My colleagues are wrong: AFL State of Origin is a terrible idea
Bringing back State of Origin football is the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas, and I’m going to be there when the 90 percent of fans who ‘want it’ find that out.
My Roar colleague Michael DiFabrizio is an ardent advocate of representative football, as is his partner in crime Vince Rugari.
First seen in these parts last year, and most recently last week, Michael has made this his passion project, and come up with a proposal by which he thinks the concept can be revived.
As impressive as his diagram looks with its coloured boxes, bright dynamic, and arrows pointing every which way, and as sound as his plan may be in theory, unfortunately the entire notion of AFL State of Origin football is as relevant and as welcome as a clown at a funeral.
This latest push for state against state representative football has originated with the players themselves, and this seems to be the number one argument that its supporters have latched onto.
In my opinion, and the late 90s showed this to be true, players like the idea of Origin more than they like actually playing it.
It’s easy for players to say they love the concept, but we saw that when it comes to finally running out onto the ground to compete, a different song is sung.
It’s simplistic to only blame pressure from the clubs. Eventually, once the easy talk of state pride dies down, the players realise that the number one goal in their football life is to play in a premiership, and any concept outside club football compromises this view.
If we need any further proof of the elite players’ lack of interest in representative football, let’s look at last year’s International Rules series.
Only one All-Australian felt compelled to play against the Irish. None of the top 15 in the Brownlow Medal loved representative football enough to pull on the Australian jumper.
And only one player who polled more than 12 votes in last year’s count was running around in either match.
In fact, the 2011 Australian line-up, which should be the most glittering array of talent in our land, and a vastly superior side to that which any mere state could throw up, contained the grand total of four club best-and-fairest winners, only one of whom actually won it last year.
The captain of this auspicious side was Brad Green, who no longer commands a game at a team sitting on the bottom of the ladder.
With all due respect to the likes of Jake King, Robin Nahas, Ben McGlynn, Easton Wood and David Wojcinski, we were seeing a line-up of tradesmanlike footballers and journeymen, as well as a couple of first-year players thrown in for good measure.
Hardly representative of the ‘best of the best’, is it?
And this was for Australia, the highest possible honour. Imagine this lack of elite representation diluted over six or more teams as DiFabrizio suggests.
A straight Carlton v Collingwood match would have more talent on display, and I can assure you that it would mean a hell of a lot more to those involved.
So now that we’ve convincingly quashed the argument of the players, let’s turn our attention to the fans, especially those 90 percent on Superfooty who, according to their apparent fervour, will bring war to the streets if they don’t get Origin football immediately.
I think we’ll see they find it easy to click a mouse button in support, but find it a different story when it comes to buying tickets for themselves and family members to go along.
Let’s not forget that these same people are already paying hundreds of dollars a year for memberships, possibly Foxtel, and then face more expenditure if lucky enough to be there when finals come along.
The last six official State of Origin matches, played between 1996-1999, attracted an average crowd of 22,059. Home and away matches over this period attracted an average crowd of 32,598.
The fans that wanted it showed their passion for State of Origin to such an extent that 30 percent fewer of them showed up.
The same fans that want State of Origin back were no doubt part of the 109,513 people who took in the International Rules series in 1999. By 2005 crowds were down to 84,526, and last year a paltry 35,466 bothered to turn up across two matches.
Damning statistics if you ask me.
Supporters of the concept will point to the Hall of Fame Tribute match in 2008, when 69,294 people turned up to the MCG in support.
This simply proved that people will watch a novelty if it’s put in front of them, much like Meatloaf at last year’s grand final or the sprint at half time. But as the numbers prove, they are not interested enough to keep it sustainable.
Rohan Connolly, senior football writer at The Age, summed it up well when I put the question of the Tribute game to him recently on his weekly blog: “The crowd was good enough, but there seemed a real flatness about the atmosphere, proof to me that it’s the teams that people really follow rather than individual stars.”
Like the Spice Girls, State of Origin was a once mighty phenomenon that died a natural death in 1999.
This is when the professionalism of clubs took over. After all, they’re spending millions of dollars on these elite players, years nurturing them to become the talents they are, and developing game plans built specifically around them. They’re entitled to protect their investment.
AFL is a club game, a national game, and State of Origin is quite simply not required any more in the age of club memberships rising regularly above 40,000, with many pushing and exceeding 50,000.
Go to the MCG this Saturday night for the Dreamtime match between Essendon and Richmond, and you’ll see what the passion of AFL football is all about.
The air will be thick with hope and excitement, 80,000 bloodthirsty fans screaming and raging for their team to win, each wanting their players to physically hurt the opposition in bone-crunching tackles, ready to explode with unbridled joy as victory beckons, and sent spiralling into depression when things don’t go their way.
You will see emotion at its purest and most raw. Friends will become enemies, and hatred will burn within. Agony and ecstasy will be on display in a tribal, primal way that exists only between club supporters.
So, Michael, as bold and imaginative as your idea might be, the fans don’t really want it, the players even less so, and the clubs quite simply and rightfully won’t allow their best players to play.
AFL State of Origin should not now, nor ever again, be on the agenda.
Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for in his mind there is nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.