Former AFL player David King has urged the league to correct the spiking numbers of free kicks paid during games, after a ‘whistle-fest’ marred a thrilling match between Hawthorn and Brisbane on Sunday afternoon.
Fans and media alike have united in condemning the free kick-heavy match in Launceston, which saw 63 frees paid (36-27 Hawthorn’s way) – the most in a match since 2012.
Speaking on Fox Footy’s First Crack, King described some of the calls made as ‘just ridiculous’, and said the AFL needs to step in to walk back crackdowns on umpire dissent and prohibited contact off the ball.
“We’ve lost our way with umpiring at the moment,” King said.
“It’s causing a lot of angst amongst the fans and I think at club land too now… we really have no idea what a 50m penalty is with dissent; we really are lost with basic umpiring decisions now.
“Some of the free kick goals today were just ridiculous. I’m not going at the umpires, I’m going at whether it’s the decision-makers above them.
“Whether it’s the guidance they’re given, from the commission down – let’s just put the whole lot in there, not [just] the absolute umpire.
“It has to come from Brad Scott [AFL football boss] and Dan Richardson [AFL head of umpiring] – it has to come from those guys… ‘we’ve gone too far, let’s pull it back.’ And tell us: we’re pretty forgiving, we want our game back.
“Right now, there‘s far too many whistles. We had almost a record today, and the goals from free kicks are through the roof.
“The game was a whistle fest today and you just can’t have that. It’s just unenjoyable to watch: let the players sort the game out.”
Among the most controversial decisions were free kicks paid against stars Lachie Neale and Tom Mitchell for prohibited contact, with Neale retaliating to a shove from opponent Jai Newcombe, and Mitchell pushing Lion Jaxon Prior in the back after the ball went out of bounds. Both frees went on to directly lead to goals.
However, King wasn’t only disappointed by the Hawks-Lions game, with a controversial 50m penalty for umpire dissent in Friday night’s Carlton-Sydney game against Swan Chad Warner.
The dissent crackdown has caused consternation all year, with King saying the rule is a prime example of a ‘major problem’ at the highest level.
“That isn’t dissent, it’s just not having a go at the umpire. And if the umpire thinks that is, then we’ve got a major problem,” he said.
“I think you’re losing the fans with this, and that’s a dangerous place to be. The fans have lost the handle on their game now, and they’ve started to talk with their feet.”
Crowds have noticeably been dwindling in the AFL this season, with the league unveiling a plan mid-week to allow children up to 14 free entry to games between Rounds 14 and 17.
Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir admits his team failed to adequately adjust for wet conditions for the second week in a row, in an upset 36-point loss to Collingwood on Sunday.
Following a shock defeat to Gold Coast in the rain last week, the Dockers were once again shown up by the Magpies in a heavily congested game, scoring just six goals – including only one across the second and third quarters combined.
It means the Dockers, who headed into the fortnight in second spot on the ladder, have scored a combined ten goals in the last two weeks, with Longmuir describing their problem as ‘a mental thing’.
“Players read too much into the conditions and it affects their games too much, especially with ball in hand,” he said after the match.
“Whether it’s the actual conditions or we think it’s wetter than it is or drier than it is, I think that second quarter we just fuelled their forward game and fuelled their field position.
“We turned the ball over in really poor areas going for stuff that in the conditions wasn’t on, and then as it dried up we kept playing wet weather footy when they were playing dry weather footy.
“We just got caught in-between with our ball movement and clearly we couldn’t score or keep the ball in our front half after the first quarter.”
Having emerged as one of the stories of the season with six consecutive wins between rounds 3 and 8, Longmuir said the last fortnight would serve as a ‘reality check’ for his still-developing Dockers.
“We were riding high, and everyone was getting way ahead of themselves,” he said.
“If you get marginally ahead of yourself in footy, it gives you a reality check, and we’ve gotten that.
“If you’re off in any part, you get what you deserve. So it’s a reality check for us.”
Victoria Police allege over 50 fans were ejected from the MCG, during Saturday night’s Dreamtime at the ‘G match.
Among the accusations include reports of officers being bitten and punched, with Inspector Jamie Templeton blaming the increased violence on ‘pre-loading’ of alcohol before the match.
“Tens of thousands of football fans attend matches every week and the vast majority support their team and enjoy the atmosphere safely and responsibly, so it was disappointing to see so many spectators engage in disruptive behaviour last night,” he said.
“We did see what appeared to be higher levels of alcohol consumption and aggression. It was noticeable that ‘pre-loading’ of alcohol prior to the game was significant in contributing to more incidents of poor crowd behaviour than usual.
“Police, Melbourne Cricket Club and the licensee work together to manage alcohol consumption at the ground, including reducing alcohol availability. The responsible service of alcohol is actively monitored and supported by police at liquor outlets.”
The Herald Sun also report that a man was viciously attacked by a group of youths and beaten with a didgeridoo outside the ground following the match.