Cause-infested footy

I worry for my children.
When I was a kid I went to footy training on a Tuesday and Thursday night. We put on plastic footy boots, which made our feet bleed, and we kicked the ball until we couldn’t see it anymore. The only reason we stopped was because Mr Patto blew the whistle and yelled,
“Jog it in!”

And on Saturday afternoon I often went to the footy; Lakeside Oval, Junction Oval, MCG, Waverley perhaps. Sometimes just down to the local ground to watch Montmorency play. And I watched the reserves play whilst eating my sandwich, waiting for the big game.
And the players ran onto the ground and they played footy. It wasn’t always in the best spirit; blokes got hit, got ironed out, got broken noses and broken arms. But they simply played footy. There was no superfluous message because there didn’t need to be. It was about the game; two tribes wearing different jumpers playing football.

And if I couldn’t go to the footy I listened to it. Sometimes in the front room where the sun shone peacefully through the shaded windows, or maybe whilst sitting on the concrete steps with my ear up against the speaker of Dad’s leather encased HMV transistor radio, trying desperately to hear the Captain and the Major over the roaring noise of the lawn mower.
“Let’s go roun’ the grouns” the Major would declare every few minutes. All the games were played on Saturday afternoon. It was the footy Sabbath.
My team won or my team lost. I could wear my Geelong jumper to footy training as either a victory medal or as protective armour against the rogue Richmond and Collingwood fans. It was only ever about the football.

And I played local football. I played in a few wonderful teams. We won the under 16 Premiership with Paul Kirby and Gerry McShane running off half back, with Dave McColl rampaging around centre half back. We had Shane (glamour boy) Hunt at centre half forward (he was so glamorous he had a girlfriend), Dominic Mitchell and Wayne Derbyshire in the pivot, Buckley at full forward, and the ever reliable Marty Ward at full back. They were all good blokes. They were all very different too.

Our minds were uncluttered; our football uncomplicated. The club wasn’t perfect. Despite the efforts of the mums and dads to keep it all going smoothly it had its problems. Some kids missed out, some games descended into undignified shouting matches between benches, and between parents. A few games ended in scuffles. But show me an organisation that is perfect.
I learned my lessons at home around the dinner table. We talked about our day and, almost unwittingly, we deciphered our experiences in the process. We had exposure to many things that were unsavoury, but we had guidance to help us see through it; to reach our own conclusion. We didn’t base our conclusions on a marketer’s glib sound bite.

Some things needed to be looked at; bullying, excessive drinking on the boundary line, foul language with kids around. And these things are now under scrutiny. Rightly so. But like so many other good intentions things are being lost in the flood of “tolerance”.
The AFL is now contemplating “Pride” rounds. Footy is becoming cause infested. It is involving itself where it need not be; where it should not be. Like a movie star who suddenly acquires the wisdom to resolve the Middle East conflict, the AFL is becoming a slave to its own hubris. The danger is that it will be judged not just on what it chooses to promote or support, but what it does not. The words “slippery” and “slope” come to mind.

So why do I fear for my children? I worry they will be confused; that they will not see football for what it is – a game. Mangling football with well meaning (though at times misguided) agendas will result in a fruit salad of ideas that ultimately produces emptiness. Complicated social messages will be demeaned in the marketing package, reduced to an inane advertising blurb played at half time. Important issues shouldn’t be a cheapened component of the whole entertainment production.

And the opportunity for children to go to the footy simply to enjoy the footy will be steamrolled. Not only that, they will lose the inclination to reach their own conclusions about intricate matters. They will be told what their conclusion should be. It will be broadcast on the scoreboard.

The agenda of the AFL is bums on seats, be they bums at the ground or bums in the lounge room. And they will do whatever is necessary to achieve that aim. Disingenuous support for causes is just part of the strategy. And it’s a dangerous strategy.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. You the man, Dips. I reckon I agree mostly with you. Not on everything. The Dreamtime game is a corker concept that works.
    Have often wondered about the AFL’s motive? To win over the mums Rugby leaves behind, or genuine concern? Maybe both, but football as a substitute for parenting? I think a lot of their causes are good. Dreamtime game? What a corker! But the AFL loses me every time they expect their players, such young men, to be perfect, boring, role models for a greater good. They are human beings. Who play sport. How can we have heros if there are no villains? We barrack for people, not a corporate template.

  2. Dips, you know how much I detest tokenism, but promoting awareness for young gay men and women who love playing and watching footy is way overdue. Like Matt says, the indigenous round is a corker and multicultural and women’s round have potential.

    Perhaps your resentment towards ‘Pride’ round has something to do with watching Geelong in the 70s.

  3. Phil – thanks for the comment. I thought my mentioning of “Pride” would stir a few thoughts. But, with all due respect, you miss the point. Whether or not a Pride round is good or bad is not the argument here. What I want to discuss is whether it is the role of the AFL to be involved.

    What would be the reception if the AFL promoted “Pro Life” round or “Make Drugs Legal” round?

    Once you start where do you stop?

  4. Dips, ‘Pride’ round is about those who are excluded from participating because of their sexuality. Many young footy fans/players would embrace the game with more confidence with the right encouragement. Abortion and Drugs are human choices, sexuality is not, therein lies the difference.

    Yes, the game itself should be first and foremost, but the VFL/AFL or any other major sporting organisation has never been apolitical. The age of information and education has changed the landscape and these organisation have to at least acknowledge the relevance and potential $$$ of minority groups.

    That aside, I loved listening to 3KZ. Correct me if I’m wrong but the ‘Roun the Grounsmen’ included: George Ferry, Roy Simmonds, Bobby Henderson. Do you remember the others? They always used to send George Ferry to Victoria Park and when the Pies were coming back in the last quarter you could barely hear him. The mystique was part of the excitement back then.

  5. Phil – different yes, but more worthy?

    You see where this is heading?

    I thought George Ferry was always at Kardinia Park. He delivered a lot of bad news to Cat fans in the 70s.

  6. I don’t know what you are worried about Dips.

    We need ’cause’ based AFL fixtures.

    How else would the morons who subsist on the constant footy drivel spread from the AFL, and re-constituted by the learned media, like the nutritional pellets blown from the passing armoured trucks in ‘Solient Green’ know about ANZAC Day, racism, poverty and gay rights if they didn’t get it from footy?

  7. Sounds like footy is a great educator…and money spinner Phanto.

  8. A Child Labour round…?

  9. Litza – great shot.

  10. nathan jarvis says

    Dips, you are a winner and this was a winner post.

    Anyone disputing the slippery slope argument just need read through the comments here. “No cause-promoting, yeah! Well, except for …” Everyone agrees with the idea of cause-promoting when it’s a cause they agree with. And where does what people agree with end?

    It’s a drag, frankly. I go to the footy to have my consciousness lowered, not raised.

  11. Andrew Fithall says

    Dips. Not really with you on this. I think the AFL has shown some excellent leadership on a number of social issues. And given its presence in the community, can continue to set an example. As an aside, I often hear the remark “why are bike helmets compulsory? They weren’t when I was a kid and we all survived?” My response is “Well you may have come through unscathed, but many didn’t.” The outlawing and almost complete removal of racist on-field and off-field language has been an excellent achievement. Just because you and I may not have been directly exposed to it in the past doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and didn’t have detrimental effects on the victims.

    And Nathan – I think you idea of a round dedicated to those with a propensity to dress in drag is worthy.


  12. AF – what if the AFL backed causes you didn’t like?

    Matt Z – sorry I missed your 1st comment. I think you’ve nailed it.

  13. nathan jarvis says

    Footy clubs have promoted the cause of blokes frocking up for just about forever. If you haven’t seen a footy player in a dress by now you are not a genuine footy supporter. You’re probably a Weavil or a Bluebagger or some other kind of numpty whose opinion is worth nothing.

    I have photos of Glen Jakovich in fishnet stockings and I am prepared to use them.

  14. Andrew Fithall says

    Dips – I would voice my objection and enter into hearty debate.

  15. Dan S de Merengue says

    Lord Bogan,
    Sexuality is most definitely about choices. You can choose to keep your zip up, or you can zip it down. Society still puts people in jail based on their sexual indiscretions.

    But to get into any debate about sexuality might just prove Dips’ point. Footy (and the Almanac) is meant to be about footy, getting the pill and kicking through the sticks. 

    Where we draw the line between footy and social causes is a curious one. Although I’m yet to be convinced about the AFL’s social agenda. I believe a lot of people think they’re still more concerned about making money than anything else. Why is the Dreamtime game only ever Essendon v Richmond? Because it brings in the most money. Why is Anzac Day at the G only ever  ,,,, ? Because it brings in the most money. Why is .. (insert any other prickly question)? Because it brings in the most money.

  16. Once off reference would be ok AF but as soon as the AFL gets its greedy hands on an issue it tends to want to not only be the only oracle on it, but appears to want to then own it.

    My understanding of the AFL wanting to own something is that it then wants to reinvent it and make a squillion out of it.

    Yours in cynicism, Phanto.

  17. The AFL isn’t leading societal discussion on the great ethical questions of the day but, as a responsible corporate citizen, it’s plugging into what might be considered a few of the biggest of the last half century.

    The conundrum you pose, Dips, about what Cause might be a Cause too many, and as a subset of that, what Causes might create more conflict than confirmation is very interesting. However, to keep it interesting, it would be helpful if you provided some terms of reference to the premise.

    We can safely agree that the AFL would hardly support Causes that don’t already have a significant level of support behind them. So, for example, the AFL might not get behind Climate Change Action (for now) but would get behind responsible environmentalism. I see nothing wrong with an entity as big and powerful as the AFL getting behind Causes society is endorsing or evolving its views around.

    In fact, the very view you described of your childhood memories of the game reflects a Cause the administration of that period and earlier endorsed. That is, the status quo. However, while societal meta-structures and grand narratives of those times continued to reinforce a fairly singular and myopic worldview the world itself was changing forever. We now live in a time of multiplicity of narratives. Entities such as the AFL would be foolish not to connect with and reinforce the narratives that have grown out of the world uprising of the 20th Century, so as to stay connected and relevant.

    Whether they are doing so for base and cynical reasons is almost secondary to the fact that the AFL needs these new communities and their attitudes more than they need the AFL. That is why a Pro-Life Cause (in Australia for the foreseeable future) would not be picked up by the AFL but the NDIS or the rights of People with Disabilities might be. So the AFL will continue to support Causes that underlie the narratives of the 21st Century. Of course they’ll get it wrong and look stupid at times, but I have no problem with the AFL attempting to find its way into the future.

  18. Jeez Rick your focussed at this time of great anticipatory stress.

    The ‘climate change’ cause would be hard for the AFL to embrace. How much carbon is released in an AFL year with planes and other transport to games as well as the big lighting bills.

    Their carbon foot print would be outrageously bloated I would suggest. Saturday arvo games in local communities, where people walk and ride bikes is climate change friendly, not what we have got.

  19. Two minutes of focus and let go … ahhh … now, back to pacing the floor and pulling out the last remaining clumps of what I call hair, much to the meriment of my kids. Cheers

  20. Hasn’t footy always involved some causes?

    * Keeping cricketers fit
    * Establishing codified rules
    * Clubs representing a class or an area?

    Rick you are right about the 21st century narratives, but we need to be vigilant about what things have real meaning and what is just fashionable or topical.

    Dan, I wasn’t talking about flop it out sexuality. I was talking about being gay, straight or bisexual and for most that is not a matter of choice.

  21. Pamela Sherpa says

    If the AFL was seriously concerned about social welfare they would stop promoting betting and alcohol. They are hypocrits, and should stick to running a football competition and get some basic things like the match review panel and the umpiring sorted out instead of trying to set trendy social agendas.

  22. Sic’em Pamela

  23. Andrew Starkie says

    What about the anti-Carl Stefanovic round? Or, more seriously, the Keep prices reasonable so real fans can go round?

  24. Dips – We need half time Mini League for the Over 40’s.
    There is too much height discrimination in footy and society (or apart-height as the Goodies called it).

  25. Dan S de Merengue says

    Lord Bogan,
    I can appreciate that you say most gay, straight, or bisexual people are oriented that way not as a matter of choice. However, there is some element of choice involved as evidenced by those who have changed their orientation mid life. And there are some younger people who find themselves in the grey area of indecision. Does it help them to be told they have no choice? 

    Sexuality can be a fairly complex issue. Is the MCG scoreboard the right place to deal with it? Some think it is. Yet I was reading one discussion where they were having difficulty trying to answer the relatively simple question of whether openly gay men should be in the shower room with their team mates who were conscious they might be being ‘checked out’. It’s an odd situation to say the least.

    Maybe we could turn for answers to wisdom from the Rules Committee or the Match Review Panel.

  26. Pamela – you’ve said in a few words what took me a few hundred. Magnificent.

    Peter B – how did you know I was diminutive?

  27. PB is thinking about the answer Dips. He will call you shortly.

  28. The reason people criticise nostalgia is that we usually remember a past that didn’t quite exist. Dips description of his footy childhood is well written and undoubtedly true for Dips, but there has always been a connection between politics and (semi) Professional Football.

    In the sixties The Herald and The Sun (two seperate papers then) gave maximum publicity to footballers who had been conscripted for Vietnam and drew dubious links between “heroism” on the field and participation in what was becoming an increasingly unpopular war. On the other side, those of us who were both footy nuts and anti-war protesters kept our eyes open for draft resisiting footballers in the hope of adding their credibility to our cause.

    More explicity, during World War One, John Wren formed the Sportsman’s Thousand to encourage footballers to enlist. This had the support and encouragement of the then VFL.

    Football is a central part of Australian culture. Politics is central to all modern cultures. I doubt that it is possible to totally seperate them.

  29. Dips, Slightly off topic but I have a problem with the national anthem being played at all the minor finals, showdowns, derbies, etc. Fair enough for the Grand Final and ANZAC Day I suppose but that should be it. It’s footy for god’s sake. Do we really need to wrap the game in patriotism and the flag to make it seem more worthwhile?

    And don’t get me started on Collingwood putting the flag on its logo. Beneath the magpie of course. Really!

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