Convictions run at a fever pitch for footy fans in September, like nothing else within Australia.
For example, I couldn’t help but notice this Geelong supporter go on to Twitter and post their anticipation for Friday night’s qualifying final between the Cats and Collingwood at the MCG.
— M E L (@Melcatzzzz) September 2, 2019
Passionate fans like that one have a point when they complain about Geelong’s ‘home’ final at the G.
What’s the point of playing 23 rounds of footy to finish top of the ladder and earn the inalienable right to host finals only to feel like visitors at the MCG, where Collingwood routinely pack out the ground with as many as 70,000 or 80,000 of their own supporters?
Where’s the reward and incentive for finishing top? That’s the question upset Geelong fans are posing in the lead-up to this highly anticipated match.
The decision not to play the game at Geelong’s fortress, GMHBA Stadium, reflects a few cold, hard truths about the AFL.
It’s another powerful organisation putting profits ahead of people.
It’s taking a great sporting code at the highest level further and further away from the fans.
Is there another top-flight sporting league or code that would make such a decision?
Advocates for the AFL point to the need to maximise revenue over September’s finals series, as well as the capacity of the respective grounds – the MCG houses over 64,000 more fans than GMHBA.
But it also raises a question about how the AFL views Geelong – as a footy market, as opposed to a football club. Is it part of Melbourne, or a part of regional Victoria? Because if it’s the latter, why not treat them the same as an interstate team?
In the case of the former, then that raises the argument that Geelong play some home games at the MCG so they should be used to the dynamics, conditions and nuances of playing there. This is a hollow straw-man’s argument, since Geelong make an annual pitch to the AFL to play all 11 of their home games at GMHBA Stadium.
And in turn, it means that they are prepared not only to play finals in Geelong, but also treat trips up the Princes and West Gate Freeways as a visitor’s luxury.
Should the AFL treat regional Victoria as an outside-of-Melbourne market entity the same way interstate clubs are?
Suppose Brisbane had finished ahead of Geelong on top of the home-and-away ladder, would Collingwood or Richmond fans be moaning about having to play at the Gabba, where the capacity of 42,000 seats is almost as undersized as GMHBA. Would they be championing a move to have the game played at the MCG?
Bottom line: if the rules are in place for one example, they have to be fair for those in all other examples.
Also a point worth noting: over the last decade, the AFL – in addition to the state government of Victoria, the City of Greater Geelong, and the Geelong Football Club itself – has invested a huge amount of money into the stadium, not only to bring it up to modern standards but also to increase its capacity to 36,000 seats, and 40,000 by 2022.
What possible reason would the AFL use to justify not wanting to recoup that investment?
The Cats playing finals in Geelong would help accomplish this. But fans of Collingwood and Richmond – two of the largest supporter bases in the AFL – possess an sense of entitlement for finals to be played at the MCG.
Aussie rules, more than any other sporting code in the nation, is characterised by its tribal nature. And being based at the MCG as a home ground, do rabid Collingwood and Richmond fans feel threatened at the suggestion of having to travel elsewhere in Victoria in September?
Nonetheless, the AFL has supported the views of those clubs and their supporters by scheduling Friday’s clash at the MCG.
Geelong earned the right to host finals, and that reward has been denied.
The decision has denied Geelong the opportunity to unleash the spectacle of finals – and Cats fans would relish the privilege of providing that spectacle.