“The AFL (and Carlton) have a huge problem. Ninety nine thousand people at the ‘G watch Real Madrid beat Man City. Just 26,000 at Etihad see Hawks flog Blues.”
So tweeted 3AW radio commentator Tom Elliott on Friday night. I will say, right at the beginning of this piece, that a one off soccer game between two of the biggest clubs in the world is not really so much of a problem for the AFL. The more serious, and systemic, problem for the AFL, is the AFL. By that I mean, to put it bluntly, the AFL is badly run, and that is the polite version. Get me at the front bar after an Essendon loss and with the benefit of a few pints of lager, and I will be very likely to rephrase that in rather more robust terms – and I will not be the only one!
The ongoing success of Australian Rules Football relies on the massive support and enthusiasm for the code primarily in the southern states, which is not going to diminish any time soon, and continues, despite the ineptness of the administrators, who have done pretty much all they could to kill the game, if not bring it to its knees.
The evidence for this is abundant, so open a can of bitter and settle in. This is going to take some time. Here are just some of the more obvious ways the AFL has stuffed up football and is actively driving the punters to other codes:
- Football socialism. First and foremost it’s this. The facts of life are these – someone has to lose. The AFL runs the competition like a pre-school athletics carnival in which there are no winners and no losers and everyone who competes gets a ribbon of the same colour. But in the real world, someone wins and someone loses. To compensate for this harsh reality, and inoculate its competition from it, the AFL rewards failure and penalises success, the goal being to drag everyone down to the same level of mediocrity. The losers get extra picks and extra handouts – the winners get nada. The competition is now one in which the income pool is disproportionately redistributed in the hope that everyone’s team will one day have a chance of winning the big prize and making its supporters feel all warm and fuzzy – not one in which the best are encouraged to be the best, and in which the pursuit of excellence and the prudent management of resources (people, financial and other) are rewarded. No wonder there are so many mind numbingly boring games. One gets the impression the socialist twats at AFL House would love to see a competition in which everyone plays at the same average level, everyone draws every game, and there are no winners and no losers. Just like the workers paradise that was once the Socialist Republic of East Germany, or Pol Pot’s Cambodia, this is a fantasy.
- Social engineering. Indigenous round, womens’ round, multicultural round. For $%#* sake, it’s football you dipsticks. If we wanted Nanny State to lecture us on how to be model citizens and treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves, we’d have gone to church instead of the football, or lobbed in at the local branch of the Greens for a (gluten free, ethically produced) sausage (or grilled eggplant if vegan) over a barbecue and beer. But we came to the football. We came to shout ourselves hoarse, to see some biff, and down a few at the front bar. We did not, and do want, our Football to resemble a cultural studies class in which some wanker in a tweed suit laments the ‘invasion’ of 1788.
- Game times. The morons who run the competition seem to think that every game must be played at a different time on a different day, no doubt to maximise television audiences. This might please the Channel Seven executives, but it’s confusing for the punters who actually want to see their team play in real life. Over time, however, the fans will get the message – you are meant to stay at home and watch it on TV stupid.
- Venues. Related are the venues. Apart from the big stadiums in the big cities, and the long history pf playing games in Geelong, the circus comes now to Launceston and to Alice Springs, to Auckland and Christchurch across the ditch, to Canberra and to Darwin. At some of the lesser venues it would be quite possible, going on the telecast, to back a Ute up to the fence and sit in the tray drinking tinnies, as one does out in the suburbs; or to bring along a Webber and grill some snags in the outer for the friends. The only thing missing are the car horns tooting to announce a goal. This is a long way from the roar of a crowd at a packed ‘G. If the AFL wants its games to resemble the miniscule crowds that grace a Rugby League game in Sydney, then all is fine and well.
- The uneven draw. This is probably the most stupid, and blatantly unfair of all. In a properly run, serious competition of any sort, from a mixed netball competition for factory workers to the English Premier League, every team plays every other team twice, once at home and once away. That is even, and that is fair. How hard can it be to grasp?
- Clashing colours. The concept of an ‘away’ or second strip is a pretty simple, and well established one in other codes, especially soccer. The fundamental principle is this – the change strip is of a different colour and a different design to the home one. The AFL just doesn’t get it, and can’t or won’t enforce it. So we have the farce of one team’s ‘change’ strip being a slightly enlarged sash of exactly the same colour combination, and teams whose colours are all but indistinguishable to the naked eye continuing to run out against each other in their home uniforms, leaving their change strip in the changing rooms.
- Over umpiring. Free kicks for swearing, for squirting water at opposition players, for ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour.’ Umpires crying in the midst of the fray ‘you can’t say that to me.’ This is Australian football. Some games are rendered all but unwatchable as seemingly every passage of play results in a whistle blowing and a free kick being awarded by one of the several umpires on the field. Memo to umpires – just get out of the way you morons – do your job, pay the obvious ones, and then step aside ladies – it’s about the players, not you.
- Hyperventilating commentators. Everything is ‘magical’ or ‘special.’ A player can’t just be good, they are a ‘superstar.’ A news report can’t not include a lengthy report on the shudders going through one team’s medical staff because someone reached for their calf muscle during training. Put away the superlatives and lighten up. A tragedy is what is unfolding in Syria and northern Iraq, not some full forward pulling his hamstring. Listening to Channel Seven at times you would be hard pressed not to wonder if certain unnamed commentators hadn’t actually reached orgasm during some passages of play that were especially pleasing to the eye. It’s good to watch, but not that good. Get your hand of it fellas, drop the hype, and just call the game.
- Cheats. Finally, and this one really turns off the punters more than anything else I expect, there are blatant cheats running around on AFL fields, and no one is willing, or able, to do anything about them. Adam Goodes is a prime example. Brush past him in a marking contest and he assumes the pose of an Olympic diver in freefall, invariably being rewarded with a free kick. Lindsay Thomas is another shameless poser. It’s blatant, it’s obvious, it’s infuriating, but neither the umpires, nor the administrators, seem to want to do anything about it. It’s not rocket science. The cheats are easy to spot, and they are repeat offenders. Do something about it.
The AFL has not killed football yet, but give it another decade or two, and the punters will be turning up to the Rugby, the Soccer, and the Netball, in ever increasingly numbers. Isn’t it about time then, that the AFL put the “Australian” back into football, and did it fast.