What’s wrong with footy in 2018?

I am a retired person so I have plenty of time to listen to radio discussion, panel and talk-back shows on all radio stations, as well as time for reflection. The constant theme for some time has been that there is something seriously wrong with modern Australian Rules football – how it is played; how it is coached; how it is umpired; how it is administrated.  My strong belief is that the problem is systemic.


AFL field umpires are the only people in our democratic country who are totally protected from the requirement of accountability to the people affected by their decisions.  Even the Prime Minister is not exempt!  Players, coaches, other club officials, the media and the public are threatened into silent passivity by the prospect of massive financial penalty.  Umpires, living in their own protected bubble of officially sanctioned non-accountability, are appointed, not elected, and they have a direct line of communication with the AFL administration.  Logic suggests that their views on preferred rule changes and interpretations receive a ready ear from the AFL.


However, this closed loop system appears to lend itself to a distinct lack of logic when it comes to adding new rules or tweaking and reinterpreting existing rules.  Due to exclusion of feedback from the constituency affected by their exercise of power (the rest of us) I believe the game is afflicted by a never-ending succession of unexpected consequences which are hastily dealt with by yet another change.  It’s like plugging a hole in a wall then at the stress point another hole appears, then another and another.  This kind of systemic failure leads to logical inconsistencies and internal contradictions.  This is what is driving the fans mad (me included).  People have been whinging about this since time immemorial but I think it has cascaded to a tipping point where many have had enough.


Here are a few examples.


  1. Contradictions between praising the courage and heroism of players who ‘put their heads over the ball’ and ‘put their bodies on the line’ at the same time as emphasising the need to protect heads and spines from serious injury.


  1. The ridiculous nonsense of punishing players selectively for the results of their actions in a body contact sport rather than for their intentions or motivations. And the refusal to acknowledge that some collisions may be nobody’s fault.  Sometimes players are equally culpable.  Sometimes shit happens!  If this could be acknowledged, perhaps there are occasions when the media need not spend hours and hours forensically examining slow motion collision impacts, frame by frame, then consensually trying to pressure the official reviewers into penalising or exonerating players  (sometimes according to whom they are rather than what they’ve done!)


  1. The ‘push in the back’ rule. It is insane and illogical that a player will be penalised for an imperceptible touch with the fingers between the shoulders that in no way affects his opponent’s pursuit of the ball yet a mighty shove with a forearm that sends him flat on his face in the mud is called “play on”.  Why could a genuine push in the back have not been retained at the same time as toughening up on hands in the back?


  1. The ‘tunnelling’ penalty. Brought in some years ago as a knee-jerk response to the deliberate bad behaviour of a couple of players on a few occasions. Why not just come down hard on those players who started it with blatant tunnelling, then leave the game alone?  I’ve never heard a single commentator since then who doesn’t think it’s usually the wrong player, honestly trying to pick up the ball, who cops the penalty.  Does every undesirable aberration require a permanent rule change?


  1. The ‘prior opportunity’ rule. Why should any player be mandated to have a prior opportunity to dispose of the ball legitimately before being penalised for holding it when tackled?  When I think it through, it seems to me that the logical consequence of this is that there can be no such thing as the perfect tackle!  The perfect tackle, pinning both arms to the player’s sides and causing him to let go of the ball, by definition cannot be rewarded.


  1. What my late father would have called a ‘technical’ free kick; I call them petty nonsense. There is a large and growing percentage of free kicks, and in particular, 50 metre penalties, for which I and everybody around me and presumably the media commentators, have no idea why they are given.  I mention the media because when I watch/listen to their descriptions of play they say that a free or 50 metre penalty is being given but they seldom give a reason.  Obviously, they cannot risk implying  criticism of the umpire by saying “What the hell was that for?” so one can only assume that those guys don’t know why they’re being given either!




The fans on the other side of the fence cannot hear what’s being said by umpires and players out on the ground.  I’ve long speculated that many of the 50 metre penalties are given when players protest about dodgy frees;  but who knows?  We just see stoppage after unexplained stoppage  and a boring rolling maul.  The biggest penalty given in Australian Rules football is the 50 metre penalty (often ending in a goal) yet it is the least understood and seems to be given for the most minor non-contact infringements, which again, is logically inconsistent.  No wonder we are over it.


Finally, it is my observation that it is not how many free kicks each side is given or even where they are given;  it is the momentum-changing frees that are given at crucial stages of a game.  We all know one when we see one and there don’t need to be many.  These are the ones that get home ground fans roaring their teams to victory.




About Sue Currie

A devoted Magpie since my father took me to my first game at Victoria Park when I was five years old. That was nearly 70 years ago. Even when I was a nurse on a remote Aboriginal desert community I managed to see most Pies' games on Imparja TV. When I went to work up Cape York and found that the only way to find out what was happening to my Pies was to sit in my FWD and listen to HF radio I quit my job and came back to where they play civilised footy, ie., Aussie Rules.


  1. Yvette Wroby says

    Nice work Sue. I thought the first three free kicks to Collingwood in the 3rd quarter gave the game to them. They did play better and De Goey was great, but suddenly, the momentum of a close game was shot after the frees and Saints never recovered. Huge differential in frees on Saturday night.

    I don’t understand all the frees and 774 for there to answer some of my questions but they were left blank on some too.

    Hope to see you at the Pie Night?? The Footy Almanac Women’s Footy Pie night, not the Magpie Pie night!!

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