The Collingwood versus Essendon ANZAC day fixture has, in the space of over a decade, become one of the AFL’s great traditions and this season’s rendition delivered an epic contest. But that shouldn’t overshadow the debate about whether the fixture should be shared amongst other teams.
The debate has long raged, whether these two clubs have the right to own the fixture and other clubs have publicly stated their displeasure at missing out on the occasion.
The success of the match up, born out of the foresight of former Essendon coaching great Kevin Sheedy, owes much to the rivalry between the two clubs that preceded the ANZAC day fixture and the great work the clubs and the code have done to turn the day into such an occasion, a worthy tribute.
But the myth that only Collingwood and Essendon could attract a sell out crowd or are worthy of the occasion needs to be examined.
We don’t know the extent to which the success of the fixture can be attributed to the Essendon and Collingwood rivalry or whether it has more to do with the setting, the MCG on ANZAC day.
Is the ANZAC day fixture at the MCG entrenched on its own accord or is it the Collingwood Essendon match up?
Other teams can also attract a great crowd with such a setting, in 1975 Carlton and Essendon attracted 77,770 to Waverley on ANZAC day.
There is more than just the issue of fairness as the occasion is at the mercy of the form of the two sides.
The AFL has two choices.
Firstly keep the traditional fixture between the two and cash in on the guaranteed high ratings and crowd.
Keeping the fixture will only foster the criticism from the other teams however.
Secondly, by accepting the current draw is far from fair for all and that it favours certain clubs, by forgoing the current fixture and opening it up to other teams the AFL will show it is willing to address the imbalances and criticism it receives.
Why should the humbling experience Collingwood and Essendon players, fans and coaches feel on ANZAC day be reserved for them only?
The setting and occasion of the day can surely survive without the two teams.
Make no mistake the Collingwood V Essendon match up has been enormously successful.
But ANZAC day doesn’t belong exclusively to the two sides as the significance of the day is not unique to them only.
Perhaps ANZAC day could be reserved for the Grand Final teams of the previous season, rewarding clubs for their success and ensuring the match up has that extra spice, a rematch at the same ground marking it out as an even more important fixture.
Every club is therefore in the running to earn an ANZAC day match.
Traditions and occasions are all well and good but the issue of fairness cannot be ignored and the rest of the clubs are missing out on being part of one of the most important dates on our sporting and cultural calendar.