AFL Round 13 – Those damned underdogs…

On Friday my brother in law Danny injured himself at work and went to hospital.  A few hours later he drove home, fine except for the loss of some flesh.  My brother Nick sent me a text about Danny’s injury, that’s gotta hurt.  It’s upset round.

And so it was.

An old football cliché never loses relevance.  Don’t let the underdog get confident.  Confidence elevates performance.  Confidence allows a team to perform beyond their ability.

A confident team takes away their opponent’s confidence.

When that happens, upsets happen.  Round 13 is an apt round for upsets.  With form as a guide, there were five of them.  Perhaps the devil was looking on.

West Coast showed Gold Coast the vagaries of travel and emotion.  It’s a long trip to Perth.  The Eagles had to win to honour Darren Glass.

GWS showed Brisbane the season will be inexorably long.  Adelaide highlighted North Melbourne’s rampant inconsistency, if it needed highlighting at all.

Melbourne pounced on Essendon’s uncertain future, their one-point victory a metaphor; one point in the arm, one point of law, one point for ASADA to make.

Collingwood were at half speed against the Western Bulldogs.  By half time the result seemed inevitable.

Watching an underdog win, when their abilities have been ignored by the bookies and the fans, is a helpless existence.  It shouldn’t be happening but it is.

Thankfully I didn’t bet at the weekend, because underdogs have dreams and ambitions.  Losing all the time is frustrating.  Pressure builds up.  Comparisons are made to successful clubs.  Clubs are written off by everyone.  The media seems spiteful.  Odds are set by derisive bookies who wait with both hands open.

When a club is underdog for too long, it causes them to distrust their abilities.  They gaze in wonder at other clubs, coveting their success and how they seem to do it so easily.

Being the underdog all the time is depressing.  Faith in the game plan, teammates and coaches is lost.  Playing without enthusiasm is difficult.  Faking it is pointless.

The underdog is often described as having nothing to lose, which is woefully inaccurate.  There is always dignity to be lost, and that often has the greatest impact on performance.  Players can’t maintain dignity when they’re being booed from the field.

Football clubs can either hate being the underdog or they can embrace it.  Neither method will guarantee a win.

What guarantees a win can be one moment in a game.  A turnover, team goal, free kick or missed tackle becomes the catalyst for an upset.  Belief grows, belief dips on the favoured side and the underdog gets the advantage.

Uncertainty and fear taint the losers.  At half time, when the Bulldogs hadn’t gone belly up, Collingwood wondered with trepidation, what the second half would reveal.

The game was slipping out of control, yet Collingwood was never considered the underdog.  The dubious honour is not interchangeable like a three goal lead.  An underdog before the game remains the underdog forevermore.

The fans relate to the underdogs.  We are uplifted by their performance because the underdog can’t risk losing, even if they try playing risk free footy.

At some point in a game, all clubs must take risks.  Melbourne went inside 50 just 11 times in the first half then wound in a big deficit in the second.  It didn’t happen without risk, confidence and a sense of dignity.

Being the underdog shouldn’t necessarily increase skill or ability.  It doesn’t mean limitations are expunged.  Simply, when the underdog gets up, footballers are said to play above themselves, best win for the year, best game of his career, can’t play better than that with this list, something to look forward to next year

Given most of us have felt like the underdog as some stage of our lives, it is easy to identify with the underdogs.  I’m going for the underdog is a common statement before a game.  It’d be good if the underdog gets up, is another.

According to Australian folklore, we are a nation that supports the underdog.  Folklore is wrong.  Our support of the underdog is interchangeable.  We might enjoy watching a club take repeated beatings.  We might curse the underdog following a crucial game.

Most we enjoy underdog victories.  We might reminisce for years about an underdog performance.  It’s because underdogs create excitement and cause chaos on the ladder.  There is tremendous power in wreaking havoc.

Richmond fans still roar about knocking Carlton out of the finals in 1997, as though that victory defined the nineties.

When the underdog wins, it is said to be good for the game.  And it is, unless your team lost.  Spite aside, it is important that we embrace the underdogs.  We might hate them but we shouldn’t complain when they get up.

Every club needs hope.  Every supporter needs belief.  Dreams and ambitions don’t die when the odds are set.

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great thought provoking article , Mike and it was a battle of the inconsistent sides in the crows and the roos who need a fit , Wells back . Great point re Nic Nat he is still a babe in big man terms and young libba while dad won a brownlow is going to be a superstar thanks iron mike

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