Changing Levels

We still go to AFL football; our family have always gone. The game at the top level is as fast and uncompromising as it has ever been. My family have been cat fans for generations and we’ve seen the game we grew up with go through many changes and permutations. One constant remains, the game at the highest level is as fascinating a spectacle as ever. The main change, for me, is the access fans have to the modern game. It is more voyeuristic these days, you can watch replays until your blue in the face but you can’t smell the liniment anymore, you can’t hear the coach’s address from the outer and you can’t share in the player’s emotion from your chair in front of the TV. It is still all there but not available to most fans perched at home on the couch or high in the grandstand.
My sons grew up watching the Cats from the outer and loved every minute of it. They also played junior footy on Sundays and progressed steadily through the junior football program at the local level. Like most junior clubs, we had a few boys we thought would go on to play at the elite level but didn’t realise how good you actually have to be to get there. A lot of junior footballers go on to play local footy at some level, the top level of suburban footy is also very difficult to crack into but if you want to play footy you will fit somewhere into the structure of the local system.
For me, local football has more in common with the game I grew up with than the modern game from a supporter’s point of view. I should probably be accused of getting old and living in the past at this point. Guilty as charged. A trip to the local football on a Saturday has become a regular occurrence for me and I will try to explain why… I think most people would agree you have to barrack for a team to get the most out of Aussie Rules at any level. That’s easy for me, I still have one kid who plays, if you don’t, choose a team and go along to a game. The first thing you notice is it’s fairly easy to find a car park close to the ground, pick a team with a home ground close to home and you can leave the car at home. You also notice everything is a lot cheaper and you can usually pick a vantage point and move around as much as you like.
Ten minutes before the main game starts stick your head in the change rooms and have a listen to the coaches’ address. You should start to recognise the similarities in this level of football to the footy of yesteryear. There’s a simple game plan from the coach with a bit of strategy thrown in for good measure, some players get jobs but the instructions are usually pretty general and you, the supporter, are privy to exactly what the team has been instructed to do. With the smell of liniment still in your nostrils you can watch the first quarter unfold and make your own judgement at quarter time where you think the game is at. There are no replays, no special comments and no comprehensive statistics, just football in its purest form, just like the old days. Wander out to the huddle and you’ll see hamstrings being rubbed and ankles being re-strapped. The coach delivers instructions oblivious to the world outside of his football team; sometimes his discourse is instructive and sometimes it’s inspirational but usually it’s delivered with raw human emotion.

After the game, win, lose or draw I usually have a couple of beers in the club rooms, have a chat about the game. The players wander in after a shower and everybody has their own opinion of what unfolded on the day. Players from both sides mix for a beer and leave hostilities back on the field where they belong. All footy clubs move on pretty quickly from what happened on the day to what needs to happen next week. Next week can’t come quick enough for footy fans. I quite often take a few minutes just before I go home to sit outside the club rooms, finish that last beer and relive some of the highlights from the day’s proceedings.

Football at the highest level is as spectacular as ever and I love being a small part of it but with the season quickly drawing to a close, at seasons end, I may miss the local footy more. Maybe I am just getting old.


  1. craig dodson says

    I coundn’t agree more, after finishing playing a long time ago I’d fallen out of touch with the local game until we moved house near a local ground. When I can I love to go down and watch a quarter here or there and smell the BBQ and see overweight guys with good hands try and do what their body refuses to.

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