They built a MacDonald’s on Uluru

So it happened again. No Melbourne team in the grand final. In fact, none of the top four teams in the AFL competition were from Melbourne. We will go through the motions of pretending that grand final week still means something. And at 5.30 on Saturday there will be a quiet emptiness in every shopping centre and video shop across this fair city. None of this worries the people who matter. Channel 7 spokesman Simon Francis said last week:

“We believe the game is still growing but clearly not having a Victorian team involved tests the patience of Melbourne fans. It is just the price Melbourne has to pay for a better competition.”

That’s all right then. It’s just the price we have to pay. Andrew Demetriou isn’t worried either. People will still watch the matches on telly which is what generates the money. Indeed, why would the AFL care at all what the average Melbourne punter thinks? The AFL is a monopoly. They have exclusive control over the hundred year traditions of Victorian footy.More…

The creation of the AFL competition was a cultural crime, still unacknowledged. What am I and others upset about? The fact is that Victorian footy fans alone were forced to sacrifice their local VFL competition to the AFL. This Sunday Subiaco will play South Fremantle for the WAFL flag while in Adelaide two finals will also be held this Sunday with the grand final in two weeks time. But we Melbourne fans will not get to see the two best teams, Melbourne and Footscray, play off for the VFL premiership. Despite the relentless barrage of AFL propaganda, Melbourne footy supporters know that they lost something, that the national competition was something foisted upon us by businessmen, that it was neither necessary nor in our interests. The national competition should have been created in addition to, not instead of, the state competition. There was a price paid alright but it was not shared equally.

jezza

How did the VFL manage to betray their supporters and create this abomination? Simple. The VFL governance structure gave no power to the people who really owned football the supporters. While it would have been possible in principle for Melbourne supporters to all join clubs and vote out the boards who were supporting the creation of the AFL, there was no central organisation to manage this process. On the other hand there was a huge amount of money, publicity and 1980’s corporate greed driving the national competition agenda. The national competition was painted as inevitable progress like women’s rights and the computer.

I was peripherally involved in a group called Fight for Football Victoria (FFV) back in 1994 when the issue of the day was relocating Fitzroy to Brisbane. I recall suggesting to them that they use the recently passed cultural heritage legislation to prevent the vandalism of Fitzroy and the silk assisting them thought it was not a completely silly idea. Obviously nothing came of it and i moved overseas that year.

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine that at some time in the recent past a small, unrepresentative tribal council in Alice Springs was, for peculiar historical reasons, responsible for the management of Uluru. MacDonald’s suggest putting a burger joint right on top of it with an escalator. The tourists will flock in, the tribal council can take half million dollar salaries and drive company supplied beamers. Of course the tribal council think it’s a great idea. And more international tourists will be exposed to the grandeur of Uluru. So it’s a win-win! Except for the people who own the rock itself, the local indigines. Such a “development” would be stopped dead by a court.

Which is what should have happened when the AFL tried to move Fitzroy to Brisbane. The cultural traditions of Fitzroy belonged to Fitzroy supporters and to a lesser extent all Melbournians. Some may think that using cultural heritage legislation for such a purpose belittles the importance of Aboriginal culture. But culture is culture. A few hundred aborigines having a corroboree around the Rock for the past several thousand years counts as culture, because it is a long standing defining cultural tradition and losing it would diminish them. One hundred thousand people going to the G every year for a hundred years to see their best play a football game was also a long standing defining cultural tradition and losing it has diminished us.

The AFL propaganda machine now justifies itself in several ways. Their first argument is increased attendance figures. More people now watch footy than in 1980. AFL has conquered the country. But it is easy to keep your customers when you have a monopoly. What are Collingwood supporters going to do? Watch Melbourne Storm? While it is true that there are hundreds of thousands of new interstate supporters, why should I as a Melbournian care? Good for them. But we already had our VFL comp. They flogged it off to people in other states.

The second argument of AFL supporters concerns the improved standards and professionalism of the game. No question that today’s footballers are way better than the 1970’s. So what? If you are my age or older you will remember that footy was just as enjoyable in 1970 (unless you are a Collingwood supporter) as now. The thrill was in the closeness of the contest, knowledge of the players and the traditions of the clubs. And there was a bit more biff but that’s another story. Absolute standard in sport is pretty unimportant. Gibbons are far better gymnasts than Romanian teenage girls, but we still love to watch gymnast compete in the Olympics.

The third argument I hear is that the AFL competition, and in general professionalism, was inevitable. While I have nothing against a national competition in principle, the notion that a sport must become professional in order to prosper in the 21st century is is empirically false. Gaelic football in Ireland (as well as hurling) is still entirely amateur and is relatively unchanged over a century. It is incredibly popular and a source of national pride and identity. It is also very similar to Aussie rules. Read about this amazing competition HERE. And the standards are both high and improving, despite the lack of money. Cork former player and current coach Larry Tompkins describes a phenomenon that the AFL commissioners in their dark suits would find hard to explain:

“People always ask why, as amateurs, we train like professionals and reach such high standards and there is a simple answer,” explains Tompkins. “We want to do it. When you play Gaelic football, you play for your club and your country and there is great pride in that. You are playing for the people you grew up with, the people you live with. That is why you make the sacrifices.”

VFL was once like that but we were told it had to be swept aside by progress. But the Irish didn’t buy that argument. And the Irish are not economic troglodytes. They have close to the highest GDP per head in the world, and they made sacrifices to achieve it.

Tompkin’s words really go to the heart of the matter. To what extent are people motivated by money in each and every form of endeavour? To what extent do we measure success by money, which in the case of the AFL means bums on seats (both at the ground and in the living room)? Should sport even be a business? If I am sounding like a dewey-eyed socialist, I should point out that of the nine points in the Socialist Football Manifesto (I kid you not there is such a thing) I only agree with the last. It is no contradiction to argue that free market capitalism is good at providing cheap cars but not good at creating or sustaining cultural traditions, nor good at balancing the dietary needs of Uluru tourists and the cultural needs of the traditional owners.

I honestly wonder about the point of sport as business. AFL and many other sports have salary caps and a draft. Socialism. If you do too well this year we will punish you next year both with restricted access to new players and un unfavourable fixture. So at a fundamental level, the entire AFL competition is rigged, fixed, a sham and to that extent utterly pointless. At the other extreme, professional soccer is not financially restricted and is an equally pointless competition between egotistical robber-barons and their cheque-books. Even in AFL, Clubs can sell their home games for money and this is not called corruption. If both regulated and unregulated competitions are pointless, is sport pointless then? Certainly amateur sports like Gaelic football and the original VFL are not. But I suspect that any professional sport runs the real risk.

You’re probably thinking what is the point of complaining now? Well, I have been complaining to anyone who will listen for 20 years. But if you think that sport is not going to start moving from professional to amateur any time soon then I am sure you are correct. Yet political impossibility does not stop libertarians discussing the merits of an economy without a basic wage and a fixed minimum payment for all. And nor should it. Let’s admit that the VFL commissioners committed a crime and at least resolve not to repeat it.

*STOP PRESS: I watched the Swans beat the Dockers last night in a lack-lustre game. It was played at Telstra Stadium to allow more bums on seats (i.e. money) which removed what would have otherwise been a strong home ground advantage to Sydney. they won anyway. Somehow the care factor just wasn’t there for me. The West Coast v Adelaide game was a better standard, but marred by the feral one-sided crowd abuse which is the hallmark of the new football. And I will of course have to endure the gratuitous commentary about what a success this shows the AFL is and how parochial Victorians are.

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Ron
Ron
15 years ago

No NSW team in the NRL Grand Final for the first time in the history of the game so I guess there’ll be disappointed people in NSW too.
Glad I prefer reading a book to watching football! :-)

Living in Canberra
15 years ago

I think the influence of the non-Victorian teams has been fantastic over the life of the AFL. That they are so dominant at present should prompt Victorians in football to strive to match them, rather than (as is more likely) try to handicap them back to the level of the Victorian teams. Lets face it, the likes of West Coast, Port Power, Fremantle et al have added more to the AFL in the last decade or so, and will in future, done more for football than the likes of Richmond, Geelong and North Melbourne are ever likely to achieve again. Those teams’ achievements are in the past.

A true national competition would be less Melbourne-centric. At least now they’ve got rid of the ridiculous deal with the MCG about x number of finals having to be played there (although at some stage this is going to bite the AFL on the arse, as they are going to have to play interstate “home” finals there, unless they can renegotiate further). A true national competition would have say 5-6 Melbourne teams only, relegating the weaker ones back to the VFL, plus all the current interstate teams. Playing talent and finances spread less thinly at elite level in Victoria would help their AFL teams compete better. 5-6 teams would have stronger lists than the current teams can achieve. 100 odd players of AFL standard or thereabouts dropping back to the local VFL would raise its standard too.

The fact that we have so many Victorian teams in the AFL, several who will be perennial strugglers, is merely a reflection of the history of the AFL, and shows that the transition from an expanded VFL into a fully fledged AFL has not yet been completed.

I sort of agree with your point about amateurism. In Rugby League, I feel that supporters and the players grew apart in the 90’s when salaries exploded, and full time professionalism came in. Players became more and more removed from the world in which supporters live …salaries for the good players went from say $100-200k (within the bounds of possibility for at least some fans) to $300-400-500k plus. The players also became cocooned from the outside world, no longer having to get other jobs during the day. etc, etc. I think things in the AFL have gone pretty much the same way.

vee
vee
15 years ago

AFL needs a team in Canberra to be National.

Sit back and enjoy the game where the ball is caught more often and if you are a Victorian embrace the Melbourne Storm.

Tony.T
15 years ago

Embrace the Zebras! Three-Peat!

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

You missed the point I think Jacques. Go back and read the paragraph above the graphic.

Lic: ‘A true national competition would have say 5-6 Melbourne teams only, relegating the weaker ones back to the VFL.” Why not take all 10 Melbourne teams out of the AFL and make a separate Vic competition. it would be completely viable. Any way you look at it, Victoria does not need the AFL competition. But we don’t own our own game anymore. The dark suits do. Thievery I say.

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

But it is easy to keep your customers when you have a monopoly.

But the AFL does not have a monopoly at all – it has to compete against other sports, even in Melbourne let alone the rest of the country.

This really is the most blinkered parochialism Chris – Sydney papers are going on with the same crap over league at the moment. Jacques’ analogy with the Greeks and the Olympics is spot on.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

It’s not blinkered parochialism. It’s inspired parochialism.

I completely agree with Chris’s point about who owned Fitzroy – it’s a general point re-run with the Rabbitohs in Sydney. And he’s not opposing the national game – just suggesting a way it could have happened without ripping out suburban cultures and treating them as so many houses to be removed to put in a freeway. It was completely unnecessary.

And then he goes and spoils it all with the kind of ill judged – indeed I would go so far as to say tasteless – comment about the very greatest team in the game cruelly tested and robbed by all manner of unfairness and even umpires who ARE SO F*CKING DEAF THEY CANT F*CKING HEAR THE F*CKING FINAL SIREN IN A F*CKING NIGHT GRAND FINAL!! (currently resting their little black and white guernseys for what will surely be a successful assault on the summit next year).

boynton
15 years ago

But there is a South Melbourne tribe who maintain a Victorian connection to the Grand Final, so Go Swans.
And the recent Swans v Eagles game in Perth was a great game of football, one of the best. So good I couldn’t watch it, but I was given a copy by a fellow old South supporter I happened to meet recently.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

DD: Monopolies are hardly ever absolute. There are always possible substitutes. The AFL have a monopoly in the sense that the Vatican has a monopoly on the Holy Church. You can’t tell a Catholic to just change religions if they don’t like the latest Pope. Me – and hundreds of thousands of others – just want to see Melbourne play Collingwood in a GF and I cannot for the life of me see why that is impossible or why it would offend people from other states.

Tony T: I have watched the VFL* a little, including the GF today. I even went to a match last month. I felt I had to what with the way I bore my friends about the local game being stolen by management consultants. But does the VFL really do it for you? Even being a Demon supporter, a Zebra loss would not have put me off my supper.

* For those outside Melbourne, the VFL now refers to a lower standard local competition, which was once called the VFA. Many of the teams have affiliations with AFL clubs and AFL players who are dropped can play with their VFL affiliate. So they are kind of like the local AFL seconds. But with different names and colours. The Zebras are affiliated with my team, the Demons.

Tony.T
15 years ago

No, Chris, VFL* doesn’t really do it for me, not like it used to, and not like the Dees. But as far as AFL/VFL premierships are concerned Melbourne haven’t done it for me, either. In my lifetime they’ve won precisely one flag, and because that was when I was only two, I wasn’t screaming from the stands. (I could have said “bleechers” but I would have had to insist you kill me.)

Nevertheless, my mum grew up in Linacre Road, a stones throw from the Beach Road Oval, as a hardcore Sandy fan. Her zeal for the Zebras filtered down to me and my brother, and although I spent a long time in WA where I didn’t follow the VFA as it was, I was back on that striped horse as soon as I returned in 1988. Since then Melbourne haven’t won a flag, while Sandy have won seven (1992, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006).

So I suppose what I’m saying is, you take ’em where you get ’em, even though I’d most definitely take one Melbourne flag over seven Sandy flags.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

Rugby union is currently in the process of commencing a national “super club” competition from next season (to follow the Super 14 each year is my understanding). The model is essentially the one that Chris Lloyd reckons would have been an acceptable way of creating the AFL i.e. alongside the VFL rather than subsuming it completely. In rugby, the Sydney competition will continue to be played, but no doubt the best players from Randwick, Sydney Uni etc will be bought up by the national comp “super clubs”. Thus the local Sydney comp will become second rate while the national comp will (no doubt for some years at least) lack any form of tradition or tribal identification. Hence several of the top Sydney clubs have vehemently opposed the formation of the new national comp, and rugby union ranks remain badly split over the whole thing. I doubt that the Aussie rules angst over the AFL’s formation by abolishing the VFL as a wholly local entity would have been significantly lessened had they attempted to create the aerial ping pong national comp in this way. Die-hards will always be die-hards, and Chris is obviously one of them.

I reckon you could recreate greater local tribal identification and breathe life into the VFA even now, by implementing a system of promotion and relegation between the VFA and AFL for Victorian-based teams. Rather than doing it annually (which would create too much instability and uncertainty), you would calculate the bottom two Victorian AFL teams over the last 3 years, and the top two VFA teams over the same time period. The two bottom AFL teams would be relegated and the two top VFA teams promoted to the AFL. The same thing would occur every 3 years. At the moment it would (I think) mean Carlton and Essendon being relegated, which would certainly attract more than few screams of outrage, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

I think the aussie rules diehards are at least in part mistaken. Developing any football code interstate (and desirably internationally) potentially adds a whole additional dimension of tribalism, identification and excitement to a sport. That’s certainly true for rugby union and soccer, the only significantly international football codes. The interstate and international dimension is also potentially very attractive for the players, adding to their career options (or just playing options for amateurs – a stint in the UK, France or Italy was a desirable option for rugby players long before true rugby professionalism arrived in the early 90s). The trick is to develop the game interstate without abolishing the local top level comp in the game’s existing heartland, or turning it into a complete joke. An AFL/VFA promotion/relegation system could just turn the VFA into a vibrant local competition that people would want to go and watch (Tony T already does) and where good players would queue up to play for at least the top teams because it would provide a potential pathway into the AFL bigtime.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

This entire post is just sour grapes.

There is still a victorian competition. It’s called the VFL. The fact that you don’t care much about it is just an indication of how much of a success the AFL has been.

I went and watched my local Perth team lose the grand final yesterday. There’s no reason you couldn’t do the same.

And complaining about socialism is the biggest joke of all. Without the AFL’s socialism the only teams who would ever make the grand final would be West Coast, Adelaide and Collingwood.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

I agree with most of what you say Ken. I have also argued that the national competition should have sat at one level higher than the state competitions and that teams get relegated back to the state competition. I would not have been so upset with that – so not quite as die-hard as you think. But I would still prefer the AFL to be separate.

I think the bigger issue, which I hoped someone would pick up on, is that of ownership of collective and cultural assets. A closely related issue is the extent to which people can have control over cultural assets even when they are not willing or able to pay for them (not everyone can afford to be a club member). The fact that the VFL’s actions twenty years ago were legal shows that the law has some catching up to do.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

Chris, I’d like to pick up that larger point which is the most important one I agree. But too flat out at present. But I’ll try to post on it sometime in the next month. I agree with your instincts re the rights in clubs.

There’s also wider issues. Who owns the standard – which in sport is the rules or the ‘code’. The clubs, the players, the community?

There’s a similar issue in software – who owns the standard. Microsoft owns the standards its software has established (even though it realised it had to licence quite a bit of them to get them to become the standard.

But no-one owns the standard in open source and that means it can’t be monopolised. It’s all a pretty interesting subject.

Should the rights to watch the greatest player of a given code (and all the other ones) private rights (inhering in the player or the club or the code) or are they community rights which cannot be monopolised?

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

I don;t think it’s an especially interesting question Nick. Nobody owns the rights to a code which can be seen by the rivalry of the NFL and the XFL.

The AFL is just a football league like any other football league in Australia. If all of a sudden the Ovens and Murray league reached an agreement with Channel 9 to televise its games in prime time, the AFL couldn’t do a damn thing about it. It has some control over the WAFL, SANFL and VFL only because many of those clubs and their players are affiliated with AFL teams.

It only has control over the clubs and players that play in its league, and control over some of the major stadiums.

The equivalent in software is the process – nobody owns the processes which is why Microsoft (or more correctly Apple) couldn’t patent things like pull-down menus, double-clicking or windowed multitasking.

What it all comes down to is that if Chris doesn’t like the AFL he is quite free to watch the VFL, O+M or the local amateur games instead.

Many Australians spend more time watching, playing and coaching amateur football than they do watching AFL. Only TV couch potatoes who have never played for a club themselves think the AFL is the be all and end all of football.

Many people have turned their backs on an AFL career because playing for their local club (and remaining in their local community) was more important to them. So if Chris Lloyd really cares about tradition and rivalry he should stop whining about a competition that is designed to appeal to a mass TV audience and start supporting the Fitzroy amateur team instead (as many ex-lions fans did when they moved to Brisbane).

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

Tony T: I started barracking for Melbourne half way through 1965. They were on top of the ladder half way through and then Norm Smith was sacked and they didn’t make the finals again for 20 years. I am a scarred soul, but I thank my dear father for giving me the life lesson that the good guys do nto always win.

Yobbo said: “This entire post is just sour grapes. There is still a Victorian competition. It’s called the VFL.” As has already been explained, the VFL used to be the VFA (more or less). So Victoria moved from VFA plus VFL in 1980 to VFA plus AFL in 2006. Net result. AFL replaced VFL. VFL was by far the most important competition culturally and it got sacrificed in Victoria and in no other state. Not to mention two clubs getting banished.

I don’t see how this argument can be sour grapes. I am not complaining about Melbourne not winning the flag. I am complaining about not getting to see Melbourne, St.Kilda, Footscray and Collingwood play off in the finals.

Sorry if this is getting boring for the rest of you, but several people refuse to acknowledge the point. If you don’t care that the VFL was merged into the AFL, then fine. If you come from Perth then your view does not count. If you come from Melbourne then your vote is worth just as much as mine. Many Victorians of my generation do care.

As for complaining about socialism, in the same paragraph I complain about free markets as well. And suggest that perhaps there is something fundamentally pointless about sport as business. Both the AFL (with its draft) and the Premier League (with Russian oil barons buying the best teams) seem somehow rigged to me.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

“I am complaining about not getting to see Melbourne, St.Kilda, Footscray and Collingwood play off in the finals.”

All of those teams played at least 1 final in Melbourne. They lost, so they don’t get to play again. That’s pretty much the nature of “finals”.

steve munn
15 years ago

Plenty of South Melbourne fans are no doubt happy Sydney is in the finals again. The Swans have over 5,000 Victorian members if I remember rightly. As a Melbournian and St Kilda suporter, I would much prefer Sydney to win the GF than the likes of Collingwood or Carlton.

The national competition is a non-issue for practically everyone under the age of 35.

Mark Upcher
Mark Upcher
15 years ago

The rot set in when standing room was phased out in the mid-1980s.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

Steve said: “The national competition is a non-issue for practically everyone under the age of 35.” While I reckon you’re correct there Steve, that does not wipe out the original sin. More importantly though, when Richmond become the Tasmanian Tigers and North Melbourne become the Northern Manuka Maulers, some younger supporters may have cause to rue their complacency.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

Standing room has not been phased out. There’s still standing room at the G. Behaviour is much better too – even in the ‘wet’ areas. Not sure why.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

Because you get the piss beaten out of you by roid-monkeys if you misbehave. Back in the good old days you just got a night in the drunk tank with about 10 other supporters, which was like its own little after-game party.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

…ahhh! And they have also stopped the ice fights in Bay 9 which was always the highlight of a long day at the cricket. All part of the insidious emasculation of the noble aussie bloke. Yobbo. You sound like you speak from experience!?

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

Nick – re the sociology of football and how it relates to a community, you might find THIS semi-academic paper of interest.

Robert
15 years ago

This thread is brilliant! It runs the gamut from the predictable (a whinging Victorian — who woulda thunk it?) to the completely unpredictable (Yobbo defending socialism).

When I was in Manchester in January, there was a great deal of interest in FC United of Manchester, a semi-professional club started by disgruntled Man U fans who didn’t like the increasingly corporate approach of their former club. FCUM is a co-operative or friendly society, with a cap on individual shareholdings, and a one-member-one-vote (regardless of financial contribution) constitution. Interestingly, Wikipedia suggests that readers see also “Stand Up Sit Down”, which is a campaign in favour of standing room in stadiums.

Robert
15 years ago

I should say “there was a great deal of press interest” in FCUM.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

What I remember of the old days was a fight that broke out at Moorabin the day that John Greening was clubbed into a coma by Jim O’Dea. ‘Racehorse’ John Greening made it back into the Collingwood seniors for a few games a year or two later and the first thing he did was run and kick a freakish goal running round the boundary line from the wing. He fell over and the person who was tackling him ran over him and Greening got back up and on he ran and kicked a goal. But he wasn’t the same and didn’t last that long back in the team.

From memory my best friend Johnny and I were at one end of a row in standing room. Then a smallish guy got into a fight with some drunk guys much larger than him. They broke a bear bottle and jammed it into his face. Johnny being braver than I was desperately trying to get into this fight – to protect the poor bastard whose face was being cut to pieces. I was trying to restrain him from getting his face sliced up. The cops eventually stopped it.

Ah . . . those were the days.

Tony.T
15 years ago

Who deleted my comment? In response to Yobbo’s “I went and watched my local Perth team lose the grand final yesterday” I wrote “I watched my local Perth team win the grand final yesterday.” What gives?

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

Buggered if I know. Maybe the system thought you were spam.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

Nope, it was deleted. I remember reading it.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
15 years ago

It’s easy to lament the situation, Chris, but the fact is the Victorian clubs brought it on themselves. Perhaps a lot was also due to the disproportionate audience size in Melbourne compared with the rest of the country. A bit of history may shed some light.

In the 70s RM Ansett more or less controlled the 0-10 TV Network, in addition to his airline. He tried to get a national night comp going using both of these resources. Its function would have been similar to the FA Cup – separate and independent of the local leagues. Looking back, it would probably have done all the things you’d still prefer, like preserving the local comps, history and identification. What happened?

Ron Casey from 7 resented letting in another TV player, even though it would only have been a bit of part-time midweek stuff. He went secretly to the VFL clubs and convinced them that since they drew the biggest TV audiences they were entitled to the biggest share of the takings. He could offer them more if they pulled out and just ran a local night comp. So the clubs did, and scuttled the first attempt at a national comp. They might’ve got a bit more money this way, but the night comp with just the same clubs became boring pretty quickly.

And how did they use that money? A lot of it went to creaming off players from Tasmania, WA and eventually SA. Many seemed to believe you could buy a premiership and became reckless in the chase for players. South went broke,(hence the move to Sydney) and others such as Fitzroy and Footscray were horribly close. Still the frenzy went on.

In 1985 Jack Hamilton, in charge of the VFL then, took it to new depths when he issued permits to Collingwood and Footscray to play Greg Phillips and John Riley even though both were contracted players to Port Adelaide and North Adelaide respectively. Port, itself then in financial trouble, could not afford a fight and hastily cut a clearance deal with Collingwood. North fought it in the courts and won. Riley returned to North Adelaide after two games with Footscray.

But this type of plundering had seriously damaged the other states as well as costing VFL clubs. That’s why the Eagles were formed – partly to give fans in Perth something and partly to extend TV rights (even though the ABC covered the first year).

Adelaide held out against going into a national comp to preserve their local comp. It was only when Port (getting tired of being plundered all the time) tried to go it alone and cut a deal with the AFL that SANFL came on board and formed a composite team, the Adelaide Crows.

So I think it is pretty hard to point the finger at the interstaters for the loss of the VFL. The balance was tilted so much in favour of the VFL that eventually a national competition could only come from there. Now it’s tilted the other way partly because the markets are less crowded than Melbourne. But also because the interstaters hav been quicker to adapt to the new conditions.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

Thanks for that Don. Not being Melbourne born and bred or any more than casually interested in Aussie Rules, I wasn’t aware of any of this background. I’ll be waiting with keen anticipation for Chris Lloyd’s response.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

Thanks for all those comments Don. Most of these details I did not know, though I did know the general gist of the history.

You commented: “So I think it is pretty hard to point the finger at the interstaters for the loss of the VFL.” I do not think I did that Don. On the contrary I said: “How did the VFL manage to betray their supporters and create this abomination?” The history you describe is exactly my vision of greedy VFL businessmen moving cultural assets around like chess pieces. They had no right and I for one did not shed a tear when Jack Hamilton died in a car crash.

The problem with teams like Fitzroy trying to buy premierships and bankrupting themselves was solved by salary caps, not the national competition. The plundering of players from other states may have been irritating to them. But again it is no reason why the VFL should have created the eagles.

Tony T: I accidentally deleted your comment while trying to change its time stamp to put it in the correct sequence with other comments. Sorry. I will delete the three meta comments above now since they will not be of interest to anyone else.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
15 years ago

Thanks for that response, Chris. Yes I did get that impression that you’d blamed the interstaters and the AFL for the demise of the VFL. My apologies.

I think it was the clubs and the corporatisation of the game that led to this result. Recommended reading, to get a picture of how the competitive pressures build, should include Barry Oakley’s “Salute to the Great McCarthy” and David Williamson’s “The Club”. They’re great fun. Both were written in the 70s (from info compiling from the mid-60s)and show that the obsessivness with success was already taking over even then. The Big Three (Carlton, Essendon, Collingwood) usually had some money and influence as well as historic success to back them.

But suddenly battling Richmond was a force, Hawthorn was evolving into a power, and then a syndicate made a determined effort to lift North Melbourne from the cellar. I guess that probably sowed the seeds, and others wanted to follow.

The game was no longer owned by the fans, which I think is the point you are making. I used to be fascinated by this aspect, which didn’t occur at Adelaide where I came from and probably not in Perth: the aggregate crowd attendance at the weekly club games exceeded that at the Grand Final. From memory, I think it was about 120,000 to 140,000. Whereas the GF was restricted to about 100,000.

But much has changed since the 60s and early 70s. I think we are much less a monocultural society than we were then. Footy was all Saturday arvo. Nothing was open Sunday; so the next best thing was to watch the footy reviews from 11 o’clock and enjoy Lou and co clowning around.

Football has become professional, but it has also had to look for a wider audience to justify its TV time. By and large it has done that, but at a cost. The new clubs are not part of that old tradition so they’ve had to create their own. The grass roots and history is what it’s all about. I followed Richmond during the VFL, but my heart was always in the SANFL with North Adelaide. So it was no problem for me to become a Crow supporter once the game went truly national, even though I no longer lived in SA.

Not everyone is in that category, which is why the new forces have tried to create their own traditions. Brisbane is leaning heavily on its Fitzroy connections (albeit they are flimsy). Sydney has retained stronger links to its South Melbourne origins and has very imaginatively revived the Bloods spirit.

Fremantle and Port Adelaide at least have strong home origins. For West Coast and Adelaide, however, there is no real past. Their best chance (which both seem to be achieving) is to establish a tradition of success.

But it is all a lot different from what we knew as kids.