East vs West AFL All Star game will not work
Jonathan Brown and Chris Judd after the Hall of Fame Tribute Match in 2008. (AFL Photos)
There’s no question Australian Rules football needs a genuine form of representative footy, but the player-driven idea of an American style East-versus-West “All Star” game is a mindbogglingly stupid way to go about it.
According to the Herald Sun, the proposal – which could get a run as soon as 2014 – will see the Melbourne clubs split on geographic lines and teamed up with four interstate clubs.
Hawthorn and Collingwood both fall to Melbourne’s east, so their team would have the likes of Lance Franklin and Scott Pendlebury joining Gold Coast’s Gary Ablett.
Carlton and Geelong would be on the west team, so they’d have Chris Judd and Joel Selwood receiving West Coast star Nic Naitanui’s hitouts.
At least, that’s how it will be sold. In truth, while all that seems relatively nice on paper, there’s one key element missing: passion.
Does it really mean that much to people whether they live to the east or west of the Melbourne CBD? Do the people of Western Australia and South Australia really hate the eastern seaboard, just not the part that Judd and Selwood are on?
Will the people of New South Wales and Queensland have any reason to think this is anything more than a gimmick?
Okay, it works – sometimes – in the United States. But a large part of that is because the teams are already divided by conferences, so it isn’t contrived to see the teams grouped together in such a manner. There’s also history behind All Star games in a way that doesn’t exist here.
Perhaps most importantly of all, east-west rivalries have also existed in the US outside the sporting arena. Biggie and Tupac come to mind.
Clearly, things aren’t quite on the same level in Australia.
The only way for representative footy to work is if there’s genuine passion. For that, State of Origin is the only answer.
It has authenticity, history and bundles of passion. While the Hall of Fame tribute game in 2008 had those things on the Victorian side, the fact a contrived composite team was their opposition meant it wasn’t anywhere near as successful as it could’ve been.
Origin will always have detractors, sure. They seem to think that because the wheels fell off when the competition first went national that the same circumstances exist now. So much has changed that it’s not funny. But you’ve heard all this from me before.
A new one came from an article in The Australian by Ross Fitzgerald in the lead up to last weekend’s Sydney Swans-Collingwood clash at ANZ Stadium.
The title of the piece, worryingly, was, ‘Who needs AFL state of origin when Magpies and Swans can ruffle each other’s feathers?’.
“Collingwood is the biggest club in the biggest sporting competition in the nation,” Fitzgerald wrote.
“It leads the way in every area fathomable. While it is a club that could hold its own in comparison with some of the world’s biggest, it is also deeply, proudly, Victorian.”
Call me crazy, but was he seriously trying to suggest all of Victoria rallied behind Collingwood last week just because they played an interstate team?
Did that really get published in a national newspaper?
Clubs are not substitutes for state teams. They were for a while in WA and SA, where for a brief period there was only one club in each of those markets. But those days are certainly dead now – and they’ve always been dead in Victoria.
(For those Aussies who’ve been living under a rock their whole lives, I now feel obliged to point this out: There are more people in Victoria that hate Collingwood than people that love Collingwood. Don’t ever forget it.)
Representative footy is a marvellous thing. There’s something special about fans of different clubs momentarily putting aside their rivalries and support the same team.
But it has to be done in that way. Rep footy that divides Victorians, Western Australians and South Australians internally once again is pointless.
And there must be passion. That’s a non-negotiable.
Of course, the players might be thinking that their idea only takes one week out of the footy calendar and that Origin could not achieve that. But, at the risk of repeating myself once again, it can be easily accommodate that way.
So, players, the equation is simple. If you are going to do it, do it properly.
Otherwise, Victorians better get used to decking themselves out in black and white. Apparently that’s “your team” now.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio