A better way to raise the curtain on young talent


The AFL’s recent merchandising masterstroke – footy cards of kids, for kids, was delivered a pretty swift kicking by the media last weekend.

Besides psychological concerns around the pressure on the 78 youngsters featured, and that few will actually ‘make it’ in any case, one does struggle to grasp the business case for a product with limited appeal beyond the subjects’ nearest and dearest.

Nonetheless, Darren Birch (AFL general manager for commercial operations) reasoned the new set is just ‘a natural extension to (their) existing card program’. Personally, purchasing a pack of ‘kiddie cards’ (for my son) would feel anything but natural. More attuned to the junior burgers’ interests, talent identification guru Kevin Sheehan defended the product on the grounds the potential draftees are used to publicity by now, and if not, then here’s a chance to learn.

The AFL is rightly lauded for their pioneering participation and elite pathway programs, so this dubious concept might reasonably be filed away quietly in the bottom drawer with the underwhelming umpire cards still in vogue (anyone for darts?). But if the AFL and clubs are concerned by the big leap to the big league, then there is a far more compelling way to shine a light on the kids and give their underdeveloped bodies a third dimension.

The A-League do it. So too the NRL, Super Rugby and AFL venues outside of Melbourne. It used to be intrinsic to the football experience every week, everywhere. That is of course the good old curtain raiser.

There were plausible reasons for its local demise, precipitated by the merging of the old reserves competition with the VFL. Ensuring pristine surfaces has been a priority, however since the advent of grow lights, the trials of Etihad have been consigned to recent history.

Whilst Foxtel Cup matches on the rare occasion treat fans to a support act, TAC Cup games remain hidden from general view – even more so since the competition decider was booted from the Grand Final pre-match, leaving a lengthy vacuum filled with unwanted fluff. Meanwhile, regular season attempts to entertain a diverse demographic with middling rock bands have fallen on deaf ears, literally (God did invent the iPod for a reason). Half time even warrants a D minus this year. Unfathomable ‘adult little league’ games have at times bumped the children.

Yet despite the AFL’s push to have us buy into ‘the journey’ and make the national draft a sizeable event, for rank and file footy fans it’s nothing more than a list of unrecognizable names harboring too many ‘y’s’ and ‘why?’s. To the layperson there is no apparent journey – most players debut sight unseen. Theatre goers may be ambivalent, but the rusted-on Dreamteam/Supercoach playing collective just might gravitate to a clearer window on tomorrow’s crop. A slightly more interesting pre-game could also ease the last minute squeeze at the turnstiles.

Most importantly for the young hopefuls, as a means of acclimatizing to the ominous coliseum-like atmosphere at the top level, the experience would be priceless.

The AFL’s hunger for a buck might not quite rival certain mining magnates, but it’s fair to say the cynical masses would welcome a pure initiative from Headquarters. TAC Cup games as curtain raisers won’t make any dollars, but I dare say to the average punter, the clubs, the players and their parents, compared to footy cards they make far more sense.


About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Stephen Cooke says

    Spot on, Jeff. It would be a Brilliant promotion and well received by the footy purists.

  2. Mark Doyle says

    Notwithstanding your dislike of the modern capitalist society in Australia, most of the gullible intellectual morons and cultural philistines who live in the outer suburbs of Melbourne will spend their money on these mickey mouse footy card products.
    If you want curtain raiser games before AFL games, I suggest you attend AFL games at Kardinia Park in Geelong – most of the seven AFL games are preceded by either a VFL or TAC cup game.

  3. What about Footy character cards – you could have Joffa, bootstudders, the kid that spat at Danny Frawley. And then theres the Footscray medico guy who looks like a pizza delivery guy. They’d make a buck.

  4. Agree, Jeff.
    The greatest form of exposure for the kids would be for
    more people to watch them what they do best: PLAY.

    Mark Doyle,
    I have noticed that there does always seem to be curtain-
    raisers at Kardinia Park. Why don’t they happen at other
    venues also? I have been at the MCG when there is some
    sort of corporate/celebrity match taking place prior to the
    main game. Apparently this happens frequently. No
    complaints from headquarters about the damage to the
    playing surface on these occasions? The kickbacks must
    be worth the inconvenience.

  5. Ripper suggestion, Jeff. I would love to see either a WAFL Colts or indigenous/country kids game as a preliminary for every AFL game at Subi. I would certainly get there to watch the second half. We have gone early in previous years to watch the interstate Under 18’s games as curtain raisers. Dunno if thats happening this year. Gets no publicity.
    The only negative I can see is wet days, when it would chop the surface up.

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