Every year, in front of 90,000 plus fans, two Melbourne clubs battle it out in a traditional match. The rest of us battle it out in the public forum over the validity of the game.
So much of the debate is centred on the two teams involved. Many feel it should be a privilege to play on such a sacred day, not a right solely afforded to Collingwood and Essendon. These people often argue the previous year’s grand final teams should have the privilege, a la the NRL and most state-based competitions.
Others argue the round should be shared in other ways, Like Lethal Leigh Mathews, who argued recently the game, being incredibly Melbourne-centric in nature, should be a right for the two highest-ranked Melbourne teams.
Undoubtedly this would anger both the traditionalists and the non-Victorian rabble-rousers over the border (of which I am proudly one).
But changing the day at all would risk damaging years of hard work and the resulting revenue for both clubs, the AFL (and by extension the rest of the clubs), and the nature of the day, which should rightly be steeped in tradition and ritual.
I argue that the game between Collingwood and Essendon, which yearly draws in more people than the NRL with its grand final teams model could even dream of mustering, should remain sacred. Even a foreign crow-eating heathen like myself can see the advantage in having such a gem of a game in the league’s crown.
But for those who (quite rightly) wish to share the pie, or perhaps the ANZAC biscuit, this won’t do. After all it’s simply another chance for the Vics to enforce some imagined ownership of the game and neglect the rest, right?
Every school kid knows the game was not an AFL initiative, but one launched by the Woods and the Dons. A grassroots, tail wagging the dog initiative.
Please sir, may we play on ANZAC day and create something unique?
Such initiatives are so rare in modern sports that they should be respected, rewarded, and honoured. If other teams want the right to play on ANZAC day, fantastic – get a plan, get together with your neighbour, and do it.
The Crows and Power recently began just such a plan, with negotiations supposedly under way behind closed doors between the two South Australian clubs. Any game played between these clubs may or may not be played on ANZAC day, but another ANZAC tradition in another state would not only be good for the league and the occasion, but for the ANZAC Day tradition as a whole.
After all, such great events held in the public eye help to not only honour but entrench the memory of the ANZACS and their deeds. This should not be a Victorian sentiment, but a national one.
In a perfect system, Collingwood and Essendon would play their traditional game on ANZAC day. It brings in the crowds, the bucks (no pun intended), and it has the history and tradition. Like anything that was there first, it deserves credit. At least.
Then the weekend would host rivalry round. Now that we have legitimate rivals in each state of the country, we could bill the round less as the old hatreds being reignited, but as a day for neighbours to stand together and remember the cause.
Power and Crows fans standing side by side in silent reflection as the Last Post plays. GWS and Swans fans shaking hands and sharing a bear at the pub after. Richmond and Carlton fans letting their kids play together just for the day.
Not only enjoying the day and the freedoms the ANZACS died to give us, but also embodying our Diggers – they, like footy fans, came from every walk of life, from different ethnicities, creeds and political persuasions, but still stood side by side for the cause.
We as footy fans could embody this by sharing the chips and sauce with our most hated neighbour. Across the Ditch, similar sentiments could be expressed with exhibition matches. I love Saint Kilda’s initiative to play for four points in The Land of the Long White Cloud, and the AFL should be at pains to allow it and find them an opponent.
If ANZAC days is for all, which it is, then the day should be shared. But taking the day from two teams who have worked on creating a grand spectacle is not the way.
Expanding it across all rivalries would truly embody the memory of the ANZACS.