Thirty six umpires, three players and the twin slit experiment

Mark invited me into the MCC Members to watch Brisbane take on Hawthorn. Mark and I met at University and have been going to the football together for over thirty years. We were originally Fitzroy fans and are now Brisbane Lions members.
Like all long term relationships our level of passion has waxed and waned. There have been times where he has gone to the footy more than I and vice versa. However one of the great moments of my life was meeting Mark at Crown after the Lions had beaten Essendon in 2001. I was already there, with a beer in hand, when Mark came up those enormous stairs. A magic moment.
Mark and I have become affluent; money to burn. He wastes, in my opinion, five hundred bucks on a MCC membership. I waste, in his opinion, about the same amount sponsoring a player at the Fitzroy Reds. We are much the same but different. I like to sit up behind the goals with the cheer squad. I like the atmosphere and I wish we could go from one end to the other each quarter like we do in the Ammos. Mark likes to get on the wing and since, he was paying, in I went.
It was filled with Hawthorn supporters. This was not a surprise as people from Hawthorn are not short of a bob. The membership fee wouldn’t knock a hole in their pockets. Hawthorn has a good team to watch. They play attractive football and Rioli is often worth the entry money himself. Mark and I positioned ourselves on the ground floor, on the wing, the captains tossed, the ball was bounced and then it started.
Neville Cardus, regarded by most, as the greatest cricket writer once commented how disappointed he had become with cricket fans. He believed that they watched the score board rather than appreciate the play unfolding in front of them. Cricket pits a batsman against a bowler; these two utterly dissimilar modes of play often mediated by fieldsmen. Glen McGrath bowling to the English Captain Atherton was a fascinating contest, a game within a game. These individual battles, subplots, are often far more interesting than the actual game. Let’s face it, winning a Test match by an innings means there is no real contest.
I can go further with this. In the last Ashes series I noticed early on in the series that Cook has a pretty on- drive. Most left handers tend to tuck the ball square rather than hit it, with the full face of the bat, past mid- on’s left hand. Not Cook, in the last series, and it was something that I took great pleasure in as I was watching Cook play, his battle with the bowlers rather than fretting about the score. His score, in that series, for an Aussie supporter, was usually rather concerning.
Football has given away any sort of player on player contest. The ridiculous unlimited interchange system means that you do not see the individual contests that abounded up to the middle nineties. Remember when Melbourne had Robbie Flower and crap teams. Melbourne was still worth watching when they played North Melbourne who was one of the powerhouse teams at the time. Who played on Flower you would ask someone who went to the game; Grieg or Shimma? How did the contest pan out?
Carlton playing Hawthorn at the same time; Bradley on Plattern, all day!!!!!
So what started as soon as the ball was bounced? Well Mark started: he started to complain about the umpiring to the exclusion of all else. So did everyone else. Now Brisbane has a “crap side” and Voss has made some terrible decisions as the coach but the Brisbane players do not give in. They threw themselves in with gay abandon, keeping in the game until the last quarter or so. They held back the tide for a while, but, class will tell in the end. Buddy got on the end of a few and Hawthorn won by a bit but according to the Brisbane fan it was all the umpires fault.
During the game I started to listen to the crowd rather than watch the game. A blind, deaf man (possible umpire?) who knew nothing of the game (certainly an umpire) would be lead to a conclusion that there were thirty six umpires and only three players on the field. Nearly all the crowd noise, except when a goal was scored, revolved around the umpires. Footy supporters now don’t watch the play. They don’t appear to watch the scoreboard, except for the quarter time statistics and you can probably predict which one everyone waits for: free kicks, for and against.
I noticed signs around the ground and on the scoreboard listing what obnoxious behaviours get you kicked out. What about a rule that anyone calling out “ball” more than once a quarter has to leave?
One of my sons, Pete, has jumped the Brisbane ship. He now barracks for Hawthorn. I sent him to Camberwell Grammar where all his mates barrack for the Hawks. He was at the match, sitting with three or four friends, in the Hawthorn member’s area. I picked him up after the match and we drove home together.On a completely different tangent have you noticed how fans no longer hang their scarves out the window on the way home? Well my car won’t allow you to do it. The bloody automatic windows won’t close up with anything in the way. I must remember to borrow my brother’s ute that has proper wind up windows.
When we got home we put the replay on, sat down to review the game and then it started again. This time I had a Hawthorn supporter pointing out the obvious FACT that the umpires….. I think you know the rest. I couldn’t stand it all over again so I went and read the A.A. Thomson book tilted “Pavilioned in Splendour” where the umpires are hardly mentioned.
During the next Brissie Hawks game I plan to put Mark and Pete on either side of me. I hope they will interfere with each other in the manner of that famous “twin slit experiment.” I may be lucky to be sitting in the exact spot that they cancel each other out exactly leaving me in a “cone of silence,”. I should probably get a radio and some ear phones just in case.
I came down to boarding school in 1970 and going to Vic Park or Glenferrie was an adventure. You see I’ve always loved a full forward and you could go from end to end in those days. We would try to get as close to McKenna or Hudson or Wade as we could. I have lots of memories of these times but I do not remember the crowds being so obsessed with umpiring.
A few weeks ago I watched Fitzroy play Camberwell. A great match and when I got home I watched the game on the Dartfish replay. The sound was about one minute behind the vision which annoyed me greatly at first. Then I started to think. Let’s see if I can fit the whinging about the umpiring to the actual play. This was an absolute delightful task and completely impossible to do.
The next time I go to an AFL game I plan to take a tape recorder in, tape the crowd noise and listen to it at home. I have a digital thingo that will fit easily into my top pocket. I shall be back with the result.


  1. John Harms says

    I’m thinking our first ever PodCast P. Hill.

    The second Podcast could be you ranting against the ridiculous unlimited interchange system. It really is ridiculous.

  2. Loved your piece, Phil.
    I had cause to think about this same affliction last Saturday when I attended the Central District v Eagles match.
    I took my four year old daughter for a walk. On our perambulation we walked past a group of Eagles supporters.
    Now during the early stages of the game, Centrals were in total control and, at this point, deep in the third quarter the Eagles hadn’t scored a goal.
    The umpires somehow had given the Eagles nine free kicks before Centrals had even picked up one.
    So, I was quite bemused when an Eagles supporter abused an umpire with the line, “If it had been one of us you would’ve pinged him, ya maggot!”
    Which just goes to show, that even when you’re well ahead in umpiring terms, they’re still never right.

    As for ‘ball’, I blame the AFL for the increase in that call from the crowds. The new interpretations mean that any tackle that results in a slight retardation of ball movement could result in a holding the ball decision. But then again, it might not….

    You’ll be glad to know that last Saturday, after the Dogs thumped Woody-West Torrens, I drove home with my scarf hanging out the window.

  3. Anthony Walsh says

    Another “interesting” read Phil. I do enjoy your ramblings on Bigfooty also. Never a dull moment!

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