Rd 21 2010: Conflict of Interest



By Neil Jackson

Let me declare that I have two passions in life, AFL football and politics. There both right up on top of tree, no challenges from any others, joint gold medals. Like my children, my love and passion for both is a dead heat.  So imagine my dilemma when Prime Minister Gillard announced that the Federal Election would be held on 21st August. I immediately knew from that moment that I was facing a major personal predicament. My team, the Sydney Swans, would be hosting the Western Bulldogs, (ironically the PM’s team), at the SCG on the night of the Federal Election. It would be Bret Kirk and Paul Roos’ last games as player and coach respectively at the SCG, a point very well marketed by the Swans. It would also mean Barry Hall’s return to the famous ground, this time as a Bulldog.

What to do? The pain? I have missed just one Swans home game in nine years. I never miss a Federal Election night, being a scrutineer of the votes in my local polling booth, viewing the early returns on TV, watching the leaders’ speeches, seeing the final ‘call of the board’ on ABC television usually about 20 minutes to midnight.

I just couldn’t believe it. So being the stats man, I felt the need to do some research. Has this ever happened before? Has South Melbourne/Sydney fans ever faced such a major conflict of interest? Doing the research as I do, I discovered that this was the very first time ever the Swans played a game of footy on election night. Indeed, we had to go back to May 1974 when Gough Whitlam and Billy Snedden ruled the major parties, to find an occasion when the Federal Election was held on the same day as Swans game. On that day, South Melbourne hosted Melbourne at Lake Oval, winning 13-16(94) to 11.10(76). And only four times has there been an ellipse of the forces: 1943, (also on 21st August, where the Swans visited Glenferrie, losing to host Hawthorn 7-14 (56) to 13-10 (88).), 1951, 1954, and 1974

After much consideration, I made the call to go to the game. No scrutineering, no watching the returns. At least the radio might provide a service. Besides, when the Federal Election was called back in mid July, my Swans were so unlikely to win against the Bulldogs, with  the game probably go to the recent script and another victory to the old Footscray.

Arriving at the ground it appeared many other conflicted persons had elected my chosen avenue, with a near full house and a likely Swans-Bulldogs home and away ground record. The Swans’ banner says it all about the emotions at the SCG: ”Two Swans Greats Who Give Their All. Thank You”.

Out for the Swans are Ryan O’Keefe, Jarred Moore, and Ben McGlynn .

The first quarter was spent multitasking: listening to the radio for the election returns, with my eyes on the hollow ground. It proved impossible. Notwithstanding that the polls in Eastern Australia had closed more than an hour earlier, all I could hear were political spin doctors carrying on about the election campaign. Not much said about how the important seats were going. All the real action was happening on the ground. Bulldog’s ruckman Ben Hudson was back in the side after missing last week with a virus and kicks early goals.But then Brownlow medallist Adam Cooney went ground clutching his right hamstring and tottered to the bench. He never returned. Much to my disgust, the great Barry Hall was repeatedly booed, notwithstanding a good first quarter early in the game. Who are these disrespectful Swans supporters?

The Swans goals are bopping up in this first quarter, White, Dennis-Lane, and McVeigh, making the AFL game close and exciting. Meanwhile, the election result, at least at quarter time, remains a blur.  The first quarter is an unexpected shoot out, reminding me of 1972, (the Carlton-Richmond 51 goal grand final that is, not the election of the Whitlam Government). No short passes, no grind in your face defensive football, no tight man on man footy. 8 goals in the first 19 minutes! Meantime, news is comparably slow at the National Tally Room.

As the second quarter begins off I switch the radio. The SCG is where the real action is, too slow, too little information at the National Tally Room. And from a Swans position, what a great election I make in preferring the game over the election in quarter number two. The Swans show themselves to be a quality side, with goals coming from Jude Bolton, a beauty set shot from the boundary by Paul Bevan, and two exciting goals from the dynamic Lewis Jetta. Kieren Jack, having a best on ground performance, also kicked two goals in the quarter. Midway through the second term, milestone man Brett Kirk kicked a goal via a free kick, lifting the footy event up a notch. Indeed, the crowd is standing before the great man even kicked the goal!

At half-time, the Bulldogs had gained just 21 contested possessions compared with the Swans’  44. Sydney additionally gained 10 more clearances and won the inside-fifty- 16 to 7. The second term sees six Swans goals, to the Bulldogs’ one, kicked on the 29th minute of the second term. Sydney lead by 27

Half time arrives. It’s now 8.30pm so I suppose I should find out if we have a change of government. SCG announcer Adam Spencer, (from Sydney ABC radio breakfast), indicates to the crowd that ‘we could have a Labor majority of two or even, (shock horror), a hang parliament.’ .The crowd, (or at least those of us interested), groan in shock. At last, there is a bit of Federal Election excitement, or at least adequate information. I decide to ring my brother, Ian, who shares a passion for politics, but is a Rugby League man. Finally, I am getting the information I desire .My brother sets out individual seats. Big surprises like a Green Independent winning in Tasmania, and a 20 year who would be a rookie in an AFL team wins for a seat for the Liberal Party in Brisbane. John Alexander, (recalling sweet memories from the Davis Cup Final at White City in the middle of the 1977 Federal Election campaign), had beaten Maxine McKew in Bennelong. Labor is however hanging on in key seats in Western Sydney and the Central Coast. A hang parliament is a possibility. Relief, I have the sufficient Federal Election material to keep me comfortable for the second half.
Now back to the game. The rest of the game adds further injury problems for the dogs. Evergreen Brad Johnson suffers an achilles injury, and Dale Morris hurts a shoulder in the final term.  However, the Western Bulldogs do draw within 2 ½ goals, after booting the first two goals of the third quarter.

Then all of a sudden, the Sydney Cricket Ground lives up to its middle name. There is a snap from Jude Bolton for Sydney that takes an extraordinary right-angled leg break into the centre goal area, as if it was beating Mike Gatting at the centre wicket. Warnie and SCG McGill would be proud. Further Swans goals late in the quarter keeps them safely in the lead with 27 points ahead at the main break.

Three quarter time, and a quick check to see how Julia (Gilllard) and Tony (Abbott) are going. A hang parliament is now a certainty, with neither major party coming close to an absolute majority in the House of Representatives. A Green has won in Melbourne, whilst an independent National Party bloke has beaten Wilson “Ironbar” Tuckey in W.A.

Returning the SCG, unlike the major parties, the Swans are holding firm in the final quarter, as goals to Lewis Jetta, and Dennis-Lane shored up a finals berth. For the doggies, important players, such as Gilbee and Giansiracusa, are being well beaten by disciplined Swans such as Rhyce Shaw. It comes down largely to a lack of success to gain sufficient ball, as well as getting inside the attacking 50.

By the final quarter reports coming from the Tally Room suggest a much less decisive result. It hasn’t been a good night for the Bulldog’s number one ticket holder, the Prime Minister. Maybe she should have lived up to her promise, and swapped places with Barry Hall as the dog’s full forward.  Because unlike the footy teams competing tonight at the SCG who are both comfortably in the AFL final Eight, she will have to battle in the probable weeks ahead with a likely bruising Federal politics final Eight, consisting of the ALP, the Coalition, and the six elected cross benchers.

The moment of the night is without doubt the second Brett Kirk goal midway through the final quarter. He takes a great lead mark from Trent Dennis-Lane in almost the exact same position that Tony Lockett took a lead mark from Paul Kelly back in June 1999 that led to that famous 1300th goal. The crowd is on their feet cheering with excitement even before the warrior has time to set up for a goal. Kirk takes his time, the crowd becomes quieter. The North Albury veteran then kicks, the ball looks mid way through to be going wide. But no, it sways back to the middle big posts. The crowd goes wild. Kirk is embraced by his younger teammates. For the next five minutes that famous SCG “sid-neee” cheer reverberates throughout the famous ground.

At the end a record Swans-Bulldogs home and away crowds witnesses a Sydney fairy tale win, 114 to 70. Kirk and Roos will always be legends at the club.  And a home final for the Harbour City team notwithstanding at Homebush is now a real probability.

What about that Federal Election? Like with a home and away AFL game, you will have to wait weeks ahead to find out who wins the Premiership. For me, I felt that I made the right election in choosing to watch the footy, rather than watching the returns.

Neil Jackson

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