Almanac Archives: Raising Arizona

The Footy Almanac reprises this story by Rick Kane from this week in October 2011.


Arizona has, for as long as I can remember, been part of my subconscious map of the known world. When it is mentioned, my old rickety filing cabinet of a mind pops open and all sorts of unnecessary bits and pieces fall out.


Alice Cooper is an Arizonan or sand cutter. Like Western Australia (locals there are known as sand gropers), where I was raised, a significant percentage of Arizona is basically desert[i]. In popular culture, Arizona is a swinging joint. The Eagles were taking it easy there and The Beatles implored Jo Jo to get back there. Sadly, Glen Campbell knew that by the time he got to Phoenix, Arizona he had well and truly left his loved one. Then there is Psycho, Clint Easwood’s The Gauntlet and Twilight, which are all set in Phoenix, Arizona. No wonder Jo Jo left Arizona for some California grass.


In 2011 Arizona became a talking point of the footy public when Collingwood sent a number of its players to an injury treatment and management centre there. That’s right, the Pies have sent players to a place that could well be down the road from Bates motel. That’ll surely assist their sensory awareness and running skills.


As Martin Blake noted in an Age article earlier this year, “Collingwood is breaking with tradition in sending away a group of players mid-season;  Buttifant (Collingwood’s conditioning guru) has taken two years to convince the Magpies it is worthwhile. The Magpies’ embrace of altitude training has already been aped by several clubs, and if this trip is shown to be successful, it will be noticed.


One thing is certain, it was noticed and queried and initially mocked and mostly analysed in such a superficial fashion as to wonder if all AFL media operates from the same front bar as Brian from Fuknuckle Gully, a regular SEN listener, drinks and spouts.


When Swan won the Brownlow the headlines (“Arizona elevates Collingwood’s Dane Swan to Brownlow Medal”) succinctly captured the simplistic argument that followed. Really? Four players went to Arizona on that trip. How did the others play, following their trip to Lourdes? If the Age this week is correct, one of the players is a Trade potential less than 6 months after the trip.


The Arizona miracle reminds me of the way tanking for best draft picks argument is worked through the footy media factory. If ever there was a perfect example to debunk the tanking argument it is this year’s Premier, Geelong. This team, which is (rightly) considered the pre-eminent team of the last 5 years, is made up of a casserole of draft picks. That’s right folks, there is more to how a player and team become great than conditioning or an arbitrary system that lists up and coming youngsters in order of talent.


I have no truck with using Arizona to assist players improve their body strength. Or the next idea that a team uses to support its list and get an edge on its competition. I find it troubling that Collingwood is derided because it can and does explore such opportunities, particularly in reference to its finances. This is a club that has achieved so much from such difficult beginnings. Good on them for trying new methods.


My beef is with the undercooked[ii] analysis of the Arizona experiment. Firstly, it was considered a ridiculously expensive indulgence. Then it was the reason a Brownlow was won. Can it be both? My sense is that it is neither. More interesting and enlightening would be an analysis of how and why such methods are considered, explored and adopted. And what other methods are circulating in other teams and other sports? Let’s ratchet up the thinking and engagement with innovative ideas that add value to the great game. And let Arizona continue to percolate in popular culture and consciousness.


[i] This may or may not be true. But in a tip of the hat to Boltarian logic I’m going to ride with it.


[ii] The astute reader would have noticed many foodish related terms in this piece. This is due to the kids hogging the telly to watch their peers cooking up a storm on a show that has no bearing on the Hawks chances in 2012



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About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin', out on the job Work like the devil for my pay But that lucky old sun has nothin' to do But roll around Heaven all day


  1. John Butler says

    Nice work RK

    Many fine bands came in Alice’s wake.

    Calexico, Giant Sand, Green on Red and the Meat Puppets to name but a few.

    And in a different vein, Stevie Nicks and Linda Ronstadt were born there.

    Film-wise, Monument Valley played host to many of John Ford’s (and others) classic westerns.

    PS: I’m not sure Boltarian and logic in the same sentence doesn’t constitute an inherent paradox.

  2. Rick – interesting discussion point. One thing that should be recognised is that there is a lot more natural radiation in high country than on the plains. Isn’t radiation supposed to be bad for you?

    When these sorts of arguments arise I always recall the late great Jack Dyer. I recall a discussion on 3KZ (issssss football) one afternoon and the Major was going on about a new young Richmond recruit who was 6’5″, could run, jump and kick like a mule. Jack chimed in beautifully with “Yes, but can he get the football?” It still comes down to that.

  3. John Butler says


    Maybe it was the added glow that got Swanny over the line in the Brownlow?

  4. Don’t forget they sent Heath Shaw there as well… but he got stuck in Nevada.

  5. Our Wednesday sparrow’s fart running group that, incidentally, produced the nucleus for another, much less lauded Geelong premiership (see athletics Victoria winter division 1 cross country results), provides much opportunity for discussing the relative merits of various methods of improving one’s performance. The overall consensus (informed by the experience of at least one 2 time Olympic marathon rep) was that the training benefit of a week in Arizona for a 3 month footy campaign was bugger all. Yes, one feels like a world beater aerobically for a week or so, but the effect disappears very quickly. Undoubtedly there is benefit in getting away from the fishbowl that is Melbourne in footy season, but don’t attribute some EPO-like effect to altitude.

  6. Richard Naco says

    Any benefits of the Arizona excursions were not evident on Saturday.

  7. There was a gaggle of Magpies (Dawes, Davis, Toovey, Reid, Jolly, Swan, Wellingham, Didak, etc, etc) that would have been looking for some sweet Arizona air late in the third quarter as their season slipped away from them.

  8. Hahaha,

    last year when we won, most were hailing the Arizona experiment. If we’d won again this year I’d bet every other club would scrounge money to get over there. As Dire Straits sang in in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ : “When you gonna realise it was just that the time was wrong.”

  9. “The overall consensus (informed by the experience of at least one 2 time Olympic marathon rep) was that the training benefit of a week in Arizona for a 3 month footy campaign was bugger all.”

    I’d thought, intuitively, that would be the case, but perhaps the placebo effect can be longer lasting if the lab rats ruly, truly believe.

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