Trouble on the Horizon?

I try to avoid a bit of the talking heads-type of footy TV and radio shows. Too often, it feels as though they’re scrounging for content and are looking for something a little off the wall to hang their hat on.

I am hoping this is the case with the latest comment to draw attention in footy circles, but I am torn, as it comes from a man I have tremendous respect for.

Let’s face it – Leigh Matthews has forgotten more about football than I, or any of us, will ever know. He has been the best player in the game, a wrecking ball in brown and gold that could back up his actions with a footballing brilliance only rivalled by the greatest the game has seen. He was one of the few that took his onfield success – and there was plenty of it – and translated it into the coaching box, winning four flags with the Pies and Lions.

And as an observer of the game, his is a voice that carries a lot of weight. He has long been courted to be part of the AFL Commission, and I always thought he would be an incredibly valuable member should he ever go down that path. However, on the weekend, the take in the video below concerned me greatly. Have a watch – tell me what you think.



Over the past several years, we have seen the physical component of our game sacrificed at the altar of concussion.

We all know why – there are lawsuits pending, and probably more to come, as players look to be compensated for trauma they suffered during their playing days. The bump has been all but killed off, with anything that connects to the head, even if a player is slung into the bumper, resulting in lengthy bans. Tackling is now so scrutinised that players are being penalised for aggression under the guise of it being dangerous, and now… as expected, chatter has started about putting knees up in marking contests.

Have a think about the greatest marks of all-time.

Modra, Ablett, Capper, Howe… Alex Jesaulenko, for goodness sake! How many times did they use their knees now only as a buffer between them and their opponent, but also the mechanism to give them the lift required to make the highlights of the game we love so much? What has the AFL, and footy all over the country used as an attraction when they advertise the game? You guessed it – the high mark. What is the game without it?

Whilst I completely understand the sentiment behind Lethal’s reasoning – nobody wants players stretchered off after copping a knee to the head, we run a great risk of destroying an element of the game that has attracted people to the sport for a century.

“The ball comes in long and high… Modraaaaaaaa!!! Oh, hang on, he put his knees up – free kick to Mick Martyn.”

Is that where we’re headed?

Sometimes, you hear an opinion and it is easily brushed off, but a quick perusal of social media following the segment saw people not just agreeing with Matthews’ sentiments, but championing them. In the name of player safety, of course – it’s like the race card; it’s pretty difficult to argue against.

We are entering a period in the game where we need to be very careful. To end the segment, Jimmy Bartel comments that there needs to be an onus on all players to know what they’re signing up for. The available vision does not allow for further elaboration, but I can offer a few insights of my own.

Let’s say the league does start to look into knees up in marking contest. Do they start punishing the action, or do they completely cock it up by only suspending players, or reversing free kicks where an opposition player goes down holding the back of his head?

You know where that leads, right? You hate staging as much as I do, but if that’s what is going to be paid, then that’s what players will do.

And where does it end? We had a rule instituted a while back to outlawed sliding into a contest, feet-first, in the wake of Lindsay Thomas breaking Gary Rohan’s ankle. That has since morphed into something that often penalises the player first to the ball. How will umpires “interpret” something as nuanced as a spectacular high mark?

We are edging closer to a sport that is more akin to Gaelic Football than Aussie Rules. The war on concussion and subsequent crackdowns on the way the game is played are not over. I genuinely fear that this is just the start. And the more people cheerlead the changes, the more I worry that they are tightening their grip around the throat of the game.

Below is a clip of some of the greatest marks you’ll see. 50 of them. Have a look through and find how many would be deemed illegal if the AFL genuinely wanted players to stop putting their knees up when they go for a mark.

Maybe that’ll inform your opinion – maybe it won’t. Maybe you are all for outlawing knees up in marking contests and preventing concussion at all costs. Sadly, in a contact sport, accidents will continue to happen, and I don’t know one person who ever jumped for a mark with the intent to knee someone in the head. They are going for the footy – every single one of the blokes in this video. However, some would be punished for their actions should the leave ever venture down this path.

If they do, I hope my days of covering footy are done by then.




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