AFL out of touch with regional Australia

Vince Rugari Columnist

By Vince Rugari, Vince Rugari is a Roar Expert

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    If I was from Wangaratta, I’d be filthy at the AFL right now. The whole saga that surrounded the cancellation of Saturday’s NAB Cup match between Essendon and St Kilda stank of half-heartedness.

    The city itself was keen – more than keen, actually. The game was sold out.

    11,000 people had tickets. It was years in the making. Everyone was ready to go.

    The town was all set up to embrace some top-flight footy. They rolled out the welcome mats for the big wigs. Excitement was in the air. One local club spent $40,000 on catering.

    But then arrogant Bombers, who wanted to fly to Wangaratta when it would have been easier to take a bus, ruined everything with their big city brashness.

    Wild weather meant their two chartered planes couldn’t land. The Saints were there, but Essendon didn’t show.

    The AFL cared so little that they were making it all up as they went along. They were clearly underprepared – nobody was ready for this situation. An abandoned match. What do we do now?

    First, they decided the match would be declared a draw, even though everybody knows that in junior footy the team that doesn’t rock up forfeits the game.

    Then a coin toss was on the cards.

    Which genius thought that would actually be a good idea? Thankfully someone came to their senses and St Kilda were rightly handed the four points, even if it’s only the pre-season stuff and nobody really cares anyway.

    Still, it’s the principle of it, as Dennis Denuto would say. The fact that the AFL weren’t involved in the Dons’ travel plans just does to show how devil-may-care they are about the NAB Cup.

    They shouldn’t have allowed them to fly on matchday – they don’t when it comes to the season proper.

    But Wangaratta cared. They cared a lot – it’s not often that regional Australia gets to host professional sport.

    What’s most disappointing about all of this is that it came at a time when the other codes are strengthening their ties to country areas.

    Even the A-League, which seems to be cementing its reputation as a controversy magnet, has made inroads.

    The concept of a regional round has merit, even if it wasn’t managed as well as it could have been this season.

    Instead of waiting for the fans to come to the A-League, football instead went to the people. They held matches in Dunedin, Campbelltown, Bathurst, the Latrobe Valley and Launceston.

    While the attendance figures didn’t set the world on fire, the fact that those cities were even considered did wonders for their PR.

    If the round ball code can pull 3000 in Morwell to watch the burgeoning Melbourne Heart and a bunch of Kiwis, then it’s not that much of a stretch to suggest that the AFL could draw perhaps a five-figure crowd anywhere in regional Victoria.

    Imagine what it would do for a town to hold a real match in their own backyard. Even those from the city could drive and make the day of it. And yet the AFL’s relationship with country fans just took a massive hit.

    Rugby league leads the way with the annual City versus Country Origin match. The fans love it.

    If the AFL ever opens its eyes to the world of representative matches, wouldn’t it be great to see a metropolitan versus country showpiece? It’s already a small part of the AFL system – Victoria has two state teams at junior level, after all, split along those lines.

    But no. Aussie Rules is being half-hearted in their attempts to engage with folk outside of the main population areas.

    It’s a shame, because there’s plenty of love for footy out there. The success of country leagues is proof – some of the best football outside the AFL is played out in the bush, where there’s plenty of coin on offer.

    The people are dying for a taste. But the league won’t even help out when it comes to staging a NAB Cup game.

    Surely the best way to remedy this would be resolving to rebuild the bridges that they burned. To do that, AFL House should seriously consider taking games for real points outside of the big markets.

    And next time, get the teams in a week beforehand so they can spend time getting around the community.

    Vince Rugari
    Vince Rugari

    Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard of the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. A Port Adelaide fan by birth, he now is a sports reporter for Australian Associate Press

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    The Crowd Says (63)

    • Roar Guru

      March 6th 2012 @ 8:25am
      The Cattery said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:25am | ! Report

      At least Wang didn’t get flooded out completely, unlike their regional cousins in Wagga two hours to their north-west, a strong aussie rules region in NSW, we should be more worried about helping people that have been flooded out and assisting amateur sporting clubs getting back on their feet.

    • March 6th 2012 @ 8:26am
      BigAl said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      Well Vince, I’m sure the people of Wangaratta have more to worry about right now than an eagerly awaited game of footy being cancelled.

      Perhaps AFL should have just cancelled the game and got the players (well St.Kilda at least) filling sandbags.

      • Roar Guru

        March 6th 2012 @ 8:30am
        The_Wookie said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:30am | ! Report

        AFL and NRL clubs were involved in flood relief efforts in QLD and VIctoria last year, there are worse ways for clubs to occupy players.

    • March 6th 2012 @ 8:44am
      camtherose said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      Very disappointing article from a credibility perspective, but if Vince wanted to write a sensationalist piece mentioning all codes to ensure that debate ensued, then he has achieved his goal, and the comments will come thick and fast.

      It’s almost hard to believe the many ways that this article is erroneous, but following Vince as I do on Twitter, he has sent over 100 tweets in the last three days, with almost every single one of them about the A-League, while the few remaining were about soccer in general. There was one mention of Karmichel Hunt re-siging at the Gold Coast.

      This being the case, it is not surprising that he found little time to research this article properly, and it’s clear where the large base of his sporting knowledge resides. That’s fine in and of itself, of course it is, but to then write an AFL article as a voice of authority is where I have to draw the line.

      “The fact that the AFL weren’t involved in the Dons’ travel plans” – The AFL signed off on the travel plans.

      “Instead of waiting for the fans to come to the A-League, football instead went to the people. They held matches in Dunedin, Campbelltown, Bathurst, the Latrobe Valley and Launceston.” – Firstly, the AFL actually schedules several regular season games in Launceston each year, and Hawthorn has made it their second home, so the A-League is hardly breaking new ground there. The AFL has scheduled matches in eight provincial settings over two weeks in the Nab Cup. If that’s ‘half-hearted’ then so be it.

      Vince seems to spend the first quarter of this article pumping up how huge the game was going to be in Wangaratta (most of which was driven by the AFL caring enough to take an interest in the area), and then spends the rest tearing down the AFL for not caring?

      Why is it so difficult to understand that sometimes innocent mistakes are made?

      For those interested, here is my more measured take on the Wangaratta incident, as well as other thoughts on the previous round of AFL, from someone who watched all five televised matches on Foxtel this weekend, and blogged for The Roar for two of them:

      • March 6th 2012 @ 9:25am
        TomC said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        I didn’t like the article, but this ‘I’m a bigger footy fan than Vince!’ nonsense is embarassing.

        • Roar Guru

          March 6th 2012 @ 9:32am
          Redb said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:32am | ! Report

          That’s your take. I think Cam’s point are spot on.

          This is a very strange attack on the AFL.

          • March 6th 2012 @ 9:35am
            TomC said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:35am | ! Report

            Maybe, but why should I care if Vince was tweeting about the A-league or that Cam watched a lot of footy on the weekend?

            If you’re confident in your point, let it stand on it’s own.

            • March 6th 2012 @ 9:41am
              camtherose said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:41am | ! Report

              Personally, I think that it’s a matter of credibility so if i’m going to question Vince’s then I believe I have to provide the grounds of mine? But, I see your point as well, and that’s the beauty of debate.

      • Columnist

        March 6th 2012 @ 9:56am
        Vince Rugari said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        First off, you pretty much summarized the brief given to the writers in your first paragraph and that’s something everyone keeps in the back of their mind when they’re penning their stuff. Myself included. Job done, to an extent.

        And AFL runs through my veins, despite my twitter account. I grew up on the members wing of AAMI Stadium, it’s just currently soccer season for me and there’s a bit going on where I live, the Gold Coast, in that regard so I do apologize if I’m not footy enough for you.

        I’ve probably played the man a bit too much and not the ball, and haven’t gotten my points across as well as I could. For that I apologize. I know that there’s games played in Cairns and Lonnie and Darwin, and I know the AFL signed off on their travel plans (could have worded that sentence better). But they shouldn’t have.

        I guess my overarching point is that at the end of the day, the fact that the AFL allowed them to fly on gameday, opening up a situation where the risk of being unable to land in such weather is greatly increased… it just seems to me as if this game was not the AFL’s priority, if they allowed the Dons to do that. That’s where the half-heartedness is. And that’s a shame because Wangaratta’s priority is football, and they deserved better. Even if the weather was going to mean the game wasn’t going to be played – but let that be the reason, not Essendon’s no-show. Then there’d be no controversy, because people understand that the weather is an unpredictable beast.

        • Roar Guru

          March 6th 2012 @ 10:10am
          Redb said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:10am | ! Report

          From my recollection a no show by an AFL team is a very rare occurrence. To suggest its half hearted by the AFL is churlish.

          • Columnist

            March 6th 2012 @ 10:15am
            Vince Rugari said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:15am | ! Report

            Yes, it is rare. But AFL should be prepared. Why allow Essendon to fly on matchday when they don’t at any other time? Why is it OK to do that and take that risk in the NAB Cup, but it’s not OK in the season proper?

            There’s an obvious answer – it’s because the AFL doesn’t care as much about the NAB Cup. Fair enough, nobody else does. But unfortunately the byproduct of that was the headlines about Wangaratta missing out.

            • Roar Guru

              March 6th 2012 @ 11:00am
              Redb said | March 6th 2012 @ 11:00am | ! Report

              It’s a one off, not an excuse to go off half cocked with an article suggesting the AFL has no care factor for regional areas. All evidence to the contrary.

              Laughable suggestion the A League is doing a better job, given the FFA’s lack of stewardship over GCU and community links.

        • March 6th 2012 @ 10:15am
          camtherose said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:15am | ! Report

          Agree on first paragraph, and you’ve certainly achieved that here.

          I’ll have to remember not to call you ‘Vinnie’ like Clive Palmer did on Twitter! As you point out, there’s plenty happening up your end in the A-League, so I think your article came across as a little rushed, and as you admit, that’s probably because it was!

          The AFL did open the door a little to this situation by allowing them to break their usual game-day protocol of not flying on the day, but it’s always hard to predict catastrophic weather conditions, and we’ve all been in planes that have landed in inclement weather.

          My contention is that it has been a string of innocent mistakes that has spiralled out of control.

          As ever, there is nothing like genuine footy debate, and argument from all sides.

          • Columnist

            March 6th 2012 @ 10:22am
            Vince Rugari said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:22am | ! Report

            Now now, I never admitted it was rushed – and I think you’re framing me and my knowledge of AFL based on the fact that I tweet about soccer a lot, which is unfair.

            Personally, had the two teams arrived in Wang perhaps two days earlier – and via the road, not the air – you’d not only have avoided that situation, but if the weather had meant the match couldn’t have gone ahead, you’d at least have 44 fit blokes in the town ready to at least tell everyone how sorry they were about everything.

            Instead, we got only one team there, a half-baked rushed scratch match, and the AFL fumbling over themselves trying to figure out who gets the points.

            I get that you want to defend the AFL but they’re not blameless. They were underprepared, under-committed and this was the result. The fact that this wouldn’t happen in the real season is proof.

            • March 6th 2012 @ 10:35am
              camtherose said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:35am | ! Report

              Without wanting to be pedantic Vince, you admitted that you “haven’t gotten my points across as well as I could”, which to me suggests that you didn’t do your due diligence and review your piece properly before you submitted it.

              The combination of that, the fact that “it’s soccer season and there’s a bit going on”, plus your twitter feed are clear signs that your mind is elswhere. Don’t get me wrong, that’s fine, you have your priorities, but I find that this has been reflected in your article.

              Yes, mistakes were made, and I’m not suggesting the AFL are completely blameless, but to me, without wanting to denigrate the community of Wangaratta, the issue is ultimately a trivial one, so we don’t need to hang, draw and quarter everyone involved.

    • March 6th 2012 @ 9:32am
      TomC said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:32am | ! Report

      Seems like a very long bow to draw to me, on the basis of one game where I really don’t see what more the AFL could have done. It’d have to be very exceptional circumstances indeed where the AFL would veto a club’s travel plans to a pre-season game.

      I think it goes without saying that the A-league is hardly the model for the AFL when it comes to servicing regional areas. Scheduling mid-week games involving lower drawing games isn’t particularly useful. Stubbornly ignoring bids from Wollongong and Canberra in favour of a hypothetical Western Sydney team probably doesn’t generate much goodwill either.

      Don’t really know much about the NRL, but it seems a bit mad that neither the Central Coast nor the Illawarra has their own unique team, so I doubt they’re a paragon of regionalism either.

      It seems like every major football code has their pluses and minuses on this issue. Seems silly to pump up a couple and criticise the other.

      • March 6th 2012 @ 10:24am
        Australian Rules said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:24am | ! Report

        In the aftermath of the SuperLeague War, Central Coast got dumped from the NRL in 1999 because they were insolvent (they’re mounting a push to be re-instated…optimistic one would think).

        A struggling Illawarra Steelers merged with St George in 1999…they still play some games there.

        But heralding the NRL as “leading the way” purely because of the country vs city match is also misguided. First, it only relates to NSW…nowhere else. Second, it’s relevance has been waning for years and is now considered just a trial match for the NSW Origin team.
        The NRL should be commended for playing games in the bush…but to use this one-off game as the example as to why it is “leading the way” is a bit rich.

        • Columnist

          March 6th 2012 @ 10:36am
          Vince Rugari said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:36am | ! Report

          Its relevance is certainly waning, but I really love the concept of it. A country team is great. I know a lot of lads from the country who are proud of where they come from. In a world where all professional sport is concentrated in the big cities, you have to move if you want to make it into the big time… the idea that you can get back to your roots but representing Country Origin – and then play that match anywhere from Albury to Port Mac… The concept itself is leading, though perhaps it’s not longer what it was.

          • March 6th 2012 @ 12:53pm
            Australian Rules said | March 6th 2012 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

            But Vince, this isn’t about the virtues of a Country rep side, it’s about your contention that the AFL is “out of touch” with regional Australia.
            You use the Country v City game as the sole reason that NRL is leading the way…and then suggest the AFL should copy the idea.

            A one-off game is great but it isn’t proof of committment to the bush. I read that there are about 1400 Auskick programs in regional areas. Clubs are constantly going to remote Aboriginal communities to promote the game. The attitude to regional and rural areas by the AFL has been overwhelmingly a cohesive effort. It a major area of advantage that the AFL had over NRL pre-ARLC.

            Your argument seems to be that the AFL is “out of touch” with regional Australia because Essendon couldn’t land their plane during a once in a century torrential downpour.

    • March 6th 2012 @ 9:44am
      Clayts said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:44am | ! Report

      “Dal Santo handled slippery Wang best”

    • Roar Guru

      March 6th 2012 @ 9:52am
      Redb said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:52am | ! Report

      Author says: “Aussie Rules is being half-hearted in their attempts to engage with folk outside of the main population areas.”

      Let’s just look at this.

      Football is the only code to regularly play elite level games in Tasmania and the NT.

      Football (Swans, now GWS), NRL & SRugby play in the ACT.

      Premiership games now played in Cairns.

      a sample of NAB Cup schedule includes the following venues:

      Alice Springs
      Victor Harbour

      AFL clubs community camps take them all over Australia, perhaps the author should look up just where the clubs go during the pre season. Swans to Coffs Harbour, etc.

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