Socialist Football League! More Equal for Some?

Equalisation. Level playing fields. The lesser will thrive while the Giants will topple. Never again will the game’s dictators be allowed to rule unchallenged. The minions will to soar among the Eagles and Hawks. The Socialist Football League is the envy of every Bolshie sporting body in the world.


It could be argued that the competition has returned to good old day of the 80s when the power clubs reigned supreme as the havenots remained ensconced in financial and competitive misery. The tools that were to change the inequities, the salary cap and national draft, have failed miserably. The introduction of free agency has only added to the gulf between top and bottom teams. If you think I being a tad over excited, have a quick look at the donkey trading that has occurred over the past week and continues into this week. If bargaining of this kind happened in a third world country it would be called slavery.

Some will say that the system is working as the Doggies and Saints improved beyond expectation due to the influx of drafts and smart recruiting. They probably did but will any of then be vying for a flag next year of even in three year’s time. The Eagles showed how far they are from winning a flag despite a spectacular year, albeit spectacular at home. It takes a lot of time, good management and luck to achieve and sustain excellence, let alone win a Grand Final. However, the loop holes and inequities in the present system make it near impossible for the strugglers.

Without going into specific trades, the deals done to this point have seen the weaker clubs shut out or pillaged while the strong get stronger. Geelong’s recruiting has been unbelievable but how was it allowed to happen?That clubs that have been so prominent in finals for the past ten years are the one getting most of the trade action indicates one thing. The model is badly broken and we may as well go back to brown paper bags in player’s locker.

The advent of the academies, while laudable for those who have successfully developed them, has negated the value of the draft and give clubs, such as Sydney and GWS, first dibs on players who should nominally be available in concession free Carlton or Richmond. Therefore, the draft is compromised and the SFL has effectively allowed the reintroduction of quasi club selection zones.

The draft concessions given to developing clubs was a necessity due to the enormous outlay the SFL has made in these new frontiers. But surely it could be argued that any club that has been stuck on the base of the ladder for extended periods is also “developing”. These sides are in their infancy just as the Suns or Giants. However, the generous handouts to the new kids has put the bottom four back five years in their redevelopment. Some will argue that teams such Hawthorn deserve their dominance as their list management has been superior to everyone else. I totally agree. However, the SFL model should not allow this to occur and that sound you will hear is televisions turning off by the millions and the wind whistling through empty stands.

Players drafted in the first round say “I miss my mum” and end up where they what to be. The club wastes two years developing that player with usually little game time in return. So a club’s compensation for being crap walks out the door, usually to one of the bigger clubs, in return for pick 37 and the crap club remains crap. How more egalitarian can it get Gill? I’m sorry. The national draft is exactly that, national. If you put your name into a national draft you should expect to be picked up by any club within that national competition.

So what is the solution? Here are some thoughts that I’m sure has more holes that a hobo’s socks but I welcome any discussion.

Go back to club zones? “No way. It’s a national comp. We can’t have those mongrels from WA and SA would keep all their good kids as it not fair on the Melbourne clubs”. (refer to previous point re draft to see how silly this argument is? But gee zones created a powerful connection to the bush and surely anything that creates grass roots interest might be a good thing in the homogenised world of modern footy. As a kid, I connected, as did the region, with a kid from Wodonga getting a chance, as Xavier Tanner did for North in the 70s. I don’t get that connect with some young bloke from Burleigh Heads whom I know will be gone as soon as it gets cold.

Get rid of the academies? Possibly but they do serve a purpose in providing kids from NSW and QLD with the chance to picked up who may not of got a chance other wise. It might work better if the academy kids can only be drafted with the associated club’s second round pick that allows the lower clubs a chance of getting them with their first round selection. Academy kids cannot be picked up outside of the draft.

If the draft is about turning around a club’s position in shorter time frames, without having to fork out loads of money, then why not structure it as it was truly intended. The bottom eight need help and lots of it. Therefore the following might, I say might, assist in achieving this.

First Round: Picks 1 – 10, Teams 18 – 9*.

Picks 11-24, Teams 18 – 5**.

Second Round: Picks 25 – 33, Teams 18 -1.

and so on

*Picks 1 -10 cannot be traded

**Picks 10- 20 cannot be traded to another club inside the previous seasons top eight unless the club receives in exchange a player of equal or higher value such a free agent.

This does allow top eight side to freshen up their list while giving a bottom eight club an established player to assist in developing their younger kids.

Teams 18 -9 can trade between each other. The bottom ten clubs get the chance to pick up three good kids before the top four get a look in and 8-5 are also get a first round pick to assist their continued rise in the ladder or help halt the fall out of the eight.

What to do with the go home draftees? A minimum contract period of two years that automatically extends to four years if that player plays 18 or more senior games. A player who suffers an injury resulting in 50% of more loss of potential game time, including reserves, automatically has a one year extension to three years or five years respectively. The only exception to this rule is a player can be traded for a draft of equal and higher pick than was used in securing then player in the first place and only to clubs 18-10 from the previous season.

The salary cap is a whole different discussion as a means of leveling the competition but needs to looked at under the present trade system as lower club’s are forced to play big overs for duds on long contract and the big boys get squeeze their second tier players with the carrot of playing in the big dance and maintain a stronger, deeper list

Finally and most importantly. Ban player agents and confiscate their phones for the two weeks of the national and pre-season drafts. They have taken over the asylum and the sooner that are locked back in their padded cells the better.


About Tony Robb

A life long Blues supporter of 49 years who has seen some light at the end of the tunnel that isn't Mick Malthouse driving a train.


  1. I think most fans wanting an even competition have this lament. We know what the problem is but the solution is harder to find. Some clubs will always be bigger than others.

    The problem arising recently has been as a result of the Players Association wielding greater power. The AFL never wanted free agency as it would lessen equalisation measures but the PA have forced it through. The players themselves have voted for an uneven competition. Free agency has virtually gone too far now as all players now see themselves as free agents as they nominate clubs they wish to go to when still contracted and only having been at a club for a few years (Cam McCarthy has only been at GWS for a short time, has two years to go on his contract and decides he should be able to go to Freo). The AFL should ban those types of transfers and force young players back into the draft rather than getting to their destination club if they did want to leave. Getting to pick your club should be restricted to those that have served 5-6 years minimum.

    I believe the northern states should be able to have a free hit at academy players as those non-football states need help and it shouldn’t be done via a COLA fund but by allowing them to have homegrown stars from their own states to circumvent the go home factor.

    One of the quotes of the year – “Finally and most importantly. Ban player agents and confiscate their phones for the two weeks of the national and pre-season drafts.”

  2. Good thought provoking article Tony.

    Zones: NO. Just no. Zones existed in the VFL between 1967-1986 when the draft came about and the competition couldn’t have been more predictable and uneven. Zones were great for creating a unique sense of club but the country zones were hopelessly inequitable. They were supposed to be rotated but that never happened.

    The biggest spanner in the works has been the expansion clubs. We had a system in place that worked reasonably well to encourage an even competition (over the course of 20 years all clubs had made a Prelim and most had played in a Grand Final). But the whole system has been corrupted by the AFL’s perceived need to gerrymander the fixture, the draft and the salary cap in order that certain teams succeed. These are teams deemed strategically more important and teams that if they have a couple down years are not viable operations.

    So there are casualties in all this, however the perennial strugglers that have suffered most were sucked in by the promise of TV fortunes, which despite their enormity, still haven’t guaranteed their financial viability.

    As for the players trading, in my opinion there are some clubs that are simply much better at it than others. Does the AFL continually have to play nurse maid to clubs that stuff up?

    I’m all for measures that encourage an even competition but there are limits. It is difficult to manage a competition that is inherently lopsided. But there also has to be a sense of it being a competition and not a theatre arrangement. The clubs that have succeeded like Hawthorn and Geelong have been run very well. They deserve success. It’s up to the others to do likewise, not expect it to be handed to them on a platter.

  3. Would support every team having an academy with players from an allotted zone, but only being able to select one player from that academy each year. Along with some sophisticated profiling leading to the zone boundaries, now possible with demographic computer stuff, it would reduce the risk that some zones are more fruitful than others.

  4. TR,
    It’s a shambles.
    The top teams should now stay top – poor management aside.
    They only need to coax established players by waving the “premiership” carrot.
    (Which is an interesting study in motivation).
    For the top clubs, there’s no need to build for the 5 year future.
    Just import each October.
    The strugglers get to plan, nurture, and watch as their fledglings leave.
    Back to the future.

  5. The AFL, with its modus operandi, and its trade period and its unelected elite, is a beautiful example of why socialism in a wider context can never work (despite the beautiful theory behind it). The killer is always the same: enterprise. Its impossible to destroy human enterprise and aspiration. Level playing fields are an intellectual fantasy. There will always be someone, or some group, aiming to be the best, to bend the rules, to get to the top of the tree at the expense of others. This is the reality. This is football. (Refer Essendon Football Club).

  6. Thanks Jeff
    Having looked over your last installment of the 2000s Era how amazing that Brisbane has fallen so far and been allowed to do so by the league. It is as if the AFL has gone ” We have ticked off Brisbane of the list so let get the Suns up now”. No wonder they are spewing about the Aish trade.
    Sounds fair to me Dave
    Back to the future indeed ER. I sure most clubs reckon that SA and WA should return to poaching locations
    Dips you not implying that clubs might stretch the rule to gain advantage. How did that get through legal? Team Jimmy and Tania will get you

  7. Thanks Aussie
    Some good thoughts. i agree that the AFL should not have to mother the struggling clubs but they do need to protect the basic tenet of the the draft etc to allow them to rebuild if that have the smart to do it. At the moment its like duck season with 6 shooters and 12 ducks

  8. Yeah, whilst I’d say the AFL have been more focussed on certain other clubs which hasn’t helped their cause, I’d contend that Brisbane’s malaise has been self inflicted.

    It began half a dozen years ago with their list management, Voss for some reason thinking they were in contention. And with the exodus of young talent over the past few years there’s clearly something rotten in Denmark behind the scenes. Meanwhile a player like Jed Adcock is given the flick.

    So far as being allowed to slip so far by the AFL, I’m not sure what they were meant to do. They already run enough clubs don’t they?

  9. kath presdee says

    I notice that you haven’t mentioned Father/Son at all. Is that on purpose?

    If you want a proper draft, there should be no advantage for a club to get access to a pick just because their father played an arbitrary number of games for a particular club.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think father/son is great and part of the great story of the game. The opportunity for a boy to wear his father’s Guernsey and have his father’s number is wonderful. That said, it will be a very long time before there is a son of a Sun eligible for the draft, let alone selected.

  10. Agree Jeff
    I commented earlier in that year the Leppitch was a loose cannon. Having been dragged over the coals for poor player interaction, read bullying, may be he is behind the exodus of young bloke. Still they seem to have fallen of the radar at AFL house.

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