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Wednesday, September 30 2020 @ 03:16 am ACST

Opinion: The future Aussie rules footy game

The following submission is an opinion piece, the opinions of the author do not necessarily represent those of WFN.
I went to see the Cats v Doggies footy the other night. I quite enjoyed but ever since something has been nagging at me leading to sleepless nights. Sunday night was wet and cold but I saw a good contest between two teams which ended in an expected win for my team. 
I saw the two teams line up in fairly traditional positions for the centre bounces and then most of the game play in one half or even a quarter of the ground (I don’t know how the junior coach manages to expect the young footballer to play in position, when they see their AFL heroes roaming all around the ground!). I saw lots of touches or possessions, mostly handballs. I saw lots of kicking, mainly short, often backwards or sideways which reminded me of soccer (true footballω). 
I saw some long kicking mainly kicking out from goal and to score goals and points. I saw a lot of kicks along the boundary almost to touch – I almost expected a rugby line in instead of the boundary throw in. At the boundary throw ins, I saw almost all the players gather with almost more holding, blocking and tackling than a gridiron melee – any minute I expected to hear someone yell out the numbers 21, 96, 69 for a set play.

I saw even more handball/throws than kicks (surely Polly Farmer and Barry Cable wouldn’t class most as handballs!), again many went backwards and sideways and some over the head (clever!). I saw lots of rugby-like rolling mauls –ugly! I saw turnovers, where players streamed forward almost in a row like in rugby and soccer (football). I saw lots of running and hence I saw lots of players running on and off the ground, taking rest breaks.

It is what I didn’t see that worried me just as much (anyone younger than 20 can stop reading now and go and play on their computer). I didn’t see the game on a Saturday avo (rare these days). The ground wasn’t muddy despite the rain – a good thing! I didn’t see more kicks than handball/throws (cf last century when long kicks ruled, despite Ron Barassi saying in the 1970 grandfinal to handball at all costs!).

I didn’t see many long kicks down the centre of the ground, no torps or drop kicks, no screamers or attempts (too wetω). I didn’t see any ‘power forwards’ leading to the incoming pass ala Dunstall, Lockett or Ablett snr. Presumably, they were held/blocked or edged under the ball with clever strength or there was no space to lead to between the 30 odd players generally in the forward 50 when the ‘forward press’ was on.

I didn’t see any biffo or big body clashes – maybe also a good thing! Finally, I didn’t see players spread one on one all over the ground during play.

So has the Aussie Rules game changed much in the last 20 years and why and by whom and is it for the betterω Yes it is more often played at night, has become a lot faster, with a lot more play on, running, more handballs than kicks, kicking across the ground and up the boundary line, more running/roving players, half ground and forward presses, rolling mauls and more uncontested possessions.

Conversely, compared to 20 years ago there is less positional play, less kicking especially long kicking up the centre of the ground, less contested positions, marking and speckies. I feel our great Australian footy game is not being ‘footified’ but instead ‘rugbyfied’ or even ‘multicodified’. It is losing its longtime Australian Rules character. Who has a grand long term plan for the gameω

What should be doneω There are many who say let the game naturally evolve, let it become faster, more for athletes, with handballing numbers increasingly dominating kicking ones, more and more possessions or touches (the bonus is eventually, we can dispense with the umpires voting on the best player and the Brownlow count and just give it to the player who averages more than 50 touches a game as clearly he is always the BOG!).

Maybe we can incorporate even more features from other football codesω If we continue on this path we could ban the handball because obviously the throw is quicker as in rugby, ban the long kick except for kicking out and kicking for goal as the game moves faster with throws, May be the forward handball/throw should be banned as in rugby! Talking of rugby, with the ugly rolling mauls (very rugby union like); why doesn’t a second umpire stand on the other side to better see holding/blocking and other freekicks and so move the game onω

Or maybe after 4 or 5 unproductive whistles, why don’t we bring in a real rugby scrum to sort out possessionω Maybe let’s bring in the round ball to further ’soccerfy’ or ‘gaelic’ the game! Or we could ban the tackle as in Gaelic football, ban the player having to bounce the ball so he can run as far as he wants. Let’s also ban the boundary throw in and instead give the ball to the team who didn’t knock it out (as in soccer and rugbyω). Also, why should a huffing and puffing forward be allowed 30 seconds to kick for goal, let’s cut it to say 15. Let’s throw away the point posts and not waste time with kicking out and just have goal posts like in rugby.

The traditionalists would maybe like to revert the game back to something like it was for 100 years, say like in the 1980’s and 90’s. This would mean going back to more contested one on one positional play, with netball style bibs or maybe by putting GPS straps on the ankles of players (ones which couldn’t be easily removed or swapped!), which would beep if they strayed into the wrong zone and end with a free kick. Might see some old style great contests between two great centremen (= midfielders) or a full forward on a full back (they were the days!). Also, more kicking, less handball and no throws, except flickpasses. Maybe after 2 handballs you would have to kick the ball. Slow the game with less interchange players and player interchanges per game. Encourage the old torp and drop kicks by making them supergoals from outside 50 worth 9 or 12 points (Doug Wade could kick both!).

I am sure the AFL marketing people would love to expand our code more to the northern states, now that we have ‘rugbyfied’ it, but why stop thereω Let’s ‘multicode’ our sport even more and incorporate a net goal and a goalie, have headers for goal which count, or have a variety of ways to score goals e.g. by running in a try or touch down goal, incorporate a hoop basket for all those basketballer types playing our game, and seeing that when players kick into the forward 50, it is generally into the pockets – lets have corners and ‘soccerify’ our game so it becomes more salable overseas. In future, games could be played at midnight or 3am to suit peak viewing times in China or India. Imagine the TV rights (and the bonuses! – remember I thought of this idea first!).

The toss could be worked out by a game of two up (or cockfighting!!) – imagine the betting and the betting ads!! The 1 minute ad time after a goal could be increased to 2 to accommodate more betting ads. Then seeing Indians like 20:20 cricket, we could have not one game but 3 fast games of 40 minutes (with two 20 min halves – 20:20 footy!) with 3 coin tosses – more betting and ads and maybe a bit of matchfixing!

So who or what is driving this evolution of the great Australian gameω Is it a higher being, the AFL, TV moguls, betting agencies or the coaches/football clubs or a combination of theseω

Let’s start with the coach. Some will remember the 1970 grandfinal when Barass asked his Carlton team to handball at all costs to help enable Carlton to beat Collingwood after trailing badly at half time. This is where handball was elevated from last resort to almost equal to kicking. In the late 1990’s we had Pagan’s paddock where the forwards moved up the ground and turned and ran back towards goal to mark the ball and score.

This still exists to some extent but has been fine tuned at times with long, high punts to players who run forward and mark the ball looking over their shoulders ala gridiron (bring back Ben Graham and Sav Rocca I say!). Then there was the era of the defensive style of presses in the early 2000’s by St Kilda, Sydney and later Fremantle. Today many of the games alternate between free flowing open games versus the congested slog mainly played in half the ground.

Some clubs have recruited specialist (rugbyω) tackling coaches at times, many incorporate high altitude preseason training and enhancement diets and substances to improve speed, endurance (why don’t they just train in Kenyaω) and strength of players. So maybe it is just the better fitness and more rotations that allows the players to play this all ground running game. But games like soccer and rugby have not changed their styles drastically in the same period. Why notω Is it the stricter rules on where teams of players are in relation to each other e.g. teams oppose each other on different sides of the ball or ground in rugby and gridiron, and at least at kickoff in soccer (I understand why the soccer crowd wants to call their code football, but I am not so sure why in the future we will wish to retain ‘footy’ as part of our code name of Australian Rules Football).

The AFL rules committee are reluctant to make any changes so as not to affect the game too much - too late I say! Secondly, does the AFL condone these changes to the Australian gameω They would be happy with attendances at games generally, except on a Sunday night! They would also be happy with the TV rights and this enables the game to be funded to spread into the rugby states (especially if our game is becoming slightly more rugby like!). Presumably, the TV moguls are happy with footy viewer numbers and the amount of gambling advertising. It is not clear what has changed our game style so much – maybe just fitness and evolution!!

I am still worried that in 20 years or so, when I am in a nursing home (yes I am old or aging but not yet senile!) watching a game called ‘Multicode anything goes handball/throwing footy’ on my virtual surround sound, 4D TV, that it will be unrecognizable from today’s game. I am worried that it will be played at 3am by a 6 team comp (with teams from China, India, Russia, USA, also Liverpool and of course Collingwood), with teams of 50 robots (made up of both an attacking and defensive team), in front of a virtual crowd on the moon or Mars.

I am worried that there will be no kicking or marking, just throwing or running with the ball and a team may win with a 3 goals to 2 advantage. I am worried that the ad breaks will be 5 mins long and will be made up of a betting ad where you will be asked whether you want to bet on the first goal being scored by try, touchdown, basket, kick over the bar or header.

Also Bruce will still be calling the game with Dennis but in Mandarin and they will be using a mix of terms from gridiron, soccer and rugby; but still hear ‘clever’ and ‘centimetre perfect’ every so often. Someone please stop this nightmare from happening. Who has the planω Maybe I will watch replays of the old games instead!

A worried Aussie Rules fan

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Opinion: The future Aussie rules footy game | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Opinion: The future Aussie rules footy game
Authored by: Harley Vague on Sunday, July 13 2014 @ 01:45 pm ACST

I don't know why this is posted here. Australian football is great where ever it's played and the laws serve the game well. The points you mention do not appear anywhere except in the AFL. Contrary to popular belief, there is too much talent in the AFL leading to GF type scraps almost every game. Players are so athletic that most midfielders can run backwards and forwards all day. The answer to these defensive setups is quite simple. Observe the leading teams. The leading teams use the time-tested principle of getting the ball into the forward line as fast as possible.and not giving the opposition time to set up any "walls". The lesser ranked teams, with less confidence take more time compounding their plight..Some coaches take the soccer principle that they'd rather lose by a respectable margin than play attacking football and come undone. Come and watch the 2014 and see some great football and I guarantee you'll see good ol' fashioned football. .

Opinion: The future Aussie rules footy game
Authored by: Michael Christiansen on Sunday, July 13 2014 @ 09:05 pm ACST

It's funny - as a North fan we saw Pagan's Paddock back in the 90s and we saw what I guess to be flooding, and we saw a bloke called Carey who made it all work.
Positions be damned - they are a guide. NOTHING says where we stand on the ground - only where we line up on the white board. We can start high, or wide, or deep, or go loose in defence (that always happened on windy days anyway).
The removal of the boggy cricket pitch is the biggest change - it allows forwards to push up and help the defenders and push back without running through sticky Merri Creek mud.
Footy though - is oft viewed unfairly. In the past, we saw very little televised and often only the best bits in highlights packages.
I recall North in the 90s when our midfield was perhaps fractionally slower than some - the first qrtr we'd clunk some marks - 2nd and 3rd term the oppositions mids would run us around a bit - and by the last qtr it'd open up a bit and our talls would clunk marks again.
Point is - it's not an homogeneous product. It ebbs and flows across a game, across each qtr.
The key point is that a top of the table clash or a classic midtable '8 pt game' dish up generally a greater contest than most the soccer games you'd see where one team parks the bus, and in a tournament might be playing purely for the penalty shoot out.
As a North fan I was fortunate to attend our Rnd 16 game against Hawthorn. That was a GREAT footy night (back on a Friday night too!!), and a ripper game and yes a forward at each end kicking 6 and 5 goals respectively.
Earlier in the season I was at our home game when we got up over Port at Etihad - I'm not a massive fan of Etihad but I love the roof on a wet windy day. Anyway - that again was a ripper footy day. I don't expect to be blown away every time I go. Our win over Melbourne was a less inspiring game but we were back at the 'G and that was like an old friendship rekindled.
Footy is still there to be enjoyed. Over expectation of Carlton, Richmond and St Kilda supporters this year aside. Just let the '8 year old' inside of you come out and just enjoy.

Opinion: The future Aussie rules footy game
Authored by: Brett Northey on Monday, July 14 2014 @ 11:54 am ACST

In terms of why it is printed here, it was a reader submission and whilst we don't want to spend too much effort off the main topic we're happy to post occasional reader thoughts provided they appear to be well meaning and well constructed.

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN

Opinion: The future Aussie rules footy game
Authored by: Aaron Richard on Sunday, July 13 2014 @ 09:41 pm ACST

It's worth remembering that every generation reckons the game is being ruined. I found a book at a library clearance sale called "The VFL is destroying Football" or something like that, from the 1960s. It was going for $1, I wish I'd bought it.

I'd agree that football as it's played in the AFL now is not as attractive to watch as it might have been 25 years ago. But the reason for that is that coaches like Pagan, and then Paul Roos, Ross Lyon and so on worked out a way to play the game that's not great to watch, but wins matches.

Pagan's paddock wasn't particularly attractive to watch, flooding from the 90s and into the 00s isn't in any way attractive to watch, Freo under Ross Lyon are exciting to watch for the pressure, but not for flashy skills.

So obviously there's a problem. BUT - it wins games. A VFL side from the 80s wouldn't get within 100 points of a modern AFL side.

On the flip side, if you want to watch old-style footy, it's still very much alive in the suburbs and bush.

P.S. I'm not sure what the author is trying to imply by framing international expansion as something "wrong"?

Opinion: The future Aussie rules footy game
Authored by: Brett Northey on Monday, July 14 2014 @ 11:57 am ACST

"I'm not sure what the author is trying to imply by framing international expansion as something "wrong"?"

I think they're just railing against any change.

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN

Opinion: The future Aussie rules footy game
Authored by: Brett Northey on Monday, July 14 2014 @ 12:34 pm ACST

Absolutely Aaron. Every generation laments the loss of the good old days. But they should look at footage from the 1960s of players blindly just booting the ball back and forth to position without precisely picking out their teammates and it would frustrate the hell out of them after about 2 minutes.

Maybe the 1980s were the peak. High marks, open play, the best players from around Australia heading to the VFL in unprecedented numbers so the standard was rising rapidly, big hits, plenty of fights. Trouble is, the fights were hurting people and stopping people from letting their kids play. And the rising professionalism meant players could soon run all day and execute game plans, so by the 1990s the coaches could take better control and lock down the game. There's no going back.

Hmmm, the author also repeats the mythology that Barassi started the handball craze when in fact many also say that Polly Farmer (formerly from WA) introduced it to the VFL as a weapon and when South Australian football was already using it thanks to the dominance of Sturt under Jack Oatey in the 1960s. The VFL coaches and players simply and inevitably absorbed the good ideas from elsewhere.

And innovation brought in from other sports continued in the AFL with ideas from soccer etc in the 1990s onwards. It's inevitable. There's no master plan driving it. It's a natural evolution of a sport that has become professional in a globalized world.

Yes the AFL can tweak rules to try to prevent key changes that are seen as undesirable, but often the medicine can be as bad as what it is treating.

Having said all that, there are areas I'd like to see changed.

1. I want 16-a-side trialled in the pre-season comp to see if that reduces congestion without altering the fabric of the game like zones would.

2. I reckon if you take two steps (not 3 or 4 or 5) or you attempt to "don't argue" (fend off) a tackler, then you've had prior opportunity and if the tackle sticks OR if the ball jars free then it's holding the ball. Simple.

3. If a player is tackled on the ground then no 3rd player in, team mate or otherwise. That removes the injury danger of players diving on top of him, it means it's 1 on 1 so if he's good enough to get it out then good on him but if not then holding the ball. It removes the ball-up congestion because he has a chance to get the ball out. It also removes the issue of teammates pulling the ball out of his hands which is illegal disposal but not penalized.

(I'm saying "him" because I'm thinking AFL, but this could apply to all levels of football).

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN