Footy With the Sound Turned Down

We all know how it went…


The AFL grew bigger and wealthier and moved out of its comfortable suburban house with concrete backyard and tomatoes out front, and built the mansion on the hill, with more toilets than bedrooms and even more garage space.


The AFL could see everyone and everyone could see it.


But this hard earned success did not set the AFL free. The opposite happened. Greed, paranoia and siege mentality set in. So, it built a concrete wall with security cameras. Now no one could see in.


Despite being the biggest sport around in almost every way, the AFL wasn’t content. It wanted to be even bigger, so it invented ways to dominate media coverage all year round. It introduced drafts, draft camps, pre-draft nibbles and drinks, Irish junkets, and preseason cups starting just after new year, which for a while fooled people until clubs played to lose or refused to smile at presentation ceremonies.


The media bought in. Tabloids splashed Nick Riewoldt large on the front page, stretching his hamstring in January heat.


Other sports, none of which were a threat, were suffocated and bullied like Grenada.


Supporters suffered from fatigue.


But who cares, this was about empire building in uncharted territory. The AFL tried to take the keys off North Melbourne and send it to a paddock by the side of a highway in south-east QLD. Why not, it worked with Fitzroy. Thankfully, smarter people stood strong and Suns fans have their own roots up club to get behind. And North lives on.


Despite research saying not to, GWS was created. The Giants may win premierships, but will always have its hand out and mouth open.


Sydney landed Buddy and Tippett. Is that a level playing field?


The AFL started to resemble Canberra. The clubs morphed into political parties and debate is now controlled, criticism deflected, information spun. Ticket price hikes are quietly announced at 5.00pm Friday and journos who don’t tow the line are ‘spoken to’, or frozen out. Some others are Molly Meldrum to Andrew Demetriou’s Prince Charles.


In the end, the AFL grew tired of courting the media and decided to make its own. It’s easier that way. As the CEO said, ‘We own the game’.


Do you?


Big TV deals brought more wealth, a damaged soul and less control. The big and new clubs play each other twice a year on the big grounds while the others gather at the Dungeon on Sunday nights like unwanted wedding guests. And when the darkened, unwelcoming stands echo with emptiness, we ask how can they survive? The AFL’s class system may be irrevocable.


Professional sport can’t survive without TV. But at what cost?


Predictably, the chickens came home to roost and the lights went out and sound was turned down. Melbourne’s fifty year members stirred from their leather couches, rubbed their hands and said ‘see you in court’. But protecting the brand is more important than the game’s integrity and the truth.


Impassioned denials and pledges to fight as long as it takes were followed by guilty pleas, back room and front room deals and penalty negotiations. Out of the way just in time for the finals.


Demetriou makes late night calls then distances himself to protect his legacy, lap of honour and retirement bonus – ‘I didn’t inject anyone’. While the heir apparent can’t lie straight in press conferences. He has work to do in that area.


Hird hangs around like Banquo’s ghost – except when he’s abroad ‘studying’. Tania has more mettle than Lady Macbeth; Danks taunts; and the late Dean Bailey took the fall.


What’s Libba doing these days?


So, this season has started earlier again and the AFL can’t believe cricket won’t move aside or that ASADA would dare take the focus. But round 1 was a sheepish apology. Like a drunk, lipstick collared husband creeping in the back door.


Collingwood, the AFL’s India, opened limply and the only game on this wide, brown continent scheduled for the first Sunday started at 7.40pm, up against Fat Tony. The dungeon echoed with lack of atmosphere. The Bulldogs were sent to Perth; the premiers received a soft opener. Thursday night games prove once and for all bums on couches are greater priority than bums on seats.


Are we still interested, or is it habit? Are we still listening or has the sound been turned down? Maybe we don’t trust anymore. Maybe we’re numb.


One thing’s certain: we need people with principal and the best interests of the game at heart, in charge.



  1. I fear that things may get worse before they get better.
    A mate of mine who works at head office confided in me that the differences between the current CEO and his annointed successor are quite stark.
    Whereas the current CEO truly believes that the AFL has a leading role to play in community issues (e.g. vilification, respect for women etc), the annointed one is a believer in the “how do we get every last dollar from the pockets of those at the ground?” school of philosophy.

  2. Well described, AS. Once passion is lost, footy becomes just another “product” in entertainmentland.
    I’ll take a book or possibly a movie, thanks.

  3. matt watson says

    Brainwashing, pure and simple.
    The AFL is built on brainwashing. We do it to our kids to make sure they support our team and there is no treason in the house.
    The AFL brainwash us to believe we want footy on Thursday night and Sunday night, that we want to pay $70 a month for Foxtel (I don’t) and we are brainwashed to sit through inane programs like AFL Game Day and Talking Footy.
    ‘I are programmed to love,’ I say as my monthly membership fee finds its way into the coffers of the AFL and my chosen club…

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    A he’ll of a lot of truth in both Andrews and E regnans articles ! I detect growing dissatisfaction with the way the game at the elite level is heading and as others have remarked we better get used to it , NO THANKS !
    Thanks Andrew

  5. Neil Anderson says

    We are all being conned but we stick to our Clubs out of loyalty, particularly those of us who have been watching since the VFL days.
    If we thought too much about having to open our season on the other side of the continent nine days after the first game, we would have given up long ago. If we think about the money the Club loses every time they run out on their ‘ home ‘ ground at Etihad you wouldn’t line up to pay a membership every year.
    Being sent to Darwin and Canberra for home games to pay the bills makes the fixture even more lopsided.
    It’s probably an age thing, but with all that, us oldies stick with our Clubs. I’m not sure whether the younger generation will keep signing on though.
    The VFL Footscray Bulldogs side is looking good, playing out out of the Whitten Oval being less corrupted by the fixture. And they don’t even lose money every time they run out on their home ground.

  6. Andrew Starkie says

    Thanks for feedback guys. I arrived at the Dungeon on FRiday to discover I had to pay an extra $5.50 on top of my True-Roo For Life membership ($30 per month, every month of the year, forever) because it was a ‘ticketed game’. I’ve never had to pay at ‘ticketed games’ before and the poor young guy and his boss, who I gave a gob full to, couldn’t explain why this new charge had been introduced. They didn’t know about it until they arrived at work earlier in the day. BTW, only 42,000 inside.

  7. Ben Footner says

    Buying a membership these days feels like lending money to a dodgy relative. You know it’s probably going to go through the pokies or on cartons of ciggies rather than on something meaningful, and you know you’ll never get it back – but bloody hell, you care for them to much and can’t bring yourself to say no when the question comes around.

    The problem is that there is no concerted and organised push from us, the supporters and games greatest shareholders.

    We lament on the interwebs, but maybe it’s time for something more meaningful.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Andrew has anything come out re the ridiculous new charge ?
    Litza above brilliant as always v funny and so true

  9. An enjoyable – if depressing – read.

    While everyone is backing Gillon Mac to take over from Vlad, I have my fears that Roopert’s man – Kim Williams, who was ushered onto the Commission in Feb – might be the dark horse to take over. If the future of the game is indeed about eyes on sets and not bums on seats, Kim would have to be your man wouldn’t he?

  10. Gillon and Hamish McLachlan to quit AFL public life for shared blacksmithing role on European polo circuit.

  11. Phil Dimitriadis says

    I’m with you Starks and remember having this discussion with you at that very expensive Yum Cha in Preston last year. Does the AFL own that too?

    The AFL has become the Palm Oil and we the Orangutans I’m afraid.

  12. Peter Schumacher says

    The game itself is fine I reckon, it’s the inane bullshit that goes with it that upsets me

    And yes I have Fox but no I didn’t watch most of the Sunday night game because I had had enough footy by hen, well certainly in that time slot anyway.

    The frustrating thing is that the whole scenario is like the way the country is in general, we are mostly being played for fools and are powerless to do anything about it.

  13. I propose a non-AFL weekend in the middle of the season – everyone should switch off and head down to the local game instead. Probably would never happen, but the only way to get the AFL’s attention is to simply switch off.

  14. Lovely call Litsa. I’m up for it

  15. Andrew Starkie says

    Gillon really concerns me. He’s a liar and treats the public like fools. And he’s more To the Manor Born than footy outer. Surely he can’t land the top job.

    Malcolm, I will email the club re new charge and get back to you

  16. John Butler says

    Aren’t we all in a buoyant mood for the new season!

    Nice work Starkers. I like that Mansion on the Hill bit especially. Very Bruce.

  17. Andrew – I endorse your protest against AFL corporatism/cronyism as much as anyone. But the Victorian tribalism/triumphalism in your piece and in a number of other recent Almanac articles is getting a bit over the top.
    This is the AUSTRALIAN Football League not the VFL with bolt-ons. NSW, WA, SA and Qld deserve and can economically sustain 2 teams in a national league. It is sad for traditional fans of Fitzroy and South Melbourne to lose their teams, but it is part of the process of becoming genuinely NATIONAL. We became an equal Federation in 1901.
    Footy is taking a little longer.
    The process of making a rational, balanced competition will be a difficult, traumatic, legally fraught process. We will inevitably be 8 + (4×2) in time.
    Without it 3 or 4 of the inevitably impoverished Melbourne teams will rotate around the bottom end of the ladder interminably.
    The trouble is that none of the turkeys understandably want to call Xmas early, so all collectively starve.
    Good luck.

  18. daniel flesch says

    Gee , i dunno , Peter_B about “Victorian tribalism/triumphalism” in this and other Almanac pieces. (Either i’m as unperceptive as the ex says , or it ain’t there .) But i am sure the GWS experiment should never have happened . You don’t need to have lived in Sydney as i did in the 1990’s to know that Western Sydney is Rugby League and Soccer territory and the arrogant AFL should have stayed right out. GWS could end up like the Melbourne Storm – winning a Flag but very few people in the town giving a rat’s…. As for your story , Andrew Starkie , sadly , i’m afraid – spot on.

  19. – perhaps the one remaining hope.

    Fantastic, articulate piece Andrew.

    As your club’s song goes ‘join in the chorus’.

    The undercurrent of dissatisfaction and growing ambivalence is grossly underestimated by Big Brother.

  20. Bomberbuzz says

    Club memberships have gone up a lot over last 10 years. MCC membership still costs about $600 – that’s for a guarenteed seat to gf, prelims and Boxing Day (value well over $600) plus every other mcg game. Why isn’t the cost of this membership valued what it should be rather than charge blockbuster levy or extra for fully ticketed games (even when it’s not close to a sell out like Ess v north or Carl v rich). Probably cos that would affect the upper class of society

  21. Cheryl Critchley says

    You only have to look at the crowd at tonight’s game – Ess v Haw – very disappointing. Wasn’t this one meant to sell out? Friday night? Nice weather?

  22. There was a time when your club season membership got you into all your clubs games ‘subject to capacity’, without any other cost to enter. This was great, especially for families and those not flush with money. You even thought it was great that your club was getting more financial benefit selling memberships; a reason to buy one and help build a team. Now I buy a membership and there is barely a free seat in the house, other than the far back right corner of the nose-bleed section where you watch ants run around the field. Almost every seat is to be paid for again, on top of the membership entry. This leads to vast sections of the prime seating area being vacant for many games because the greedy AFL expected a bigger crowd demand. Maybe they are not even smart enough to realise many games will barely fill half the ground. As a member of a club with 70,000 members, the AFL know they can get away with ticketing every seat to our games. I refuse to have to book a seat because I like to meet family or mates at the game, and because of resistance to the impost. The AFL have got it wrong if they think this policy is fair to the passionate supporters who would love a return to just turning up and finding your way to your favourite section of the ground; nostalgic I know. My membership card should read ‘admission subject to your bank balance’.

  23. While endorsing all the previous comments about the lamentable corporatisation of AFL, and the sheer gouging of fans, via ticket charge increases, I had hoped this article might have referred to the horrific amplification of unnecessary ground announcements. The game at the Gabba on Sunday was marred by deafening and constant barrages of commercialised noise, drowning out any possibility of conversation. I can handle the corny lion’s roar every time Brisbane scores a major ( thankfully, not too often against the Cats this time), but the bogan music, crass radio “personality” interviews, juvenile audience participation games and incessant booming commercials are offensive. If I was watching this on TV, I would have the luxury of the Mute button, but after paying $60 for a ticket, I was trapped in the Gabba. At half- time, we tried to discuss the game, but it was impossible, over the loudspeaker onslaught. It was particularly annoying that every notice which was posted on the big screen was also read out, at about a million decibels: “Happy birthdays” , forthcoming events, etc. As this was not a Collingwood game, surely the written message would have sufficed.

  24. Almanac footy trip to Murtoa on May 3. If we get enough it’s a mini-bus. Otherwise it’s a convoy. Leaving Saturday morning. Returning Sunday midday. Let me know if you are keen.

  25. Maybe it’s just a car laod?

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