The Oasis

Things are different in the sub-tropics.

 

Everybody drinks mid strength beer. With the humidity two or three full strength will knock you out.

 

It is a land of 4×4 white utes. Weekends curtained by the perpetual buzz of lawnmowers. Every woman seems to be walking the mountain track out in the cane fields each dawn or dusk; playing netball, doing pilates. The men are all barrel-chested. AFL football is never shown in bars.

 

The Townsville Comp dodges along – men, women, juniors. But the AFL is a Fox thing, along with the Copperart channel, 52 cooking channels, and that one that always plays reruns of Hogan’s Heroes.

 

The AFL was always a social thing for me. An excuse to pop into the pub, watch a bit of the big league, the gloss, while wearing the Friday night seaweed sway of every farmer and logger I know. A reason to go around to Billy Bonghead’s tin shed home in the valley on a Sunday. To watch the Cats as he got stoned. To stay down the coast after playing and have beer and wedges while watching Port versus Geelong with the barman, who’s played almost as much footy as me. We’d turn down the volume of the special commentators and all their stats, and tell each other what we reckoned as footballers.

 

Why would I spend about a grand to fly over from Tassie and watch Richmond play, and be stuck in Melbourne, when we could always explore, find a game in the rolling hills, hook in with a few locals, get the backstories, then explore more, and find the Tigers playing on the wall of a nice little pub tucked into the side of Cradle Mountain?

 

I have a baby girl now. We take her to see the cows, swim in waterholes, I write her kids books. We don’t own even own a telly. Life is too short.

 

But I love the game madly at all levels, and when my baby’s older, I’m sure the AFL will drift back into my life. With that in mind, a bit of radio, telly, internet… I poked my head in to consume some of the glamour last weekend.

 

Its funny the things you notice after a while away.

 

How pedestrian the lower rung games are. Sorry, but it just looks like a bunch of spindly-legged blokes milling around a ball. I see Freo and Carlton players busting their guts to achieve life long goals. Just watching I can feel the desperation, pride, ambition, have half an idea of the sacrifices they must have made, the dedication, discipline, the pain barriers they must regularly push through. But just can’t care.

 

That’s fine, though. Bottom playing second bottom has been bad footy for all time. The only difference is now it’s televised.

 

Then, I read the comments in social media, or on You Tube, or just about any AFL forum.

 

This bloke is a goddamn spud!

Useless!

Bloody Muppet!

The whole team are a bunch of dogs!

 

There is a real vitriol involved, towards the bottom teams, especially – from fans, and media. As if who the players are offends people!

 

Why?

 

The AFL, when at its best, is absolutely electrifying! So far away from what I play on Saturdays they can barely be described as the same sport. I watch it gobsmacked! Jealous. In awe.

 

At that level every club devours the 1%ers. In diet, rehab, physio, psychiatry, individual coaching, team coaching, motivational coaching, forward coaching, backs coaching, on-ball coaching, ruck coaching, running coaching, media communication coaching, team leadership meetings, sports science. All these obsessive things, just to get on the ground.

 

Some teams are better at it than others. Often, it’s simply the clubs with the best, or luckiest, recruiting officers that do well. Some simply have more money. For all the talk of team salary caps, a club that can afford to spend double the amount on coaching staff, sciences, facilities, overseas experts, will perform better on the field.

 

Just think of a new recruit as a kid. If he enrols in a cashed-up, well-staffed school he will get lots of one-one-one time with teachers. A kid in classes of 35 simply won’t do as well. Collingwood will never be down long.

 

Some teams near the bottom are rebuilding. Some shooting for glory, and falling flat. (Malthouse getting it wrong at Carlton). Fine.

 

All these things are factors for teams 12 to 18. But, usually, it is as simple as someone has to be on the bottom of it all.

 

That’s the way competition works.

 

Yet the media often lead this spite parade. This team is woeful! That team is an absolute disgrace!

 

No. Most often, they are just the least successful. The furthest off the pace.

 

Not up to it – that is a fair call. Not ready yet – there is another one. Bad decision making? You see it like a rash on some clubs. Usually the painfully young ones. Overrated? You bet! Could name a few. But the sheer aggression I read from fan to fan, media to players, everyone to coaches – I hear it and I just cant be stuffed following the AFL like I once did.

 

Reports are the worst. They bring out the bitterness. Fans screaming; “Well, our bloke got two weeks for nothing, so so-and-so should get four!” Yet, they never, ever seem to say: “Maybe neither of them should have been reported.” Or even; “Our bloke was stiff. They got it right on this one, though.”

 

I dunno. Maybe it is simply a reflection on today’s society – the empowerment a keyboard gives people, the licence to be more arrogant. Maybe as a society we’ve become more disdainful in general. Maybe we always were. Maybe, in the age of product, we feel a sense of ownership of our team. “I paid my membership, therefore…!” But who are these masses to get so outraged? To take such offence? Gone are the days of Brent Croswell or Gary Snr only training when they wanted. From the most natural to the least talented, these days you don’t get to AFL level without having a phenomenal dip. Players in the bottom clubs? I admire them all.

 

Now here’s the kick.

 

You are reading this in the Footy Almanac. I’ve had a column here for, what, nine years? As a bloke who writes for a living, writing for nothing in the Almanac is my way of giving back to the game I love. Or, more-so, my way of saying thanks and promoting grass roots footy.

 

The Knackery is a community. I’ve never seen that spite I’m talking of in the pieces. Very rarely read it in the comments. John Harms was right: It IS the Hekowis! What, I think, a love of sport should read like.

 

Nothing about the AFL is taken for granted here. Players and teams are rated, or not, but never pissed on.

 

This site is both an oasis and a vital part of AFL football. With people like Rulebook, Brownie, so on… a vital voice of Aussie Rules in general.

 

It’s a privilege to be a part of, always.

 

Comments

  1. Stainless says:

    Well said, Matt.
    The Footy Almanac is the only form of “social media” I engage in, and it’s precisely for the reasons you’ve stated: no “shoutiness”, no vitriol, plenty of diversity and no group think. Long may it remain that way.
    I agree with your views about the AFL too. Easy to bag the mundane stuff but the best is breathtaking.

  2. Great to hear from you again Matt. Thanks for your supportive words. I hope we can keep things ticking along – for the reasons you mention.

    Nine years! That’s a lot of Old Dog. Your name often comes up when talking to readers for obvious reasons.

    And loving that you guys are Up North. What a place! We should hire an Almanac mini-van and head up the Newell.

  3. Sounds like you are building a great life in the Tropics Matt. Grand stuff.
    Seeing what my nephew does for peanuts ($100 a game) alongside a job to play WAFL for an average side, says it all for me. The training, off-season surgery, the ice baths and the rehabs and the bruises.
    Double all that pain and effort for any AFL player – but at least they all get well paid.

  4. Nice words, Old Dog.

    By the way, there is nothing wrong with re-runs of Hogan’s Heroes.

  5. Joe De Petro says:

    Great words, Matt. I get what you are saying regarding fan and media outrage. Not necessary. Someone has to be on the bottom of the ladder, regardless of everything else.

Leave a Comment

*