Almanac Footy: Maybe the name of the school is important


An unpopular opinion: the school the player went to is actually of interest.



Friend of the Almanac, Smokie Dawson sent this tweet out last Friday night:





This was in reaction to a comment from everyone’s favourite footy commentator Brian Taylor mentioning the alma mater of GWS player Conor Stone during Friday night’s game. As you can see from the number of likes, the tweet received a pretty good response on Twitter. While I haven’t actually checked, I think probably 100% of the reaction was in support of Smokie’s sentiment.


On Saturday, Rohan Connolly sent this out to the Twitterverse:





Firstly – thank-you to both Smokie and Rohan for their self-restraint in blanking out the swear words.


My issue is not that the school the player attended is not of interest. I think it is. The problem is the selectivity of the information. It is only the private schools that are ever mentioned. And usually the Melbourne private schools.


In the United States, the path to the professional sporting leagues is being drafted via university, or college as it is known. For baseball, the draftees may also come straight from secondary school. The US commentators will often mention the name of the college or school from where a player has been drafted, particularly early in a player’s career. And with the college scholarship system, the college a player has attended will often be remote from the place where the player grew up. For players coming out of college, rarely will their geographic origins be highlighted. It will be their college.


The path to the AFL is also via a draft system, but the pre-draft pathways are much less structured. Players come from junior suburban competitions and from secondary schools. Unlike in the US, an individual player may come via both these pathways simultaneously. They may have played all their junior football at one or more junior suburban clubs, but also be playing for their school team. As a Victorian, I am familiar with a portion of the Victorian (Melbourne) systems. Both the schools mentioned by Smokie and by Rohan are in the Associated Public Schools (APS). A parallel system is the Associated Grammar Schools (AGS). Students who attend these schools are required to participate in compulsory Saturday school sport. (This is certainly true in the APS – I am not entirely sure about the AGS.) If the school competition clashes with a student’s participation in local suburban sport, then the school will take precedence, unless an exemption has been granted by the school.


It will come as no surprise to anyone that not all players who play for the school in these competitions are paying full fees. A system of sporting and academic scholarships is used to attract talent. And these scholarships thereby enhance the private schools competitions at the expense of junior suburban and other schools competitions.


Jake Niall wrote about this in the Age in late 2019, you can read it HERE.


There are other elite school football competitions in Victoria. And there are public schools such as Box Hill Secondary College and Maribyrnong College which advertise themselves as pathways to AFL level footy.


In addition, the Herald Sun Shield is a schools competition which aims to identify the premier football school in Victoria. However, only four school competitions participate in this, and the APS is not one of them.


Not too long ago, we used to talk about the schools which were football factories – Assumption College Kilmore and St Pat’s Ballarat are two that come to mind. But commentators did not attract the same criticism when highlighting players’ school origins. While these schools continue to feed players into the AFL, they don’t receive the same prominence in the broadcast media.


So, back to my original premise. The pathways players have taken to reach the AFL is important, and is of interest to the listening and watching public. But all pathways should be acknowledged – not just the selective private schools that the current commentators seem to favour. And those pathways should also include junior suburban and country clubs. Smokie and Rohan and everyone else are right to criticise. But the response should be to broaden the recognition, not erase it.





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About Andrew Fithall

Probably the most rational, level-headed Collingwood supporter in existence. Not a lot of competition mind you.


  1. As a proud product of the public school system, I have plenty of time for Smokie and Roco’s viewpoints. But I do agree with you Andrew, it’s a good idea to celebrate all the paths kids take to get to the big time; if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. How that translates from theory to practice is the tricky part…

  2. AF, I agree with much of what you say – if and only if more than just Xavier/Hale/Sacred Heart are being acknowledged. I have heard absolutely nothing about metro and country high schools, nor about specialist sport programs in state high schools. (Also in the arts etc)

    This is completely worthy of serious academic study – to assess the degree to which the AFL as an institution (ie AFL House) and the media coverage serve to impose power structures and (more importanty for me) affirm power structures.

    Reminds me of the nineteenth and early twentieth century when the toffs who ran some sports made rules to exclude so-called professionals. For example,if you rowed for a living (ferrying people across the river) you could not compete in the sport of rowing. This made it easier for Oxbridge types and sat them in their ‘rightful place’. Australia was somewhat different at this time.Our clubs either included working class rowers or had were working class clubs. Alec Sloan came from the bush to row and play footy. Someone will know, but I reckon he was a postal clerk. He rowed for Victoria, out of one of the Yarra clubs, and captained Fitzroy to two premierships. He was then picked up by Scotch where he coached rowing for quarter of a century.

    Thanks for your piece AF – excellent topic.

    PS I went to Oakey High in Queensland and we had 26 Grade 12s, including a national champion athlete – Shane Gilliland. During those years (the70s) the APS equivalent in Brisbane, the GPS – (Grammars etc) athletics day on the grass a Lang Park was televised on ABC TV! False consciousness!

  3. PS A broader critique of commentary would make a good read – and would fire readers up.

  4. Great topic AF. I’m actually really interested in where footballers come from, but I think you’re right that TV commentary (not so much radio or printed media) tends to highlight the renowned schools only. But it’s great when a young kid makes his name and we learn he comes out of a tiny town’s local high school and used to kick the footy over the wheat silos.

  5. Well argued piece Andrew and an important topic. On balance I would prefer schools were left out of media commentary altogether. He/she comes from Wonthaggi or Kew – not Wonthaggi High or Kew Grammar.
    I come to this from the golf perspective. The US commentary drives me nuts where they are forever saying (and sometimes have school monograms on the leaderboard graphic) that XXXX is a Tar Heel, or a Bruin, or Sooner. WTF who cares – is my general reaction.
    College sport is huge business in the US. When the European women again won the Solheim Cup against the US there were protests that “9 of their 12 players came to our schools” – inference we should stop training the enemy. There are now extremely expensive high school & Junior golf programs ($30-40K US) aimed at winning a scholarship to an elite College program.
    Lawrence Donegan (ex Guardian golf writer; Commotions bassist; and now McKellar golf journal editor) lives in San Francisco these days and has recently written a lot about the scandals of elite US junior golf. Parents paying these fees on the CHANCE of winning a $15K tuition scholarship! Bad economics – but the prestige of an elite college – and then a gateway to a pro career.
    Helicopter parents proliferate. Parents cheat and berate kids for missed putts. Worse – College coaches with an investment in players follow them all round and micro analyse every shot with them. Rounds of golf in elite junior competitions take 6 hours – where I take 4.
    Donegan recently took his son to UK for a 2 month father-son bonding trip and played in most of the top British Boys tournaments. (Niall finished 4th in the final at Royal Cinque Ports next door to where the most recent British Open was played. Donegan discussed the whole experience on Rod Morri and Mike Clayton’s most recent State of the Game podcast – highly recommended).
    The UK junior competition is completely the opposite of the US. Not school based. Highly democratic and heavily subsidised by the governing body (the R&A) and golf clubs to encourage participation in the sport. The British Boys final cost 25 pounds to enter and they got to play one of the world’s top courses for 8 days!
    My overall conclusion is that the earlier sport is highly organised and commercialised the less it becomes a sport and the more it becomes a business. To me that destroys the essence of sport for participants (burn out; bad behaviour; cost etc etc).
    I realise elite Aussie Rules schools competitions are not YET that hyper organised but its a slippery slope and the AFL seems to pursue the NFL as its idealised model. No thanks.
    As a final comment I think this elitism (and subtle racism) of favouring private school boys contributed to the AFL football clubs passing over Tim Kelly and Marlon Pickett for so long in the draft.

  6. Great point re Kelly and Pickett PB.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I bet there will be no mention of “McKinnon Secondary’s Max Gawn” when he hoists the cup next week, but Dominos will probably rate a mention.

  8. Andrew Fithall says

    Thanks for the input valued readers. Continuing the conversation – I think what really gets people’s gripe is not just the selectivity, it is the terminology. Both the Smokie and the Rohan quotes use the “#school name boy”. If they said something like…” he was recruited out of #schoolname” it might be a bit more palatable. But still needs to be broader.

    Peter B – the US college sport is worth a whole new article and more. I have some indirect experience with my two daughters playing college lacrosse in upper New York State. It is a different world – and the parental involvement was a real revelation.

    Harmsie – with regard to an article on the broader commentary, I reckon Smokie is just the person to write it. For those who don’t follow him on twitter – @smokiedawson – I encourage you. He is extra game-day entertainment.

    Dips and PB – I reckon that list of players who have been passed over is a great deal longer.

    McKinnon College Swish? I certainly did not know that.

  9. I second Dips’s praise for that point PB. Your whole comment is a good one – I’ll pick you up on one small detail though. Wonthaggi High hasn’t been around for a long time, the local techinical college merged with the high school decades ago, to form the (still very much public) Wonthaggi Secondary College. Has had a ripper volleyball program too, just as an aside.

  10. Excellent article and thread. The only time I’m interested in a player’s school is when watching the NFL and I engage in a private game of bingo to see how long before a graphic or ticker announces that a linebacker is from Purdue. There’s always at least one from Purdue!

  11. AF,
    I believe this topic to be most worthy of discussion, and you have articulated your argument very well.
    Given the response to my tweet last Friday night, I think there is definitely a depth of feeling about this issue, but the discussion around footy commentary standards in general is the issue which is most dear to football-lovers’ hearts.
    If I get the chance over the weekend I shall pen a more detailed response on the naming of schools issue. And I guess I really should vent my spleen once and for all with a piece on Taylor, Brayshaw and Luke Darcy.

  12. Re: TV sport commentators. BT; JB & Darce are not the problem. They are not fools. They are just giving the league and the advertisers what they want. Bland, trite, fanboy adulation with no perspective, analysis or critique.
    If you think #7Footy is bad you haven’t watched US golf telecasts. Everything and everyone are the greatest, best, most talented and generous athletes who ever lived. The players collectively own and run the PGA Tour; which owns all the marketing, sponsorship and advertising. Woe betide any journalist/commentator who casts a critical eye over this spectacle.
    The problem is the commercial behemoth of sports as an entertainment product. If you don’t like the commentators turn the sound off. I have eyes, memory and judgement. I don’t need fanboys to explain what I just saw.

  13. Here in the States where you’re from is always important. Heck, I spent all of my newspaper career localizing national stories to include local connections, and ran lists for all the major sports of where our local athletes had landed and how they were doing. It’s just part of the commentary but it’s not meant to take the place of reasoned analysis. (Although sometimes where an athlete prepped can provide some insight as to how he/she performs, particularly in basketball, in which coaching philosophies/strategies vary so much.)
    Of course, watching footy I have no idea what any of the local references mean, but I’m guessing some of them add to the perception/skill set of the player. The best announcers find the extra details to weave a more complete picture of what you’re seeing/listening to; what is irritating are details that mean nothing.
    (Oh, and Peter, US golf commentary is WAY over the top. It might be courageous to stand in at home plate against a somewhat wild pitcher throwing 100 mph — or to leap for a high pass when you’re going to get creamed by a defensive back. It’s not courageous to aim a golf ball a different way towards a target. And it’s all so pompous and full of itself.)

  14. Same sentiments as “Hello, nice to meet you….bla, bla, bla, yes my wife/husband is a lawyer/doctor blah, bla, bla…” How about the … “My wife/husband is a garbage truck collector/street cleaner?!

  15. Kevin Densley says

    Interesting discussion.

    Basically, I DO like to know about a player’s background – it adds to a general picture of their personal history – but I agree with Andrew that all histories should be equally acknowledged, regardless of where one went to school, grew up, or played junior sport.

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