The Harms Dream

Gigs piece on the fixture, and its idiosyncrasies, injustices, inconsistencies, and conceptual weirdness, and his suggestion of a draw based on a Declaration of What is Good and Fair, and Inalienable in Football, is noble to say the least. Which, as commenters have noted almost universally in the words that follow, means that it is very unlikely to be considered.

But I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day all those great young players from the Geelong Falcons won’t have to go to the far-flung places of the land and clubs will be clubs again, rewarded for developing their own in their own community, not parochially, but because that is where they come from, and (equally) if they want to go somewhere else they can.

I have a dream, like Gigs, that one day there will be a home and away season again. This concept may be so lost on some young readers that I will explain it: each season you play each opponent twice, once on your home ground and once on theirs. This is a magnificent idea, perfect for keeping in touch with friends who are supporters of other clubs, and seeing the great pubs of Australia (for pre-match lunch and post-match beers).

I have a dream that the salary cap will be altered, if not abandoned. And before you re-badge this as the night ravings of an old Commie gone off his tucker,  I will explain how all this can work.

This is how footy should look in a generation’s time.

There will be two divisions in the AFL.

Based on last year’s results (nothing more than an arbitrary starting point to allow the explanation to occur) they would be:

First Division:



St Kilda

Western Bulldogs







Second Division:






West Coast

Gold Coast

Western Sydney


Northern Territory

Some thoughts on this concept.

The advantage of being in the first division is a football advantage and a commercial advantage. And heaven help you and your enterprise if you drop from First to Second Division.

There are advantages in playing Collingwood and Essendon and so on. The gate is one. The position in the TV coverage is another. The pitch to sponsors those things enable is another.

So sides will be trying their hardest to stay up – because their players want to play the best, and because the commercial enterprise is most advantaged if that is where they play.

I can also see an FA Cup style competition working.

In two generations time I could see a third division with strong regional clubs. And Richmond. I like the idea of Newman having a team owned by Rita Hinze, or Rosa Hancock, or whoever it is, and Gary Ablett jnr jnr thinking will I leave the Suns to take the cash at the Newman Dorians (who wear grey) or the Isa Miners or the Minyip Sheep-dippers (imagine the rhyming possibilities for the club song).

I think this would be magnificent. And the draw would be perfect.

As for TV coverage, lower division soccer in England, and high school football and basketball in the US win strong cable audiences. I can’t see why that can’t work here.

This is the way of the future. You’d never have a dead draft-pick rubber again.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. JTH – I can’t come at the idea of divisions in footy. It would destroy some clubs and make monoliths of others. Sadly though I think it is inevitable because the ravenous nature of the AFL to swallow up untapped districts of Australia so that there could eventually be 30 teams, makes it ultimately unworkable in one competition.

    You have a dream, but have you been to the top of the mountain and seen the promised land? Does it exist?

  2. Mine’s for the 9 Vic sides to play home and away. The rest to do likewise. Conference finals and cross over.

  3. Dan Crane says

    Harmsey, you speak for many with your proposed two tiered national competition.

    i just wish that instead of doing public sector type writing – project plans etc that i could use my time to formulate new team names, colours, songs etc.

    e.g. the Mt Gambier woodies??? (brown, light brown and black)

    Seriously, I think that it would work superbly – it would also, as in english football confuse people re: club clours…e.g. sturt playing in div 3 would have the same guernsey as carlton away in div 1.

    besides anything it could put central districts fans in their box……they need to be tested.

  4. Ian Syson says

    For this to work Rugby League has to die or be killed. It holds the place that footy holds in the hearts of too many Australians to allow footy to obtain a true national reach. I’m not saying it’s out of the question but I think there are dire consequences one way or the other. To imagine a team in Mount Isa that generates the income necessary to even imagine playing in a national comp means all the disposable sporting income in the town (+ several other large buckets of money) need to be focused on footy. I know they were wistful imaginings John but that would be the story north of the Barassi line.

    As I used to say: “Brisbane Bears . . . Ruining the fabric of two codes!”

    There’s also the possibly that soccer might extricate itself from its perennial corrupt stupidity and restrict footy’s expansion . . . nah, scratch that!

  5. We already have two divisions John.

    In the Premier league with the big rewards and privileges we have Collingwood………..and in second division we have the rest.

  6. johnharms says

    Or Ian, the Broncos…ruining the fabric of one code.

    The thing about a division system is that your theory would be tested. Maybe Brisbane would wind up a third division side. Or we could have a Vauxhall League in Aust, where once-great sides wind up.

    The thing about footy in Brisbane is, as you know only too well, the codes have existed for a long time. Footy by the Australian (Victorian) rules was played from 1866, and has a continuous history since.

    Equally there has been footy around Queensland.

    Not that any of that matters.

    The only prerequisite for a team in any location would be nothing more than the energy and finance to create and sustain a team.

  7. ..and their portability when finance appears elsewhere.

  8. Chalkdog says

    10 team divisions = 18 game home and away + 4 finals. Shorter season allows more time for preseason or other ‘ FA Cup’ like concepts.
    This also gets rid of tanking as there is a valid reason not to finish last in Div 1.
    Sadly it is all too logical and way too retro for the juggernaut without brakes or reverse gear that the AFL has evolved into. But as a dream it has legs.

  9. johnharms says

    Imagine fourth division. Gatton v Tanunda. Norfolk Island v Esperance. Richmond v North Melbourne.

  10. Chalkdog says

    ..or the much awaited derby South Barwon v (the recently demoted) GFC [in 2nd Div circa 2018]

  11. smokie88 says

    I am unsure how seriously you are treating the dream…but I must say I do not like it!
    Divisions and/or conferences have no place in our game.
    The minor leagues of English soccer are populated by the sad sight of once-great clubs
    (e.g. Preston North End) now fallen on hard times. The crowds in attendance at many
    lower league matches would be a match for VFL games. At the upper echelon, the
    divide between the rich and the poor grows ever larger (sounds familiar!), unless you
    are fortunate enough that a wealthy Russian or Arab billionaire buys your club. Only
    4 teams have won the Premier League in 19 seasons. The rest just fight for the minor placings.

    As for U.S. sports…it is a totally different system and culture. People support their college
    (and high schools) with a loyalty above and beyoned the NFL etc.

    For all its faults, and there are many, the AFL is truly OUR game.

  12. Adam Muyt says

    I’d like to indulge myself in John’s dream for a few moments…forgive me please dear Nac Friends…

    Fitzroy, the Roys, the Maroons, back, maybe in 4th Div to start off. But then….3rd Division 3 years later, 2nd Division another couple of years on, playing off for 1st Division the following season…and on and on and on. Ahhhhh it’d be St.Pauli, Barca, Bentham United all rolled into one…everyone’s TRUEST EVER second club,the RRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYSSSSSSSSSSSSS ARE BACK IN TOWN oooooohhhooooooooo………………..


  13. Ian Syson says

    lol Bentham United

  14. JTH,

    I’ve had that exact dream for a long time now. (And it’s buried somewhere on this site in a comment. But I can’t remember where.)

  15. Geez, JTH. “Old commie gone off his tucker”?? Sounds more like you have gone over to the dark side.
    “All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others” – couldn’t resist that when I saw Pies, Cats and Blues all in your initial Divvie 1. Some sort of bonus/reward to make it easier to draft local talent by all means, but I think the salary cap is socialism at its best. I like that the AFL enables a sporting competition with elements of the Aussie fair go. “Freedom for the pike is death for the minnow” was a founding principle of Fabian socialism. I don’t want ManU (Pies) and Chelsea (Blues) winning every year like in UK football. Without a salary cap there would be no way to prevent private ownership of clubs – fancy the Abu Dhabi Cats, JTH?? Bulldogs or Kangaroos would be forced by poverty and member’s desperation for success to sell out to the Glazers or Thaksin Chinnawat or our local low rent version of similar corporate parasites. Then everyone else is forced to adopt that model to stay competitive.
    The teams ‘promoted’ out of the UK Second Division rarely stay up long or become serious contenders without a corporate ‘sugar daddy’ and all the strings that come with it. Would Jonathon Brown stay with Brisbane; LeCras or Kennedy with the Eagles; what would the Blues be offering Heppell to join them in the ‘big league’ and how would that effect the Bombers chance of promotion.
    I like that the Dogs and Saints can slide, while the Bombers and Eagles surprisingly rebuild and resurrect.
    When did UK football ever have that level of surprise and unpredictability? Reward effort and excellence – not dynasties.
    Your ‘cure’ is far more destructive than the minor ills it seeks to remedy.
    The ALP Secretary joins Crown Casino. JTH sides with the elites??? ‘Say it isn’t so, Joe’!!!

  16. John Kingsmill says

    Sorry, John. I understand the need for divisions in an unwieldy comp but i don’t buy your model for the AFL.\The poorer clubs in the poorer states will stay down forever. Your model will create a two-tier economic model… it will cement disadvantage. and I’m talking here about state- based teams’ ability to attract local sponsorship and game-day attendance. Port Adelaide is already on its knees because their team is no good and Matty won’t play Chad Cornes. The membership have bought their season tickets but are still not coming… in droves.
    If Port was in Division Two, which they would be in your model after the 2011 season, Port fans would not only not come to games – but they would not buy their season ticket. They’d retreat for more fun at Alberton with the Magpies.

    NOT ON!

    Gigs is closer to the mark with more inventive programming. I’d go further. The basic inequality in the draw is about ten Victorian-based teams versus six non-Victorian teams, now seven with the Suns and about to become eight with greater Western Sydney. The non-Victorian teams have eleven games at home, with a home advanatge, dual team cities have twelve games at home. Let’s split that up. Let’s have one of the Adelaide vs Port games and one of the West Coast vs Freo games in Melbourne and let’s have a Victorian versus Victorian game played in Adelaide and Perth.

    That’s radical. Think about it. It makes Vctorian teams travel more and it gives non-Viciorian teams more MCG exposure. Which they need for finals. Will people come? Who knows? Melbourne people attend rugby games at the MCG. Why wouldn’t they attend an outer-state clash if ot weas promoted correctly?

    There’s a third model someone came up last year which I can only half remember. Everyone plays everyone once In an 18 team comp, That’s seventeen rounds.
    Then the competition is divided into two divisions within the season and they only play against themselves. .The top one or two of the bottom division plays against the top six or seven of the top division in the finals… or something like that.
    I can’t remember. It seemed good at the time. It kept the bottom half alive and it it made the top half keener.

  17. Richard Naco says

    Divisions in _Australian_ football would be as absence is to love, which in turn is as wind is to fire, in that it magnifies the great but extinguishes the small.

    But I’d love some of whatever it is you’re taking to create such inspired prose, Harmsy. ;-P

  18. johnharms says

    Let me make a (near-ridiculous, but OK for the banter) claim for the working class purity of the argument. And I can’t think of a better way to support it than by John Kingsmill’s comments that Port supporters will not come if Power are in the third division. That they will go back to the Magpies.

    To that I say GREAT. That’s the best thing that can happen.

    Here is another way of putting the argument. Writers write. Chefs cook. Footballers play football. Fans have their footy teams. Communities have their footy teams. In a non-bourgeois world, the key is not where they play, but THAT they play.

    At the moment we are all trying to work within the bubble of the bourgeois construction of football. That construction will always exist. AS hollow as some of us might find it.

    My suggestion is to enter the model (work towards a reformed model?) on your own terms.

    If Gatton is Gatton and full of Gatton boys, and are struggling in third division although helped by strong attendance, Friday chook raffles and the philanthropic support of a spud farmer, so be it, as long as the team is meaningful for the community. And is what the people want.

    In general (even now) if there is such antipathy to the existing elite comp, and you feel it has been sucked dry by bourgeois forces such that it no longer has meaning for you, then you will find a competition which facilitates your wish/need for specific meaning.

    You could argue that at the moment we have a commerce-driven competition which markets itself well, and we fall for the trickery which somehow has us believe it is community-based. At the moment it is not all trickery though. There is enough history and meaning and community such that enough of us are willing to live within the semi-illusion. It’s only a matter of time.

    How long before Fitzroy at Brunswick St in C division ammos becomes my team?

    And, do I really want the pub magnates at the North Fitzroy Arms to get behind them to facilitate their push to aspire to A div, and eventually to the thrid division?

    If I do I choose to alter my experience of the club, the game, the community elementally. Unless I do it no my own terms.

  19. johnharms says

    Or more importantly, the Gatton side could be supported by the Lockyer Valley Potato and Watermelon Pickers Guild.

  20. Mulcaster says

    You sound like Bob Santamaria. What’s next we all live in worker’s cottages and small subsistence farms? Channel 7 and Fox own the sport, its heart is maintained by the pacemaker which is the television rights and what soul it had is damned to perdition. Your dream is a delusion. Even the most entusiastc membershipos could not pay for the cost of the airfares for the away fixtures. It is what it is. If you want to barrack for an amatuer teal pick an under 12’s squad, that is as close as you will get.

  21. johnharms says

    Airfares? The Gatton boys will be travelling to away games by dray.

  22. JTH – I admire your dream. I admire more your balls to write it. Sadly I don’t think it could work because it relies on what might become a transient supporter base. If a once powerful team falls down the pecking order you are suggesting that supporters will either hang in there with support via chook raffles and pie nights, or leave their support behind to follow a team further up the divisions. Doesn’t this eventually degrade the notion of community? Can people afford to pay the large membership to follow Manchester United (Collingwood) on pay TV AND chip in to keep the Montmorency Maulers alive in 3rd division? Would they want to?

    Whether I think it would work or not is irrelevant. I think your view of the world (in a footy sense) will come to pass because we are already on that train. Strong clubs are getting stronger, there are mutterings about divisions or conferences now – fans will just have to get used to it, However it will not come to pass because it has a working class purity to it and when it does come to pass it will not be all light and beauty. There is no working class in Australia anymore. There are the poor and destitute, a massive, self centred middle class, and the super rich. This is probably the structure of footy in Australia in the near future.

  23. Clearisghted says

    With fair and equal distribution of funds generated by telly rights etc., along with a fixture free the fixing up of some at the expense of others, there would be no need for divisions.
    But the telly buddy boyos are not interested in ‘fair and equal’, as has been stated clearly and is known universally by all almanacers.
    They own the game now and have styled themselves on those likely lads from FIFA.

    I like the idea of Collingwood playing at Kardinia Park. Would be interesting to see if the trains ran on time THAT weekend.
    Scarlo’s Dad’s security business would do a roaring trade in the lead up to it.

  24. Geez, I must be in another world. One Collingwood Premiership (after 20 years) and you guys fall apart!

    I went to the footy on Sunday, as I do every week. It was good, as it pretty much is every week.

    For what it’s worth, I’d love the Pies to play down at KP. It was my favourite road trip – just as heading to Arden St (under the tin roof), Windy Hill, Moorabbin, and, yes, even Waverley had their own magic. I’m sad my kids didn’t get to travel to those exotic locales, but they can still sit in the old Brunswick Stand and watch Fitzroy in C-grade if they want.

    Cheer up, everyone. All’s not lost. What about that bomb from Karmichael, hey? And the Geelong players hugging Ablett after the game? Andrew Krakouer? Cyril Rioli? Ross Lyon’s sausages?

    It’s all happening…

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