Star midfielder Marcus Bontempelli has taken over from Easton Wood as Western Bulldogs captain in the AFL.
As I was thinking about writing this piece this morning, I ventured into a newsagency.
Perusing the sports section for something, nay anything, that would pique my interest I was greeted by AFL Record edition about Fantasy 2019. Was it fate? I doubt it.
However, it was another sign that the mysterious sport of Australian rules football needs my full attention. As an Englishman living in Australia, I have taken a passing interest in AFL. I have watched each grand final since arriving but have not spent too much time exploring the nuances of the sport.
Living in Queensland feels like I am already at a disadvantage. Having moved to the Victorian football heartland of Melbourne and it would have been a fait accompli. Here in sunny Queensland, there are other things to occupy the mind. Both AFL teams have not garnered my attention enough; going deep into the finals may have been a shirtfront that I couldn’t ignore.
However, the Lions and the Suns have neither roared or blazed so I put the blame back on them. I consider myself a Brisbane Lions barracker despite my indifference. Like a supporter born into a family of, say Richmond, fans then I must follow them as they are ‘my’ team. I live here, therefore, I barrack for them.
I am not a complete novice. Watching the last five grand finals does not make me an expert either. I have read The Coach by John Powers and was more intrigued by the leadership and management techniques of Ron Barassi than understanding the finer points of gameplay in the 1970’s VFL. I am currently enjoying Bob Murphy’s Leather Soul but it’s the man and not the game that is the primary motivator. Football Ltd and several Martin Flanagan books are sitting on the bookshelf.
My interest in AFL was ignited by the ‘The Greatest Season That Was 1993’ podcast. My game is cricket so when I heard that Adam Collins and Dan Brettig had a new podcast then I was in. Along with Shannon Gill, Collins and Brettig produced a wonderful audio history of the 1993 season.
I bought into the zeitgeist of the piece. Hearing stories of Winmar, Ablett, Buckley, Modra et al set my mind racing that, perhaps, I was missing out. With 1993 being the greatest season, or at least that’s the claim, will the 2019 season be able to hold my attention?
Clearly, the game has moved on and there certainly won’t be any pigs on the ground.
Apart from the physicality of AFL, there are two aspects that win me over: history and statistics. I love history and AFL has it in abundance. Going back to 1897, the VFL has plenty of seasons to pour over before the expansion era added a new national dimension to the sport.
Statistics, or data analytics as the cool kids now call it, intrigue me. It’s why I love cricket so much. So, finding Footballistics in a bookshop was numerical nirvana. Opening the book at a random page and finding a scatter graph of games played and distance travelled was definitely an invitation to buy and I accepted it warmly.
The enjoyment of sport is, usually, formed from experience at a younger age. I can remember being hit on the thigh with a cricket ball at school. Being tackled during a rugby game in the snow. The feeling of a mistimed slide tackle in a football game as the defender’s studs scraped down the side of my leg.
For me, AFL cannot have such an experiential angle. I am far too old to take a contested mark in a match. I won’t feel the rush of adrenaline, with a Sherrin in hand, trying to reduce my heart rate to be able to kick a match-winning goal.
My only recollection of AFL, at an earlier age, was on television when living back in England. It’s the reason I have ‘One Day in September’ anchored to the sport. Not sure if it’s a curse or a requirement to have such a psychological attachment to Mike Brady. However, it’s in the darkest recesses of my mind and comes flooding back whenever my brain feels that it needs such a reminder.
At this point, I guess you are starting to think that this is all very well, but why have I taken the time to get all of this down? Well, it’s a public letter of intent to the AFL that I fully intend to immerse myself in the 2019 season. It’s a call to action from me, to you, to join me on the way.
I have this fantasy that with all roads leading to the MCG on September 28, I’ll be there.
I probably won’t, just like ‘my’ Lions, but going to have a go nonetheless. Like a rookie at pre-season training, I have a lot to learn…