A rushed point for an April Fool

By Michael Viljoen

The morning of April 1st I received an alert from one ‘Yellow and Black’ football blog uncovering the surprise news that the iconic Richo (following the trend of Geoff Huegill, Ian Thorpe, and Pauline Hanson) was preparing his own comeback, to hopefully act as a foil for Jack on the Tigers’ forward line, or possibly a high-impact sub.

The news came embellished with tantalising detail: Richmond officials were preparing a daring submission to the AFL, in which Richmond’s favourite son would take the unclaimed final rookie spot at the club to complete their list. Matthew has been secretly working on his fitness and conditioning over the summer months, and his key indicators in strength and endurance were coming in at similar levels to those he recorded in his playing days.

My baloney indicators were equally switched on. I knew the date, and knew that the odds of Richo running out on the ‘G’ for tonight’s clash against last year’s Runner-up were as likely as Brendan Fevola being seen in a TAB putting money on the Suns (the latter part, not the former).

Yet my experience of April Fool’s day says that something strange and surreal will often occur to challenge the manufactured jokes for our incredulity.

Enter the last quarter of the Friday, April 1st, Richmond v St Kilda battle. The first dish of incredibility was seeing Richmond lead into the last quarter, two weeks in a row, against another of last year’s finalists. None more jaw agape were the Richmond fans themselves. Tonight they had done it with their star forward goalless, and tied to the bench in case a concussion based delirium overtakes his memory of being super-subbed, and he tries to re-enter the field.

With the hint of madness in the air, Luke McGuane desperately attempts a minor score for the opposing team. His tactic is more than psychosis, more than counterproductive; it has been declared anathema by the infamous Rules Committee. These keepers of our heritage want to purify our religion, rid our game of such pestilence, and McGuane, like a random victim of a witch hunt, must now pay for our ill conceived religious fervour.

Witch hunts weren’t famous for their clear thinking. Ever since the ‘Rushed behind’ rule was instituted by that nutty professor, KB, it’s been clear the rule doesn’t make any sense. “You can’t deliberately rush a behind, but you can if you’re under sufficient pressure” has been Kevin Bartlett’s mantra. Let’s be glad he’s not in charge of writing the Crimes Act. “You can’t hit people over the head with a brick and steal their wallet, but you can if you’re really desperate.”

Please, Kevin, can I lend your ear for a moment? Firstly, players only ever commit deliberate actions. Random, unintended actions don’t make for winning game plans. Secondly, players are always under pressure. It’s a football game, for goodness sake!

Here’s the rule from the book: ‘A Free Kick shall be awarded for a Defender INTENTIONALLY forcing the ball over the attacking team’s goal line. The umpire shall give benefit of the DOUBT to the Defender.’

With the mind reading capacities required of an umpire for interpreting this rule, let’s imagine, what thoughts did McGuane consider as he weighed whether he was coming under sufficient pressure to legally run towards the opposition’s goal line and contribute to their tally?

‘Our lead is marginal. Where are my teammates? Richmond hasn’t won for months. It’s nearly time on. Two guys have cornered me. St Kilda rarely gives up a lead once in front. One player from every club will be traded to GWS next year.’ All that is real pressure!

He feels a tug on his jumper and reasons that that is sufficient pressure to now release the hand-ball over the line of safety, and with impunity from the Rules Committee.

The umpires coaching video put out by the AFL to explain the rules and interpretations for 2011 doesn’t come close to this pressure. In this we see Carlton defender, Andrew Walker, in a 2010 game INTENTIONALLY loping towards a loose ball bobbling near the goal square. About five metres behind is a forward who INTENTIONALLY slows down because he sees that he won’t be able to stop Walker calmly and INTENTIONALLY tapping the ball over the line. Yet Walker is INTENTIONALLY fumbling as he goes, to satisfy the mystical parameters of the Committee.

The AFL video explains that Walker’s actions are legal. Unfortunately, our April 1st umpire, Scott Jeffery, never got the email. But he has read his rule book, and he’s a man of integrity and of the law. The law is quite clear. It speaks only of INTENTION. Everybody, from the 41,000 in the stands, to thousands on the couch at home, to Blind Freddy’s guide dog knows McGuane’s INTENTION was to put the ball over the line. There was no DOUBT about this. So according to the rule as written, he must pay the free kick. In doing so Jeffery becomes the second pariah, publically embarrassed by the umpire’s department as making a mistake, and has red marks against his name that will count against his appearance in finals.

Chess is known as the ultimate in tactical sports. It’s one of the few world sports with a tradition older than Australian football, and that by hundreds of years. Temporary sacrifice for ultimate gain is its staple. Even in the end game, when one is losing badly, players have famously conceded assets to leave their king stalemated, force a draw, and share the spoils. It’s all about tactics.

But if KB and the Committee can’t allow freedom for our game to evolve its own tactics, then here’s my proposed solution: On Friday, our offending umpire Jeffery was heard on the effects microphone to say that the defender was ‘too far out’ to legally rush a behind. If distance is the measure, all we need do is designate a set distance, perhaps ten or 15 metres from the goal mouth, within which it is legal to rush behinds (and also ban them from marks or kick-ins). They could even draw a line on the ground to indicate this defensive immunity zone if they wanted.

But I predict confusion over this rule as it now stands will grow rather than lesson as the season progresses. The current interpretation of intentionality is totally arbitrary, largely determined by what the umpire had for breakfast.

The Rules Committee has again rushed into making rule changes without thinking through their consequences. For this, I think Rules Committee spokesperson, Kevin Bartlett, is my candidate for this year’s April Fool.

About Michael Viljoen

Michael immigrated to Australia as a boy in the late '60s. His dad, having never seen a game of Australian Rules previously, stepped off the boat Thursday, found a job Friday, and Saturday was terrace side watching the VFL, Carlton v Geelong. He liked it so much he went back to the VFA on Sunday, Williamstown v Sunshine. Consequently, Michael was virtually raised at the MCG.

Comments

  1. Michael Viljoen says:

    I predicted that confusion over this rule would grow as the season progressed.
    In Round 10, 2011, we see Collingwood defender, Nick Maxwell, shark the ball cleanly off a pack in the goal square and boot it through the big sticks for a rushed point. The umpire gives the ‘all clear’ for a behind, but the umpire’s coach, Jeff Gieschen, declares this to be the wrong decision.
    Confusion reigns as no one, not the players, not the umpires, nor the spectators can make any sense of the rushed behind rule.
    Gieschen says a player must be “under immediate pressure” to be able to legally rush a behind. But surely a defender who is that close to the teeth of goal is under substantial pressure.
    In Maxwell’s case, he was surrounded by opposition. If he had fumbled the ball, he then would have had undoubted right to force it over the line for a point. Similarly, if he waited to be tackled, he would have had similar right (as did Richmond’s McGuane in Round 2). However, Maxwell is a respected player, a club captain. He does not fumble often, he does wait to be tackled, and he doesn’t suffer fools easily like those on the Rules Committee. He does the sensible thing, that which football players have done for a hundred years, and rushes a behind for the good of his team.
    Gieschen is wrong in his comments. But he is battling in impossible circumstances. He is charged with defending the indefensible or explaining the inexplicable. The rushed behind rule is a nonsense, and must be totally rewritten at the end of the season.

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