The Roar
The Roar


That local footy 'every team plays finals' drama is an absolute farce - but not for the reason everyone thinks

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1st September, 2023
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In case you missed it, a story about a local junior football competition changing its finals format has received a bit of attention this week. And a lot of people have had whatever the opposite of a normal one is over it.

The South Metro Junior Football League, and specifically its U14s competition, has been the centre of outrage and disdain from across the footy world since it was revealed on Channel 9 that all ten teams in the division were playing finals this season.

It’s probably not surprising that a story like this spread like wildfire across the usual circles.

“Stop the rot. Stop peddling out bulls–t as to why decisions are made of this nature. Give the kids a chance to become resilient and understand what winning and losing is all about. #wokeleftiescompetition,” Tweeted former Collingwood champion Mick McGuane.

That was basically the gist of what former basketball icon Andrew Bogut had to say on the matter, the controversial, hard-right 38-year old (if you disagree with that classification, remember the bloke has peddled everything from lockdown conspiracy theories to the Hillary Clinton-led ‘Pizzagate’ child sex trafficking hoax) used it to continue his crusade against Victorian Premier Dan Andrews, who presumably under Bogut’s warped logic is the evil mastermind behind this change in the first place.

“Socialist Victoria. Trickle down effect. Enjoy!” was his contribution to the discourse.


Other responses weren’t quite so political and actually got to the heart of the outrage rather than using it to further an agenda – 6 News AU founder and everyone’s favourite teenage journalist Leonardo Puglisi summing up the feelings of many by describing the change, and the implication winning and losing doesn’t matter as long as everyone has a fun time, as ‘s–t’.

Former West Coast premiership hero Will Schofield had a similar observation: “I learnt how to win and lose when I grew up playing footy. I’ll be teaching my kids the same thing,” he wrote.

‘What an absolute joke.”

If you think this story is a trifling issue that doesn’t deserve the time of day, consider this.


It meant enough to enough people, and hit all the right notes for a real sporting scandal, that not only did Nine feel it merited reporter Reid Butler doing a live cross for the story from outside the actual AFL Headquarters at Marvel Stadium; not only did angered parents actually ring up the AFL Integrity Unit as if this was either under their jurisdiction or something they’d care a fig about; but it was also enough to get Neil Mitchell (for Sydneysiders, he’s sort of a more toned-down, less boorish Alan Jones) to bring SMJFL CEO Matthew Brown onto his morning radio program Mornings with Neil Mitchell, the most widely listened to show in the state by a considerable distance, to give him the grilling usually reserved for politicians or captains of industry.

Amidst all this, the point has been entirely missed. There’s a reason this finals format change is an absolute farce and has rendered the competition a joke – but it’s not for the reasons being peddled by Schofield, or McGuane, and especially not Bogut.

Fundamentally, the fact that has been lost is that the teams finishing 6th-10th in the competition do not have a chance of winning the league’s proper premiership. They play in their own separate finals competition, with an identical set-up to the proper 1-5 finals.

So no, the last team on the ladder that hasn’t won a game all season couldn’t pull a Fitzroy in 1916 and snatch a flag by peaking at the right time, or promoting players from another U14s team. It’s a consolation finals series, nothing more and nothing less.

There’s also – and here’s where you might disagree – nothing wrong with this. A lot of people seem to think that the whole point of sport is to teach kids about resilience, that not every battle can be won, that the disappointment of defeat is a necessary part of life and one that can inspire bigger and better things.

Sure, that’s part of it – but those lessons can be learned on an XBox playing Call of Duty: Warzone. Having coached junior cricket for a number of years and dealt with parents on a wide range of matters, I can say with some confidence that the true purpose of junior sport is to get kids out in the fresh air, exercising, putting their energy to good use, and giving exhausted parents a chance to make their little hellraiser someone else’s responsibility for an hour or two.


All while they’re still having lots of fun with their friends – the ultimate win-win.

That can still be achieved in a ten-team finals competition – indeed, it gives parents more games for their kids to play, more energy to burn off, more fun to be had. Yes, kids know the score and know when they’re winning or losing – but having once been a kid playing sport myself, I can say that being out on the field doing stuff was infinitely better than sitting on the bench, or the couch at home, or whatever else I decided was worth doing at eight, or nine, or 15 years old.

One of my more harrowing experiences was playing in an Under 11s competition where my club decided, due to numbers, to divide our team into two. One team had all the good players and played in the higher-standard Brown division of our local league, while the team I was on… didn’t.

Sure enough, the ‘A’ team was competitive in that higher grade all season long, while my ‘B’ team lost every game and finished on the bottom of the lowest division with a percentage of 12. Thankfully I’d left mid-season on a family holiday and missed the 192-0 pummelling – that’s hard to do at Under 11 level, trust me – because that might have scarred me for life.

But we at least came within three or four goals of the second- and third-last teams in our league, and had there been a consolation finals series at that point, we’d have got a chance to end our season on a high. We’d have had something to look forward to, rather than just counting down the games until our suffering was over. And maybe that way more than three of us would have stuck around for the U12s season a year later.

The point in all of that is that sport isn’t about winning or losing at that age; it might seem like a cliche, but it really is about being active.


You can assign all the meaning and all the life lessons you want to it after the fact, but if you think it’s ‘woke’ to let a last-placed team play a second-last team with a chance at a title even more meaningless than the one that competition’s actual premiers will receive, then I think you’re forgetting that as a kid, winning any game is fun, regardless of the stakes at play.

But as promised, there is a reason to lay into the SMJFL for changing the finals format; it’s not because they’re all-inclusive, but because they violated that above sentiment: that junior sport is about participation. And it’s this, I’m led to believe, that prompted the majority of outrage from the parents and kids actually affected by it, not the socialist participation trophy wokeism that Bogut and his ilk would have you believe is destroying our society one sport at a time.

That reason is this: because the league suddenly had double the finals to schedule, it decided to fixture the first two rounds of its finals, having been a Sunday competition for 15 rounds as is tradition for local footy nationwide, for mid-week.

Finals Round 1 had games back-to-back at 6pm and 7:30pm on Thursday evening; Finals Round 2 at the same times on the next Tuesday (you can check the fixtures here). It’s here where the change became a farce, especially given they apparently only announced the change in July: the East Brighton Vampires, the top team in the competition, had to forfeit their Tuesday night game, because half or more of the team was on a school camp.

There’s a reason junior sport mostly takes place on the weekends, unless it gets to an exceptionally high standard: they’re the time kids spent, you know, away from schools.

Even if there hadn’t been such a dramatic loss of kids for one particularly unlucky team, it would have been ridiculous: 6pm on a Tuesday evening clashes with all sorts of other endeavours for the average child, from piano lessons to school sport training to bloody homework.

If the consequence of an all-inclusive finals series is to force an incredibly stupid set of fixtures with the inevitable consequence of some kids being unavailable, then it’s not worth pursuing, and someone at the SMJFL should have nipped it in the bud before the poor Vampires had to forfeit a game that puts their premiership hopes in jeopardy (they should, however, still win this weekend’s preliminary final, which is back to a normal Sunday afternoon schedule).


It’s this point where the outrage should be directed, and it just hasn’t been. It probably says something about our society that outrage about kids not learning life lessons and being raised as a generation of softies and communists gets more attention than them being actively denied the chance to actually play the sports they love because of dumb decisions from adults who haven’t thought it through whatsoever.

If you’re going to be annoyed, or upset, or flat out pissed off about this whole fiasco, make it about this. Otherwise, it says more about us than it does the actual victims in this whole situation: the U14 Division 1 players of the East Brighton Vampires Football Club.