Sydney Swan great Jude Bolton has defended Canberra AFL crowds. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Former Sydney Swans star Jude Bolton thinks it's unfair to say Canberrans don't care about football and that Greater Western Sydney will start to draw a crowd when it begins its expected climb towards finals football.
But he did warn if ACT crowds continued to stay away, then they could lose all the games they get.
AFL Hall of Fame legend Kevin Bartlett said Canberrans clearly didn't care about Australian football on Monday, after just 6549 people turned up for the Giants' 35-point loss to Port Adelaide at Manuka Oval on Saturday.
Former Swans star Jude Bolton says GWS, and Canberra, need more time. Photo: Melissa Adams
Bolton didn't agree and thought the ACT's pedigree of producing great players was proof local fans did care.
While it was the lowest-ever AFL crowd at Manuka and the fourth-lowest of the modern era, the Giants' average crowd at Manuka is 8095, which is about the same as they draw when they play at the Sydney Showgrounds (8719) - in Australia's largest city.
While pundits in Melbourne slammed the nation's capital for its poor turnout, they overlooked the fact North Melbourne had just 19,819 turn up to watch them play Gold Coast under a roof at Docklands Stadium the following day.
There was a time when the now-strong Swans were in a similar boat.
Bolton arrived at the Swans after the bad days of the early 1990s, but he's heard the horror stories about Sydney losing 26 straight games and struggling to draw more than 9000 people to the SCG.
He said the support the Swans had received from Canberrans during his 15-year career had always been fantastic.
"I think it's probably a bit unfair saying that they don't like footy any more," Bolton said.
"Canberra's produced some amazing footballers over time and we enjoyed some good crowds when the Swans played down there a number of times.
"I think it's the nature of GWS still building; I wouldn't completely can it straight away."
But he's seen first-hand what the Swans have grown into and he thinks the Giants will put bums on seats once they start winning - just as the Swans did when they made the 1996 AFL grand final.
Bolton joined the club three years later and saw it establish itself in the Harbour City.
He felt winning played a massive part in that.
"I think people want to go and see a strong side and don't worry, GWS are definitely on the improve," Bolton said.
"We saw that in round one when they beat the Swans.
"The young guys coming up through the ranks are definitely improving and it just takes time."
The former Swans midfielder knows a bit about Canberra, having played his first NAB Cup game at Manuka and then his 200th AFL game there as well.
He'll be back in Canberra next month, along with ex-Collingwood captain Des Tuddenham, for the Swans Legends Lunch at the National Press Club on June 13.
Bolton grew up in Ballarat, a city in country Victoria known for its cold weather, and he said Saturday's weather - 8C and raining - was a legitimate excuse for Canberrans to stay away.
But he felt if the turnstiles didn't turn eventually, AFL games could be lost to Canberra for good.
"There's enough support down there to warrant playing plenty of games down there," Bolton said.
"That leads on to the fact people need to support it or the game will be taken to other areas I guess.
"It's just an important thing that people get behind it and we've enjoyed the support when we've played down there."