When a throw is a throw

In baseball they call it a pitch, in netball a pass, in football a handpass. In all three cases it could simply be called a throw.
I remember gathering around Mr Patto at footy training as an eight year old at Petrie Park in Montmorency. Mr Patto was a legend; Montmorency’s Pied Piper. Rather than walking down the street playing a flute to entice kids out of the house he simply drove down to the park in his 1972 Kingswood with the cracked muffler. Kids came from everywhere.
And Mr Patto taught me how to handball.
He’d gather the kids around.
“To play footy properly” he’d say “You have to know how to handball.” Then he’d reach into a canvas sack and pull out a battered old Sherrin that had been carbon dated back to 500 BC.
“Hold your hand with the ball on it perfectly still. Then punch the ball at its point with the other hand with a clenched fist like this……………” He’d then handball the footy like a tracer bullet usually picking out a sleepy kid or one engaged in the process of unpacking the nasal suitcase.
The key to his teaching was that the hand upon which the ball sat was perfectly still. As I recall this was the rule. If the hand with the ball on it moved wildly it was called a throw.
I’ve heard stories that in Jack Dyer’s day there was such a thing as a flick pass whereby the ball was slapped or flicked with an open hand. It enabled a quicker disposal of the ball. It was banned then and should be now.
Watching the Carlton and St Kilda game on Monday night I was struck by how much throwing was going on. Chris Judd’s efforts in slinging the ball vast distances outside a pack would make Billy Slater smile. But all players do it. Stevie J’s miraculous handballs over his head simply aren’t possible if the rule is applied correctly.
Mr Patto would blind turn in his grave if he saw it.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. That good Adelaide side of a decade or so ago used to have ‘quick hands’ Dips.

  2. Tony Robb says

    Dips Mr Patton didn’t have eight blokes hanging off him like leeches. Players generally still hit the ball but as you say, the hand holding the ball is creating the momentum to gain greater distance and determine the direction. I sure the AFL will have a rule in place by Friday

  3. When a throw is a throw? When Murali and Saeed Ajmal “bowl”?

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    Well said, Dips. Players have been doing it for years. I reckon I call out in frustration, ‘Throw, Umpire!’ a handfull of times each match. I watched the last term on Monday night and I saw a Saints players literally scoop it over his head and out of a pack at least ten metres. The flick pass is also common place.

  5. Andrew Starkie says

    Yeah, you can expect a stamp down on it this weekend. It’ll be forgotten again in two weeks

  6. Andrew Fithall says


    From the Laws of the Game: Handball: the act of holding the football in one hand and disposing of
    the football by hitting it with the clenched fist of the other hand.

    There is actually no mention that the hand holding the ball has to be stationary.

    Not that I disagree with you regarding illegal disposal. It seems that the umpires have decided, without reference to the rules, that if the player with the ball has NOT had prior opportunity, on being tackled, can get rid of the ball however they like.


  7. Its all garbage really.

    Bring back the good old days when a good tacke was ‘holding the ball’ and no prior opportunity was not a consideration. Reward the bloody tackler not the 100k per year rules buffoon.

  8. AF – the law doesn’t mention that the hand holding the ball needs to be still because it shouldn’t have to mention it. If that hand moves a lot then the physics of the motion make it a throw.Its up to the umpires to determine whether the movement is acceptable or not. I believe that at present too many players are moving their hands too much during a handball.

    That makes it a throw.

  9. Andrew Starkie says


    the holding the ball interpretation has changed again. I can’t keep up. Goldstein was caught cold in the goal square on Sunday, the spilled free, should’ve been pinged for holding or dropping the ball. Copybook. Umpire called play on. Thomas goaled. Shocking decision.

  10. Matt Zurbo says

    A great piece, short and sweet, with a punch (or flick)

    Yeah, the Crows re-invented the flick pass for a while. We all imitated it in the park. While on my travels I was teaching a mate’s kid how to handball. He asked why was it invented? Good Question. Probably to better distance our game from the long-standing rugby. Back then, before it was perfected by Greg Williams, Polly Farmer and Sam Mitchell, it would have been an awkward thing that encouraged kicking.

    Similar with bouncing the ball. They wouldn’t of wanted the fastest bloke to simply run the field, like in rugby. Bouncing, on those muddy ovals, would have been a nightmare.

    I totally agree that a lot more throws are being let go, which also goes to the absurdly random interpretations of my beloved holdin-the-ball/droppin-the-ball. The bigger picture, I believe, is: The AFL instruct their umpires to make the game flow on at almost any cost. It is less about rules, and more about the “spectacle”. If the ball bounces free, perfect tackle or no, play on! If it is pinned under a chest, even if it is the tackler holding the ball there, free kick! Keep it moving!

    Unless it is a blatant, picture book throw, it will not be paid.

    As a tackler, this has always irked the hell out of me. Doubly so this year. Grr. haha. Umpires! Ha. No, I’ll correct that, They’re doing what they’re told, and do it damn well. Good on them.

    AFL! Grr .

  11. haiku bob says

    and what about kicking?
    when i was a kid, you didn’t get the auskick (or whatever it was back then) certificate if you couldn’t kick the ball over 10 meters. i notice dreamteam and supercoach points being awarded for less.

  12. Andrew Fithall says

    HB – Umpires definitely use different tape measures – one for kicking 15 metres, one for running 15 metres. I often (too often in the opinion of family members) remark that the umpire wouldn’t have paid holding the ball if the player had run as far as the ball had just been kicked.

  13. Rick Kane says

    Great thinking piece Dips.

    MZ, Sam Mitchell in the same sentence as Polly Farmer? Even as a Samfan I can’t compute that.

    You would be familiar with the legendary Polly Farmer story, hand passing through open windows of cars driving across the Causeway into Perth.


  14. Matt Zurbo says

    Geez Rick, the Poly story grows! Only footage I saw what him handballing through the half-wound window of a parked ute out back of his farm.

    I chose the best of three diff gens. Mitchell is keeping the short stocky player in football!

  15. Rick Kane says

    Hey Matt, don’t misunderstand me, I appreciate Sammy even being considered in Polly’s shadow. Me like!

    And here’s hoping the legend of Polly Farmer grows and grows. There must be a Paul Kelly out there to write his story into song.


  16. Great insights Dips. The ‘interpretation’ of rules has certainly changed in recent years. Umps give more ‘benefit of the doubt’ to players trying to dispose of the ball under tackling pressure. ‘Dropping the ball/holding the ball’ is rarely paid these days for incorrect disposal. A reasonable effort seems acceptable these days. Leaves a lot open to interpretation.

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