Collingwood member Justin Witcombe apologises for touching Waalitj Marawar (West Coast) rookie Harvey Johnston

Aaron Kirby
The Nightly
3 Min Read
The AFL dished out a 12-month ban with six months suspended

Collingwood member Justin Witcombe says he left the clash between Collingwood and West Coast at Marvel Stadium “a broken man” on Sunday after hugging and patting Waalitj Marawar (West Coast Eagles) rookie Harvey Johnston.

In the final quarter of the reigning premiers’ win over last year’s wooden spooners, Witcombe reached over the fence to interact with the 18-year-old Eagle, light-heartedly embracing his head.

Johnston made no fuss and returned to play.

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However, the AFL has taken a stern approach to fans touching players, throwing the book at Witcombe with a 12-month ban from attending matches.

Six of those months have been suspended, but Witcombe, who apologised profusely for the instinctual interaction, said it would be tough not to be able to support his beloved Pies in person.

“It’s going to kill me not being able to go to a Collingwood game because I’ve been going since the 80s,” he told 9NEWS Melbourne.

“I just saw the ball coming to the fence, and I just stood up, and it just happened. It was a reflex reaction and just a pat on the head and a hug.

“I’m very sorry for this. It won’t happen again. I will learn from this, and I’ll be a better person for it.

“At no stage did (Harvey) ever give me permission to put my hands on him, and it’s uncalled for, and it’s not acceptable in today’s world.

“I’m really sorry for my family; I’ve embarrassed myself and them. I was there as a family man, and I left a broken man.”

Witcombe vowed to return to the game a better person after the club also suspended his membership until the end of the year.

The Pies fan has also had a notable interaction in the past with Western Bulldog Bailey Smith, who responded to a taunt by smiling and sticking out his tongue.

Earlier, AFL General Counsel Stephen Meade said the fan’s contact was “simply not acceptable”.

“While we acknowledge the innocuous nature in which the incident played out on the day, these types of interactions should not happen,” Meade said.

“Grabbing a player from over the fence could have potentially escalated if it wasn’t for the professional manner in which Eagles player Harvey responded.

“We also acknowledge the fan involved proactively made himself known to security and police and apologised to both Collingwood, West Coast and the AFL, and recognise his immediate understanding of his actions not being acceptable.

“We have the best fans in sport, and more than 3.1 million people have attended the footy this year, and we want everyone who comes to games to barrack for their club and enjoy the experience, but when you overstep the clear boundaries, which is what happened on the weekend, then you will lose the privilege of being able to attend the footy.

“Reinforcing what we communicated last year – we love the interactions between players and fans, especially in the moments pre and post-game, and the occasion in-game when a player celebrates with his club’s fans – however, what we saw on Sunday during the match is not acceptable.”

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