Melbourne will unfurl their premiership flag when they host the Western Bulldogs in the 2022 AFL season opener to kick off a March football feast in Victoria.
The rules in AFL are updated annually, much to the frustration of players, coaches and the football public. But we are seemingly missing a far greater point to it all.
I mean the ultimate frustration is that many of the rules introduced, and the countless rules trialled in the NAB Cup competition, are there to make our game flow better.
They are supposed make the brand of football more appealing to watch.
I can’t say our game is any more free flowing or has any new appeal to watch matches. If anything, the statistics are showing that teams are scoring less and having more uncontested possessions than ever.
Now lets get something clear at this point, I am not someone who is going to write and have a dig about the bump being dead and that head-high contact is ultimately part of the game. In fact the recent comments from incoming CEO Gillon McLachlan about head-high hits is something I totally agree with.
He said, and I paraphrase, that our game is now in an evolution where we are responsible for the welfare of players and putting in rules on head-high contact is our responsibility. Accidents happen in this game and it is a player’s responsibility to make sure they do not make contact to the head, or face the consequences.
My gripe with the constant rule changes is that we are breeding a generation of footballers and spectators on ridiculous rules that make our game foreign at times.
Let me give you an insight into a week of football through my eyes.
My week starts by seeing football early on a Monday morning. I am out on yard duty at the school I work at. Students aged from seven through to twelve take to the oval and choose their sides.
Lets start with tackling. I can’t tell you how many times I see a kid take possession, get gang tackled immediately and all of the pre-pubescent seven year olds are screaming ball like they had given him an eternity to get rid of it. The kid, who had barely taken a step before and pounced upon, stands on the mark in dismay, with his pride spilt on the artificial turf of the school yard.
The next kick out sees the same kid, who now believes this is how our game is officiated, tackle another student before he has even received the handball. Again he’s screaming ball. I ignore the blatant incorrect calls by the students, initially knowing that I will ultimately step in and try to educate them on holding the ball and having prior opportunity.
But this is what we expose them to week-in, week-out – the inconsistencies of holding the ball.
Depending on how the round pans out, the knee-jerk reaction of the AFL is to instruct their umpires to change. I can’t think of another sport where rules adapt week to week.
Tuesday begins with the same nonsense of holding the ball and my patience grows thin. I’m not on yard duty but my walk to the staffroom is often halted by students arguing over a decision.
I correct one of the calls, knowing the next 10 will be incorrect once again. I ball it up and the giant Grade 4 kid, who is already over six foot, taps it to his best mate. He runs 20 metres without bouncing and is then set upon by the 35 kids.
Once tackled, he pretends to hand pass the ball out while still clutching the pill to his chest like it is the last easter egg in the easter hunt. He could have gotten rid of it, he had the previous 18 of his 20 metres to get rid of it. He didn’t and we all know that is holding the ball.
They all decide however, that he tried to get rid of it so they ball it up. What? Then I remember that the students see that a genuine attempt, or not giving a genuine attempt, is why umpires call holding the ball. Once again the inconsistencies of holding the ball in our game shines through. At this point I can see the confused faces of Marc Murphy and Luke Ball wondering, what more could I have done?
On Wednesday I laughed as I overheard students arguing over whether a ball was touched on the line. This is one of the more organised groups who have set up their lunch time festivities.
They have a central umpire and goal umpires. The goal umpire calls for a score review. Bless their cotton socks. Rather than the standard AFL line of “review inconclusive, umpires call”, which to be honest is all I have ever heard from a score review, the student who socially holds the most power wins out on the decision. For those interested, they called it a goal.
On Thursday there is morning tea in the staffroom and my head is face down and pushing for the best seats, which will have the soft cheeses and hot food. Footy in the yard is the least of my worries.
Friday sees the last day of work and the end of a busy week. Two students are arguing over a contested mark. The dialogue banters back and forth between the two Year 6 students and the argument revolves around ‘how much’ the person was pushed.
The memory of the rules committee addressing the push in the back rule overwhelms me. You can push up and extend your arm up to 80 per cent, but not all the way. At this point I am as confused as an asylum seeker on rules.
My footy week finishes up by heading to the footy, more often than not to watch my beloved Bombers. This week was against the Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium.
I took the train in and headed to my usual reserved seat. Behind us were two Doggies supporters, a father and son.
All night this kid was screaming ball to every tackle. Sometimes he would scream ball even before the tackle was laid. From the third tier I could see many of the tackles laid were strong, but players were able to release their arms and effectively handball out.
I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of times he yelled out ‘that is holding the ball’. It is not holding the ball; it never has and never will. Sometimes a player was tackled and just dropped it, much to the dismay of all supporters. The umpire raised two arms up, signalling play on and the 33,000 strong crowd all watched in confusion.
These rule changes have confused an entire generation of football followers.
I have to keep reminding myself that this is all they know of our game. I know far too many pre-1985 born AFL supporters who are simply gob smacked at how much our game has evolved. The AFL rules committee has produced some of the most mind-boggling and head-scratching rules.
It worries me that many passionate fans for years are getting sucked into this AFL vortex of change and steering their own beliefs as to what holding the ball is and what rules should correctly govern our game. I am genuinely terrified about the generation who know no better than the holding-the-ball rule is a changing, malfunctioning and interpretive rule. It seems to change each week with no consistency, almost mocking the passionate and traditionalist supporter.
So yet another week of footy in my life winds up. It all begins again Monday morning.
I just hope that for those of us who lived and breathed footy through a time when our rules were clear, we will not be sitting in the pub or in the lounge chair in 50 year’s time stating “I remember when footy was …”.