Running on instinct (or How the AFL Rules Committee is ruining the game)

First, an admission.  I’ve only ever played one game of competitive footy in my life.  Must have been mid-high-school and I don’t remember much about it.  To this day my entire body weighs about as much as one of Stewart Loewe’s thighs.  My only claim to any knowledge of footy is almost 40 years of fanatical following & support of WAFL and VFL/AFL.

So you might dismiss my opinion as uninformed, and as lightweight as my frame.  Notwithstanding all that, here goes….

Something is wrong with footy.  Very wrong.  It’s bothered me for some time, but I’ve never been able to put my finger on it until watching my beloved Pies take on the Hawks yesterday.  And it relates to a decision that actually went Collingwood’s way.  A few minutes into the last quarter Nathan Brown took a mark and David Hale (who was standing right next to Brown as his direct opponent) immediately ran away and instinctively put his hands up to show he wasn’t interfering with the protected area.

The umpire paid 50 metres and could be clearly heard in the microphone saying the penalty was because Hale put his hands up.  Excuse me?  Mr Google assisted me with the stunning revelation that indeed the umpire was merely enforcing the rules as they have been amended for 2013.  Players cannot put their hands up when vacating the protected area because that will be interpreted as taking up space unnecessarily.

Is the AFL kidding? There was no intention whatsoever on Hale’s behalf other than to get the heck out of Brown’s way as quickly as possible.  Putting his hands up was pure instinct and of no consequence to the play whatsoever.

It got me thinking bigger picture.  So many of the AFL’s incessant rule changes of recent years are grating with the football community because they fly in the face of players’ instincts.  Our great game has been built on instinct for 100 years – midfielder see ball get ball; forward see ball mark ball; defender see ball punch ball – yet there are now rules in place which challenge this:

Midfielder see ball get ball – but don’t get down low, in case an opponent is nearby and you’ll get pinged for sliding/contact below the knees.  Although Harry O being reported for being slid into by Luke Hodge today has me “reverse-baffled” now.

Forward see ball mark ball – but don’t use your hands to protect yourself or hold your ground, because “hands in the back” will be paid against you.  For 100+ years we had a perfectly fine rule called “push in the back” which penalised players for actually pushing an opponent forward in a contest, not for merely touching him.  Why not just interpret the original rule properly instead of making a new one which goes against players’ instinct to hold his ground in a contact sport?

Defender see ball punch ball – but please be a contortionist magician and don’t touch any part of your opponent’s forearms, otherwise it’s the confected “chopping of the arms” which was never part of our game.  In fact that’s exactly how defenders used to be taught to spoil.

And if anyone can enlighten me as to how Quentin Lynch was supposed to ruck yesterday without giving away a free kick (for merely sidling up to his opponent hip-to-hip) I’m sure he would appreciate the benefit of your wisdom in the comments section below as much as I will.  Is no contact at all allowed in ruck contests?

So, Mr Demetriou & friends, from just one supporter ‘drop’ in the vast ocean of AFL followers:  Football is a game of instinct, yet each year you are chipping away at the fabric of our game by expecting players to be robots and make rational, considered decisions in the heat of battle.  In short, you have changed the game I grew up with and loved.

Figuratively for now, but perhaps literally in the not too distant future, I raise my hands a-la David Hale and vacate the protected area of AFL rules to run away as fast as I can.


  1. Cheryl Critchley says

    I couldn’t agree with you more Neon Leon! It is ridiculous. Footy is meant to be a simple game with simple albeit subjectively interpreted rules. It might just be me but I don’t understand most of these new rules and all they have done is confuse the hell out of everyone. Rule changes are the overpaid AFL executive’s way of justifying its existence.

  2. Well said Neon. That hands in the air – 50m interpretation takes the chocolates as the stupidest one I’ve heard.

    I can handle the sliding rule for at least the purpose is justifiable and it was becoming an emergent dangerous tactic.

    Yet even then we see the very example that might have been shown to clubs pre season adjudicated in totally the opposite way.

    ‘Sorry Harry about you legs nearly being broken, that’s a free and you’re on report – you should have hurdled the oncoming player’

  3. Neon Leon says

    Hands in the air takes the chocolates indeed, JD. I’m amazed that it hasn’t received any media coverage. Watch the video explanation (incl. footage of actual examples) and try not to laugh:

    I can’t actually believe they’re being serious in suggesting that it interferes with play.

  4. mickey randall says

    Agreed. I was watching the opening game of the season in bali when the Bombers defeated the Crows. Late in the game a Crow was penalised for attacking the ball but collidiing with a Bomber’s legs. A goal resulted. What was he to do? Not get the ball? The AFL has stolen our game from us. It is becoming unrecognisable and importantly, unwatchable. Give us back our game. Custodians? They are vandals.

  5. DBalassone says

    Well said Neon Leon – it’s outrageous. Just a side note, but I reckon that particular 50 was the longest 50 metres I’ve ever seen. I reckon it was closer to 70 metres.

  6. A well thought out and well reasoned article Neon! Couldn’t agree more. I’m not sure what the AFL Laws committee are trying to do to the game we grew up with. What is of more concern is that the members of that committee all played footy at some stage and should remember what it was like. One wonders if there is another agenda at work here – I’m not sure what as yet, but I bet there is.
    Keep up the deep thinking!

  7. Bill Kransky says

    Excellent piece my old mate Neon. Particularly enjoyed your use of the word “confected”. Reckon you might have had a bit of Jamie Bootsma about you in that one game.

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