It’s still a funny game, football

Autumn in Melbourne is glorious. Idyllic weather and postcard parklands herald the wonderful Comedy Festival and AFL hostilities.

Footy used to be its own six month comedy festival of sorts. Now we seem tied to a crisis conveyor belt, solemn coronial inquests into the death of premiership aspirations, random acts of fixturing, variable pricing and variable interest in a game morphing into rugby.

Of course, in the fully professional era, careers are at stake and clubs’ ongoing viability hinges on the scoreboard. Players havin’ a larf?  You’ve got to be joking. What’s more there’s the tightrope of heightened social standards, with a thousand journos poised to catch the slightest wobble.

These are a few of our least favourite things. Little wonder on the surface footy appears to have fractured its funny bone.

To quote a classic Ron Hitler-Barassi TISM diatribe, ‘excellence surrounds us like a f***ing voodoo curse, there’s world’s best practice, and business men talking terse’.

For research purposes I dusted off my worn-out VHS copy of Seven’s Magic Moments. ‘Send in the clowns’ is the backing track to the antics of Percy Jones, Rex Hunt, Billy Picken, Jacko and their ilk.  What I’d give for a Delorean day-trip to that bygone era of mischief and random silliness on both sides of the fence. WAGs have replaced wags; Dustin Martin’s haircut is as good as it gets in 2014.

Administrators regulate every nook and cranny; goal square frees for a toe outside the interchange gate, 50m penalties for a menacing glare, flipping the bird warrants a sizeable fine.

Broadcasters track every player and CCTV tracks every spectator’s every movement. Signs are removed, banners vetted. If only it was 1984 the year rather than the Orwellian experience. Even the AFL’s own uncharacteristic attempt at levity – aka Mick Malthouse Darth Vader tees for Rivalry Round – was booted by the Blues.

Sadly, there is no place for the unhinged 70’s and 80’s vaudeville act, including the daggy looseness of World of Sport and League Teams.

Alas, the entertaining Before the Game – an infinitely more sophisticated panel show by comparison – has been retired. The Footy Show somehow endures, as does BT and the Coodabeen Champions on the wireless. But their comedic value reached expiry date some time ago.

The only amusing footy program this year was the attempted Mick Malthouse interrogation on Football Classified, where the under siege coach assumed his Soup Nazi persona as he engaged in a 25 minute sitcom enactment of the ‘who’s on first’ Abbott and Costello routine.

It’s this grave seriousness itself that gives rise to humour. Clarko’s coaches box renovations and Mick’s conniptions… Such emotion and spontaneity is the stuff of comedy gold.

Viewing football with an ironic eye is almost essential these days to maintain pleasure from a league addicted to serious pills.

And besides, how else could success starved Tiger, Demon, Saint and Bulldog fans possibly cope?

It may be harder to find the funny, and not surprisingly, as a sign of the times, it’s often generated by the fans themselves in the ethereal digital realm.

Twitter might not be everyone’s cuppa but Titus O’Reily and parody accounts such as JackWattsDoingThings and Dull Jack Riewoldt are more LOL-worthy than anything you’ll find on-field or mainstream media. Of course there’s The People’s Elbow on the Footy Almanac, meanwhile memes and underground fan forums also provide solace that footy can still be a fun distraction from life’s daily churn.Titus

As the AFL rivals Australian politics for high farce, it is the rich sardonic fodder that makes the most salient points whilst keeping us from assuming the foetal position.

Because really, taking our odd little game confined to our lowly populated continent, on this ridiculous planet, in our infinite universe as it relates to our sliver of existence, so seriously, is the most hilarious act of absurdist comedy.

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Love it, Jeff.

  2. Stainless says

    Spot on Jeff

    The AFL thought police will be horrified to know that Ron Hitler Barassi regularly attends matches and has not lost his “ice pick” sense of humour. I’m surprised they haven’t moved to ban him.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Before the game has been the best footy humor show by a considerable space bring it back ! Good read, Jeff overall couldn’t agree more

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    R. Hitler-Barassi should be interviewed for Andy D’s job.

    Love the work of Titus, Ares Mars & co.

    Your last paragraph was a beautiful and correct summation of the current state of AFL coverage.

  5. “WAGs have replaced wags”. A lot of truths in that line, Jeff.

  6. Loved this Jeff. Agree with you on Before the Game. I prefer to think that the Coodabeens have evolved and are now “grandfatherly.” BT has never had any comedic value, apart from a very minor appeal to a particular type of cabbage.
    Great stuff. Thanks.

  7. Dave Brown says

    Indeed! Although it was nice for Eddie to throw us all a bone (or another part of the anatomy) last night. Will be amusing to track the subsequent hyperventilating.

  8. Andrew Starkie says

    what’s wrong with the lie detector test?


    Darc and Richo congratulating eachother at the end of each Sty night show. “Great job, Richo. You’ve been great tonight’.

    Media coverage about AFL is often more about the commentators than game or players.

  9. Yes Starkie, the Darcy, Richo and Stevo triage is something to behold. Richo actually comes out looking like a Mensa graduate by comparison.

    I’ve tried to decipher Ed’s awesome whoopsie Dave, I’m still not sure whether he rescued it or not. Had me thinking of that infamous Sandy Roberts moment. There was no saving that one!

    Thanks to the other readers who took the time to comment.

  10. Matt Zurbo says

    A corker piece!!!!! Yoip!

  11. I find it difficult to watch BT, Darc, Rich et al as I feel myself overwhelmed by my own dullness among these luminous creatures. Total pros.

  12. Looks like I’m about the only bloke going around that hasn’t shed a tear over the demise of ‘Before The Game’.

    The game would be much better served by clubs drafting footballers and getting them fit instead of chasing middle distance runners and teaching them to play professional football. The number of players coming ‘thru the system’ over the last five years who can’t execute the fundamental skills of the game (kicking for goal, using both sides of the body under pressure or hitting a leading team mate on the chest) is staggeringly woeful.

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