Was footy really tougher “back in the day”?

BY – JACKSON CLARK

Twitter – @jclark182

Experienced football purists often have plenty of criticisms of the modern game of Australian football.

Many take umbrage towards the constant developments of the sport and brand the current game as unrecognisable to the one they grew up so fondly with.

They miss the dominant full-forwards, parochial supporter bases at home grounds, and prevalence of one-on-one contests across the park.

And while that is perfectly understandable, I do question those that claim “football was tougher back in the day”.

This is not just talking about the elite level here, I refer to all standards of football across state leagues and country level.

I am only young so I am unable to have an informed opinion about it, but was it really tougher back in the glory days? Or are these people looking back on it with rose-coloured glasses?

I do concede that elite-level football is less sniper-ish than what it used to be with the presence of match-day cameras picking up any off the ball hits.

That was not a concern for players back in the day and it was common to see blokes get “levelled-up” behind the play.

But in essence, that’s not really what toughness is about is it?

Let’s look at the facts here. With the advancements in training, players are bigger, stronger, fitter and faster than what they ever have been and that has filtered down to lower levels of football.

A rapid increase in interchange rotations also means that players are fresher when out on the ground.

It does not take a genius to work out that this results in harder hits around the contest and when the ball is there to be won.

Although the bump is essentially outlawed, tackling is an aspect of the game that has improved substantially over the years.

There are less traditional one-on-one contests these days but there are always going to be collisions in a game of football.

By saying the game was tougher back in the day you are showing a great disrespect to modern hard man such as Luke Hodge and Joel Selwood, and the recently retired Jonathan Brown and Beau Waters.

About Jackson Clark

Born and bred in Darwin, Northern Territory, I am a young, aspiring football writer that lives and breathes the game of Australian Football. I'm also a keen player and coach.

Comments

  1. Rabid Dog says

    Sorry Jackson, but it definitely was tougher in the past. You ruin your own argument by the line: “…the bump is essentially outlawed…”. Whilst I agree that the increased monitoring for sniping etc has been great for the game (and I agree that a king hit or a knee in a pack is for gutless pricks), the real courage is to have eyes on the ball and be able to meet and ride the bump when trying to take possession of the ball.

  2. Jackson,
    I am rapidly closing in on 50, and suspect that I have seen thousands of games both in person and on television since the early 1970’s.
    In my opinion, football is infinitely tougher today.
    You rightly mention the size and body shape of contemporary players, all muscle and sinew.
    Those who say footy was tougher “back in the day” are the same observers pining for those ancient one-on-one contests all over the ground – and not the scrimmages and “inside” play we see today.

  3. Cat from the Country says

    Having watched footy since the 60’s lets not talk about which era is/was the toughest.
    Lets talk instead of the support.
    In 1960:
    Players worked a 40 hour week
    They drank and played hard
    Trained Tuesday and Thursday
    Boots were heavier, had ankle pads and long laces
    Players spent the whole 100 minutes on the ground unless injured
    The two on the bench were only used if a player could not play on.
    2015
    Players do not have an outside paying job
    They still drink hard but some also take PED
    Train how many days a week?
    Boots they are not … more like shoes as they do not protect the ankles
    With all the stopping of the clock, how many actually play 100 minutes each week?
    Four on the bench … rotating frequently.

    Now … what are we comparing? Chalk and cheese I think!

  4. The Wrap says

    Are you kidding, they pull ’em off today if an ingrown toenail flares up. And I’m staggered, after Deledio’s two weeks with a week off for a full confession after a bump that saw player White spring up off the ground to take his kick, I’m staggered you’re even bothering to ask if it was tougher in the old days?

    Get out some vision Lad. Try the Family Club first. They’re always hungry for a deea. They’re sure to have whole DVD’s of Dermie “The Kid” Brereton ironing out a few for sale or hire. Including his iconic trade mark hit on Paul van der Hass. Then there was Robert “Everyone Was An Accident” DiPierdomenico. His moniker says it all. They actually gave him a Brownlow Medal. But the king of them all would have to have been Lethal Leigh Mathews. No need for inverted commas. That was his real name: L. L. Matthews Esq. Google his name along with Neville Bruns and see what you come up with. (He actually ran through and snapped off a point post at Whingy Hill) And that was the Family Club.

    Google Neil Balme, 1973 GF & Geoff Southby in the same search bar. Do likewise for Murray Weideman & Ron Barassi in the 1958 GF. Those were the days when doing whatever it took didn’t mean injecting players full of chemicals to create a bionic team. This was war, and there was only one umpire out there to keep it under control.

    The 1971 and the 1989 Grand Finals were another couple of landmark cases in the sheer brutality of The Game in those days.

    Now that’s not to say the game was without skills and artistry. Some of the most audaciously skilled players ran out in those days. None more skilled than John Coleman. His flight was that of a bird, his accuracy that of Robin Hood. The sublime Bobby Skilton. The Mercurial Royce Hart. Another Bobby, Bobby Rose. Hassa Mann in the pivot for The Invincible Redlegs. Good grief Lad, they even struck a special medal for those players. It was for The Fairest & Best. It was called the Brownlow Medal. Ian Stewart won three of them.

    Then they gave one to Dipper DiPierdomenico & Greg “Diesel” Williams and changed it to best & fairest. You look up Diesel Williams and see what you come up with.

    I know, they still present it, but only so footballers wives & girl friends can frock up and Crown casino can dispense truckloads the sponsor’s product to a bored bunch of football players; and Channel 7 can broadcast the results to an equally bored bunch of fans,

    My folks told of tales of being a Richmond fan walking home from Victoria Park if The Tige’s had had the temerity to defeat Collingwood. They travelled in convoy and “borrowed” rubbish tin lids to fend off the barrages of hand launched half bricks & yonnies fired from shanghais.

    And you Son, want to know if Footy was tougher in the old days. There were only two men on the bench and concussion was something you played with unless you couldn’t see or couldn’t walk. And that was after they’d rested you in the forward pocket for a quarter to see if you’d come good.

    Good grief Boy, the modern footballer is an extreme athlete. He can run faster than a speeding train, catch a bullet in their teeth, but tough? Nah, they’re pussy cats compared to the men who ran out before them. But The Game’s just as good, eh? It’s just different. That’s all.

  5. Jackson Clark says

    You’re dreaming!

  6. It’s all a dream Jackson.

  7. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Rabs and the Wrap are 100 per cent correct , quicker today but geez back in the 80s it was war yes injections today re what ever it takes but Balmey as a player was take no prisoners basically no comparison

  8. Dave Nadel says

    The Wrap fails to mention his own club. In the first half last century the Tigers had Jack Dyer and then Mopsy Fraser. Both of these players were fine footballers, Dyer is deservedly classified as a Legend, but both played football in a style that would have had them permanently rubbed out of the modern game. Nobody playing football today is as tough these two, or for that matter, Teddy Whitten, Des Tuddenham or (as Wrap said) Leigh Matthews.

    Wrap mentions the 1971 and 1989 Grand Finals. However the classic “brutal grand final” was the 1945 Bloodbath between Carlton and South Melbourne. You can read about it in lots of footy histories although the best piece is a chapter in Martin Flanagan’s “The Game in the Time of War.” It is impossible to imagine a Grand Final like that even in the 1970s or 1980s much less in the twenty-first century.

    None of which means that today’s football is inferior to twentieth century football. But it is certainly not as tough.

  9. Jim Johnson says

    Was footy really tougher “back in the day”?

    Experienced football purists often have plenty of criticisms of the modern game of Australian football. Many take umbrage towards the constant developments of the sport and brand the current game as unrecognizable to the one they grew up so fondly with. (I grew up from 14 years old in 1948 with my disposal being a drop punt as a field pass and my Stab Punt replacing my Stab Kick from May 1949. So you could say I was part of the transition. Somewhat ahead of my time. Lets say at least twenty years. Then who cares?)
    They miss the dominant full-forwards, parochial supporter bases at home grounds, and prevalence of one-on-one contests across the park.
    (Yes one had an opponent whom you endeavored to keep with as few possessions as possible. I only managed to keep an opponent kickless twice and in one of those occasions my opponent didn’t even touch the ball.)
    And while that is perfectly understandable, I do question those that claim “football was tougher back in the day”. (Players are as “tough today as they were then. The skill levels may be better now but the ground conditions are IMMENSELY better than they were and make skilful playing easier. The actual football itself today does not get as muddy, heavy and slippery in wet conditions.)
    This is not just talking about the elite level here; I refer to all standards of football across state leagues and country level. I am only young so I am unable to have an informed opinion about it, but was it really tougher back in the glory days? Or are these people looking back on it with rose-coloured glasses?
    (Toughness and Courage. How much courage do you need to go out on the ground knowing there are medical facilities on hand including ambulance facilities’ a police escort to hospital etc compared with very little in suburban & country areas in the“glory days”. The financial & insurance cover etc now compared with perhaps just help from the local supporters if you could not work for wages because of a broken leg, arm, jaw etc.)
    (Back in my days from 1949 to 1960 the toughness was there but different. How tough did you have to be to play the “physical” game of Football without a medic or a properly trained “trainer” to look after any injuries? I remember a match at Olinda during which I had a finger put out of joint at right angles and our popular trainer, who was a railway worker and known for growing orchids, said to me how lucky I was that he was there to pull it back into position and tape it to an adjoining finger as he said at the time “if they took the time to find a doctor it may never have been the same again”. The same trainer treated a teammate saying his nose was only out of joint. He put it back into joint and the player carried on for the rest of the match. The player found out during the next week when he attended a doctor that his nose actually was broken. Bob Skilton three Brownlow Medals “Only 171 cm tall, Skilton was particularly fast and a superb baulker, allowing him to avoid opponents when necessary. He was never shy of attacking the ball, however, and in his 16-year career suffered many injuries, including concussion, a broken nose four times, a broken wrist three times and 12 black eyes. Wikipedia” How tough is that. In a game at Fern Tree Gully I was told as we ran out onto the ground by an opponent, who was an ex Port Melbourne player that “I’ll get you today Johnson”. He was only about half as big again as I was. He was not courageous and he didn’t manage to “get” me that day. I was almost always the smallest, in size, player on the ground.)
    I do concede that elite-level football is less sniper-ish than what it used to be with the presence of match-day cameras picking up any off the ball hits. That was not a concern for players back in the day and it was common to see blokes get “leveled-up” behind the play.
    (There are still many players being caught hitting behind the play by cameras and some are still being missed. In recent times there are two that are outstanding examples. One a full forward knocking out a full back and the other a rover king hitting an opposing rover as they ran passed each other out of play. Did the level up option stop more than the camera? Who knows? There was the one in a Collingwood v Essendon Final when a player was flattened behind play and the crowd reacted against the team at fault and literally changed the outcome of the game.)
    (I only got a player back once. That was in a match Melbourne High School 1st Eighteen against Swinbourne Tech in 1950. I was squirrel punched and later in the game the opponent involved was bending down on the run to pick up the ball when I ran past beating him to the ball and moved my elbow about two inches and hit him on the brow and he came up holding his head. The umpire did not see it. Later after the game I thought that if I had hit him on, the close by. temple I could have done grave damage to him. I decided that I would not play dirty again and I never ever did.)
    But in essence, that’s not really what toughness is about is it? Let’s look at the facts here. With the advancements in training, players are bigger, stronger, fitter and faster than what they ever have been and that has filtered down to lower levels of football.
    (I think diet has a major impact on size and fitness since my time. The fact that many players are professionals has a big impact on skills and fitness.)
    A rapid increase in interchange rotations also means that players are fresher when out on the ground. It does not take a genius to work out that this results in harder hits around the contest and when the ball is there to be won. Although the bump is essentially outlawed, tackling is an aspect of the game that has improved substantially over the years.
    (The bump is not outlawed but a shirtfront, when one player is going for the ball and the other is just playing the man, is. Contact above the shoulders is outlawed.)
    There are less traditional one-on-one contests these days but there are always going to be collisions in a game of football.
    (There are more scrums, more handballs, more marks, more kicks and there are more almost everything including rest time off the ground today. In my time there were no interchange players only a 19th and 20th. A player came off and was replaced for the rest of the game.)
    By saying the game was tougher back in the day you are showing a great disrespect to modern hard man such as Luke Hodge and Joel Selwood, and the recently retired Jonathan Brown and Beau Waters.
    (The above footballers are not just Hard Men they are Class Footballers in every aspect of their game. Their disposal is/was outstanding and they almost never wasted a disposal.)
    Thank you Jackson Clark for your article. I hope my comments have been useful to you.
    “Stab Punt” Jim Johnson

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