Headlines Heresy Halted – Hooray!

In a recent Federal Court case, Justice Bennett found that newspaper headlines are not protected under Copyright law. Footy sub-editors must have breathed a collective sigh of relief. A ruling the other way could have rendered a gem like “Power switched on” never to be repeated again – the prospect of being a very sad day for football indeed. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and footy readers can rest assured that the customary Power headlines will continue with uninterrupted transmission next season. And should Collingwood maintain their premiership winning form, we can expect more not-so-original variations on the “Hot Pies” theme to be cooked up.

In handing down her decision, Justice Bennett espoused that headlines are “too trivial to be a literary work”. Too trivial? Whilst her findings should be applauded, her ratio decidendi is ludicrous. It demeans the creative brilliance of sub-editors. Exhibit A, Your Honour: “Goddard Expects Pies in His Face”. Beautifully crafted; conjuring up visions of The Three Stooges chaotically running around in Collingwood jumpers. And if more recent evidence is required, “Old McDonald Back to Farm”. Evocative and tantalising; the customary E-I-E-I-O being left for reader completion.

The addition of a Gold Coast team to the AFL will offer some freshness, some innovation, in newspaper headlines. With the news of the AFL having registered a web address for the yet to be named Gold Coast side, we were presented with “Sun Rises on Gold Coast”. And with the revelation that “The Suns” was on the shortlist of three names, came the headline, “Suns Getting Hotter for Gold Coast”. Once into their recruiting phase it was good to know that “Suns Warm to Bock” and that some of their top line players will get “Funds in the Sun”. And with the prospect of some interest in the delisted Melbourne player, it was noted that “Suns May Take a Shine to Miller”. For those of us under the misapprehension that they wouldn’t actively trade their draft picks – “Gold Coast Suns Won’t Bask in Trade Week”. Headlines of this quality are a mere glimmer of what we can expect to see in 2011; offering jaded readers a new “Ray of Hope”. 

Like the fledgling Gold Coast team, a young player on the rise offers immense excitement for sub-editors. Does he have a nickname? Does his name engender some interest in itself? Steele Sidebottom must have had the creative juices flowing immediately. And we weren’t let down – “Man of Steele Feels the Nerves”. We were later reassured with, “Young Pie Shows Nerves of Steele” and that he was “Steeled for the Big One”.  His team mate Chris Dawes provided some similar inspiration noting that there was an “Open Dawes Policy” down at Collingwood, that his improvement had been a case of “Evolving Dawes”, and when thinking about the Grand Final we should know that “Dawes Open for Saints Clash”. This season also saw the rise of Jack Riewoldt and Kieran Jack, prompting “Jack Out of the Box” and “Jack of All Trades”.  Too trivial to be a literary work – you jest Your Honour!

Club mascots are a safe haven for headline writers. And none offer as much full font fodder as the Western Bulldogs. Their return to form during season 2010 saw the headline, “Bulldogs lost and found”. The Aker soap opera rendered “Akermanis in the doghouse”. After spending more weeks than expected in the VFL it was considered that “Aker’s a Lost Dog.”  And after everything that he had to say about Brad Johnson, the retaliation was a case of “Western Bulldogs Skipper Bites Back”. Rodney Eade dismissed the claims of Akermanis in a piece headlined, “Aker Barking Up the Wrong Tree”. And on-field, a good first quarter had, “Bulldogs’ Tails Wagging Early”. When on the wane, it was thought that “Old Dogs Need Some New Tricks”. Naturally, when Daniel Giansiracusa said that he wouldn’t mind being captain, we were presented with, “Make Me Top Dog”. The Western Bulldogs are a sub-editor’s dream. There can be old dogs and young pups, biting and whimpering, on the leash and off the leash, they can limp or they can bound, and their natural tendency is to do a bit of sniffing around. So many options for sub-editors to drool over.

When rummaging through their toolkit, the experienced headline writer will often reach for the alliteration to provide the magic touch. Season 2010 saw a “New Roo to Debut”, the “Extra Ruck Out of Luck”, “Jolly’s Josh Gesture”, “Pies Pull Presti” and “Brown’s Brisbane Beat Bombers”. An admirable assembly of alliterations? Absolutely.

Another tactic frequently exploited is to merge popular cultures; perhaps combining a footy headline with a movie or song title. When looking forward to the first game of the round, clubs will apparently have “Friday On Their Mind”. Before having played a game a headline heralded “Here Come the Suns”. Slipping in a slight variation can be a nice little trick too, like “When Harry Met Stevie” or “The Calm Life of Brian” focusing on Brian Lake.  And one for our older viewers had “Hale On Pace For Recall”.

Of course, when footy’s the subject matter there’s always room for a healthy dose of schoolboy humour. It’s hard to go past “Collingwood Confirm Dick Surgery”. And one wonders when the “AFL Probes Fevola” exactly what they’ll find.

Justice Bennett’s finding, whilst a decision that is ultimately good-for-football, fails to see the creative genius that is required to keep coming up with these gems. So, if the Court pleases Your Honour, I say, “Judge’s Jibe Generates Genuine Jeering”.

Here’s one for each club from season 2010 :-

Adelaide:  Birdman Permanently Grounded
Brisbane:  AFL Cat-astrophe Looms for Lions
Carlton: Blue Walker on the March
Collingwood: Vain Dane Finds Brain
Essendon: Hird Drops Coach Bombers-shell
Fremantle: Dockers Can Plug Holes
Geelong: Five Struggle-Ling
Hawthorn: All Hale Hawks’ Big Trade Coup
Melbourne: Old McDonald Back to Farm
North Melbourne: Kangaroos Caught in Hale Storm
Port Adelaide: Warren to Tred a Different Path
Richmond: Jack the Ace in the Pack
StKilda: One Gram Vital to Heavyweight
Sydney: Longmire Takes the Reins
West Coast: Eagles Eye Daniel Wells
Western Bulldogs:  Picken Apart

….. and not to forget the much-maligned men in white: Razor Ray makes cut for first GF

That is all

About Arma

Much-maligned footy banterer


  1. John Butler says

    Great work Arma

    Does the Herald Sun know about your talents?

  2. Thanks JB …….. not that I know of!

    That is all

  3. E-I-E-I-Oh is reserved for outbreaks of equine influenza.

  4. Sadly we are unlikely to see an Australian version of the headline which accompanied Inverness Caledonian beating Celtic: “Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic were atrocious”.

  5. Arma – great read. The Fleet Street boys come up with some beauties too. In fact it probably all started over there.

    Next year when Jimmy Hird fails and stories start about his sacking, they’ll have,

    “Hird The Rumour?”

  6. England got beaten courtesy of a dodgy decision by the Swiss referee and the headlines were Reffing Idiot and Swiss Banker. When they got beaten by Sweden the headline was Swedes 2 Turnips 0.

  7. Arma, I have very strong affilliations with the Wynyard football club so I offer this pearl prom the past.

    And please knackers, don’t blame me. Arma started it.

    The story goes like this…

    There was great excitement in Wynyard, Tasmania, as the local football team had won the preliminary final and, for the first time in twenty-nine years would play in the Grand Final the following week.

    Discussion of the game had reached fever pitch in the small coastal town and most of it centred on the injuries of the team’s champion players, Ian and Trevor Dick, who were brothers. Ian had strained ligaments and Trevor a corked thigh. Would they be fit for the big day?

    The burning question was answered on Friday morning before the game by the Advocate, which had the following banner headline on it’s sports page: WYNYARD TO PLAY WITHOUT DICKS.

    Not to be out done, the other newspaper in the region, the Examiner, led with a similar headline on Saturday, the morning of the game. It read: WYNYARD TO PLAY WITH DICKS OUT.

    Needless to say the ground was jam-packed for the big game as people travelled from all over the state to see this historic clash.

    (Local folklore adapted by Phillip Adams and Patrice Newell for The Penguin Book of Australian Jokes)

  8. David Downer says


    I naturally assumed tabloid headlines were these days conjured by a random computer generator – but you’ve proven that human ingenuinety is still a key requirement for the craft. Nicely done. You’ve given the Gold Coast Bulletin subbies an early leg-up.

    A couple of clever one’s I found on the interweb…

    On eve of North Korean nuclear test – “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?”

    1997 Argentine Grand Prix where Pedro Diniz’s car catches fire – “Diniz in the Oven”

    I’m not sure whether this quite made an actual banner headline, but a WC-PAdel game produced the match-up “Cox gets Lade”.

    And just from the weekend – “So You Think You Can Win the Cox Plate?”. There may be similar to come before the Spring is out. The second Melbourne Cup fave Shocking provides plenty of scope in this regard.

  9. Tony,
    That leader was accompanied by a giant photo of Graham Taylor, manager, with his head as a Turnip….I think.

  10. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Fine work Arma,

    I like how a good headline floats in the space between the literary and the visual and how few words can encompass puerility and poesy in one hit. Definitely tabloid employment possibilities if you are so inclined. Had a good laugh.

  11. Thanks for all of the comments above – yes, there have been some beauties.

    In compiling this piece, I also hobbled together a timeline of some of the more poignant headlines regarding the Essendon coaching job. The collection shows how insightful headlines can sometimes be into the “psyche of the moment” and the ensuing “Plight of Knights”.


    • Knights praises gallant Bombers
    • Essendon coach Matthew Knights accepts blame for blowout
    • ?Essendon coach Matthew Knights vows to reset radar
    • Essendon incur Matthew Knights’ wrath
    • Anzac Day blow-out exposes flaws in Matthew Knights’ Essendon plan
    • Essendon dismiss Knights speculation
    • Matthew Knights says Bombers need to go for jugular
    • Knights upbeat despite losses
    • We can still make it: Knights
    • Knights lashes ‘lazy’ media
    • I thrive on death row, says Matthew Knights
    • Classic leaves Matthew Knights on brink
    • I’ve got a job to do: Knights
    • Matthew Knights hits back at critics
    • Knights’ lash not at me: Hird
    • Bombers’ belting angers Matthew Knights
    • Bombers back troubled Knights
    • Knights unfazed by looming criticism
    • Essendon boss Ian Robson vows Matthew Knights will fight on despite changes
    • Knights not fazed by Hird speculation
    • Knights to see out contract at Essendon
    • Bombers blame ‘feral’ media
    • Not all Matthew Knights’ fault, but something has to give
    • Matthew Knights calm as Bombers nosedive
    • Essendon review belies Matthew Knights sacking whispers
    • Bottom-four finish fair: Matthew Knights
    • Bombers vow not to rush things
    • Knights’ head held high to the end
    • Coach search starts ‘within days’
    • Hird set to coach Bombers
    • Geelong not expecting Bomber betrayal
    • Hird: I want Dons job
    • Mark Bomber Thompson to be James Hird’s boss at Essendon
    • Hird installed as Essendon coach
    • Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson in Essendon talks for months

    That is all

  12. Craig Down says


    Great work. Enjoyed the piece.

    My favourite headline was on the back of the H Sun a few years ago when a reasonably prominent trainer had declared the track work of one of his prime steeds to be less than desirable given the upcoming major race.

    A simple three words meant I didn’t have to read the rest:

    Rick Horse Lazy


  13. brunnysuze says

    Hi Arma,
    thank goodness the judge found in our favour – one of the things I love about footy writing is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously … front page of the Age sports pages can be works of art. I think my favourite footy headline though, has to be the one written when those naughty Collingwood boys had a few drinks, drove into a parked car and ran away … the text box associated with the article had a list of their players with similar prior misdemeanours, and was beautifully headed,
    “Pies on Sauce”.

    Favourite all-sports headline though – again, front of the Age – was from Korean World Cup, with a photo of both teams watching a penalty shootout, Sth Korean team cheering, other team gesturing in anguish … headline: ‘The pain as Spain heads mainly for the plane’


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