The demise of a cultural icon: Part 1

Leigh Matthews.

It’s 1982, and at 5 o’clock in the morning, the old farmhouse is freezing. But that doesn’t deter myself and my sister. It’s Saturday, and we’ve got a footy game to get to. Quickly we scoff breakfast, then turn our attention to the chores that must be done. Having finished them, it’s time to dress up in our team’s colours, and beg our father to drive us the 30 kms to the nearest train station.

After 30 minutes in the car, and two hours of train ride, we arrive in Melbourne, which is awash with colour, everyone dressed in their team’s guernseys, scarves, beanies and duffle coats, all heading to their respective grounds.

My sister and I race for the tram up Royal Parade and arrive at Princes Park, 15 minutes before the gates open. Perfect. Right on cue to make the mad dash for the only bench seat that runs around the ground, and enough time to grab a hot jam donut.

We enthusiastically cheer our way through the reserves game, before finally, it’s time for the main event.

The game is Hawthorn verses Carlton and we’ve gotten on the front row seat, a stone’s throw from the goal posts. The great Leigh Matthews is playing full forward. Suddenly the ball goes quickly toward the other end, and both umpires turn their backs and run toward the other goal. In a well planned and executed attack, away from the umpire’s sight, Val Perovic, Robert Klomp and some other thug take the opportunity to jump Matthews and beat the shit out of him.

He comes off the ground, blood streaming all over his face.

In an interview after the game, he simply states, “I’ve taken harder knocks”.

Now compare this to something that occurred toward the end of the 2022 season, which is unfortunately not a rare incident in the game anymore.

“AFL fans blasted Lions skipper Dayne Zorko after an on-field spray left Melbourne player Harrison Petty in tears on Friday night.”

“Sydney Swans ruckman Tom Hickey fought back tears in his post-game interview as he spoke about his family”

Australian Rules Football was the greatest game on earth. It wasn’t inclusive. It was like boxing. Not everyone had the courage to step into the ring. It was played by hard men, by warriors. There was no room for snowflakes. At school there were plenty of guys that chose not to play it. It was simply too rough for them. And if you played, you were going to get hurt…….every game.

VFL football was like a religion, and to this day experts still can’t work out the mania that encompassed supporters. But I can explain it. Take the average guy in the 1970s. He’s probably working in a factory or some other mindless job. His boss abuses him at will, he goes home to a wife who’s always on his back, and 2 kids who are demanding things he can’t afford. He opens his mail and he’s behind on his mortgage, and behind on his bills. Almost at the point that he simply can’t take it anymore, the weekend comes, and for a couple of bucks he gets into the footy. And for the next two hours, all his problems disappear into irrelevance, as he yells, screams, vents, cheers and is totally focused only on the battle that is taking place on the field before him. Finally the siren sounds, and totally exhausted, having screamed out all the frustrations that were wound up inside him, he’s ready to face another week of the grind.

But of course, that can’t happen today. Because from the moment he gets to the football, some political or social issue (the very thing he is trying to escape) is being shoved down his throat.


He can’t scream out his pent-up frustration, because he needs to scrutinise every word first, or risk being ejected from the ground for saying the wrong thing. And the great battle of warriors on the field he used to watch, has become a predictable, umpire controlled, virtually non-contact possession game, that is boring as hell to sit through.

AFL is not Australian Rules Football. It barely even resembles the game that was such a massive part of Australian culture.

So how did we let this happen? Well, we’ve allowed socialism to creep in and overtake every part of our precious culture. AFL is now foremostly a political and social platform, that dictates what we must think, what we must say, and how we must act. And just like all socialist agenda, it directs itself at indoctrinating our kids. Children now talk about football in odds. Yes, they say Richmond are $1.80 GWS are at $2.20. And they are bombarded with betting advertising whether on TV or at the game.

You see, AFL is not a game. It is an entity and a multi billion dollar one, that no longer leaves games, or anything else to chance.

But more about that in part 2.