s win. That made me feel pretty proud and it gave me an appreciation of all these guys as blokes.

Describe your relationship with the professional athletes you support – such as Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt and John Newcombe? Any?

Newk has been an unbelievable mate & support. When the Fanatics started not everyone believed it was a good idea, but Newk went into bat for the concept, myself and everyone else on the team. I am pretty lucky to have a great mate in Newk & I feel very fortunate that he supported the idea. It was pretty avant garde in ’97. He is a visionary & I owe the whole thing to his support.

Tony Roche has been a great supporter of myself as a person. He has also always been the first to came out following a Davis Cup tie to sing, dance & personally thank every single one of The Fanatics who have traveled to see the team. In Barcelona in 2000 he was dancing on a make shift stage with over a thousand people looking up to him and cheering his dance moves. When my father past away last year, Rochey came to the funeral even though he didn’t know my Dad. His support is unbelievable and he is probably the world’s greatest bloke.

Over the last few years I have got to know Pat pretty well. He is a champion bloke & for Australia’s biggest sporting star he is so down to earth it’s a joke. It is an eye opener to see the two sides of him as well. So focused about his tennis & so relaxed when its over. My best memory would be putting a big sidestep on him in a touch footy match at a Davis Cup tie two years ago. Just an old in & away. Couldn’t run me down. For an athlete, he’s not much of a touch footy player- must be his bloodlines.

Lleyton feeds off the noise and the passion that the Fanatics show him during his matches. I think the thing that the Fanatics love about him is his passion for Australia. After last year in Barcelona he apologised to the Fanatics for letting them & Australia down. He then went on to lead some classic hits from the DJ booth. There is nothing better than watching him get pumped during games and I think he looks to me every now & then to get him pumped up.

I also enjoy running amuk with the other Aussie boys. Sandon, Kilderry, Trammachi, Arthurs, Eagle & Florent (better known as the hook, lip, pistol, wayno, bull & the black shark or the big rig-although not necessarily in that order) are also very good to the Fanatics and will always talk to them following a match or up at the Dog & Fox bar in Wimbledon around that time of the year. This year the boys held a huge party for the Fanatics at their Wimbledon house with everything laid on. A fridge full of Fosters & a big Spit Roast.

Do you regard the Fanatics as a part of the Australian Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams?

I would have to say we have not had as much involvement in Fed Cup as Davis Cup. But without being presumptuous I believe that we have been a big part of Australian tennis the last few years. It has certainly got people more vocal in the matches.

Given John Newcombe’s early involvement with the Fanatics, how have you found working with the Davis Cup team under the leadership of new captain John Fitzgerald?

Fitzy has been great. I had only met him a few times before the Perth and that tie was a little bit flat I thought, but we struck up a good friendship in Brazil. Both Fitzy & Wally are very easy people to get along with & I think Brazil showed them how valuable the Fanatics can be. I enjoy talking about things outside of tennis with both of those guys and the transition has been pretty seamless. Like myself, Wally is a St.George Dragons man so he can't really go wrong. We had a great beach party after the win in Brazil with a bon fire etc & it gave a lot of the Fanatics a chance to say thanks to Fitzy & Wally & vice versa. Both blokes are right in the Newk & Rochey mold.

You have taken the Fanatics to some memorable tennis events – which ones stick in your mind the most?

I think ’99 was a great year & one that sticks out, not only because we won, that was only a small part of it, it was more how we did it.

During that year we had some great trips. The first in Zimbabwe was an incredible tie. Here we are in the third world with the afternoon rain on the tin roof producing a deafening roar and a hole in the roof leaking on the court during a thunderstorm.

Their crowd made so much noise with their drums and their dancing was sensational. We sat on cement steps and after the tie we swapped extra Fanatics tshirts for tribal carvings so we came home with a bag full.

Then we headed to Boston for a tie in sweltering heat. Lleyton making a name for himself in his debut and Pat coming back against Martin on the last day with so much garbage flying around about Sampras playing etc etc was sensational. It was hot as hell and to see Pat come back was a very memorable moment.

Brazil was memorable because I don’t think I could ever see more good looking women in one place again. Seriously over 85% of their women are naughty, it's unbelievable & for the sights at the night clubs was worth the trip alone. The island was beautiful & Lleytons effort was like a gladiator. Its funny I don’t think many more people than the boys playing thought we would win. Their crowd was stunned.

Obviously the '99 & 2000 DC finals have been highlights as was the 2001 Wimbledon final. The day before the W final, I got a call from Pete Rafter who told me that tickets for the final went on sale tomorrow for anyone that slept out. After about 3 hours on the phone we had every Fanatic in London sleeping out in SW11. The party in the street that night was a highlight and the atmosphere at the match will never be repeated.

There was a lot of controversy over the Spanish crowd’s behaviour in last year’s Davis Cup Final in Barcelona. Describe the atmosphere there – how difficult was it to support the Australians there?

Actually we had a lot of trouble that the papers didn’t pick up on. Over 100 Aussies got mugged/held up/ robbed or stabbed in Barcelona. Many of them Fanatics as we left our designated nightclub each night. There must have been 40 muggers each night waiting for the Aussies to leave. Thankfully by the second night we left in big groups so it was much safer especially when we took them on to some extent. On the last night there was locals just waiting to rob us everywhere. I feel sorry for the bloke that got mugged twice in the one night. Funny now when you think about it, but not when some little 10 year old kid is pulling a butterfly knife on you.

At the tennis their crowd was a joke, blatantly cheating by yelling at our players during the ball toss while serving etc etc. Especially during the doubles match, I still can’t believe understand why the referee didn’t intervene. I thought that was pretty lame on his behalf.

Their players were not much either. I don’t mind a crowd going nuts and making noise when they should but when members of their team gesture that they want to cut your throat & that they are going to kill you then its not much fun. Can you imagine an Aussie player doing that? I don’t think so.

Thankfully there was 1400 of us in the stands.

We made a lot of noise but they just kept booing us the whole time. I wanted to win that tie so badly just to stick it right up ‘em but it wasn’t meant to be.

I think that tie was a good example of the part the Fanatics have had in the Davis Cup. When Australia played Germany in the final in Germany there was about 90 people there, this time there was 1400! We had people traveling there from all over the world.

What is the general make-up of a Fanatics crowd? (Age, gender, occupation, numbers involved, regulars) Do you ever get other nationalities joining the Aussie chorus? How do you recruit members?

We only accept 18-35 year olds so we don’t step on the Aus Davis Cup Federations toes. Keeping it young also ads to the electricity of the group. Depending on where the tie is also depends on if it is students or travelers.

Part of the reason the Fanatics have grown so quickly is because of the social scene involved with being a part of the group and that makes it important to keep it young. Every night is a huge night at the bar we flock to & by the end of the trip everyone's always knackered.

We have a lot of other nationalities following the Australian Davis Cup team with the Fanatics and they support the boys at tournaments in their home towns in Europe & the USA.

We have had 2,900 in the Fanatics since we started and I can honestly say that probably 65% of those people had never been to a tennis match before the Fanatics came along.

The way we market it ensures that we get a lot of new people coming through and this has to be very good for the future of tennis in Australia. If 5% of these people introduce their kids to tennis from this or develop a business relationship with tennis as a result of their exposure then it could be very lucrative for Australia.

The majority of the people on the tours are either at uni or have good jobs at many large corporations in Australia, so they are not raving lunatics.

Do you find it difficult to discipline such a varied group of supporters?

Not really, we have never had trouble before. On the first morning of a tie we have a breakfast and I tell them they need to be responsible because they are representing Australia & the Fanatics. If you let people know the boundaries, then they know the limits and thankfully no one has stepped over it. Its is un-Australian to be a dickhead when you are in a big group of other Aussies. If you are, everyone will quickly bring you back to earth.

Where do you get your inspirations for the team “uniforms”?

The gold tshirts have become a big part of being on a Fanatics tour. And while they don't sell on ebay if you are on a tour you always cherish the shirt. I think we pretty much own the gold tshirt patent these days.

I usually look at who we are playing and if they have anything stereotypical we can employ or the city the tie is played in or something topical in the news or within our team.

We always try and make it funky though. Its interesting to see how popular the tshirts have become and how everyone now calls the tshirt colour Fanatic Gold or Fanatic Yellow.

It’s a good buzz to see the players wear them or to see it where you don’t expect to see them. The other day I was watching CNN & saw a guy jumping up & down at the Tour De France with a Fanatics tshirt and a blow up Kangaroo.

We imported 400 blow up Kangaroos into Barcelona for the final last year so they have been popping up everywhere.

The Fanatics are more than just a cheer squad – uniforms, chants, songs, dances and war paint are commonly-used tools to make the Aussie presence felt. Where do the ideas come from?

A lot of the stuff is spontaneous and so it usually just creates itself.

The songs are a little harder and they usually take a bit of work getting everyone to know the tune. We just keep it simple and put it to a well known tune.

The war paint is part of the mating ritual. It’s a tribal thing but it has lost a bit of its spark of late.

At what point did you realise you could approach national sporting associations (such as Tennis Australia) for assistance for the Fanatics?

It wasn’t like that really. I just did my thing and Newk approached me. It was only when we got such good feedback from the players & press in '98 that I thought about taking it to other sports.

Ten years ago, people would find it hard to believe you could make a living out of being a “professional spectator”. Are there times where you find it hard to believe?

Yes definitely. Although when you dealing with other people on the trips it’s a bit stressful. There is a lot of organising that goes on behind the scenes to make it run smoothly. So its not all fun & games but it is very, very rewarding.

The first year I did it properly in ’98, I actually lost a fair bit of money but it was well worth it. I love to see the group getting bigger and spread overseas. That’s a buzz.
Tue 22/03/2005 Warren Livingstone 1187 views

2 Comments about this article

  • I want a job with the fanatics!

    Posted by Kristen Chapman Mon Nov 07, 2005 09:31pm AEST
  • I would also love a job with the fanatics. No pay just anything I can do to help out.

    Posted by Rav Kumar Thu Jan 12, 2006 09:27am AEST

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