Tank Final? A flag worth losing
It’s been fascinating watching the AFL deal with accusations that teams are throwing matches in order to secure higher draft picks.
It’s for the fans of the game and the administration to decide whether they want a competition that allows this stuff to go on.
Ben Pobije’s excellent suggestion of embracing the phenomenon of tanking is one that appeals. In this way AFL can offer something truly unique – the only misere of any football code in the world.
What’s required is a Tank Final. The bottom two teams play their own grand final as a curtain-raiser to the AFL grand final. The team that loses this match gets the choicest cuts of fresh meat from the butcher’s slab that is the annual draft.
How would a team go about losing this match? For a start, the team that finishes last in the regular season will win the right to play this match away. They’d happily email their fans and let them know they’re not allowed to attend.
The teams slated to contest the Tank Final will have been on huge food/drink/party benders overseas while the AFL finals series is on. They will come back looking fat and unhealthy, with tobacco-stained fingers and a newly developed allergy to sunlight.
In case a side’s best players are still available for selection, the team doctors will administer carefully prescribed broken legs and busted shoulders so that any old park footballer can be hastily drafted into the team for the big game.
Clubs will have to find room under their salary caps to buy tanking specialists. Small children, amputees, the elderly and infirm and obese heart patients would become elite athletes for this one match. What an honour!
Techniques in avoiding doing anything remotely skilful or beneficial to your team will need to be worked on by the coaching staff but these people are full time professionals and they know their stuff.
Each team will be well drilled in tanking technique by the time the big day arrives. They’d have been furiously ‘playing out of position’ and ‘trying different tackling styles’ for several matches.
The aim of the game would be to win possession of the ball in your defensive end and then repeatedly kick it through your own posts to rack up points for the opposition. This would be countered by stuffing your attacking goalmouth with defenders intent on winning the Sherrin and quickly moving it back to your own goal and begin scoring behinds for the opposition.
A tanking tradition will emerge whereby at the centre bounce, every player in the vicinity will either hit the deck with a feigned injury, or find something more interesting to look at in the crowd.
The ball will lie untouched for the first quarter while the crowd screams discouragement.
As the game progresses, fans and commentators alike will cheer and applaud every missed opportunity and every deliberate illegality. The crowd will boo the umpires for awarding marks to their team. They will scream for free kicks to be given to the other team.
Those free kicks would be sprayed, banana-ed, shanked, hooked, sliced and just plain mongreled into the arms of the opposing team at every opportunity. In the contest for possession, the wrestle will focus on forcing your opponent to catch the ball and hold it.
A player lines up a 30 metre shot for goal from straight in front. He carefully aims his shot 45 degrees to the right. Do his fans go wild as the ball sails out on the full into their waiting arms? Or do they shriek with rage as the kick is accidentally curved off the side of his boot, beautifully curving through the big sticks?
He sinks to the ground knowing that his amazing goal under pressure is certain to end his career.
As the full-time siren blares, players will either despair that they’ve won the match or they’ll belt out the team song in the sheds knowing they’ve proven to be the most utterly hopeless bunch of bumblers in the comp.
The team that wins walks away knowing they weren’t good enough to lose on the day. “Full credit to those boys, they were just too bad for us” the post-match interviewees would say.
With enough promotion, this game could well and truly become a highlight on the AFL calendar and it will also end the damaging negative press that surrounds the idea of tanking.