AFL Media; footy’s vanilla slice

I always looked forward to coming home from school on Tuesday afternoons. It was the day Mum’s best friend would visit and invariably she’d leave behind a scrumptious little selection of cakes, or parts thereof.

Ah, the cream bun was my favourite.  The soft donut encasing cream and jam was the triple threat of bakery treats.

There was one I’d always pass on though. I could never cop the vanilla slice.

Originating in France, vanilla slices, as they are known in Australia, date back to 1651. Traditionally, a ‘mille-feuille’ is made up of three layers of puff pastry, the top layer dusted with sugar, and sometimes cocoa or pulverized nuts. The filling is typically a sickly sweet custard. Personally, I find custard abhorrent and best left to small children who’ll devour any form of sugar.

Still, the vanilla slice has endured, so clearly there is a market for it.

Likewise, AFL media has been with us a very long time. A century if you take the birth of the Football Record as the starting point. As per many devout footy fans I always loved the Record. The smaller volumes pre-1992 even have a particular smell that instantly evokes childhood memories of my football ‘wonder years’.  But I digress.

The AFL has also commissioned superb books and films documenting the game’s rich history. Yes, the AFL loves to honour its history, and it does it well. It’s how the League represents the present that concerns me.

Lately, the AFL’s sphere of influence has escalated alarmingly. Foremost, the determined quest to control its image and massage the narrative of day to day happenings has put the League on a collision course with clubs and the independent media sources we’ve come to rely upon for interesting, thought provoking analysis on the issues affecting clubs and the game, the on-field action, the players and the wider community.

Technology has seen the demarcation of media in recent years.  Anyone can opt into the publishing game and give their two bits. Even me. Some are heard, most might as well be whistling at the Grand Canyon. It’s all a bit confusing.

But when the governing body wants in on the act, what are the rules for engagement?

For one, their power to be heard above all others concerns me.  Demetriou cuts quite the imposing figure.

And two, when the CEO isn’t setting the world to rights, how can the hired hands resist spruiking the company line?  Is omitting to publish less savoury stories or details providing a true account? And how many readers buy the occasional ‘views in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs‘ disclaimer at the bottom of an AFL Media article, on the AFL website?  It ain’t a personal Twitter account!

And finally, to be a worthwhile media player, how can the League fairly compete for exclusives when there’s pressure on certain clubs to give their chief benefactor first dibs?  There’s already enough humpo-bumpo between leading journalists wanting the big scoop.

The clubs of course have their own recipe for vanilla slice. And given their (sometimes warranted) mistrust of mainstream media, there would otherwise be considerably less insight into who the average fans want most – the actual participants.

Yet as we saw with the ‘fly on the wall’ St Kilda documentary just over a year ago (an attempt to give the Saints and the AFL’s tarnished image a good spit and polish), such endeavors tend to be as transparent as the stock they’re filmed on.

So club generated content can be rather hit and miss, but I reckon the clubs at least have a stronger claim to a broadcasting space in order to strengthen their connection with supporters.  But between mainstream media, the clubs and the AFL, I’m feeling rather bloated by all this content.

The question I ask is whether it’s the governing body’s place to be delivering essentially the same material, with their own agendas added to the mix?

Sure, Australia’s major newspapers aren’t exactly impartial news sources, nor any other TV or radio network that Clive or Gina sink their pudgy claws into.  It would be nice to think our national football code would refrain from such obvious manipulation.

All summer the AFL’s social media sign posts have pointed to a steady stream of GWS propaganda. Sheeds and the AFL have worked up a sweat polishing that impending turd – though hardly surprising given the uniquely fuzzy line where the League’s administration ends and the Giants begin.

Then there was the trumpeted AFL ‘analysis’ of how the substitute rule had done wonders for the game’s aesthetics and player welfare. Surely they were taking the patisserie!  A year 8 student would have exposed their flawed methodology in an instant.

And atop the vanilla slice, true to the traditional recipe, rest Matt Rendell’s pulverised nuts. As widely observed, his facetious hypothetical point made in a private conversation, raised weeks later by the aggrieved, was cause to sweep the perpetrator and the bigger issue under the carpet lest something other than a rosy picture of progressive indigenous inclusion be conveyed.

Perhaps I’m wrong and it was a cunning plan to highlight the issue and start a public focus group…

Then there’s the subtle, indirect filter.  To me, Channel Seven’s gee-whiz approach is pretty hard to swallow, and a reason why they can’t produce a successful football show. Without naming names, there are certain commentators who would appear to be reading from a cheat sheet bearing AFL letterhead. For example, GWS’ debut performance may have been quite commendable, but without the vision one might have deduced they were actually beating um…whoever that other team was. Anyway, Izzy’s sole passage of usefulness was grounds for a bravery award, and the ten goal loss worthy of a gold star.

With talk the AFL will produce and televise its own content beyond the present rights agreement, it’s little wonder Seven’s talent are putting their best foot forward.  Should that day come, even I’ll be pining for the good old days of delicious Bruce and megawalls.

Football fans are strongly opinionated, and generally not as gullible as the AFL appear to think. The participation on myriad unfettered message boards, social media platforms and blogsites such as The Footy Almanac emphasises the passionate engagement, and the thirst for independent free speech on our great game.

We get that the AFL have invested enormous time and money into growing Australian Rules, community building and inclusiveness.  It’s the leading and most tightly run sport in the country.

So why not stick to simply running the game, and leave the vanilla slice for sports that really need it?


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. Advertising revenue?

  2. Good piece Jeff. I like the patisserie allusions.
    Football is a game.
    AFL is a business and a brand.

  3. Local footy starts on the North West Coast of Tassie this weekend.

    No Andrew, no Eddie, no worries.

  4. Ben Footner says

    Shouldn’t have read this at morning tea time. Now I really want to eat a vanilla slice.

  5. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Great read Jeff,

    the moral crusade that has become the AFL has taken shape in the Internet age. It’s no coincidence that there has virually been an off field scandal every pre-season since the Carey incident. Call me a cynic, but is the saturation coverage a way for the AFL to keep the game in the news and show that it is being a proactive moral and societal guardian? Perhaps these are the windows they need before the games actually start to show us how relevant they are as a cultural as well as sporting organisation.

    Alas, some are happy to gorge on vanilla slices while polishing turds, but at what price?

  6. Skip of Skipton says

    Phil, they are following the lead of FIFA. You get a sermon with your season-ticket now. This phenomena has even given birth to shows like Footy Classified where the actual football rarely rates a mention. It’s all about the political and moral peripheral hoo-haa in which Caroline Wilson thrives, along with that garbage-can rummaging gossip columnist. The two actual footballers on the show are surplus to requirments.

  7. Thanks guys.

    I love footy but it certainly has reached saturation point. Sometimes it’s damned difficult to avoid it. Must be hell for people who don’t like the game.

    The AFL have the enormous corporate and community support, the coin and the cache to obtain unlimited editorial space. All this white noise simply drowns out the opposition codes attempts to get some traction. And they had all that BEFORE they ramped up their own media arm.

    An interesting article in The Age today by an unnamed player agent saying free agency and more player movement has an ulterior motive of even greater off-season coverage. Endless speculation about who’s going where and so on, just like the NFL. Personally, I find it boring. As mind numbing as the hectares of forests that were sacrificed in the name of the Malthouse-Buckley saga.

    And I agree Skip, FC can be very self indulgent at times. And whilst Grant Thomas comes out with some odd comments, I do admire his gonzo style seeing through the AFL’s smoke and mirror games. There’s not enough in the mainstream prepared to do that anymore – even Caro seems to be whistling the party tune again (I swear she must have left the studio whilst Rendell spent 10 minutes explaining what happened).

  8. Stephanie Holt says

    Great piece. Thank heavens for places like the Almanac for the non-AFL-aligned to toss around the issues. The AFL’s efforts to control not just the game but the dialogue, the image, for god’s sake the pictures (try putting a pictue of the premiership cup on the cover of a non-AFL publication, or exhibiting a player portrait with the AFL logo in place on his jumper, etc etc)

    How did they manage to convince so many who should have known better to refer to the whole sport itself as “AFL”, rather than one body overseeing one (if the biggest, elite) league who are its stewards.

    In idle moments, can’t help wondering if DreamTeam and SuperCoach (and will confess, have just spent another hour fiddling pointlessly with mine) aren’t a way to channel all that interest and energy into something safely abstract and unconfronting.

  9. Any footy article with a vanilla slice in is a winner .

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