Australian media tension over London AFL matches
Tuesday, October 31 2006 @ 04:12 pm ACDT
Contributed by: Aaron Richard
Interest (and belief) in international footy can often seem pretty weak in the Australian media, with the international rules series and international AFL exhibition games coming under fire for being irrelevant or simply a waste of time and money.
The tabloid Herald Sun, Melbourne's largest newspaper, recently ran an article critical of the traditional London match (and an online poll suggested about two-thirds of readers thought the London matches should be stopped), but included a lengthy quote from AFL chief Andrew Demetriou in defence of the idea.
Demetriou defends London matches
25 October 2006, Herald-Sun
THE newsreader completed a brief item about the Geelong-Port Adelaide fixture in London, then said: "Now, to real sport . . . "
He didn't sound like he was trying to editorialise or be funny, yet he made a point.
Why is the AFL persisting with these half-baked, irrelevant, uninteresting post-season fixtures at The Oval?
The television networks lost interest long ago, the football fraternity in Australia couldn't care less and, it seems, the expatriate community in and around London is wavering.
According to media reports, a crowd of 12,129 attended the exhibition game between clubs that finished 10th (Geelong) and 12th (Port) this year.
The game ended early -- by as much as four minutes -- because of streakers invading the field, the inevitability of the result (Geelong by 21 points), ominous tension among the players and general lack of interest.
How is Australian football enhanced on the international stage by a game between two teams minus most of their best players and competing for nothing of any significance to justify an end-of-season trip?
We went to AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou yesterday in search of an answer/s.
Is the game being demeaned?
"I hear that it is, (but) I'm looking for more evidence to show that it is," he said.
"What damage has it done? I'm still waiting on a full report and I'm not going to make judgments on media reports because they're highly inflammatory and they're not entirely accurate, either.
"The game was called off 2 1/2 minutes early; it was played in pretty good spirits; there was a scuffle in the crowd; and there were two streakers, which is less than previous years.
"The crowd was 14,000, not 12,000, as reported.
"We think it's good to provide some entertainment for some Australians in London."
The former North Melbourne wingman played in the infamous Carlton-North game of 1987, an event dubbed the new Battle of Britain after a rolling brawl erupted.
The game degenerated into constant sniping and fighting after then North player Alastair Clarkson broke Ian Aitken's jaw behind play.
"(Carlton's) Jimmy Buckley belted me in that game," Demetriou said, still indignant at the thought.
"He smacked me in the mouth after the big fight started. I said, 'What are you doing?' and I got the 'If one of our blokes goes down, one of yours goes down, too' response.
"All those games used to end in all-in brawls. We haven't had brawls recently."
Demetriou said the AFL planned to expand its international presence, not wind it back.
"We plan to play more games abroad. Dubai, Japan, South Africa are other places where we want to play games. We played one in LA earlier in the year. It had 4000 and I didn't see anyone complaining about the crowd there.
"I would have thought nearly 14,000 people wasn't a bad crowd. It's still more than we got at Manuka this year.
"I think most clubs find it far better than end-of-season trips.
"It's also good for us in so far as our brand is concerned.
"Is it the best brand of football played in a year? No.
"Is it serving a developmental role for us? Yes.
"Is it good for the two clubs who participate each year? Yes."