General footy writing: New coach: Grounds for change on tackle rule

By Andrew Fithall
Crikey, the grounds are hard. In Round 1 a Williamstown Juniors under-16Ds player hit the turf and broke his arm. The ground hasn’t got any softer since then.
It is Tuesday afternoon. I am at home when I should be at work. I am on carer’s leave. Bill is on a nearby computer doing his Year 9 IT exam. I am his exam supervisor. The IT exam is a bit tricky in that, in the 55 minutes allowed, he must create a website for his school campus. A difficult enough task, I reckon, but when you have only one working arm, it is even more difficult. I have permission from the school to allow some extra time if required.
Last Sunday we were playing Point Cook at home. Bill was having a good game. As much as you can have a good game when you leave the field five minutes into the first quarter. It was his fourth possession. He was tackled legitimately. While falling backwards, he put his arms out behind him. One arm hit the surface awkwardly. Off the field and off to hospital. General anaesthetic the next day to have a broken arm set.  Three days off school while he keeps the arm elevated for the required 72 hours. A wrist-to-above-the-elbow cast for the next six weeks is going to be fun.
As the parent of one of his friends commented, it is bad luck to break your arm, but as you go into a week of exams it is really bad luck that it is not your writing arm!
The nurse in the theatre recovery room commented, “The more I see of all the football injuries in here, the more resolve I have that my son won’t play football”. I don’t have statistics, but I fear the state of the grounds is affecting the well-being of the players. There are the obvious short-term issues such as Bill’s broken arm. We don’t know whether there are longer-term ones such as degenerative joints from so much running and jumping on unforgiving surfaces. Another statistically unsupported statement, but I believe many of the grounds being played on today would not have gained occupancy clearance from their football governing bodies five years ago.
Which brings me to my main point. I think there needs to be a rule change relating to tackling. I am not talking about the type of tackle that resulted in Bill’s injury. That was fairly innocuous and was more the result of the state of the ground and the awkwardness of the fall. I am referring to the tackle where the tackler deliberately and forcefully crunches the tackled player to the ground. The AFL has already, to some extent, addressed the “mummy” tackle where the player’s arms are pinned. But the problem is broader and becoming more widespread. It goes unpunished at AFL level and so is copied in the lower ranks. The intent of the tackler may be to dislodge the ball, but it also to cause harm. The recipient’s arms may be free but the prospects of protection from injury are limited. Concussions, broken collarbones, broken arms, broken wrists and other injuries are often the result. The hardness of the playing surface contributes to the damage. The longer term impact: more parents resolve that their children won’t play football.
As an aside, we won a close one. Eight points in the end. The Geelong-St Kilda clash of the Western Region league under-16Ds is coming next week. We are away to Spotswood. And Bill will be watching from the sidelines. Unless he is still at the computer finishing his IT exam one-handed.

About Andrew Fithall

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


  1. pauldaffey says

    Doctors and nurses who comment on footy injuries tend to hate footy in the first place. The injuries just confirm a prejudice that was already there. When you point out the health benefits of footy, they tend not to listen.
    Good piece, though.

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