XAVIER Duursma hadn't told anyone of his plans. But in the warm-up of Port Adelaide's round one clash with Melbourne last year at the MCG, the Power debutant gave himself a second to take things in.

Half an hour before the first bounce he decided if he was to kick a goal that day, he would celebrate with his now customary bow-and-arrow, which sees him lean back, direct an imaginary arrow into the distance, ping it with his fingers and his head rocket back as it flies into the distance. 

His teammates didn't know it was coming. Neither did his coaches. He wasn't even sure he'd have the dare to do it.

He had practised it once or twice in front of the mirror at home, and was confident he had the move down pat. But there were still some doubts swirling in his mind like the famous MCG breeze. 

However, in the second quarter of that Power win, which also saw fellow first-gamers Connor Rozee and Zak Butters burst onto the scene, Duursma pushed forward from the wing, received a handball from teammate Paddy Ryder and on the outside of his boot slotted a clever goal. 

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He hugged Rozee immediately, drew away, found some space, screamed in celebration and let out his inner Robin Hood before being mobbed by teammates.

"I just thought, 'Why not be a little bit different and pull it out?" he said. "I had a lot of second thoughts but the excitement took over once I kicked it. It all went from there."

Xavier Duursma celebrates his first AFL goal with a bow-and-arrow celebration in round one, 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

Celebrating is now such a part of the AFL game that we are accustomed to seeing new, exciting, varied, funny, imitable and memorable ways to recognise a goal.

But football culture hasn't always allowed an 18-year-old first-gamer, in his second quarter, celebrate with a move that now follows him to schools, bars, shops and around town. Duursma had a trademark not long after he'd taken a mark. 

In a competition that is more than 160 years old, celebrating goals is a relatively new phenomenon. But where did it all begin? We went digging. 

Jeremy Cameron celebrates a goal for GWS during the 2019 preliminary final against Collingwood. Picture: AFL Photos

WE STARTED our search the way every historical question about football should: with an email to Col Hutchinson, the AFL's long-serving historian who is into his final year working for the League.

Hutchinson, fellow historian Mark Genge and their team of researchers went to work, and we met up a week later during the pre-season.

They had looked high and wide, throughout football books, old editions of the AFL Record, scoured vision and come up with some results.

The earliest vision they had discovered of a player celebrating a goal came in the 1950 Grand Final, when Essendon beat North Melbourne.

"John Coleman kicks a goal, and his teammate Bill Hutchison, who you can see in the background, raises his arm with a fist to indicate a celebration," said Col Hutchinson.

A portrait of Essendon champion John Coleman. Picture: AFL Photos

They had photographs of an earlier instance, however. A newspaper cutting showed a game from 1934, when Geelong beat Collingwood at Victoria Park with the last kick of the day. After Jack Carney, the Cats' goalkicker, nailed his shot, his teammates rallied around him, even chairing him off the field (he was one of the smallest players to ever play League footy).

This reaction was a rarity. There was little thought given to how to celebrate a goal, and even in broadcast clippings often the vision was cut soon after the goal was kicked, making it more difficult for researchers to find the origins of the moment of revelry.

Players who kicked goals would largely head straight back to their position without fanfare.

Gradually, more players began to celebrate their teammates' successes. Geelong captain Fred Wooller, who skippered the Cats to their 1963 flag, became renowned for going over to tap a teammate on the backside and say 'Well done' after a good or important goal.

Hawthorn full-forward Peter Hudson (foreground) among the crowd after kicking his 100th goal in 1968. Picture: AFL Photos

Even the tradition of fans streaming onto the field for a player's 100th goal in the season didn't begin until 1968, when Hawthorn great Peter Hudson achieved the milestone and thousands ran onto Glenferrie Oval.

These are significant moments in the history of celebrating goals in the AFL, but not the smoking gun we were looking for as we delved into the archives to find the competition's original celebrator. Then, a name emerged.

IN THE 1969 Grand Final, Kevin Bartlett, in only his fifth season with the Tigers, celebrated a goal with his hands in the air while he was on the ground. It signified Richmond was about to beat Carlton to secure its second flag in three years.

But it was also a landmark moment in the history of celebrating goals.

"He was laying front first on the ground and put those skinny arms up," said Genge.

Bartlett recalls the play well. "It was the last goal of the game and I remember Billy Barrot dragged me to the ground and I banged my hands on it," he said.

The Hall of Fame legend and ex-Richmond captain and coach can't remember any of his own childhood heroes ever showing any emotion after goals.

But, as his career progressed, the celebration from 1969 became Bartlett's staple. He was the first of his type: a star who enjoyed his goals with a regular pose.

Kevin Bartlett's famous goal celebration. Picture: AFL Photos

When it was put to him that he could add this to his list of achievements, the 403-gamer admitted it fitted.  

"More than likely I was one of the first to do it. I haven't given it a great deal of thought, but more than likely I was. I was a rover for 15 years and then moved to play as a permanent small forward on the half-forward line," he said.

"In those days it was called 'starvation corner' so that meant that you're just out there somewhere and that you probably won't get many chances.

"So I think when I started to play my last four years as a small forward, kicking a goal became more exciting because I didn't know when I might get my next kick or kick another goal, so I might as well celebrate it. I think that's a bit of why it started."

His iconic stance of having both arms in the air running after a goal or celebrating a big moment has been immortalised in bronze with a statue outside the MCG. He's also – as a Google search will show you – happy to play along, recreating it on timeless occasions.

Kevin Bartlett's statue outside the the MCG. Picture: AFL Photos

Bartlett finished his career with 778 goals (13th most of all time), but many of his contemporaries were not partial to a celebration, such as Doug Wade (Geelong/North Melbourne), Leigh Matthews (Hawthorn) and Peter McKenna (Collingwood/Carlton).

Even the star goalkickers who followed him – such as Tony Lockett, Jason Dunstall and Gary Ablett snr – were largely understated following their goals.

Kevin Bartlett and Tom Hafey in their Big V jumpers after a state game. Picture: AFL Photos

Bartlett's former coach never had any qualms, even though it may have made him a target of ire from opposition fans and players.

"Tommy Hafey always used to say 'Enthusiasm is catchy, and so is the lack of it'. Being excited about doing something on the field, I think, is good for the side, it's good for the individuals, and good for the supporters. It creates enthusiasm," he said.

"When you think back sometimes about people doing terrific things and being mundane about it, we've been a pretty boring lot for most of the time.

"The players now express themselves, but I'm not quite certain who took it to a level of firing arrows or shooting guns."

 THE NEXT element was working out how it got from 'KB' to Duursma.

Many credited the wider media coverage, including more games being broadcast on television, as a key force.

Players became more accustomed to having their every move scrutinised, critiqued and watched. As their celebrity grew, so did their celebrations.

The enigmatic Mark Jackson famously did a handstand in the goalsquare after booting a goal in 1981, while even Matthews showed his joy after kicking a brilliant goal in the 1983 Grand Final against Essendon – the last of his four flags.

Leigh Matthews holds the 1983 VFL premiership cup aloft. Picture: AFL Photos

A year later, Bombers gun Leon Baker, following a brilliant blind turn and goal that put Essendon ahead in the last quarter of the Grand Final, threw his hands to the sky as the club inched closer to a breakthrough flag.

Tim Watson also celebrated an important goal in that Bombers' win, and he recalls the environment starting to change in favour of goal celebrations – with the help of one key aspect.

"It was almost frowned upon before that, as people said you were showing off if you did anything out of the ordinary," he said.

"But there were some guys around the time I played who started to loosen up, and I think more international and world sports started infiltrating our game.

"Having access to US sports through pay TV was massive, and I think that was the major contributing factor to the culture change."

Other sports have left indelible marks on worldwide sporting celebrations.

The simple high five has debatable origins, but the two most widely held theories suggest it didn't originate until 1977 via the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, or the Louisville Cardinals college basketball team in 1978-79.

The impact of soccer celebrations, often choreographed meticulously, has been credited, while the NFL and NBA competitions have also provided inspiration to Australian athletes.

Port Adelaide captain Warren Tredrea's 'phone call' celebration was a copy of Arsenal star Thierry Henry (Tredrea's bow was less explicable); Greater Western Sydney skipper Stephen Coniglio rolls out the 'mask' like Juventus star Paulo Dybala; Collingwood players took on the Dele Alli challenge after the Tottenham midfielder's celebration went viral; Charlie Cameron stirred the pot like NBA superstar James Harden; Lewis Jetta jumped in the air like Cristiano Ronaldo and Duursma's arrow was inspired by Reggie Jackson and Jamal Murray in the NBA.

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Even Brisbane champion Jason Akermanis' hand-over-his-mouth shock after slotting a miracle goal from the pocket in 2005 had international links.

"I saw a goal that Manchester United's Eric Cantona kicked and it was unbelievable. He danced past about five players and then kicked the goal, and everyone was in disbelief," Akermanis said.

"He turned around like he's looking to God, and I thought that reaction is so cool. I saw it and it made my one come out.

"During the week I thought if I kick a good goal and it's surprising then I'll do it. It was about giving the crowd something."

Jason Akermanis celebrates a goal during the 2003 Grand Final against Collingwood. Picture: AFL Photos

Recruiters selecting the next wave of draftees are now accustomed to players being more devoted to overseas sports than their home-grown heroes. 

"We go to draftees' houses all the time and we see just as many NBA posters on walls as AFL ones," said one long-time scout.

I reckon you could get some of the players to name the New York Knicks' starting line-up before they could tell you who some West Coast players are.

"Of course that is going to influence what we see from them on the field when they can express themselves." 

International sports often regulate their celebrations. Soccer hands out a yellow card for players who lift their shirts above their heads after a goal.

In basketball a player is given a technical foul if they taunt an opponent, like hanging on the ring for too long, while in the NFL teams can be penalised 15 yards for the same offence. Over-celebrating a wicket in cricket, too, has seen players fined for giving departing batsmen send-offs.

The AFL, however, has left the door ajar to just about anything. 

"I'm waiting for the day where someone kicks a goal and somersaults back to the centre," Bartlett said. 

Mark Parmbuk does a backflip on the MCG after the Rio Tinto Footy Means Business game in 2013. Picture: AFL Photos

BY NOW, we felt satisfied with the research. We had dug through history and found football's OG celebrator. We had traced the evolution from there, and marked the influence of media and international sports.

But a couple of questions remained: why are we drawn to players who celebrate? And why do some rankle and others resonate?

Celebrations turn players into superheroes. It is the moment professionals let the public into their sphere. It gives a sense of a player's emotions, their creativity, their humour and spark and cheek and interests.

They bring fans closer – sometimes literally, like James Hird's hug, Michael O'Loughlin's roar and Eddie Betts' pocket.

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The lack of fans in games during round one this year, due to the coronavirus outbreak, showed they are as integral to the celebration as the goalkicker (although Swan Tom Papley did mimic high-fiving some imaginary fans).

Usually, however, it is a metaphorical draw, allowing fans to connect and share the goal.

The most distinctive, and memorable, seem to be when the player can't be separated from his celebration.

Think Jeff Farmer's salute to the heavens after his goals became his trademark (he even brought it out while in the crowd during Melbourne's 2018 finals series) or Jonathan Brown's finger point, which became symbolic of his simple but stoic approach.

Jeff Farmer celebrates a goal against West Coast in 2008. Picture: AFL Photos

Fans connect with players because it becomes part of a star's persona; the crowd knows it's coming.

The Gemba Group, a leading marketing and insights firm in the world of sport and entertainment, has long been researching the link between fans and their heroes.

Their data, via monthly surveys of 650 people, shows that a player's on-field identity has a direct correlation with his commercial opportunities.

The company has developed its Gemba Asset Study, which collects awareness (the level of reach an asset has across a market) and likeability (the percentage of people who follow or are interested in a particular asset) of sports stars.

Brands are then able to use the asset number to ascertain which players they want to associate with.

For instance, according to Gemba's January report, Richmond game-breaker Dustin Martin ranked as the highest-rated AFL player, with his asset score eclipsing second-placed Freo's Nat Fyfe and Gary Ablett jnr in third place.

Gemba has also developed its 'archetypes', which are a set of universally recognised 'personality types' of athletes designed to easily categorise athletes.

Betts' dominant archetype is as a 'caregiver', and his shadow archetype is 'innocent'. Sydney superstar Lance Franklin is assessed as a 'creator', Collingwood skipper Scott Pendlebury as a 'sage' and Fyfe as an 'explorer'.

Eddie Betts embraces a teammate during a Carlton training session in November. Picture: AFL Photos

According to The Gemba Group, Martin's dominant archetype is as an 'outlaw', which it defines as "a rebel who challenges the status quo". "Outlaws are often at odds with rulers" it says.

It fits within Martin's on-field demeanour, particularly given his infamous jailhouse salute celebration after a goal in 2013.

That year an up-and-coming Martin was issued a suspended $2000 fine for his gesture after booting a goal. The AFL wanted to stamp out the practice so sent the warning to Martin to stamp out the move in one of the only stipulations on celebrations in the League.

Brendon Goddard, Andrew Krakouer, Michael Gardiner, Michael Hibberd and Leon Davis have all done the move after goals, which sees the players cross their arms as if they are handcuffed.

Brendon Goddard makes a salute after kicking a goal against Adelaide in 2009. Picture: AFL Photos

Other celebrations have caused ire. When Mark Williams brought out his imaginary shotgun and shot into the crowd, Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson banned the forward from performing the celebration. More recently, Brisbane's Rhys Mathieson has reprised the move.

Adam Goodes' now-iconic war cry celebration in 2015, after he kicked a goal in Indigenous Round against Carlton, stirred enormous debate. The moment remains a touchstone in the Sydney champion's departure from the game, but he was attacked and questioned over it at the time.

Many other Indigenous players have followed the trend in the years since, including Fremantle star Michael Walters.

No celebration in the modern game goes unnoticed. The social media age has meant that within seconds of a player producing an interesting celebration, it has been clipped and shared all over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

Anything out of the ordinary – be it Tim Taranto's horns or Dayne Zorko's formal handshake – is viral within moments.

DUURSMA is a product of what's come before him, but also of his time.

Rodney Eade, who finished coaching Gold Coast at the end of 2017, having had previous long stints with Sydney and the Western Bulldogs, said he had noticed a clear change in the make-up of players entering the system now.

"Footy is a microcosm of society, and people at that age, their social interaction is so much more advanced than it used to be," he said.

"Everyone says generational change used to take 20 years, then 10 years, but I think it's five now. I noticed that the 18-year-olds coming into the game were so different to the 23-year-olds then who had come in five years earlier. There's that confidence and self-belief."

Rodney Eade speaks to his Gold Coast players in 2016. Picture: AFL Photos

That is true with Duursma, who is comfortable in his own skin. He takes the same approach as his idols in the NBA in the way he approaches his sport.

"It influences me a lot in terms of how they walk around, how they carry themselves, how they believe in themselves and their confidence. Also they're amazingly skilled and they enjoy what they do. That's what I try to do, too," he said.

He kicked 11 goals from 20 games last season, and on most occasions brought out the bow-and-arrow. Against Adelaide, in round eight, he thinks it probably wasn't the right time given his side had been trailing, but he stands by his decision to aim an arrow into the crowd against Richmond in round 17.

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He copped flak for it, was jeered by Tigers fans when it was shown on the replay, and his coach Ken Hinkley had a chat after the game about picking his moment.

"To be honest, I don't think the Richmond one was at the wrong time. I thought the Richmond fans were pretty stiff on me. We'd kicked three goals in a row after I kicked that, and we were down by 16 points. I don't think that one was wrong to do," he said.

Duursma grew up dancing, and often still helps out his mum's class when he's back at home in Foster, near Gippsland in country Victoria.

He thinks the theatrical side of his background has been central in having the confidence to show his flair on the field.

Xavier Duursma celebrates a goal against North Melbourne in 2019 with his bow-and-arrow pose. Picture: Daniel Kalisz, Getty Images/AFL Photos

"Doing it for a long time, you get used to being on stage and trying to excite and perform and give them a show. That probably leads into the celebration a little bit, in wanting to give the fans a show," he said.

"Being on stage, you want the attention on you and I suppose I treat it a little bit like that, like when you get your chance you want to make sure the spotlight's on you and you're entertaining."

Duursma combined both loves when he performed in the annual The Footy Show revue last September, dancing to ABC's hit song Poison Arrow alongside his teammate Rozee. He has no plans to put the bow and arrow away, either. In fact, whenever games return, watch for some more action.

"You can expect to see it come out again," he said. "But at the same time there's things I'm going to add here and there for different kind of goals, maybe something different for in-play goals than the set shots. You have to have some fun with it."