Rules of the game – Chapter 2: The impossible dream*

Today’s texts come from musicals. What have musicals to do with footy?

... watch and learn
I won't show you twice

Moves Like Jagger, Adam Levine, Benny Blanco, 
Ammar Malik, Shellback

In his comment on Chapter 1, Dave Brown asked about 15.3 FREE KICKS RELATING TO DISPOSAL OF THE FOOTBALL, thereby …

Posing problems that would cross a rabbi's eyes.

- If I Were a Rich Man, Fiddler On The Roof, Lyrics Sheldon Harnick

Chapter 1 was a modest attempt to make people aware of a simple, unambiguous rule of the game. (Strictly, they are not “rules” but “laws” – Laws of Australian Football 2014.)

Taking on Dave’s challenge, I had a look at the Laws. Spare a thought for the poor umpire. 94 pages! Talk about impossible dream*.

But I had been asked about a small part only (15.2.3.a & b). How hard could it be? Mission Impossible (ok, it’s not a musical). I tried to codify it. I don’t think many umpires could do what I did. One comes to mind. Back when I was Living in the 70s (long before I was the Footy Bogan (or even Charlie Krebs for that matter)), I was a research student in the Computation Department at Melbourne University at the same time as Ian “Doc” Robinson. He might have used a similar approach.

My attempt is shown below. What I’ve learnt is that the Laws are not properly formed. That’s not intended as a criticism. Translation of what people say they want into something that a computer can process is what I do. Very few lay people make properly formed requests. It’s not surprising. However, my exercise does underline the fact that we are actually asking the impossible of the umpires.

There are situations that the Laws don’t cover (see “UNDEFINED” in my code). There are many situations which require the umpire to form a judgement (“immediate”, “genuine”, “reasonable opportunity”).

In my opinion, most people are remarkably clear on the rules. They disagree on the judgement. For example, did the player have Prior Opportunity? Given that my analysis (which could well be wrong) shows that there are parts of Prior Opportunity which are UNDEFINED, one person (or umpire) might believe that he did while another might not.


So my response to Dave is unsatisfactory. I’ll try a simplification, gleaned from listening to the ferals around me.

Collingwood players have shoulders about 6 inches from their knees, so the chances that an opponent can tackle a Collingwood player correctly are negligible. On the other hand, all players for all other teams lack heads and shoulders; and their knees are directly connected to their feet. Consequently, the chances that a Collingwood player can tackle incorrectly are negligible.

(It’s interesting to consider how the biology of players changes when they change teams to or from Collingwood.)

A Collingwood player in possession of the football is never given sufficient time to constitute prior opportunity. So the worst result to a Collingwood player from any contentious decision ought to be a bounce.

Opponents are deemed to be in possession from the moment they enter the field of play. Consequently, Collingwood players are allowed to tackle any opponent at any time.

Anyone who can’t see these obvious facts is either blind or a white maggot, probably in the pay of nefarious forces (usually associated with Carlton).

I think I’ve captured the essence of their position.

Further Simplification

The above can be boiled down to this. When the umpire blows his whistle, he can either give our boy a free or he can bounce. Or he can get off the field and let someone else try to get it right.

But seriously

The Footy Bogan is a passionate supporter. There are times when he inwardly feels his team is not getting a fair shake. Sometimes (not often) he believes the umpire got it wrong – but that can go in either direction (for example the deliberate out of bounds paid against Melbourne on Monday).

He has occasionally succumbed to “white-line” fever (not in football, but in his own sport of basketball – in the old days).

However, in his quieter moments, away from the game, he thinks there is a take on football proceedings that will help him to maintain his sanity and possibly extend his life. We all accept the idea that our game is played with an oval ball with characteristics that are not always predictable. We may be disappointed, but we generally accept the principle of that’s the way the ball bounces.

The Footy Bogan reckons that’s not a bad way to look at umpiring decisions.


*The title is a nod to

The Impossible Dream (The Quest), composed by Mitch Leigh, lyrics Joe Darion, Man of La Mancha

I got the Laws here:

If you prefer to see them in a browser, you can go here (warning: has ads for gambling):

Appendix – Coding Law 15

The following is written in a notation intended to be reminiscent of shell script and a couple of other computer languages. It is far from complete.

Pip := {Player in possession of the football}
So  := {a stationary or near stationary opponent}
PB  := {took possession of the football while contesting
        a bounce or throw by a field Umpire or a 
        boundary throw in}

# 15.2.3 Holding the Football - 
#               Prior Opportunity/No Prior Opportunity

PriorOpportunity {
        if [ Pip {drove own head into So} ] return true
        if [ poor bounce or throw ] return false
        if [ Pip and PB ] return true
        return UNDEFINED

# 15.4.1 Correct Tackle or Correctly Tackled

# correctly held

CH  := {Pip is held below the shoulders and above and 
        including the knees}

CorrectlyTackled {
        if [ pushed in the back ] return false
        if [ Pip and CH ] return true
        return false

# 15.3.1 Correct Disposal

CorrectDisposal {
        if [ Pip kicks ball ] return true
        if [ Pip handballs ] return true
        return false

ImmediateCorrectDisposal {
        if [ CorrectDisposal and 
           (elapsed_time < ET_IMMEDIATE) ] return true
        return false

GenuineAttempt {
        UNDEFINED # genuine attempt to Correctly Dispose

# 15.2.3 Holding the Football - 
#               Prior Opportunity/No Prior Opportunity

   if [ PriorOpportunity and CorrectlyTackled ] {
        if [ ImmediateCorrectDisposal ] PLAY ON
        FREE # against Pip - Holding the Football
   if [ (not PriorOpportunity) and CorrectlyTackled ] {
        if [ CorrectDisposal ] {
              UNDEFINED         # usually PLAY ON
        if [ GenuineAttempt ] {
              UNDEFINED         # usually BOUNCE (11.3)
        if [ reasonable opportunity ] {
              FREE # against Pip - Holding the Football
        UNDEFINED    # perhaps keep waiting

About Charlie Krebs

The Footy Bogan is a self-confessed unrepentant Collingwood tragic. For more years than he cares to remember he has been writing about footy, mainly Collingwood, but sometimes, when provoked, about related matters. He started his self-titled blog in July 2011 when - but you can read all about that at


  1. Dave Brown says

    Thanks Footy Bogan – great work! I remember a statistician doing a study in the 1990s demonstrating that Collingwood received a statistically significant greater amount of frees than any other club – your description has helped to explain why.

    As to a definition of genuine attempt – I believe that currently it involves the Pip wildly thrashing about while the player doing the CH pins the ball to their stomach. Nonetheless I’ll keep shouting at umpires who allow players to let go of the ball the moment they are tackled – the windmill to my Don Quixote.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Select *
    from almanac_articles
    where upper(author) like ‘%krebs%’
    and originality_factor = 100

  3. Stephen Goddard says

    Your article raises the thorny question of who actually knows the current The Rules of the Game.
    Few have read them.
    And like the laws of the road, people will say they know them from when, as teenagers, they were first trying to get a licence.
    Few, therefore, would also know of the changes to both sets of Laws.
    It’s dangerous out there.

    I agree with you – perfectionist umpiring is impossible: the Laws; the interpretations of the Laws (and the interpretations of the interpretations); the break-neck speed of the game, and the way it demands a speed of decision-making – for players and umpires. This is especially difficult for umpires trying to decide what to do when a player jumps in to enact ‘stacks-on-the-mill’, thereby smothering all players and potentially breaking the neck of the one who first had the courage to win the football. Added to the difficulty of decision-making for umpires are the crowds of players around the ball, making it impossible to see what is going on. The crowds sitting in the stands who see everything so clearly and thereby appeal, allege and accuse willy-nilly also have an undeniable impact on umpiring. It’s intriguing to hear the hollering vox populi expecting consistency from ‘the umpire’ when there are three, and sometimes more. Umpires are multiple; the supporter is singular – usually monocular.

    The final two paragraphs you write are so poignant and heart-felt, that I wondered whether you had ‘buried the lead’ (as newspaper editors used to say). You go through quite a rigorous and scientific journey to arrive at your destination with a shrug of the shoulders. That’s what the pursuit of knowledge often enacts. So, on reflection, I think that you arrive at a very wise place. Of course, when it comes to the uncertainties associated with the epigram, “that’s the way the ball bounces”, I would want to add the Maxwell Smart maxim: “And … Loving it.”

  4. Hi Mark,

    At first I was quite chuffed :-) but I believe “upper(author) like ‘%krebs%’” will always come up empty :-(. I hope I was right the first time.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Doh, “%KREBS%’

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