Finals Week 1 – There is only now: Everybody needs somebody to love (Go Dogs)

 

We’re so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight, and we
Would especially like to welcome all the representatives of Illinois’
Law enforcement community that have chosen to join us here in the
Palace Hotel Ballroom at this time. We sincerely hope that you all enjoy
The show and please remember people, that no matter who you are, and
Whatever you do to live, thrive and survive, there are still some
Things that make us all the same:
You, me, him, them — everybody, people, everybody!
– Everybody needs somebody to love, The Blues Brothers.

 

“Do you like footy?”

 

That was my opening sales pitch line last November, box of Almanacs under my arm. I sold one to the school crossing lady. And one to a café owner in Collins Street. I sold one to a bloke who was crossing the intersection alongside me. By the time we reached the opposite curb, we had a deal and he had a Christmas present to give.

 

Mostly, I like footy. I like the game itself. And I like what it means to people. What people do in the name of footy (write books, travel internationally, wear silly clothes). Collingwood is my team, my tribe. But increasingly I feel removed from this organisation called the AFL. So corporate and self-serving. Such astonishing lack of transparency and prevalence of unfair decisions. (This should be a separate thread, but eighteen teams playing 22 matches each, finals venues arbitrarily scheduled (is AFL Commission Chairman a board member of Infrastructure Capital Group, which lists one of its assets as Sydney’s Stadium Australia – home ground for neither Sydney nor GWS, and yet the venue for Saturday’s Qualifying Final?), odd rules on Sydney’s trading of players, contentious rules around draft provisions for Gold Coast and Greater Wester Sydney, ignoring the state of Tasmania, positioning of themselves as the code, itself (As in “I play AFL,” rather than “I play Australian football”), and on).

 

Everybody needs somebody
Everybody needs somebody to love
Someone to love (Someone to love)
– Everybody needs somebody to love, The Blues Brothers.

 

So lately I’ve enjoyed the VAFA. Amateur footy. Fair-minded, fair in principle, and a high standard of clean footy. Every team plays every other team twice; once at home, once away. Promotion, relegation. Interesting at the match –scale, interesting at the competition –scale.

 

Sweetheart to miss (Sweetheart to miss)
Sugar to kiss (Sugar to kiss)
– Everybody needs somebody to love, The Blues Brothers

 

GEEvHAW

 

But I was lucky enough to see two AFL games on the weekend. Geelong v Hawthorn and Sydney v Greater Western Sydney. And in each game, in the moment, acts of stunning courage and skill befell further acts of stunning courage and skill. It kept happening. Burgoyne, Caddy, Cameron, Franklin. Leaping, tackling, chasing, setting up. Johnson threading that handball. Bartel rolling and handballing to the free man, running. Rioli marking and goaling. Kennedy going again, and again. And the struggles. Hodge donning his angry suit; more theatre than force these says. Dangerfield going without it as the goals loomed.

 

I need you, (you) you, you
I need you, (you) you, you
I need you, (you) you, you in the morning
I need you, (you) you, you when my soul’s on fire
– Everybody needs somebody to love, The Blues Brothers.

 

SYDvGWS

 

Geelong v Hawthorn and Sydney v Greater Western Sydney.

 

And yet, at the competition –scale, between them, three of these four sides have collected eight of the last nine flags. And the other side is well placed to win in years to come.

 

Sometimes I feel, I feel a little sad inside
When my baby mistreats me, I never never have a place to hide, I need you!
– Everybody needs somebody to love, The Blues Brothers.

 

Yes, the match –scale footy itself was exciting, in that slightly tepid way where you are not emotionally invested. Games and skills were terrific. But the competition –scale picture of AFL footy is dull. From a story-telling point of view, it is repetitive. And this is why people say AFL footy is broken. Or the narrative of AFL footy is broken.

 

Sometimes I feel, I feel a little sad inside
When my baby mistreats me, I never never have a place to hide,
I need you, (you) you, you
I need you, (you) you, you
– Everybody needs somebody to love, The Blues Brothers.

 

Look:
2007 Geelong
2008 Hawthorn
2009 Geelong
2010 Collingwood
2011 Geelong
2012 Sydney
2013 Hawthorn (v Fremantle, at MCG)
2014 Hawthorn (v Sydney, at MCG)
2015 Hawthorn (v West Coast, at MCG)
2016 ?

 

Runs like that have happened before – in a 12-team competition. But this AFL is broken mainly because not every team is afforded the same chance of winning a flag (distribution of wealth, resources, the fixture, venues chosen for matches). And that’s a fundamental hallmark of a fair competition. So what’s going on? Why is this happening?

 

We hear lots of reasons for success. “Strong club culture,” “ability to rebuild on the fly,” “refusal to bottom-out,” “resilience,” etc. But they are not reasons. None of them are strictly causative. No controlled experiment can be conducted anyway, to ascertain cause and effect. But really, all of these are stories conveniently fitted to an existing situation.

 

You know people when you do find somebody, hold that woman, hold that
Man, love him, hold him, squeeze her, please her, hold, squeeze and
Please that person, give ’em all your love, signify your feelings with
Every gentle caress, because it’s so important to have that special
Somebody to hold, kiss, miss, squeeze, and please.
– Everybody needs somebody to love, The Blues Brothers.

 

Similarly, no reason exists to explain why Collingwood beat GWS and Geelong this year but lost to Carlton and Melbourne. Some things just are.

 

This is partly because of the chaotic nature of the oval shaped ball, but mostly because of the chaotic nature of humans being. We can’t control people; despite the phalanx of coaching and analytical staff in paid roles at AFL clubs. There are so many strands of an uncontrollable life contributing to performance on any given day (e.g. a parent’s illness, a relationship breakdown, a dripping tap, the merest sleight from a revered figure), that nothing can be ascribed with certainty.

 

At the big picture level, we often think of the draft as an equalisation measure. Low-placed clubs getting first access to each years’ new talent. And if football clubs were machines, that would be a cause-and-effect solution. But spotting and nurturing the creative and collective potential of a group is part skill, part luck. Gold Coast v GWS. Collingwood v St Kilda. You can pour millions into employing the best behavioural psychologists and teachers, but it is no guarantee of on-field success.

 

Everybody needs somebody
Everybody needs somebody to love
Someone to love (Someone to love)
Sweetheart to miss (Sweetheart to miss)
Sugar to kiss (Sugar to kiss)
– Everybody needs somebody to love, The Blues Brothers.

 

So why do we keep watching?
Academically, we probably watch for the contest, to see people tested and to see how they respond. And in the top four clubs of this year, my only investment is academic.

 

But when emotions are piqued, then we are hooked. Emotionally, we watch because we care. We come back because we care. We reschedule our lives, we shout, we smile, we keep watching, because we care. And with the year as it is, like most Australians with a passing interest in footy, my last emotional link to this year is with the running, fizzing, bottomless Dogs.

 

So forget any talk of new world order – of a dominant GWS – for they have won nothing yet. And there is yet a lot of chaos through which to navigate. Remember that we have seen too much (too much) of Geelong, Hawthorn and Sydney in the recent decade. To love.
And everybody (everybody).
Everybody needs somebody to love.
Carna Dogs.

 

I need you, (you) you, you
I need you, (you) you, you
I need you, (you) you, you in the morning
I need you, (you) you, you when my soul’s on fire
– Everybody needs somebody to love, The Blues Brothers.

 

About David Wilson

@e_regnans

muddling along.

Comments

  1. Ben Footner says:

    Great write up mate. Agree with all your thoughts.

    As good as the Geelong v Hawthorn game was, I found myself realising that really I wanted them both to lose. Unless you are a Cats or Hawks fan it’s just the same ol’ same ol’.

  2. Yes, I’m on board the dogs bandwagon for the remainder of the season, really hoping they can take it all the way.

    I was out all day Saturday so missed the interstate dramas that did unfold . All in all I thought it a really fresh, exciting and entertaining weekend. (Although,I’ll never be a fan of Thursday night games/finals) and I suspect the previous weeks break enhanced the play, energy and sense of anticipation.

    Are there too many teams in the league? Perhaps.

  3. With these 18 teams, on averages, you should see 4 premierships in your lifetime! And they might happen in one 10 year period! Then half a century of barren years. My Cats had one of those. Others are still enduring those privations. Some have never had the Golden Age to reflect upon at all. Doggies and Saints, they still endure.

    I haven’t watched the last two GFs. All Hawthorned out. All Sydneyed out. And I just don’t feel that a team which has not graced the MCG before Grand Final Day during the final series is a ‘real’ grand finalist. The rules say yes, my head says no. Your mileage may vary.

    So I understand the cry for justice. What about me? when will the dice fall our way? Who knows when it justice will come. in the meantime, think of jam tomorrow. And remember. Some teams are just more equal than others.

  4. Harrumph. Football schmootball.

  5. I wonder if football feels broken because the premiership is too dominant a narrative. Stories lacking value without a sweetened Hollywood ending.

    The competition has never been fair. Once upon a time Melbourne could attract better players with an MCC ticket. Then over decades footy became an escalating $ war, with haves and have nots, to the point where the VFL almost bankrupted itself until it somehow convinced other state leagues to pay millions to enter a team. An argument could be made that Hawthorn’s three flags have been the most fairly earned in the last 100 years of Victorian football.

    Nonetheless, entirely agree re. the comparative attractiveness of amateur footy for all those reasons. Well played.

  6. Wonderful ER. It was a marvellous weekend of footy.

    But why is a home final for the Giants a given (their stadium holds 24,000) but a home final at Geelong controversial (Kardinia Park currently holds about 24,000) ???

    Anyway, lets just celebrate the games for now.

  7. That’s it, Ben. Good footy in parts, on the weekend. Not in others. But people forget that when the result is a close one.

    Thanks Kate – maybe too many in the league. There is an argument that those with taltented players already at the time of draft concessions are being given an elevated time in the sun. But that’s just one aspect of it. Too many variables to make that argument stick.
    The scheduled bye was another interesting edict from the mountain. Favours the old bodies?

    Good one Ken – these teams offer a tired story. Timothy Boyle wrote a beauty on this in The Age on Saturday. http://www.theage.com.au/afl/afl-news/once-again-its-clubby-at-the-top-of-the-afl-tree-20160910-grddwx.html

    PB – yeah.

    DBrown – good one. Premiership sure is too dominant a narrative. But what else is there in this little league? No FA Cup or relegation battle or other thing to compete over.
    You’re spot on re: fairness, of course. Never was.
    I do wonder why present unfairness it isn’t voiced more often, or more loudly.
    Is the audience aware? Passively accepting?
    Mates/ family from around the world routinely have trouble understanding Australian’s acceptance of this situation from a major sporting league. Thanks.

  8. Thanks Dips.
    And that was exactly my question, too.
    The justification for taking Friday’s game to the MCG was to maximise attendees.
    The same argument no longer good enough?
    Tim Lane tweeted yesterday that the GWS scheduling has ensured the lowest attendance at a Prelim Final in 100 years.
    But yes – the games. And the moments in the games. It’s all we have.

  9. OBP 100 per cent spot on and since the afl aren’t worried about the crowd for the prelim let’s make it fairer and Vic clubs actually travel to play games eg Collingwood v Essendon in Darwin etc in reality we all no it never has been and never will be a fair competition and yes go the dogs ( unless the crows are still alive )

  10. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Apt summation with Blues Brothers soundtrack ER. Footy drew me in on the weekend. Watched every moment of the 1st three games and three quarters of the Crows v Roos before switching to Manchester derby …another enthralling contest fused with history and meaning. Maybe the week off was a good strategy by the AFL…just for a change.

  11. Thanks Er.

    AFL suffers terribly from the singular narrative of the premiership whereas other codes have multiple stories like conference and division winners in NFL and promotion and relegation. How great to find joy in what would have been regarded in the AFL as a season of misery?

    A mate from London still attests that the day his beloved Wealdstone avoided relegation with a last minute goal is one of his favourite days and having shared it, I remember it vividly.

    And no organization has hijacked a code with the shamelessness of the AFL. Can you imagine asking a Liverpudlian lad if he played sport and being told, “Yeah, I play EPL.”

    Another ripper David.

  12. G’day OBP – thanks – it’s baffling.

    G’day Phil – finding meaning is good. And we saw some captivating moments. But imagine seeing these matches, with the skills and all, between, say Melbourne and Richmond. Many would be captured. Maybe many more.

    G’day Mickey – thanks – and that’s nicely put. Finding joy in what is otherwise “a season of misery” – pretty important – it’s a long slog bereft of hope otherwise. This could be an opportunity.

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