JOHNNO: The bump’s not dead, and the umps are OK too

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    The bump is dead. The marking contest is dead. Contact footy is dead. Or so we’ve been told recently. To my eyes, it all looks much the same.

    It was James Kelly’s suspension for a hip-and-shoulder on Brendon Goddard that saw the mourning of that particular tactic. Likewise the marking contests between Ben Reid and Tom Bellchambers, then Scott Thompson and David Hale.

    But really, the only umpiring rule that has annoyed me on occasion this year has been the free kick for sliding into the legs of an opponent.

    When a player is running from distance and slides into another, regardless of whether it’s head, legs or body first, that’s a dangerous act that should concede a free kick.

    The rules are right, it should be out of the game. You don’t want to see the knee injuries or broken legs that can come with a dangerous slide.

    But there’s confusion in applying the rule.

    We’ve seen players fighting for a ball on the ground, then penalised when they dive toward it, hitting the legs of an opponent without significant force. We’ve seen others not pinged for the same thing. That’s where the discontent lies.

    In this case, the only question should be whether the player is at risk. Those occasions should stand out, and the call has to be made, not calls based on a technicality.

    Sure, it’s tricky for players. But whenever a rule changes, players adjust to try to make it benefit them. That’s just being smart.

    We had some fun on Fox Footy the other weekend with footage of Jason Dunstall, docking goals from his career record based on the pushes and blocks he employed on opponents.

    But really he probably would have been as good a player under modern rulings by adapting his tactics.

    The Reid-Bellchambers contest was accentuated because it happened at speed, and with a big feller like Bellchambers having got moving, he was propelled forward.

    You can argue over it, but it involved a straight-arm push along with use of the defender’s hands. I think it was more the vague explanation from Jeff Gieschen that caused the uproar.

    Once the hands-in-the-back rule came in, we were told by the umpires on their yearly visit to training that if we used a forearm to hold ourselves, or brought a hip in to that contest, we’d be ok as long as we didn’t shove when we pushed off.

    I don’t think their adjudication has changed. They look for two motions, and if it’s forceful they call it. Players understand that.

    As forwards, I’ll continue to teach my AFL/AIS Academy students that the first thing in the marking contest is to be the quickest to pick up the flight of the ball. Then you can put yourself in the spot to protect the drop zone of the high ball coming in.

    If that means you find yourself caught on the side or behind your opponent you can block with body or forearm and position yourself for the flight, keeping your eyes on the ball at all times and you’ll generally be rewarded with the mark. If you use your hands to push, you put yourself on the borderline.

    With your forearm under the other guy’s armpit, for instance, it doesn’t matter how big he is, you can still move his centre of gravity. You can tilt in your favour the percentages that the mark will be paid.

    In saying all this, things happen quickly once you’re in position, and you have to fight. Sometimes that means breaking a rule, but you can’t give up on the fight to win the contest.

    You may get called here and there, but generally if two players are contesting on even terms, the umpires will let them play.

    Those same percentages apply to the bump. In live action, Kelly’s bump on Goddard looked fair and effective, its effect exaggerated given Goddard was caught by surprise.

    But the Match Review Panel slow down available video to frame-by-frame, and even in slow motion it looked like there was jaw contact.

    It meant they had to make the call, because it’s the player’s responsibility when they bump to avoid the head. Lindsay Thomas being cleared caused some confusion, but players should know they’ll at least be reported in that instance.

    It doesn’t mean the bump’s dead, no way. If you bump well – whether coming from the side, choosing to block, or a shirtfront like Kelly’s – you just have to avoid the head, and the bump is still a part of the game.

    Across all these areas, I don’t think it’s a case of the game softening up. It’s more that we’re hyper-aware of these kind of decisions right now.

    Footy’s issue of the moment tends to work in two-week cycles, then be replaced. Overall, I think the umps have done a great job on most occasions this year.

    Where there’s the odd contentious decision, it’s good to remember a handful of borderline calls aren’t the same as the rules being changed.

    Brad Johnson
    Brad Johnson

    Six-time All-Australian Brad Johnson is a former Western Bulldogs captain, Team of the Century member, and played a record 364 games for the club. He now commentates for Fox Footy and writes for The Roar.

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    The Crowd Says (33)

    • May 22nd 2013 @ 11:12am
      jess said | May 22nd 2013 @ 11:12am | ! Report

      The key word here is CONSISTANCY. Most people wouldnt be complaining if the umpires (and the MRP in that matter) were more consistant. Its the inconsistancy that is costing sides the points and more than once i have sat down and watched multiple games thinking “in the back, high, incorrect disposal” but the umpire doesnt call it. And then being left bemused when they call something a lot softer than what they didnt call.

      If there was more consistancy, i doubt people would be complaining about the umpiring as much.

      • May 22nd 2013 @ 11:56am
        Macca said | May 22nd 2013 @ 11:56am | ! Report

        Also the ridiculous attempts at explaining why the glaring inconsistencies and errors don’t exist from Gieschen & Fraser leave people scratching their heads.

    • May 22nd 2013 @ 11:23am
      Viva La North said | May 22nd 2013 @ 11:23am | ! Report

      When players are telling the umpires how to do their job you know the state of officiating this game is terrible.

      • Columnist

        May 22nd 2013 @ 1:48pm
        Geoff Lemon said | May 22nd 2013 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

        Can’t see anything wrong with that. The players are allowed to speak, as long as they don’t abuse the umpires, so they can question decisions or protest. It’s a sight better than in most football leagues, where half a dozen players surround the ref and yell every time a red card comes out or a penalty is awarded.

    • May 22nd 2013 @ 12:03pm
      greginbrissy said | May 22nd 2013 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

      Inconsistancy. The start and end of the umpiring issues season to season. When you see one team pinged for something, and the other team gets away with it, it’s very frustrating as a supporter of our great game. It’s even worse when it happens in the same game, and even more so, when it happens within minutes and indeed seconds. A great example came out of Collingwood V Geelong on the weekend. Dwyer is tackled without the ball, play on. Less than 15 seconds later, a Geelong player is tackled without the ball, free kick. It’s rediculous, I live in a Rugby League state, and I cannot convert people to the best sport in the world when I cannot explain the rules to them, because I have no idea on what outcome will develop from any given situation.

    • May 22nd 2013 @ 12:29pm
      Chairman Kaga said | May 22nd 2013 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

      “These are not the two droids we are looking for, move along.”

      Yes Jedi master, AFL lawmakers have no problems with all the tinkering and confusion they are causing.

      The way they are going right now, they may as well be using ice hockey laws, it would make about the same amount of sense.

      Said it before and will say it again. “Football” as opposed to the AFL needs a separate body to protect the integrity and laws of the sport and keep it away from manipulation from the AFL. We all have to keep in mind Australian football is played by many leagues across the country and not just the top level. Laws need to be in place for every competition, not just the elite body. The AFL itself is not fit to do this. It is like letting the inmates at a prison run the security.

      • May 22nd 2013 @ 12:40pm
        Viva La North said | May 22nd 2013 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

        That is the good thing about soccer because its not under one league brand like Footy and the AFL. The English Premier League can’t change major parts of the sport without FIFA, the English FA, UEFA and the other confederations and national soccer associations agreeing with it. Its not a fully totalitarian state like footy and and its Führer Andrew Demetriou

        • May 22nd 2013 @ 2:23pm
          Chairman Kaga said | May 22nd 2013 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

          Our game once upon a time had this. There was this entity called the Australian Football Council from memory and they used to oversee the game’s laws.

          Now the problem is the AFL has canniballised all the smaller state leagues in Perth and Adelaide it has noone to oppose it’s will. They have all the smaller leagues under it’s thumb also because they control the purse strings.

          Question I have, what was so bad about our game prior to 1982 that it needed all the law changes? Are we trying to make it more similar to overseas games because they are superior games to our own. I would love to know the reasoning behind the constant meddling in our game.

          Imagine if they mucked about with the laws of tennis and golf like they have with football?

          • May 22nd 2013 @ 2:36pm
            Macca said | May 22nd 2013 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

            Chairman – I think some of the violence of the pre 1990’s era needed to be eradicated and has been, but now they seem determined to make the game injury free.

          • May 22nd 2013 @ 10:29pm
            Jimbo said | May 22nd 2013 @ 10:29pm | ! Report

            It was the ANFC, Aus National Football council.

    • Roar Guru

      May 22nd 2013 @ 1:08pm
      langou said | May 22nd 2013 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

      It’s such a cliché to say the umpires need to be more consistent.
      Every week they go out there and try to be as consistent as they can but the reality is that they can only call it as they see it and sometimes mistakes will be made. Further to that there are so many grey areas in the game and a line has to drawn somewhere as to what is and isn’t a free kick. It is that fine line, watched on by one-eyed supporters that often give the perception that the umpire is doing worse a job than they actually are.

      • May 22nd 2013 @ 1:10pm
        Macca said | May 22nd 2013 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

        I read an article the other day saying don’t bag the umpires for being inconsistent but bag Gieschen and the AFL for constantly changing the rules and interpretations – seems logical to me.

        • Columnist

          May 22nd 2013 @ 1:48pm
          Geoff Lemon said | May 22nd 2013 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

          Sometimes they change emphasis as well. The rule may well be there and the same, but the umpires are worded up to look for one thing specifically, and it dominates the coming weeks.

          • May 22nd 2013 @ 1:51pm
            Macca said | May 22nd 2013 @ 1:51pm | ! Report


            The big thing I have an issue with at the moment is incorrect disposal – it seems if you just let the ball go it’s fine but if you make an attempt and fail you get penalised.

            • Columnist

              May 22nd 2013 @ 2:06pm
              Geoff Lemon said | May 22nd 2013 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

              That’s one I’ve noticed too Macca – having it spill free with the force of the tackle. But what do you think the ruling should be? If the ball is forced free by the tackler, but the other player had no prior opportunity, should that be a free kick, or has the tackler already gained by forcing the ball free?

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 2:11pm
                Macca said | May 22nd 2013 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

                Geoff I think players are exploiting the “knocked out in the tackle” and are choosing to drop the ball (often at an opportune time) as they can’t actually dispose of it correctly. And it is more often than not they have had prior opportunity.

                As for the advantage of the ball spilling free well for just one example the other night when Carlton were playing the Saints I lost count of how many times the blues paid a tackle the St Kilda player dropped the ball (in one case threw it out) for a team mate to pick up – there is no advantage for the tackler or his team there.

                As for what I thikn should happen go back to the interpretation they used to have and start calling “dropping the ball”.

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 11:17pm
                Jacques said | May 22nd 2013 @ 11:17pm | ! Report

                Geoff you clearly were having a go at the world game earlier when you mentioned players surrounding referees when red cards are issued. I live in Victoria, follow AFL as well as soccer. Most hardcore Afl fans at work have almost given up on afl , no one understand the rules anymore so please don’t compare it to a sport watched by billions

            • Roar Guru

              May 22nd 2013 @ 2:11pm
              langou said | May 22nd 2013 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

              Its all about whether you have prior opportunity or not. No prior and incorrect disposal is irrelevant

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 2:14pm
                Macca said | May 22nd 2013 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

                Not in the numerous cases I have seen and it wasn’t the case when I played (from the late 80s’ in juniors to 2007) if you didn’t have prior opportunity then you could hold the ball up but if dropped the ball you got pinged for dropping the ball.

                By your definiton if you got tackled with no prior opportunity you could throw the ball to a team mate.

              • Roar Guru

                May 22nd 2013 @ 2:52pm
                langou said | May 22nd 2013 @ 2:52pm | ! Report

                No it is against the rules to throw the ball regardless of the situation

                Dropping the ball isn’t a rule and to my knowledge never has been a rule. Allot of footy fans yell it out and umps may say “you just dropped it” in the context of someone who has had prior opportunity and hasn’t got a kick or handball away.

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 2:58pm
                Macca said | May 22nd 2013 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

                Iangou – Now you are just making stuff up, the only ways to correctly dispose of the ball in AFL is to kick it or handball it, disposing of it in any other way is illegal. Dropping the ball is illegal, hence the umpires saying “you just dropped it” when penalising someone for “incorrect disposal”. You can’t say one form of incorrect disposal is allowed and another isn’t.

                Prior opportunity only applies to someone who didn’t get rid of the ball ie someone being penalised under the “holding the ball” law, once you chose to dispose of the ball incorrectly you become subject to the “incorrect disposal” rule where “prior opportunity” doesn’t apply.

              • Columnist

                May 22nd 2013 @ 3:02pm
                Geoff Lemon said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

                “the only ways to correctly dispose of the ball in AFL is to kick it or handball it” – I agree with that Macca, but I would interpret that a player with no prior opportunity has not in fact taken possession of the ball, therefore can’t (and doesn’t have to) dispose of it.

                If you grab the ball in a pack, press it to your chest with one hand, but then are immediately tackled and it spills free, you haven’t fully taken possession, so your disposal doesn’t matter.

                That’s just my reading.

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 3:06pm
                Macca said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

                Geoof the difference I think we have is what causes the ball to be dropped, if the person who in the pack has no control of the ball leaving his disposal then yes I agree with you however if the person in the pack chooses to drop the ball (as is happening more and more) then that is a different matter.

                And as I said earlier a lost of the calls I have issue with the player had prior opportunity.

              • Columnist

                May 22nd 2013 @ 3:09pm
                Geoff Lemon said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

                Fair cop. Though I guess they’re also getting pinged these days for holding the ball in under packs.

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 3:13pm
                Macca said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:13pm | ! Report

                That is true, also seemingly randomly as well but it doesn’t absolve the responsibilty to dispose of the ball correctly.

              • Roar Guru

                May 22nd 2013 @ 3:20pm
                langou said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

                15.2.4 A pplication – Specific Instances where Play
                shall Continue

                For the avoidance of doubt, the field Umpire shall allow play to
                continue when:

                (a) a Player is bumped and the football falls from the
                Player’s hands;
                (b) a Player’s arm is knocked which causes the Player to
                lose possession of the football;
                (c) a Player’s arms are pinned to their side by an opponent
                which causes the Player to drop the football, unless the
                Player has had a prior opportunity to Correctly Dispose of
                the football, in which case Law 15.2.3 (a) shall apply;
                (d) a Player, whilst in the act of Kicking or Handballing, is
                swung off-balance and does not make contact with the
                football by either foot or hand, unless the Player has had
                a prior opportunity to Correctly Dispose of the football,
                in which case Law 15.2.3 (a) shall apply; or
                (e) a Player is pulled or swung by one arm which causes
                the football to fall from the Player’s hands, unless the
                Player has had a prior opportunity to Correctly Dispose

              • May 22nd 2013 @ 3:52pm
                Macca said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

                Iangou – Again the term “which causes” is where I think we differ, my issue is with people who “choose” to drop the ball not someone who has had the ball forced from their grasp within seconds of gaining possession.

              • Roar Guru

                May 22nd 2013 @ 5:19pm
                langou said | May 22nd 2013 @ 5:19pm | ! Report

                Yeah I think you are right on that one.

                It’s probably best summarised as
                Prior Opportunity – Must dispose of it with a kick or handball
                No Prior Opportunity – Must attempt to dispose of it with a kick or handball

                I wonder if you see less of the “dropping the ball” type free kicks now because of how many people are involved in the play these days. It must be hard for an ump to tell the difference between a ‘drop’ and the ball being accidently dislodged with so many people surrounding the ball carrier.

        • May 22nd 2013 @ 1:50pm
          greginbrissy said | May 22nd 2013 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

          Yup – agreed. The umpires are very inconsistent, but it’s not necessarily their fault, they are given directives and interpretation changes all the time. However, when they change their interpretation mid game, the only person that can blamed is the umpire. I try to watch every match each round as I love the game, and in each and every game i’m left wondeing “WTF” at least multiple times, from an umpire that’s paid a free for one team, and in very similar circumstances not to the other team. Generally, I see more inconsistancy when i’s a game outside of Victoria, and the home crowd gets involved. Personally, I believe it’s rule changes that are needed, but not necessarily to change the game – I want rule changes to remove the need for interprations!

    • May 22nd 2013 @ 3:58pm
      vocans said | May 22nd 2013 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

      Cutting out a player at the legs has always been a trip, and the dangers of tripping have long been recognized. Getting your body between the ball and the opposing player has always been a legal skill. The umpires have to decide which is which, and that is a matter of interpretation. Sometimes they’ll get it wrong. Most times they’ll get it right, and we’ll have the game the way we want – safer, clearer, better.

      The sliding rule tried to get rid of the interpretation side of it as much as possible by making it ‘crystal clear’. But, in practice, we need interpretations of rules where rules cannot be black and white (as when the ball goes over the boundary line and is called out of bounds). The umpires have been just as confused about this rule as everyone else. It is largely unworkable, because players cannot physically make the kind of fine distinctions the rule requires. So, many rightly started to suggest that players would stop going for the ball, play for frees, etc. as the only way to adapt to the new rule. The old tripping rule, and the freedom to place body between ball and opposition, apply mostly well enough UNDER INTERPRETATION. We can usually tell when a player is doing the skilled thing and when he’s actually trying to trip his opponent to get an unfair advantage in the contest.

      For some time now, the AFL has believed interpretations should be geared to speeding up the game and keeping it moving. They seemed to think that the game was slower than it needed to be due to too many frees being given, and so encouraged what was effectively loose interpretations by umpires. When interpretations become more important than the rules, the rules and their functions in the game are eroded. This is what happened in this case (and a number of other examples could be cited).

      The speed of the game started to involve players throwing themselves, especially in sliding, at the legs of opponents, and, with the trip rules apparently forgotten, dangerous play resulted. Robbo is right to say this can not be allowed to be within the rules of the game. Fact is: it was already not in the rules of the game, but speed and flow interpretation held sway instead of rules. The AFL, not aware that their own press for speed and flow had undermined the very rule they needed, created a new one – the sliding rule! All they needed was to get back to the right interpretation of tripping and all would be well.

      These days the speed and flow of the game is there despite this outdated interpretation response to the rules. Most of the stoppages you and I hate are due to interpretations outside the rules as written (which actually can speed the game), and most of the flow is due to increased fitness, better strategies and hand and foot skills, the interchange, and footies in a sack at full back. The AFL has done well here but, when it comes to using interpretations and not rules to speed the game, it got its diagnosis wrong. The Umps liked being more important in the game, so they didn’t say No. That’s gone on to all the ump chat, which is often nothing more than helping one side against another, by warning a player not to infringe when that’s a skill just like any other, and, if he’s no good at it, the other team should be benefited accordingly : this approach has been detrimental to the game in so many ways.

      • May 23rd 2013 @ 11:10am
        vocans said | May 23rd 2013 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        Woops, I meant Johnno not Robbo.

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