AFL Grand Final: The Devil is on the Scoreboard

The Devil is in the Detail on the Scoreboard

By Steve Alomes

Lyon cropped

Ross Lyon

There are sometimes Mike Williamson moments – moments when it is possible to say, despite an unAustralian lack of modesty, ‘I tipped this’.

As I wrote in the Friday Age article ‘The game’s turned ugly’ ––and-i-wouldnt-be-lyon-20130926-2ugy2.html – the Lyon game plan usually fails, as it is trench warfare which means that as well as being as ugly as the Somme you can lose a game of inches as well as win it.

And, I might add, talking of ugly, I didn’t choose the would be pun subhead – that came from Spencer St.

As it turned out, in a scrappy game, Hawthorn, the team that played more football rather than Tackleball, Smotherball, Umpireball, won. And that is despite the skill of Fyfe, Walters and Pavlich, which redeems the ugliness as did Riewoldt, Hayes and dal Santo at St Kilda.

Libby Gorr summed it up on Fridayon ABC 774  when talking to Bruce McAvaney. It was a game between the ‘Stop the boats’ mob and the optimists. Says it all. Despite Jeffrey Gibb Kennett, Hawthorn are preferable.

While Victorians prefer local tribalism to perspective – not wanting another Hawthorn premiership when their club is not in it – the realities are horrific.

The Lyon game is not evolution. It is a mutation in the same way that climate change is a mutation. In each case, it is not about some kind of Darwinian free will. Both are the result of determinism, by human intervention – by coaches in footy, and by industrialisation in climate change.

The real dummies of course thought it was just club chagrin, as I concluded the piece that as a Cat supporter I would reluctantly be saying ‘Go Hawks’. Except, as those who have read my arguments on this theme since 2010 know, and who read the detail – it is about coaches plural, not just the laconic Freo coach who picks young journos off walls at post-match pressers:

These orchestrators, or evil geniuses, have fundamentally changed the character of the game, with a little help from Rodney, Mick, John and others. Rodney Eade introduced the flood, Roos turned it into the forward press, as did Lyon at St Kilda, and, at Collingwood, Mick Malthouse added love of the boundary line.

Nor am I anti-Freo, only mentioning the club briefly in the piece. I am a critic of the coach, as in my painting which I had hoped the Age would run; but in their polite style they did not. *

The various AFL ‘clubs’ have trouble getting it – the coaches’ clubs who won’t bucket another coach, the commentators’ clubs who want to maintain the excitement.

And, I understand and appreciate that everyone, who for good reason, wants to enjoy Grand Final week as both a festival of footy and Melbourne’s festival of spring  (as described on pp 18-20 of Australian Football The People’s Game), prefers not to think about the reality that the game is under threat.

The Poms and Jonny Wilkinson took the try out of rugby for a time (their game became a kicking game, our game became a tackling one) and soccer managers who win the home tie and then ensure an away draw prefer defence to creativity.

All sports are under pressure from win-at-all-costs, whatever-it-takes coaches, endorsed by those who would like to be chess grand masters like Spassky or Kasparov or a three star general, who has just added a new strategy to those in Liddell Hart.

Except, some people do get it. While coaches create ‘team rules’ which keep most players inside the 50 metre line at certain times, Kevin Bartlett and Leigh Matthews, on the rules committee, don’t like the result. They would prefer a more open game, despite being surrounded in the media by gunghoists, who prefer poachers (aka coaches) to gamekeepers.

In the future the devils will be defeated.

It may happen in different ways:

through 16 players on the field

through less interchanges,

through fewer players on the interchange bench, or

through my controversial proposal for a compulsory 4 players either on each goal side of the cross line of the centre square or the 50 metre line (which could also be a 60 metre line).

While footy will continue to be a game of scissors, rock, paper – and Almanackers will still have stories to write about the footy and the idiosyncrasies of the human condition – overall things will get better. The ball will be kicked, handballed and marked more, and tackles, smothers and the rubbish of a rolling maul will be less.

Despite those fans of wrestling, tackling and UFC, despite the tribalists who can only see their team, and despite the dummies who can’t see the big picture, things will improve, on the field and on the scoreboard.

In 2058, in which my story culminates, on the last day in September the on the Grand Final scoreboard, the result will be a win for footy.


Stephen Alomes’ Australian Football The People’s Game 1958-2058 is available from


Caption to Painting: ‘The Coach as Devil’ by Stephen Alomes


  1. Bill Martino says

    While we’re suggesting new rules that might possibly lessen the use of tactics that don’t happen to conform with our own personal tastes, which is basically what your article is all about, how about one that penalises backwards kicks in a team’s defensive half, perhaps by awarding a free kick, to be taken at the spot where the abomination was perpetrated? This would go a long way towards eliminating something that I find incredibly boring to watch: the “keepings-off” game. Sure, it leads to lots of lovely kicks and marks, which must please you no end, but really, it’s a bit piss-weak isn’t it? Give me good, strong tackles and smothers any day.

    Oh, and by the way, just so that you won’t take me for one of those “tribalists”, I don’t follow Freo, and always hated watching the Lyon-coached Saints, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing the underdog take the bikkies yesterday, if only because it would have ruined Kennett’s day.

  2. The answer to the rolling maul should not be found in rule changes.

    That will just make the game more infuriating to watch as, say, the offside-rule makes soccer infuriating to watch for Australian footy fans… or, for that matter, the stop-start nature of American gridiron where the game has to stop for five minutes every two minutes so that the referees can explain their adjudication to the world.

    Australian football is the most exciting game in the world with its non-stop action, its body-contact and its peculiar set of skills. Don’t put chains on its glory.

    Let the coaches evolve the game, not rule committees. The answer to negative coaches are smart creative ones who find ways to overcome attempts to close down the game.

    The Hawthorn mob did a good job of this on Saturday. When the game’s best tagger took on the game’s best playmaker, Hawthorn had Mitchell take Crowley out of the midfield and away from the centre of the action. Good strategy. And then Mitchell reversed the treatment. Some of his tackles on Crowley were just superb. All day long, Crowley looked as if he was trying to wake up from a bad dream. Lovely!

    There’s only one rule change that I’d like the Rules Committee to trial at some stage.
    The legitimate handball, where one hand has to be stationary, has almost disappeared.

    AFL Rule Book definition:
    Handball: the act of holding the football in one hand and disposing of
    the football by hitting it with the clenched fist of the other hand.

    This no longer happens. Both hands, now, are always moving and there is nothing the umpires want to do about it. The tap-on is legit and the volleyball backhand lift is legit but the palm scoop is not. The push-out by one hand is legit but the flick-pass is not.

    All of this has become absurd.

    Let’s admit present reality and allow the one- or two-handed throw. Or, at least, let’s trial it. Such a rule-change will make the umpires’ job one task easier, speed up the game and see the elimination of the potentially dangerous chicken-wing tackle.

    Can anyone suggest one good reason why we shouldn’t be able to throw the ball?

  3. Skip of Skipton says

    You don’t talk or sound like any Geelong supporter I’ve ever known.

    I prefer Ross Lyon/Freo style football instead of the chip, chip 20m passing keepings-off style football that Hawthorn employed, a throwback to the early 2000s

  4. Bill Martino says

    Explicitly allow throws, as opposed to sometimes turning a blind eye to them? Ha ha ha, good one, John. While we ‘re at it, how about we sharpen up the ends of the ball and get the players to wear helmets and shoulder pads?

  5. daniel flesch says

    John K , i’m not in favour of allowing throws either. You’d get players slinging it like a discus to get distance and it wouldn’t look like Aussie Rules any more. The handpass is one of the features making our Indigenous Game unique as well , so i’d want to keep it.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Let’s not over react a Handpass is a unique and vital skill of our Game not a Murali
    Also we had brilliant GFs in 05 06 and last year with Sydney who while more attacking than Freo still relied on defence and Produced Brilliant Grand Finals
    The Game will evolve itself the rules committee has a lot to answer for already
    Lets leave The Game Alone

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