Laws of Life and Football

I recently listened to an interview with the wonderfully eccentric Australian bolshie, Bob Ellis. Subsequent to the interview, conducted by the equally wonderful Richard Fidler, I purchased Bob’s short book outlining his ten laws of life; The Ellis Laws. Not so much a testament of life’s entrenched natural codes or forces or some Einsteinian laws of the universe, but rather the rules that apply to our daily interactions and decision making.

While some closely follow Bob’s particular brand of socialism, most seem very apt in a modern society that bares little resemblance to an age before the car and television. I have tried to provide a brief synopsis of Bob’s laws, hopefully without overly diluting the underlying principles eloquently presented by the man himself. I have also tried to apply then to football.

  1. Power flows to the most boring man in the room. How many meetings have you attended when the person chairing or dominating the room eventually gets their way just so you can get out of the place? You know you have agreed to some dreadful course of action out of sufferance but world war is a better option to another Power Point slide. You would have invaded Poland if stuck in a meeting with Hitler who was one of history’s great bores.

    Football statistics and analysis. Do we begin to believe that David King’s Mr Squiggle impression or Bruce’s unending volleys of the inane actually enhance our enjoyment of football? Or do we submit to these visual and aural onslaughts in the hope that they might eventually lead to watching the game itself, and we sit there is silent submission?

    Did the judge allow James Hird’s appeal simply on the ground that if he heard another argument from counsell about Jimmy’s innocence, he would have gladly handed in his wig for a padded cell?

  2. Everyone over six feet two is forgiven. Our biological subservience to the biggest and strongest has resulted in some of the world’s revered leaders falsely being remember in much kinder lights than deserved. Bob cites Abraham Lincoln, Peter the Great, Lyndon Johnson and John Wayne are examples of imposing figures whose legacies conveniently forget their actual achievements and ineptness. Conversely, far more gifted people of smaller statue have to strive harder to be seen as the equal to the tall.

    Was the spate of ruckman winning Brownlows on the 70s a case of big men being looked upon differently to smaller players? Did the Carl Dietchrich that created havoc and mayhem at St Kilda become a different persona at Melbourne? No, he was still a thug but was remembered more fondly after the change of jumper. Mick Nolan was an average player but his size created the entity known as the Galloping Gasometer. Does Nic Nat’s tall and athletic body hide the fact that he takes less than two contested marks a game? Perhaps the increase in height of the average midfielder tipped the balance the other way. Perhaps Libba was the best footballer of his time. A virtual David in a world of Goliaths.

  3. The first sign of incompetence is charisma. George W Bush, Churchill, JFK, Nixon, Hitler and every fire breathing preacher has used it to great affect [and effect, too – Ed] as a political and sociological tool. History will say they were all fools and led their followers into the abyss on the back of clever rhetoric and impassioned self-belief.

    Plenty of players and coaches have been described as having charisma. Barassi had it and backed it up with his actions and achievements. Fabulous Phil, Gary Snr and, to a lesser extent, Fev, had it, but all were flawed. Was Richo charismatic or enigmatic? Probably a mix or both. Every country footy club has a story of the charismatic ex-AFL/VFL/SANFL/WAFL player who rides into town like a white knight, only to leave a trail of heartbreak and financial ruin. A quick perusal of new appointments in the bush next season will again see a list of names that failed to live up to the hype in the big time, but still capture the dreams of the faithful. Charisma, and the hope it offers, is an immeasurable force that should be viewed with great scepticism and a significant wad of salt.

  4. All evil begins with the rising price of a roof. Put simply, the constant striving for the biggest house on the block leaves the buyer at the mercy of the seller, being real estate agents and the banks, who pry upon the human weakness of not wanting to be left behind or miss a great deal. People work harder and longer, have fewer children and waste the best part of their lives trying to pay off a piece of property where they live in abject misery.

    There is a strong case to made that the AFL – in trying to have the biggest sporting house in the country – has become more miserable as a result. Certainly there seems to be general rumbling amongst the masses to suggest the football family is not a happy one. I am not suggesting we go live in a caravan and tents, or revert to Victoria Park or Punt Rd Oval. I would suggest that we stop trying to make the game “bigger”. Can anyone honestly say that watching Port play this year was not the equal of – or better – than anything offered in the 80s? The problem is not with the game, but with the bankers and realtors. Let game the evolve and stop trying to make us enjoy what can be a joyless event filled with artificial sound bites and fizz.

  5. All crimes and most madness derive, as a rule, from overfrequent change of address. History is littered with dysfunctional transient figures: Judy Garland, Peter Sellers, Chaplin, Michael Jackson, army brats. People who never had the constant of the same home and community environment. The child of divorced parents who were shared between mothers and fathers, along with a rotation of partners. A person who one day seeks their identity by walking into a school or a McDonald’s and opening fire.

    The AFL expansion was the greatest thing ever to happen to footie; that and the hot chips behind the back of the Ted Whitten stand at the Western Oval. However, it resulted in young men being sent to addresses in the click of one draft pick. Some, such as Gary Jnr, Juddy and Matthew Pavlich thrived, but many lost their way before seeking to return closer to home. For many indigenous kids, the disconnect from home and family was too great and the resulting dysfunction is sadly played out in public. There has been marked improvements in recent years in easing these life changing transitions. However, sometimes I think the old club zones worked a lot better than a lottery.

    The constant rule changes and poor interpretation of those changes leads to equal amounts of criminality and insanity.

  6. It is hard to see how any CEO, apart from George Lucas, does any useful work. Case in point: Qantas. How can you turn the world’s most trusted airline from a profitable and reliable company into a basket case? Appoint Alan Joyce. The CEO comes in and immediately announces that increased efficiencies (read: sack staff and cut services) will drive profit. Next thing you know, their fleet of planes are being serviced overseas and instances of Qantas planes reporting in-flight mishaps and forced landings seem to increase. The customer loses confidence and stops flying with the airline. Profits drop and more ‘efficiencies’ are put in place. During this process, what is the man getting paid $4.5m a year actually doing? George Lucas, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates all built their companies from scratch and continued to grow and share the company with workers. Alan Joyce can’t even fly a plane.

    The examples are too many to list but it starts with Andrew and finishes with Demitriou. Andy, or was it Gillon, got a pile of money for the TV rights. Has it – or he – made football a better product?

  7. Human happiness increases with the height of ceilings. This law is that a person should have as much space above their shoulder as the distance from their shoulders to the floor. A six foot person needs a twelve foot ceiling. He argues that the reduction in ceiling height results in a proportionate reduction in happiness, using the example of cramped inner city flats where architects place a higher value on reducing room sizes to maximise the number of units that can be fitted on the block. The result is like living in an underground car park. Claustrophobic and depressing. And with it, violence and crime.

    There is no question the the expansion of the MCG created a world class venue. The nostalgic may say it was always a great ground. I think it had become obsolete 30 years ago. The MCC members were still sitting on wooden benches 15 years ago and using toilets and catering facilities built for the ’56 Olympics. Today, the MCG is truly a great place to go to. Across in Docklands, they put on a roof and a sadness does descend at times. None more so than when putting your hand in your pocket. The ceilings were lowered further by the addition of internal bars and corporate boxes. Is there a sadder sight than people watching the game on tele as it is happening outside?

    The other variable ceiling is the salary cap. The correlation between height and happiness is self-evident.

  8. Reality is five miles wide; Beyond it there is tygers [sic], dragons, dreams and nightmare, and we should not seek then out. Prior to the invention of the bicycle and more so, the motor car, small communities lived in isolation maintaining their own mores and values and, in some places, their own distinct dialects. Think Niugini. They rarely interacted and therefore kept the communities intact and free of unwanted threat with a resultant sense of security and trust, and a rather small gene pool. As communities began to intertwine, so did their behaviours. The result: a non-specific society bound together by Facebook. A posthuman or ‘Californian’ society.

    Prior to the creation of the AFL, Victorian football was tribal with lines drawn by suburban boundaries and political and religious beliefs. Your suburb and your family largely determined both your faith and your football team. Now a kid growing up in Footscray is just as likely to follow Essendon as they are the Dogs. And those of us who lived outside of Melbourne formed our own connection either through being in a team’s zone, or having a local kid recruited, creating a bond with the club they joined. South and Western Australia’s best were mostly plundered to the East and I imagine most of Adelaide either loved or loathed Carlton and Hawthorn prior to the evolution of the Crows. Do we crave for the local connect still? Some do to the exclusion of all other scenarios. Ironically, the interstate teams now have the fortresses while the Victorian clubs, other than Geelong, share the communal MCG and Docklands. Still, a small price for not having to stand on mud or cement with streams of urine flowing freely over your shoes.

  9. The principle product of the internet, sleeplessness, is unsettling, enflaming and disordering the world. Lack of sleep, just like jetlag, seriously messes with the brain, resulting in neurosis and extreme lack of judgement. Tony Abbott’s speech at the G20 being a classic example of a person operating on fumes. Once upon time, people got up and had a cuppa if they could not sleep. Now they check their email in some type of Pavlovian response to a phone beep. Sleep is lost and angst increases. “The effect is a world grown much more unhappier, and stupider by perhaps ten points of IQ”.

    David Parkin never sleeps for more than 4 hour per night, preferring to read and research rather than recuperate and renew. Observation of David on game day showed a man who was, on occasion, a demented creature rather than the intelligent and observant man that lay beneath. It is a constant theme described by many ex-coaches. Endless blackness filled with game plans and KPIs. Perhaps that is why a coach surrounds themselves with so many assistants. Come game day, they are dazed and disorientated. Kevin Rudds within a maze of magnet boards and laptops screaming for answers to questions that were being asked during the preceding six nights of insomnia.

  10. Age is not an incurable disease. It cannot be abolished, but it can be delayed. Bob’s final law looked at how we gradually become isolated from friends and family as we age. Our early lives are surrounded by school friends who eventually move on to other towns and we slowly lose contact. The weekly boys or girls night out slowly becomes a occasional catch up or the odd re-union as people marry and children take priority over friendships. The tennis club or card nights stop as people are busy at home, at work and with other personal commitments. Bob believes that by making the effort to maintain contacts with friends, our lives become enriched, we continue to learn and maintain our vitality. Not wither on the vine in solitude.

    Go along to a local footy game every now and then. It’s a life affirming exercise not only bringing back youthful memories, but keeping those memories in the present to be shared with those around you. Just watch out for the hammies when having a kick at half time.

    You might also spot a kid that might make it. Provided the bores and charismatic don’t get to him, confine him to a small room with a low ceiling that gradually stifles and depresses the natural talent out of him. Let’s hope his name is Gazza.

About Tony Robb

A life long Blues supporter of 49 years who has seen some light at the end of the tunnel that isn't Mick Malthouse driving a train.


  1. Good one Tony. Loved Point # 6 – the Qantas analogy. Wish I’d thought of the line ‘starts with Andrew and ends with Demetriou’.

    And I never know when to use effect or affect in written language. My esteem goes out to those who attempt it. My admiration to those who get it right.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Ping @crio

    Law 3 – John Nicholls, Glenelg 1977/78 ?

  3. Top stuff Tony. Re #6. New footy/cricket stadium in Perth being built next door to Crown Casino in Burswood.
    What lucrative board position did AndyD take up on leaving the AFL? If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck……………………………………..
    Money doesn’t talk – it swears (Bob D)

  4. Glen Potter says

    Brilliant, Tony.
    #5 – Think Fitzroy, and even now, St.Kilda. Basket cases.
    #7 – I immediately thought of Willy Wonka in that room that escalates down in size before leading out to the open factory floor. No wonder the Oompa Loompas appeared happier than poor Willy.
    #9 – I will now not take in the new year at midnight tonight as I fear a late night will disorientate my thinking for the first day of 2015. Will a good night’s sleep provide clarity in seeking the Perth Cup winner?

  5. Thanks Glen
    should your repose yield the winner please feel free to share. I was actually thinking about St Kilda when writing the piece but their dysfunction is a combination of many laws I think
    Cheers Pete Swish and the Wrapster

  6. Neil Anderson says

    I’m obviously a bit slow off the mark compared to some of the other Almanackers. Until I re-read your opening paragraphs a couple of times I thought it was Bob Ellis himself who was analyzing the state of AFL. I couldn’t work out how a NSW lefty who was part of the Sydney Push with Clive and Germaine knew so much about our game. So more credit to you and your analysis.
    I did get a bit excited when I thought a playwright was interested in the AFL and wondered if he was a closet Almanacker with all that knowledge.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Law 9 – sleep is underrated. See Dr Harry Ball if you are struggling. It worked wonders for me (seriously)

  8. Interestingly Neil, Bob made mention of the suburban football rivalry in Melbourne during the interview

  9. Dave Brown says

    Nice work, Tony. I think Bob’s rules apply better to football than to life (pretending for a moment there is a difference), although it might be your influence that makes it so. I heard the Richard Fidler interview and eventually had to turn the radio off after constantly arguing with it over the preceding 20 minutes. I said some quite unkind things…

  10. daniel flesch says

    Great stuff , Tony. Bob Ellis himself is a cross between a sage and a madman. And one cannot be nasty enough regarding that overpaid Alan Joyce clown . To think he shares his name with a two -time Hawthorn Premiership coach is doubly offensive to me . And to Mr. The Wrap – surprised as i am to learn you have trouble with “affect ” and “effect” – the “rule” is this: ” effect ” has an “e”. the word “verb'” has an “e” too. So English being the logical language that it is , the word beginning WITHOUT the “e” is the noun. Simple.

  11. daniel flesch says

    aaaarrrregggghhh… too much Sunday night wine ..”affect ” is the VERB. Just done the keyboard equivalent of “drink and dial.” How embarrassing . Good night, hic.

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