The Look of the AFL Agenda - The First Five

There is no other professional sport in the world that changes its rules so often. The perennial column inches wasted on new rules, interpretations, and ‘what are they going to do about…’ is fatiguing at best. In most nations around the world, Football is king. Australia is no different. We have our own Aussie Rules Football which has grown into an industry of its own. The AFL has become an influential body, and the 2018 Finals series proves the magnetism of the game with results defining communities. It has never mattered more.

And, at this time of the year when there are so few games there is so little to analyse and discuss. Dusty’s knee gets more air time than all the interstate teams put together during the regular season because there is nothing else to discuss. Except the newest rubbish on the AFL’s agenda – The Look of the Game. Is anyone else sick of it? The Media Pack have as much to answer for as the AFL on this. The ‘Waleed Aly Rules Controversy’ made front page headlines when there was literally no story. ZERO. Insert expletive here!

As everyone’s eye is drawn towards the inconsequential or even harmful nonsense, someone needs to ask: what is NOT being looked at that needs to be top of the bill? I have accumulated a few observations below. Some more important (and serious) than others. If this great game is going to sharpen it’s focus and polish its veneer, then surely this is a list worth considering. Here goes, in no particular order…

 

The Punch

I have been very vocal on this one (Guilty of Intent, Aug 24, 2018) and I am even more adamant given the response and discussion. Raising a fist in anger, no matter if it connects or misses, needs to be rubbed out. Those attempting this thuggery need to be rubbed out. Football is physical with body contact, big hits, and hard scuffles. But thumping someone with a coward punch leads to unnecessary injuries which some will never fully recover from. Long term brain damage is common, and a death from a king-hit is bound to occur if intervention is not taken. Punching causes grief for the ‘puncher’ just as much as the poor bloke that’s been smashed. Tom Bugg lets us into the trauma and fallout in his article I’m not who you think I am, Player Voice.

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In general, society is becoming more self-aware than ever about the importance of Mental Health in the workplace, and whatever angle you view this from, it is clear that punching needs to be dealt with properly from the AFL. All the leagues across Australia will follow.

 

MCG home ground advantage

The Grand Final will be played at the Home of Footy for at least the next 40 years or so. The commitment is very long, and there will be debates on both sides about the merit of this. However, the focus on the Granny is mis-aligned. What about all the games leading up to the ultimate game of the season?

The 2017 Grand Final was played between Richmond and Adelaide. The Tigers had played 13 games that season on ‘The G’, Adelaide had played 3. On what planet is this OK? More recently, Collingwood knocked GWS out of the finals race on the hallowed turf. During the regular season one team had played 14 times at the MCG, one had played there twice. No prizes for guesses…

If you’re thinking about Collingwood earning the right to play this match at the MCG because of their ladder position, stop right there. The point is that the Pies played 5 away games at the G during the regular season, and have an ‘away Semi’ there too. So that is six away games on their home ground, on top of the GF.

It will never be even, but the WA, SA, NSW, and Queensland sides need to be given as many chances to play at the MCG as possible. This means that when the Hawks play in Tassie, they play another Melbourne based side. When Melbourne plays in the Northern Territory they play a Victorian foe. And, interstate sides must play more on the G than at the Etihad. This is an equalisation measure the AFL can throw into the fixtures mix that puts football first and politics and gate revenue second.

 

The Crest on the Chest

The Elimination Final between the Dees and the Cats finished with Melbourne exercising their own demons and an outpouring of emotion. The game was already iced, when Alex Neal-Bullen kicked the last goal of the game and repeatedly pointed to his left tit in a salute to the fans. The crowd erupted, the Melbourne players jumped all over each other, and it was a beautiful time for the club winning their first final game in many years. In amongst this, there is the badge that is being pointed to. But it is not the badge of the Melbourne Footy Club, it is the Zurich logo.

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In an age of free agency, footy as business, and ‘there’s no loyalty in football’, these are the displays die-hard fans crave. Kissing the badge is what we want to see, even if it is temporary theatre.

AFL footy has got this all wrong. On the right pec is the AFL logo of every team’s shirt. No problems there. On the left pec - symbolic due to its proximity to one’s heart, has the logo of Tasmania, Jeep, SGIO, Toyota, or QBE. Someone is sleeping at the wheel on this one.

Think about it – what other sport has a sponsor emblazoned over the heart? Take this argument as far as you like about the game selling out. One thing is for sure - the club’s crest has to sit in this sacred place of the match day jumper. In Soccer and Rugby League the sponsors logo is across the mid-section of the guernsey and the crest is over the heart. Let’s face it, no one points to their gut in a passionate outburst of emotion. The West Coast, Carlton, Brisbane, and Gold Coast will have to re-arrange their design a little, but this shouldn’t be too difficult.

Another quick win. Sort it out AFL!

 

Coaching Style

There is a lot of commentary around coaches finding ways to manipulate game styles to exploit any rule changes the AFL bring in. But, there is another type of style that needs addressing, STAT! What coaches have been wearing in the modern age of AFL is the sort of thing an Under 16 representative kid may be decked out in for a country carnival. It is embarrassing.

Who is the numb-nut that said a club polo shirt full of billboards with black trousers, a black belt, and black dress shoes is a good look!?! The Head Coach of an AFL Footy Club is one of the most revered positions in Australian sport. They are under enormous pressure, have endless media commitments, and need to be the Sage of Wisdom to all they speak to. So why are they dressed like an Ad Agency has vomited all over them?

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A national Rugby Coach is in a suit. Many Soccer Coaches take the suit option too. Also, many decide to wear a team tracksuit. If you think that would be a step back, check out the coolest guy in world sport – Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool FC. Soccer also has this wonderful tradition where each coach has their own initials stitched into the right chest of their tracksuit jackets. This is both professional and super cool. It is used for the training ground and Assistants will wear this on game day. I can see Assistant Coaches decked out like this in the Coaches Box for AFL matches.

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There is a third option. If the polo’s have to be worn to satisfy the sponsor overlords, then how about we match what’s happening down stairs with upstairs. A casual trouser style and trainers would be a step in the right direction. Maybe a Levi Jean and a Nike Flynit, or a Twill Chino with a rolled-up cuff with a pair of Stan Smith’s.

These men have earned the right to look good. A classic suit, or variation of this, a clean looking club tracksuit, or a casual look that says “I’m looking good, I’m feeling good, and yeah… I smell good too”.

 

Advance Australia Fair

Finals Footy evokes something we cannot touch, see, or measure. The anticipation before the centre bounce feels more exciting than the footy itself. One moment that helps create this is the national anthem. It does not matter where you are from, how nationalistic you are, or if you like the anthem or not. It stirs up the senses before an AFL game because it is the calm before the storm. Thousands of people gather and stand silently for a few minutes. It is a shared moment that brings everyone together. Then, when it is finished the crowd roars, claps, and the players take their positions ready to be the modern-day gladiators. This is the instant when our tribal and primal needs are met in abundance.

So, why doesn’t the national anthem get played before regular season matches? Are these matches not good enough for the anthem? Is there a fear that the anthem will become repetitive? I’m not so sure. In a time when there is so much division politically, surely this is an opportunity for football to take the lead and bring people together.

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To look at this from a different angle, look at the top level of sporting competitions around the world. Every event starts with the anthems. In international test matches this makes complete sense. But what about when only one country plays that sport at an elite level. We can turn to the USA where NFL Football Matches all begin with the anthem (I know it’s quite controversial currently, but that’s a whole other article). Baseball, Basketball, and Ice Hockey also play the anthem. I know this is a political tool in the states, but in Australia the AFL have done a great job of pushing inclusivity, indigenous heritage, and diversity. The anthem before every game can take this further, while setting up an excitement every team (and their supporters) should feel throughout the competition.            

In Australia, Football is king. The AFL is a powerful entity. They have the responsibility to make the changes that matter. Changes that are worth discussing. Little tweaks that nudge the game forward. Changes that add to the experience. A ‘look of the game’ that honours tradition while leading social and sporting progress. These are the first five on my list of the big (and small) changes I would like to see on the AFL agenda. The real discussion starts here, at The Mongrel.

 

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