The return of the Good Bloke Test: When elbow met sternum


You don’t have to be a radical socialist or paranoid to think that there is one rule for the privileged and another for lesser lights. The old notion of the golden rule being that those with the gold make the rules, sometimes rings true.

I accept that the vision of Ablett’s hit on Picken was inconclusive and it would have been hard to suspend or penalise a player based on that.

It does however seem strange that in this day and age of a televised game on 7, with the multiple camera angles the network spruiks, that there was only one shot of the incident.

And it is of course tempting to think what would have happened was it, say, Jake King or Mitch Robinson (let alone Stevie J) throwing that elbow.

However, just as the case against Jobe Watson potentially losing his Brownlow for the supplement issue was hijacked by statements from within football as to what a good bloke he was and what a pity it would therefore be, it was interesting to see the analysis of the potential Ablett suspension, or at least ineligibility for the Brownlow in recent days.

Phrases tossed around were “you want to see the best players out there”, “it would be a shame if he was suspended for this”, “he’s a champion of the game” and the like.

When is an elbow not an elbow? When it is attached to a fine player who stands at the cusp of football legend status.

It seemed therefore that the likelihood that Ablett would be held to account for his actions, in the same way that others were, was somehow wrong. That because it had the potential to stop him creating history, rendered the normal rules of the game pear-shaped.

Yes, we all want to see good players playing. But should that be at the cost of injury or turning a blind eye to infringements of the law.

I am not saying Ablett was guilty. Certainly when seen in relation to the Judd elbow on Pavlich a few years back, there’s no comparison.

But what I object to is that there were sections of the media who felt it was wrong that Ablett lose his chance at history if he broke the rules.

We weren’t too far away from someone claiming Picken should have been grateful that Ablett laid a hand on him, and not wash his face (sorry, sternum) for a week.

If you want to see the best players out there every week, why not have a points reduction scheme for suspensions if you are a top 10 B&F winner? Or you can’t be suspended in any game that you scored over 100 Fantasy Points. Both assessments are of course ridiculous, but so is the idea that better players should be treated with kinder gloves than mere AFL mortals.

Situations like this always bring up that old annual argument over the Brownlow, both the role the umpires play in it and the requirement to meet the fairest criteria. We didn’t riot in the streets when McKernan or Grant missed out, yet this I imagine would have seen a Royal Commission had he got pinged.

This is another example of the ‘good bloke’ test being layered onto a decision. It would be awful if that nice Jobe, with the lovely newsreader dad, polite nature and humble attitude were to lose his medal.

But that awful Swan boy, with his tattoos and tummy, one more indiscretion and we’ll be round with a SWAT team to get it back, assuming he hasn’t hocked it for cash, being a Magpie and all.

Ablett’s case was never going to be looked at in isolation of it just being a player with the chance to get carry-over points or miss a match. There’s no doubt of his standing in the game, amongst peers as much as spectators. And if he joins those 4 brilliant champions who have saluted 3 times, then we will be in the presence of greatness.

But, you cannot compromise a process because of the individual. All the “he’s such a great player” and “just let him play” is completely out of line when assessing a potential illegal action.

I am glad he got off; only because I can only imagine what sort of storm we’d be in if he got pinged and was ineligible.

If you have a rule, have a rule. Whilst umpires don’t pay the same free kicks in the dying minutes as they blow early in the second quarter, and players seem to get lighter sentences at the tribunal in the finals (or in the NRL, pre Origin) you can’t apply a good bloke/good player test.

We want to see the best players playing. But that doesn’t give them or us licence to judge their actions differently to the lesser lights.

Would it be a shame if a suspension meant a player missed a chance at history? Yes, but that would only happen if he did something that meant he was ineligible, like striking someone. That is the fact of the award, so accept it.

If you clamour for a situation where you always have the best players playing, regardless of what they have done, you set up an unacceptable situation where rules don’t apply and you compromise the game completely.

Either have a rule or have a ‘good bloke’ test. You can’t have both.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    You are on fire Sean.

    As mentioned elsewhere here today, Barry Hall would failed the Good Bloke test in 2005, but got off by virtue of the ‘Good Club’ test.

  2. Agreed Sean. Right back to the start of footy there has always been the ‘ball player’/champion who has had a gutfull of snipers and taggers by the end of their career. They start to get very careless with their elbows.
    In part we sympathise because we take a long term, cumulative view of the amount they have received versus the amount they have given. In the old days the scraggers just gave top players a whack, but in the video age they have become adept at the death by a thousand cuts.
    I’m glad Junior got off because he is a ball player first, second and third. I would be a lot freer with free kicks for the petty niggly stuff by taggers. Anyone not looking at the ball and holding/impeding gives away a free first time and 50 metres each subsequent time. That would cut out all the tough guy crap from B grade players.
    Another thought – you get a 10 point penalty deduction for each Brownlow vote. 25 votes last year? Free 250 points suspension deduction this year. Intentional, high contact, medium impact. Off scot free. Crowley obviously had it coming anyway.

  3. The Wrap. says

    Sure you don’t want to replace Leunig cartoons with the Brownlow Medal in your list of things that are over rated Sean?

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    We’ll done Sean excellent and so correct

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