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Show us some dare, some verve, imagination, theatre! An open letter to the AFL

Roar Guru
3rd October, 2023
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Roar Guru
3rd October, 2023
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Dear AFL,

As we leave another season behind and club begin to enter into list management for next year, we yet again face the patent absurdities behind the competition’s equalisation policies.

Since the national draft and salary cap have been taken seriously (well, by some) – let’s say this began in 2000 – there have been a spate of dynasties: namely Hawthorn and Geelong have won four flags, and Brisbane and Richmond have won three. Four clubs have won fourteen of a possible twenty-three flags.

And I’m fine with that. A well-run club deserves the license to excel and profit from their hard work. We shouldn’t be looking to gut them and give somebody else a go. It should be a war of attrition, rather than a war of who crashed (or tanked), burned, and sat on the bottom long enough to hoard a plethora of picks, while well-run clubs are forced back into the pack.

Darcy Moore celebrates Collingwood' 2023 premiership win.

Darcy Moore celebrates Collingwood’ 2023 premiership win. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Sure, we often hear the rhetoric, “We need a strong [INSERT CLUB’S NAME]”, but do we? Do we really?

Like Melbourne – they came good after floundering on the bottom for years. But do we really need a strong Melbourne Football Club? Does anybody really care? Come on, let’s be honest.

Outside of being the oldest club going around, the Demons have been irrelevant for the last sixty years and we’re all fine with that, aren’t we?

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This is a club that’s become so superfluous, even Mother Nature reared up to deliver Covid so as to drive Melbourne’s sole premiership in the last fifty-plus years from Victoria and over to West Australia, a state – as far as I’m aware – Britain still transports convicts to.

Then we get the clubs like Western Bulldogs winning a flag, and while it tickles the romanticism in us all, does that have any genuine longevity? If they hadn’t won it, would we really be missing anything from our lives?

Like so many, I like the Bulldogs as a second club – that stupid little brother who’s endearing to us all as they stumble and bumble along. But flag success? Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” The Bulldogs? Heartbreakingly losing preliminary finals should be their epoch.

I don’t want to be insulting or condescending but, ultimately, we need to stop worrying about these nothing clubs.

Next we’ll be saying, “We need a strong St Kilda” – here’s a club who sacked former coach Scott Watters because he told everybody they were too happy celebrating mediocrity. Bravo, Saints. Since sacking Watters, they’ve celebrated mediocrity extraordinarily. You have to say something about clubs that live the dream.

North Melbourne players.

North Melbourne walk off after a loss. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, you pump talent and resources into North Melbourne ad nauseam, hoping one day it’ll click for them. The latest benefits are sheer genius. North gutted their list, turned over coaches, bottomed out, and we’re rewarding them. Maybe we should accept this is tantamount to sending lifeboats out to the sinking Titanic so we could get more passengers aboard.

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There are a lot of these piddling clubs. That’s what they do. And it would be wrong to continue to demean each of them individually when that would, in actual fact, be both a waste of words, and a waste of energy to find and type those words, validating the existence of those clubs.

But having said that, I don’t want anybody to think this rant is about elitism and exalting clubs that would be considered the powerhouses. This is by no means about favouritism. These are the clubs that we need to be doubly wary of – one, because they can have a sense of entitlement; and, two, because we shouldn’t be rewarding their inglorious ineptitude.

Take Carlton, for example. Here’s a club that sat on the bottom as they rifled through coaches, rifled through administrators, rifled through dreary on-field performances, and when all that incompetence was bundled up and a string of lowly finishes followed, they rifled through drafts for some of the best prospects.

Meanwhile, they continue to accrue high-priced talent in trades every year. It’s fortunate they have such a pristine reputation when it comes to salary cap management or I might question what’s going on. Has anybody checked if Carlton have been buying brown paper bags?

Essendon players react to their loss to the Western Bulldogs.

Essendon’s Nick Cox after a Bombers loss.(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Then, on the other hand, we have Essendon, perpetrators of one of (if not) the biggest team-oriented drug scandal in organised team history. You, AFL, were weak in your governance. You showed no leadership. It took WADA to step in and handle the situation when it should’ve been you, AFL, setting an example. You should’ve, at the very least, thrown Essendon out of the competition and elevated Port Melbourne or Williamstown out of the VFL to take their place, but you were too timid to make these tough and brave decisions.

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Essendon showed (and show) no contrition and, after unceremoniously dismissing Ben Rutten, even parlayed the possibility of bringing back James Hird as coach. I hear he was on a shortlist with Gold Medal Olympian Ben Johnson, baseball legend Mark McGwire, and Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. Fortunately (if not miraculously when it comes to Essendon), wiser heads prevailed and they landed Brad Scott.

See, the problem with your management in the new millennium is that it’s been compromised and lacks not only real vision, but direction. About the only thing you get right are agendas. We can argue we have a successful competition, but it’s not like there’s any real opposition. Idiots could run the competition and it would prosper.

Oh wait…

Getting back to the point: what we need as we move forward is daring and verve and imagination that’ll bring theatre back to the AFL which, consequently, will compensate for shoddy administration, terrible umpiring, and the dilution of the talent pool. We need to find a way complement the onfield heroics – a way to aggrandise them.

That’s what sport is about: the theatre. It’s a lesson the UFC have learned well, and which they continually exploit. Theatre gives us context. It amplifies the drama and increases the stakes. This is why sports movies do so well – the story behind the contest. If we had no drama, if we had no stakes, if we had no context, then all we’re left with are the games themselves, which is sort of like watching the A-League.

Every competition needs a villain, but where are they? Hawthorn won three flags in a row and the pinnacle of hate was a hashtag “#freekickhawthorn”. That’s it. Nobody cared they were successful. Maybe they’re just too much of an eyesore. Richmond’s won three out of four flags, and while the Tiger Army is proud and loud, the club itself remain an oddity that everybody expects will go the way of the Hindenberg. And Geelong? Does anybody care?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Bobby Hill of the Magpies celebrates a goal during the 2023 AFL Grand Final match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Brisbane Lions at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 30, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Bobby Hill. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

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There is only one true villain in this competition. And there’s only EVER been one true villain: Collingwood.

Everybody loved Collingwood during the Home & Away season thanks to their exciting football, but when the flag became a genuine possibility, most of these buffoons grew saltier than anchovies smelly with taunts and condemnations and criticisms. Collingwood soldiered on and drew record attendances for a Home & Away season.

Two of their finals drew crowds in excess of 90,000, and a grand final crowd over 100,000. You cannot deny they are the ultimate drawcard.

If ever the sentence “We need a strong [INSERT CLUB’S NAME]” applied, it applies when talking about Collingwood.
They draw fans, they draw ratings, they draw the ire of all the other clubs. So what we truly, genuinely, wholeheartedly need is a strong Collingwood to inspire this passion twofold: their fans love them, and Mark Robinson, Brian Taylor, Daisy Pearce, and everybody else hate them. Could you create a better dichotomy?

Under my exhilarating blueprint, the AFL would award Collingwood twelve priority picks over the next three years, and ten more over the next five. This could potentially transform Collingwood into a powerhouse (although if these draft selections don’t result in top four finishes, we may need to award additional priority picks).
Now I know what you’re wondering: if we make Collingwood this powerful and successful, then who’ll lose all the grand finals?

Sydney.

Tom McCartin and Paddy McCartin of the Swans look dejected.

Sydney’s Tom and Paddy McCartin after losing the 2022 AFL Grand Final. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

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They’re already serving a fine apprenticeship and stand poised to fill Collingwood’s shoes after losing grand finals in 2022, in 2016, and 2014. You have to give them credit for being so penultimate. And the truth is, we should be looking to make Sydney come second – sort of like a symbol of New South Wales coming second to Victoria. We’re doing the nation a service by reaffirming the natural hierarchy.

You may scoff at all this. You may be thinking that all this is just a little bit unfair. You may be thinking I’m just trying to help Collingwood. You may be thinking I’m sort of Magpie megalomaniac – potentially Eddie McGuire writing under a pseudonym.

But would Eddie McGuire be this magnanimous?

Because, you see, as evidence of my fairness, here’s the equaliser: Collingwood’s salary cap acumen. In just 5-7 years they’ll release many of the quality players netted from these high draft picks back into the wild. That’s right – just 4-5 years. That’s all everybody else has to wait. Three years. Just three years, and Collingwood will repopulate the league with many of these champions, creating the equality that you desire as a secondary outcome.

Well, maybe Eddie McGuire was already that magnanimous.

Anyway, seriously, who else is showing this ingenuity at the AFL? We’re all talking about expanding into Tasmania, which is great, but adding another team to the competition while thinning the talent pool is only going to murky already muddy waters. What we need to do is produce a competition where clubs clearly know their roles and live them, and where we can perpetuate the pantomime of Good versus Evil for the captivation of the masses. Then everybody can play their roles.

Roles are important in the AFL. We need to stop pretending some clubs, and some people, are relevant.
A strong Collingwood means a strong competition.

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Prioritise draft packages to keep Collingwood successful for everybody’s own benefit.

Regards,
Les Zig

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