The Mongrel Tribe has spoken yet are not in total unison. The First Five was met with many comments of ‘Yeah, Na’, ‘Whatevs’, and ‘Are you kidding!?!'
And, that is what these discussion points are about. It’s for the footy tragics out there that love the contest, love the occasion, and love being a part of it. Some bloke once said “sport without fans is nothing”. I would put this into context by saying “Sport without fans is just a game”. Games are nice, but they don’t invoke passion, tribalism, or exhilaration.
As the AFL embarks on their monthly task of ‘what can we change’ agenda, I decided to put together a list worth looking at. Here is the First Five if you haven’t read it. Some subtle changes, some tongue-n-cheek changes, and some down-right obvious changes. The response was fascinating.
When it came to Punching, it was a resounding hands down (sorry, I had to do it) vote against punching. Everyone except for the odd punter agreed that the AFL needs to clamp down on this completely with harsher penalties, zero tolerance, and with endless consistency.
The same response was provoked by the idea that Victorian sides have a home ground advantage at the MCG, with most feeling that fixturing can be used as an efficient and effective equalisation measure. Let’s face it, this is a great way to dispel the feeling that the current AFL is just the VFL dressed up in new branding.
The call for teams to brand their club crest over the heart of the playing jumper was also supported with many feeling that the fact that a sponsor is branded on this location of the playing top was another signal of corporate selling out of the national competition. I am confident that sponsors can be kept happy while making this minor adjustment which would symbolically mean so much to everyone associated with each club. I feel this is important as there is nothing more damning in Aussie Rules Footy than a supporter group walking away from a game accusing their players of not ‘having heart’ in a game. Losing because of lack of effort, grit, and heart is the worst attribute a player or team can be guilty of. Crest-on-Heart would bring the playing uniforms on game day in line with this heritage sentiment.
There was a luke-warm response to the fashion stakes of our top line coaches. On this point, I was left licking my wounds as it has been a real bug-bear of mine for a few years. I am not a fashionista by a long stretch, and the AFL is not the most fashion-conscious sport either. A sport steeped in mullets and ultra-tight shorts doesn’t pretend to be something it is not. Yet, in the current age of high profile and high-pressure Senior Coaching roles I am adamant that this is an area of opportunity for ‘The Look of the Game’. I’m sticking by my guns on this one, even if the Mongrel Nation says NO.
Finally, there was the Anthem. This was a simple ‘piss-off-Paul’. The National Anthem seems to be something that most agree only needs to be played on the final day of the season, and maybe for the ANZAC round. I’m feeling this sentiment and happy to fall in line on this one. Well done folks, and thank you for getting amongst it.
To round out the discussion I have my final five proposals. Strap-in. Here we go…
1. The Draw
It’s the 35th game of the season, and Chelsea are playing away to Everton and need to secure a win worth three points to stay in touch with league leaders Manchester City. A draw will not cut it, and a loss would end their title challenge. On game day, Chelsea take a 2-0 lead that gets cut back to 2-1 when they are awarded a penalty in front of their home crowd. They rally to score a second in the 90th minute to draw the game 2-2.
In the English Premier League (and most soccer leagues around the world), the draw is a critical element of the league structure. With a win worth 3pts, and a draw worth 1, the draw can be just as relevant and tantalising for supporters as any win or loss. These leagues do not have finals, so the points tally on the league ladder becomes super exciting, even 10 games into the season.
But in the AFL, this is not the case. There is a jostling of positions to make the top four, the top eight, and to finish above adversaries to gain home ground advantage. The finals series is the pinnacle of excitement for AFL fans. For players, it is when the real footy starts, and it is bloody great. Then we get a grand final like the one we had this year, and every footy fan is left with a sense of contentment. Satisfaction. The losers will be gutted, the winners will be jubilant (and impossible to be around for a while).
And, as with many American sports, the idea of a draw is unthinkable. It jars. It doesn’t make sense. It is extremely unsatisfying. On game day, both sets of players are left feeling like losers. On field everyone looks at each other and asks, ‘what happens now?’ Both sets of supporters are unsatisfied and go home confused over the question of the draw being a good or bad result for them.
On the ladder, a draw becomes an annoyance for everyone. Like The Giants this year, the finals ladder had this weird ‘game ahead, game behind’ narrative that isn’t actually ‘a game ahead or game behind’. Commentators have to mention the draw every time the ladder is discussed. It’s a bit shit.
In 2017, West Coast beat Port Adelaide in an elimination final where Extra-Time was required after the teams drew at the final siren. As a Port fan, I was gutted when my team lost. But, the game was a classic. Neutral fans were left exhilarated. It was great footy.
Extra-Time needs to be introduced into regular season matches. This is a no-brainer small tweak that harms no one and will only be required occasionally, yet enhances the game and the league to no end.
Rules were changed for finals after the drawn Grand Final, and its another ‘sleeping-at-the-wheel’ moment for the AFL that this wasn’t updated for all games.
2. Interpretation Bottomless Pit
The fact is that as a sport becomes more professional, the players become more adept at manipulating the rules. Professionalism is responsible for play acting in the game much like soccer, which 20 years ago would have been unthinkable.
We have to honour the reasons for the rule changes over the years. But, we can all agree that it has gotten out of hand? The AFL has admitted this themselves, by announcing that they will aim to cut the rule book in half, with rules like the ‘hands in the back’ to be ditched. I feel that this is a good move from the AFL, as they are aware that we have gone down a rabbit burrow with interpretations that now have players unsure what to do and how to act when approaching or carrying the ball.
There is genuine confusion for players when they go to pick the ball up or rush it behind. The confusion comes from the laws demanding the umpire to rule on ‘what the player meant to do’. It is impossible to get right. Rules which rely on interpretation have now gone beyond interpretation. It is now in the realm of the occult.
We all crave for the tough free flowing footy of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Bringing the rule book back into check is a great step forward so the umpire is blowing the whistle less, and the boys can get on with playing some footy. The 6-6-6 and the goal square can wait as far as I am concerned. The real goal for the AFL is to strip the rules back so that less mind reading and less umpire intervention is required.
3. Goal Line Dark Ages
Using technology to get the decision right for scoring shots is a very good thing. The AFL’s execution in terms of the umpire’s voice being heard by everyone in the stadium is very good, and the reviews clearly aim to make a quick decision as a part of the AFL’s directive. This is also a good thing. The technology however… that’s not so good.
In fact, it is pathetic. In such a rich society, and a rich sport there is no excuse. In fact, goal reviews are technically another sponsorship opportunity for the AFL. Production levels of telecasts have never been so in-depth allowing us to scrutinise every micro-expression on a player’s or coach’s face. Yet, we need to rely on frame-by-frame camera angles that nostalgically reminds me of the slow-motion jumping on the good old VHS tape recorder (anyone under 20 years old – ask mum).
Did I mention that this is pathetic? Hot Spot, Super-Slow-Motion, Eagle Eye / Hawk Eye, and Goal Line Technology (Soccer) are all available. There is also scope for the AFL to use newly invented systems on top of this. There were numerous examples this year where coaches were left exasperated. Players even admitting that the reviews were wrong. And, commentators constantly complaining about the reviews not making sense. This is an embarrassment for the AFL, and makes umpiring even harder.
There is now a three-month period where the AFL have a critical moment in time to sort this out. The good news is that it is achievable. The bad news is that they have run out of chances. I could even see this becoming a legal issue in the worst circumstances as the stakes become higher and higher for teams to win games, make the finals, and win finals.
AFL – sort it out!!!
4. What’s my name?
It may happen in the Pub. Sometimes it happens at work. It happens on AFL telecasts. Players are guilty of it. Even coaches sometimes. And it’s catching on with kids getting it wrong all the time too…
I am referring to the name of the bloody game! The sport is called Aussies Rules Footy (shortened from the official Australian Rules Football). This is what the sport has been called for generations. The AFL (Australian Football League) has done a wonderful job of branding itself and has become the giant of the sporting landscape in Australia. The AFL chiefs (past and present) will be slapping themselves on the back with the fact that the sport is now referred to by their brand name. Much like people referring to tissues as a Kleenex. Or, when people pull out their Dyson to vacuum the carpet but say ‘I am going to Hoover the carpet’. In marketing terms, this is when you know you’ve made it.
As a traditionalist, I find this cringy. Call me a grumpy old man, but this type of thing eats away at me. The sport is called Aussie Rules. Shortened further to Footy. This is what we do as Australians – shorten names. But then telling me that your kid has started playing AFL when referring to them playing under 9’s at the local school is stupid. Its annoying and wrong. As a collective, can we all pull our heads out of our backsides and call the sport by its proper name.
The AFL is the elite league at the top of the pyramid, not the name of the sport. If you don’t care, then skip onto number five…
5. Out of sight, out of the game
Geelong versus Melbourne. Elimination Final. Geelong have their mature age stars and are trying desperately to cling onto a Premiership Window strategy that hasn’t quite come together. Melbourne are a sleeping giant that is slowly waking from their stupor. It’s an interesting contest, where the Demons are showing the whole league that they have arrived and are contenders. With eight to nine minutes to play in the third quarter they lead the Cats by 21 points. The ball is in Tom Hawkins’ hands for a set shot he would expect to goal, but it isn’t a certainty. We all know what happens next.
Joel Selwood has a brain fade, or at least stands up to two Demons players giving him hell as they all exit the field at the interchange gate. Selwood dumps Jake Melksham on his back. An umpire picks it up, blows his whistle for high-contact (or something…), and everyone in the stadium and at home is confused. The ball is given to the Dees on the wing, and Geelong never recover.
It was a situation where the whole footy population were robbed. And let’s be clear, I can’t stand Selwood. He is so dirty and so skilful and so impactful that he is brilliant. I have no deeper hatred and respect for a player in the AFL than J Selwood. Seeing him get pinged for this gave me some warm happy feelings. But it was wrong. And so are most ‘off-the-ball’ free kicks. The AFL has lost it on this, and feeds into the over-officiating rubbish I spoke about earlier in Point 2.
We need to uphold the toughness of the game. If a player blocks another off the ball, this is not a free kick. If there is high contact, report him. But don’t award a free kick that is 150 metres off the ball. This is a distraction that doesn’t serve the game. It is interrupting, confusing, and is a large example of what footy supporters don’t want to see.
Off the ball needs to stay there. This is a ball sport. The focus is on the ball, and where it is going next. Blowing the whistle on this sort of stuff gets in the way. Can we stop doing it please?
Bonus Gripe – It’s a squad game
To win a flag, a club has to play over five months of elite footy. The players range from teenagers that need to rest often due to the pace of the game. Young twenty-somethings that can rarely play every week. Wrong-side-of-30’s that gain injuries more often than they used to. There are only a few in each club that play every game, especially when form comes into the mix.
A club’s list management is critical, and that is why the trade period is so much fun. It takes a deep squad to win a flag. Not just 22 blokes that play at The ‘G in the last game of the season. So why do only those 22 players get a premiership medal? This has to be the stupidest non-sensical thing in world sport. Is it that there isn’t enough metal in our land to cover the number of medals required? Is it that the presentation ceremony would go too long? Is that squad players don’t deserve a medal?
There is no good reason for this. There is a case that if a player has played a minimum of four or five games during the season then they should get a medal too. They have played their part in helping their side win the flag. It breaks my heart to see injured players not get a medal when they have played all year. Even worse is when a player is omitted for that one game because of weather conditions or match ups.
This is another quick win for the AFL.
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