The Sporting Religion

“I could read the sports section if my hair was on fire” – Jerry Seinfeld

Returning to the Footy

by williamschack

On Tuesday last week my father headed back to our family home in South West Victoria after a month in Melbourne. He had been staying at the Austin hospital and then at nearby accommodation following liver transplant surgery. Last August he was diagnosed with liver cancer after doctors noticed that his blood readings were unusual. He received treatment in December, and was put on the waiting list for a donor only a couple of weeks before undergoing the transplant surgery.
When he initially received his diagnosis, Collingwood’s season had fallen apart and was about to end as 8 other lucky teams were set to play finals. We’d recently suffered a humiliating loss to Richmond which made me question every decision the club had made since 2011. The awareness of my father’s mortality, which strangely was something I had never really considered before, enabled me to have some perspective on the relative insignificance of another failed Collingwood season. But it also made me aware of how important Collingwood is to (most of) my family, as some Collingwood success would have been a welcome distraction. Thankfully, all has gone well thus far, and his return home last week marked somewhat of an end to a difficult period for my father and his extended family and friends. Just in time for football season.

Over summer to fill the football void in my life I spent a lot of time watching old matches on Fox Footy, whose summer viewing was much better than previous off-seasons in which the home and away season was just repeated and repeated and repeated. I also read a great book that I received as a Christmas present, Time and Space by James Coventry, which I have written about previously. That book’s discussion of the 1970 Grand Final then lead me to Martin Flanagan’s treatise on the match. I searched for it online but found it was out of print, and I tweeted that it was my life’s mission to obtain a copy. I was surprised the next day when Martin sent me direct message letting me know he probably had a copy lying around. About a week later the book was in my hands.
It is a book that all football fans should read, for it is one of the most important games ever played. I find it strange that it is rarely mentioned when people talk of the greatest Grand Finals of all time. It is as though people are incapable of compiling a list that includes Grand Finals before 1989.
Both Time and Space and 1970 make it clear that the game was not the catalyst for a new era of football, but the culmination of years of innovations by different coaches, not just in the VFL, but across the land of Australia. Lesser football historians have suggested that Barassi had some sort of epiphany at half-time and advised his players to handball having never considered it before. Despite the fact that he had done it before and that Len Smith had suggested all coaches do so in his coaching manual years before. And despite the fact the SANFL had been in a battle of aggressive versus traditional down the line play for 2 decades. Regardless of this, the 1970 Grand Final is a clear demarcation of football moving into what was then known as the modern era. Football, of course, would continue to change, but this game was the affirmation in the general populous’ minds that aggressive and attacking football could succeed. Two years later Barassi was gone, but Carlton upset Richmond in the Grand Final with the highest ever Grand Final score in the highest scoring Grand Final.
Carlton’s poaching of Barassi, Melbourne’s favourite son, would mark the beginning of Carlton’s era of success and professionalism in which they would be rivalled only by Hawthorn by winning 8 Premierships in 27 years. This one, however, was the club’s and Barassi’s finest.
And it is the darkest day in Collingwood’s history. Flanagan interviewed almost everyone who played in the game and their pain is evident years later. Some players have bitterness toward the club, who felt that it was behind the times and reliant on methods no longer relevant to the game that was revolutionised by Hawthorn’s fitness and the professional focus of clubs like Carlton. Mostly though, there is sadness.

As I read the book whilst Dad was going through the process of being tested and analysed before being put onto the transplant waiting list, I thought of how intertwined Collingwood is with our relationship. He was outside the MCG in 1970 listening on the radio, and although I was born 17 years after the game was played, it has been something that I have always felt connected to and affected by. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Ted Hopkins was and how many goals he kicked in the second half, or what Barassi’s instruction was at half-time. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel a pain in my chest or a sadness wash over me whenever I see footage of the game, or hear it spoken about. It is in my DNA, and it was passed on to me from my father.

It is probably a disturbing reflection of my obsession with Collingwood that when I first heard of my father’s illness, one of the things that passed through my head was that at least he was able to see Collingwood win a Grand Final. It would be a cruel world if one had to live through 13 losses and 2 draws, rather than 11 losses, 2 draws and 2 wins. But it is also a reflection of how connected Collingwood is with our relationship. If he was to sadly pass away, and I realise now that this is something that is eventually going to happen, many of the memories I have of him would be Collingwood related.
There is my first memory of attending a football game, bawling my eyes out as he forced me to leave Waverley Park early. I was convinced we could come back and beat the Cats, but decades of disappointment had taught him we were going to lose. We lost by 8 points. There is the first time I saw Collingwood beat Carlton when Peter Daicos did a lap of honour after retiring the year before and Mick McGuane kicked his famous running goal. There is when we watched Collingwood beat the all-conquering Lions at the MCG in the 2003 Qualifying Final. There is when we watched the Lions dismantle us three weeks later in the Grand Final at the house of fellow Collingwood supporter, and dad’s late friend, Bernie Slattery. There is when we went to the 2010 Grand Final together, only to have the game be a draw and him miss out on the replay as he had a trip planned to America. There is when we watched the Collingwood lose yet another Grand Final the next year. And there is the week before when we beat the Hawks by 3 points in the preliminary and the first people I thought to contact were him and my sister. The list goes on.
Of course, there is more to our relationship that football – particularly music, another thing in which we have bonded over time – but football has been there since the start. And this Friday night I will head to the MCG with my sister and father to watch another Collingwood game. Last weekend’s performance indicates that this season may be another disappointing one, but almost every football season is and we all still come back. It feels good to have football in our lives again, and another opportunity to hope for success together.

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Book Review: Time & Space

by williamschack

“Nothing’s new in life, son. It’s all been done before.”
– Jack Oatey

Time and Space is the story of the tactical evolution in Australian Rules football. The book is the result of what must have been exhaustive research by ABC journalist, James Coventry, and provides a surprising and insightful analysis of the Australian game’s development from its amateur and rugby roots, to the top tier state competitions that dominated the minds of Australian sports fans west and south of the Barassi line in the 20th century, to the professional and national game it has become in the 21st century.

For the non-football fanatic, the early chapters may seem quite tedious, but fanatics will find it illuminating to read of some of the early developments. It was surprising to find out that whilst there was no explicit reference to an offside rule in the original rules, it was expected that the players adhere to it. The opening chapter, aptly named ‘Breaking the Line’, shows that when the games’ founder Tom Wills broke that unwritten rule he was roundly criticised as ungentlemanly and unsportsmanlike. How lucky we are that he did, for it is our game’s singular feature that distinguishes it from rugby and soccer, and in this writer’s opinion, the great trump card it holds over the other codes.

The book suggests that most things in football have been done before, as the epigraph at the beginning of the book explains (see above), and that each development is usually a reorganisation of something that has been tried by another coach. The spare man in defence is something that is often derided by commentators as a modern invention that means contemporary players are incapable of competing man-on-man. Yet as far back as 1894 it was used as a tactic by Geelong to stop the all-conquering Essendon’s Albert Thurgood. Furthermore, the incessant complaining by fans, commentators and administrators about the state of the game, has been said time and time again as football has developed and changed. There are numerous passages taken from the opinion pages of old newspapers which were written decades ago, but the reader could have sworn were discussed at a round table on Fox Footy last year with Adrian Anderson, David King, Mick Malthouse and Gerard Healy.

This suggestion, however, does not mean that football should stand still. The fans who complain that we should leave the rules alone and let football change itself need to understand that it has never been thus. From its very inception Australian Rules was an evolving beast and along with tactical masterminds, the rule makers have played a large part in that evolution. There are many rule changes that the book highlights as being for the betterment of the game. The most obvious and commonly cited in contemporary times is the introduction of out-of-bounds-on-the-full rule in 1969. Another lesser known one is the introduction of the 10 yard mark rule in 1897, which had previously been 2 yards. A tactic known as ‘little marking’ had crept back into the game where a series of short kicks – that were usually poorly disguised throws –  were used to transfer the ball forward. It is peculiar to think that it ever existed, but it did and the rule makers recognised that by extending the required distance for a mark that play would open up and be a greater spectacle for fans.

The book uses the central characters involved in tactics to help propel the narrative from the 1850s through to today. It is the structure that gives the book its greatest strength. For whilst it is interesting to learn the details of game plans which we never knew of before, it is even more interesting to read about the likes of Tom Wills whose story is one that every Australian should know. Or Geelong identity Hermann Reichmann, whose name when typed into google shows up nothing except a reference to his name in a review of this very book.

It is also refreshing to read a book that acknowledges the great debt the games owes to the other states who played Australian Rules. The VFL and latterly the AFL would like to take the credit for every invention in the game and rewrite history. The book shows that some of the most influential figures in the trajectory of the game came from outside the borders of Victoria and its passages on the political manouvering of the State competitions in the now defunct Australian Football Council are fascinating.

To analyse the details of the tactical changes is beyond the scope of this review, but it is interesting to note that revolutionary ideas often come from the clubs that weren’t successful, as they needed to innovate to compete with the clubs with the best players. It made this reviewer think that along with increased professionalism in football, perhaps one of the reasons that there is now so much innovation and tactical change in modern football, is that because there has now been a socialist system in the AFL for almost 30 years. With the reverse draft and a salary cap, the gap between the top and bottom is nowhere near as large as it used to be, and so all clubs feel the need to innovate, even when they are at the top.

This book has highlighted some people I was unaware of in regard to their impact on the game, and changed my opinion on some issues surrounding its current status. It is recommended to anyone who has an interest in how the game arrived at its current destination, even if you’re only interested in the recent history then I’d still recommend it just for the final chapters. The very recent tactics aren’t analysed in great depth, which apparently was due to not too many current coaches wanting to reveal their inner secrets. Hopefully another book like this is written in 100 years to document the developments of this century. For, as Gerard Wheatley writes on the back cover, this is ‘not just the tales of the men who pushed and prodded the Australian game. It’s the story of footy itself’.

Time and Space is published by HarperCollins

Life is Better Without Review

by williamschack

Sunday, August 7, 2005. The fourth day of that year’s second Ashes Test. At the beginning of the day Australia required 107 runs to win. England required three wickets. The batsmen at the crease were Shane Warne and Brett Lee, with Michael Kasprowicz waiting in the rooms.
On the second last ball of the match Brett Lee played the ball through the covers. The Australians in the crowd didn’t see the fielder near the boundary and initially cheered as though it was going for four. It was swept up by the fieldsmen and Lee and Kasprowicz swapped ends for a single.
Harmison ran in to bowl the next ball. The crowd was relatively quiet and subdued. The English fans had arrived that day expecting to see England quickly take the last two wickets and the series levelled. Instead they had witnessed a gritty fightback from Warne, Lee and Kasprowicz.
The ball wasn’t particularly brilliant: it wasn’t fast and it was probably too far toward leg stump. However it rose on Kasprowicz awkwardly and he badly fended it off. The ball caught his glove on its way past and Jones leapt for it. He had missed many throughout the day, but not this one.
He appealed. England appealed. Billy Bowden rose his crooked finger. And an entire country erupted.
For so long England had been bullied by the “convict colony”, but now they had fought back and won in one of the greatest Test matches ever played. Order, in their imperial eyes, was on its way to being restored.

* * * *

Australian cricket fans were filled with sadness last week when Mitchell Johnson announced his retirement. We were sad that we’d never again be able to experience the thrill of watching Johnson rip through opposition batting line-ups. There were a couple of positives, however, as it prompted me to read as many current and past articles about Super Mitch, and it also meant that I had a reasonable excuse to be able to spend a somewhat unhealthy amount of time watching YouTube clips of old Johnson performances. And all of the articles, and all of my YouTube surfing, led to one place: the Adelaide Oval.

Just from writing the name of the ground, anyone with a passing interest in cricket knows what I am referring to. Finishing with figures of 7/40, including a spell of 5 wickets in 24 balls, this was match in which Johnson confirmed that the 2013/14 summer would forever be remembered as The Summer of Mitch. He had performed brilliantly in the first Test, but many thought he was favoured by the Gabba pitch and that the old Mitchell Johnson who inspired a song about bowling to the left and the right would be seen on the batsmen’s paradise that is the Adelaide Oval. But that Mitchell Johnson would never be seen ever again. This was Super Mitchell Johnson, and not the one which the English fans sang ironically about.
On the second day of the Test I arrived home from my shitty job and grabbed a beer from the couch and eagerly awaited the beginning of the English innings. Such was the excitement that Johnson has caused in the previous Test, a success starved nation was keenly interested in cricket and wanted to know what would happen when we next saw him. It was exhilarating.
Almost every ball was 145+ km/ph, many were 150+. Alistair Cook, the king of patience and restraint, was nervously swinging at the balls he would normally watch pass him by. The ball to which he would eventually lose his wicket to was the perfect ball. It was fast and moved just enough for Cook to miss it. It was not perfect in the sense that Ryan Harris’ first ball wicket in the third Test was perfect, as that truly was the ball you would pick if you only had one ball left to try and win a match, but perfect in the sense that it was the perfect ball for Mitchell Johnson to bowl to send a message to the England team that his performance at the Gabba was not a fluke. When you combine all of that with a lot of pace and an agitated Cook you arrive at the perfect storm and you end up with this:


Johnson’s ball had something that Harris’ did not: brutality. After the Harris ball you can imagine Cook saying, “Fair play to him, even Bradman would be in the same position as me if he faced that ball”. But after the Johnson ball all I can imagine him saying was “Fuck me! I’m scared! Get me off this tour!”
The Cook dismissal was the catalyst for the devastation that occurred the following day. This Test confirmed that there was nothing Cook and his team could do. They just had to ride out this series and hope that Johnson landed awkwardly on a cricket ball one morning before a Test.

I listened to the spell on the third day whilst travelling on the train to my sister’s house. I was jumping around in my seat. I wish I was there. The excitement of that day has been captured brilliantly two great articles by Jarrod Kimber and Geoff Lemon. I might be a loser with an unhealthy obsession with sport, but the last paragraph of Kimber’s article physically moved me. Not in the George Costanza eating a mango kind of way, but in the hairs on your arms standing up and shivers down your spine kind of way. It is a lengthy article that I recommend you all read, but in the interest of time, here is the final paragraph:

Stuart Broad saw something. Perhaps he just didn’t want to look at Johnson. Not square in the eyes, at least. He pointed to a shiny bolt and turned a ravenous crowd into a screaming beast.

Johnson was already in his dream over with two earlier wickets. He had already bowled his dream ball to Cook the night before. He had already played his dream Test the match before.

Broad wasn’t delaying a ball, he was delaying inevitability. Certainty.

Johnson delivered a fast ball on leg stump. There were days, whole seasons, perhaps even whole years, when the same ball would have been flicked to the boundary. Broad would have fidgeted with his gear while Johnson put his hands to his head.

Now England believed every ball would be a wicket, and so did Johnson, so did everyone.

Broad hopped away from the ball, Broad’s leg stump hopped too.

Mitchell Johnson ran frantically down the pitch. Like he was in the world’s greatest dream.

No one watching this spell could actually believe he was doing this. Let alone the bloke bowling it. He couldn’t believe how easy it had become.

It is a beautiful piece of writing that captured the moment so well. Given the delay in sorting out the sight screen issue, the ball was actually called by Mark Nicholas from the boundary as he was conducting an interview and didn’t have time to go back upstairs to the main commentary team before the ball was bowled. His call is one of my favourite pieces of commentary ever.
“The crowd are with Johnson. This is like the days of Lillee and Thompson. In comes Mitchell Johnson now. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! How about it?! How about it?! It’s barely believable! The Adelaide Oval has gone off! And so must Stuart Broad!”

It was barely believable, but it was real. All cricket loving Australians will die a little bit happier because of that wicket. It put Johnson on a hat-trick that sadly did not eventuate.

Reading all of the Johnson articles over the last week has been so enjoyable because they all convey the magic of cricket. The thrill of The Summer of Mitch can never adequately be replicated in words, but writers can try. That summer is something that the cricket loving nation of Australia will never forget. Just like we will never forget Bodyline. Just like England will never forget the 05 Ashes, and Botham’s Ashes. And reading all of these Johnson articles over the last week or so has been extra enjoyable because they left out something that was so common throughout the Summer of Mitch: the incessant referrals to the third umpire to check Johnson’s front foot.

I don’t have the resources to check how many of Johnson’s wickets in The Summer of Mitch were referred to the third umpire to check his front foot, but from my memory it was a lot. (Side note: Can someone please make a DVD that is just made up of Johnson’s spells in this Ashes series? I would buy that DVD and I would pay a lot of money if it had special comments from Super Mitch). It definitely happened in the Adelaide Test, and it happened in the three most memorable wickets. Cook, Broad and Anderson.  Thankfully Johnson’s foot was behind the crease on all occasions and those beautiful wickets retained their status. But, for a few moments the sporting nation of Australia drew its collective breath as it considered that all its raw and unbridled joy at those wickets may be taken away. For a few moments, the magic of cricket stopped.

* * * *

There are not many things that I like about the BCCI, but I do respect them for their refusal to use the DRS technology. The ICC was basically forced into the decision to use technology such as hotspot as it became embarrassed by TV stations showing that an umpiring decision was incorrect, with their being no recourse available in the game. India refuses to use the DRS as it doesn’t trust the technology.

Last summer it was great watching cricket and seeing an LBW and not having to worry about the player reviewing the decision. We were free to celebrate without the expectance of a review. Of course, there was still the annoying referrals by the umpire to check the front foot on some dismissals. But the experience was still at least half better.

Once you introduce technology it is hard to ever reverse that decision, but when cricket is fighting for the attention of audiences around the world, administrators should be looking to retain the advantage it has over other forms of entertainment. Sport is best when watched live, and the reason for this is because it is unscripted so when something magical happens like Johnson bowling Broad after everything that came before, it really is “barely believable” and our primal emotions surge through us. But checking that his front foot is behind the crease when the umpire standing less than 2 metres away can’t tell, diminishes the moment. It removes the element of unexpectedness and instinctive emotion. It makes it less magical and more like everything else.

People don’t watch cricket with the hope that by the end of the day they will be able to say that the right umpiring decision was made 100% of the time. And if they are, they have never been satisfied in the 150+ years that cricket has been played. People watch cricket with the hope that they will witness something thrilling, brilliant, and unexpected, something that jolts them out of their seat and something they will remember for years to come. The DRS and video reviews can either diminish those moments, or remove them from the history books before it is even written.

* * * *

After Jones caught Kasprowicz, the English players all jumped into each others arms. Not before Harmison, then Flintoff went to Lee and Kasprowicz to console them for their loss. Flintoff’s embrace of a devastated Lee is an iconic image of modern cricket.

lee
But if that game was played in 2015, it is likely the photo would never have been taken. For if it was in 2015, Kasprowicz may have had a review left, and if he did he would have used it. Regardless of whether he thought he hit it or not. And that raw emotion of an entire nation would have been put on hold for a while as they checked the video to see if it hit Kasprowicz’s glove.
If he was found to be confirmed out, England still would have celebrated and it still would have been a fantastic match, but it wouldn’t have been the same. Flintoff’s consoling of Lee and Kasprowicz wouldn’t have meant as much because the adrenalin wouldn’t have been running through his body in the same way.
And if it was 2015 and Kasprowicz reviewed the decision, the third umpire would have given him not out. The ball did hit his glove, but his glove was not touching the bat. If that happened then Kasprowicz and Lee may have scored the remaining three runs and Australia would have been 2-0  and all but retained The Ashes. But if that happened then we would have missed out on one of the greatest series ever. We would have missed out on the photo of Freddy. We would have missed out on the unencumbered English celebration. And whilst the correct decision would have been made, cricket would have been much the poorer.

(A belated, and then even later) Annual thoughts on the Final 8 Teams

by williamschack

(A note from the editor: this is the most irrelevant post in the history of this blog. All of the information is dated and most of my predictions were incorrect. I wrote most of this on Friday and then finished off the bottom three teams on Saturday in a rush. The only reason I am posting it is for documenting my thoughts so that in 20 years I can’t claim I was always believing Hawthorn would win, which I think is what some people do with 2003 Grand Final. If I were you, I would stop reading.)

The annual thoughts on the final eight teams has been delayed this season. Being back at university this season has meant that any spare time not watching football or football related shows has been spent completing assignments on things that I feel like I know nothing about even though I have written 3000 words on the topic. Also, there is now an annual tradition of Collingwood performing dismally in the second half of the season and not making finals so my excitement levels have not been quite as high as they could be. But with all my assignments for the semester now done, and mid semester break next week, I finally have time to write about teams that are much better than my own. So here are my annual thoughts on the final 8 teams which are based on no real analysis and a rudimentary understanding of the game.

Fremantle

Pre–Finals Prediction: Premiers
Pre-Preliminary Final Prediction: Premiers

Fremantle must be the most underrated minor premier in my lifetime. I can’t recall a team who has lost only 5 games for the entire season be criticised so heavily.  Ross Lyon is considered a masterful coach but a one-trick pony. They’ve had to deal with a lot of injuries as well as Crowley’s suspension but have still managed to win enough games to win the minor premiership.
They lucked out with coming up against a depleted Sydney side in the first week of the finals and did enough to get over the line. Now they come up against Hawthorn who dismantled them with ease during the home and away season. The pundits keep saying that they don’t score enough to win a premiership. My faith in Fremantle might be an ill-advised reaction to the negativity in the media about their inability to score, but all I know is that I am 100% convinced that Ross Lyon knows more about football than anyone in the media criticising his coaching method. They might fall short on Friday night, but I am tipping them to win in a close one, and then go on to win the premiership.

West Coast

Pre-Finals Prediction: Lose in the QF, eliminated to Freo in a Derby Preliminary Final.
Pre-Preliminary Final Predicition: Grand Final runner up.

If I am overrating Fremantle, then I am definitely underrating West Coast. Up until their Qualifying Final against Hawthorn, I still wasn’t convinced that they were any good. You would have thought 16 wins and finishing second on the ladder would have been enough to prove to me that they were good enough, but it wasn’t. Then they completely shocked Hawthorn in the first week of the finals and proved to me that it was a worthy contender. They have had so many injuries but have just kept on keeping on. McGovern looks like the most unfit footballer since Scott Cummings and it seems like he runs off the ground injured in every game I watch, but he keeps coming back on and West Coast keep covering him.
I don’t particularly like West Coast as a club, but I do like Adam Simpson as a person and I’d be more than happy to see Sharrod Wellingham win another premiership. I also have a soft spot for Josh Kennedy as he helped me orchestrate one of the greatest trades in fantasy football history in 2014 (Josh Kennedy and Craig bird for Robbie Gray) and was also a part of my back-to-pack premiership team in 2015, sitting on the bench while Robbie put in the hard yards on the field. Irrelevant facts aside, I think they should beat North Melbourne, although it will be closer than most are expecting, but then they will lose in the GF against whoever they play.

Hawthorn

Pre-Finals Prediction: Runner up
Pre-Preliminary Final Prediction: 3 rd

It would be easy to say that it gets boring watching Hawthorn win all the time if it wasn’t so exhilarating. Even when they are tearing apart inferior sides, it is still a joy to watch. Their ball movement is better than any other team I can remember watching. A lot of teams rely on chance and winning contests to win games of football, but Hawthorn wins contests and then eliminates chance as much possible by retaining uncontested possession as they move the ball towards their goal. Until 2 weeks ago I didn’t think anyone had the game plan to beat them, and my prediction of them not winning the flag was based on a hunch and banking on them having an off-day on Grand Final day liken Sydney did last year. It would seem that they’ve already had that bad day but I am still predicting them to lose to Fremantle. You’re probably laughing at me right now if you’re one of the very few people actually reading this ill-informed article, but I’ll try and at least base my hunch on history. Jay Croucher – a much more informed writer than me; you should listen to his podcast ‘The Good, the Bad and the Goldsack’ if you like in depth statistical analysis of games – spoke on his podcast the other day how this year’s Hawthorn has a similar feel to Geelong in 2010. (He still thought Hawthorn would win) They were contending for their fourth consecutive Grand Final, lost to the Saints in the QF narrowly, then smashed Fremantle before coming up against Collingwood in the Preliminary Final. That night was one of the best nights of my life, as Collingwood completely dismantled the Geelong team in such an aggressive manner that it didn’t seem real at half time when we were up by 10 goals. Geeelong’s reign – it seemed – was finally over. This year’s Hawthorn season has the potential to be the same as that, but with the Preliminary and Qualifying Final games reversed. Their dismantling came in the first week, reasserted their dominance and the semi-final, and now they find themselves coming up against a Ross Lyon coached team in the preliminary Final.
Hawthorn’s reign is far from over, but based on nothing but a hunch and this lazy and loose historical comparison, I feel like their 2015 season will end this weekend. If they do end up winning the premiership, then it is time to start discussing if they are the greatest team of all time.

Sydney

Pre-Finals Prediction: Losing in the preliminary final to Hawthorn
Finals position: Lost in semi-final to North Melbourne

You can’t really say much about Sydney other than that they were decimated by injuries. Keiren Jack, Luke Parker, Sam Reid, Lance Franklin. Only a team like Hawthorn could cover those sorts of outs, and they probably wouldn’t be able to do it in a finals campaign. I still thought the Swans could progress at least to the preliminary finals. They had their best chance by winning in the Qualifying Final away at Fremantle, like they did in Adelaide in their premiership year of 2012, but they let themselves down with poor kicking. I didn’t watch that game as I had a birthday lunch to attend so I’m not sure if their kicking was as a result of pressure from Fremantle or unenforced. Regardless, it cost them their game and ultimately their season.
They have had two senior retirements so far this season in Rhyce Shaw and Adam Goodes, and another couple coming up in the next few years to senior players. They will need to find another couple of defenders over the next few years to make up for Shaw and the eventual retirement of Ted Richards. It seems as though the draconian trade restrictions placed on them by the commission have been lifted so that gives them some flexibility to improve their list.
Of all the things to come out of free agency, the best thing is that the football world saw Mike Fitzpatrick for the twat he is after it became public knowledge that he rang up Sydney chairman Richard Colless and verbally abused him for ten minutes for having the gall to be good enough to orchestrate a trade for Lance Franklin. That the trade restriction was imposed afterwards indicates that it was improper. Hopefully this is the catalyst for him being removed from the commission and he can go and just enjoy managing his many, many dollars and Stadium Australia.

Richmond:

Pre-Finals prediction: Losing the semi-final to Sydney
Finals Fate: Eliminated in the first week for the third year in a row.

I predicted Richmond to finally win a final this year. It was all set up for them, but they failed again. And they failed on the smallest of the bigger stages, which it seems like most Richmond people don’t understand. They so desperately want to win a final that it seems like it would be the equivalent of winning a Grand Final. Similar to the way they thought getting to the finals was like winning the premiership. They are a peculiar set of fans: brimming with self-confidence for no apparent reason. A few Richmond fans turned me against them this year after 27 years of unthanked support, nevertheless I admire their passion. They reached 70,000 members this year, cementing their spot as the club with the third highest membership. If they ever do enjoy some success, it looks as though they will easily overtake Collingwood.

They played one of their worst games for the season in the elimination final. Key players went missing and only straight kicking and a great performance from Jack Riewoldt kept them in the game as long as they were. I think they are still on the right track, however, and there is no doubt they were better this season than the past two. They need to do some wise recruiting this season because they are never going to be a real threat if they don’t. Troy Chaplin looked like a dinosaur in the elimination final and it seems like Alex Rance needs some better support. They should do all they can to get Harley Bennell. A mid/fwd combo of him and Dustin Martin would be something to behold.

Footscray

Pre-Finals prediction: Knocked out in first week.

Everyone’s second team were what Luke Darcy would describe “a genuine feel good story” this season. After losing their captain, Brownlow medalist and their coach in the off-season, it seemed like 2015 would be a bad season for the Dogs. Lead by Bob Murphy and part-skater, part-time surfer and full time coach, Luke Beveridge, however, the Dogs played some brilliant football this season and almost won their first final. They had a very easy fixture this season and they will need to do some recruiting to improve their chances next year.

Adelaide:

Pre-Finals Prediction: Knocked out in semi-final

The Crows performed admirably this season given the circumstances. Phil Walsh’s tragic death meant that no one would have criticised them had they performed badly, but their ability to continue playing good quality football was very impressive. It was always going to be hard for them coming up against Hawthorn following their loss to West Coast, and that game showed how far off Adelaide is.

North Melbourne:

Pre-Finals Prediction: Knocked out in first week against Richmond.
Pre-Preliminary Final prediction: Lose to West Coast.

If it is now an annual tradition for Collingwood to play awful in the second half of the season and miss the finals, it is also now an annual tradition for me to cheer on an underrated North team in the finals who will make it to the second last week of the season. The Richmond game was one of the better non-Collingwood experiences I’ve had the football.  The Sydney game was a strange one that only felt like a final for about 15 minutes in the third quarter. They were lucky to come up against a team as depleted as Sydney, but you don’t get to two preliminary finals in a row by being lucky. If we’re going to criticise Richmond for losing three in a row, then we should also praise North for making the preliminary final two years in a row.
They still need to add some players through trade and like Richmond should be doing all they can to get Harley Bennell. They just need to make sure he only hangs out with their boring players like Andrew Swallow and Lindsay Thomas.

They have more of a chance than what most people are giving them this weekend. They beat West Coast during the season and have a similar kind of style that can match the Eagles fast break style. Nevertheless,  I’m tipping them to lose.

Shit People at the Footy Say: Continued

by williamschack

I haven’t posted anything for a while because I have been really busy with uni and celebrating the back-to-back premierships of my fantasy football team. I have still been going to the footy, however, and people have still been saying strange things worthy of retelling. There are only a few but it is important that they are documented.

PS I haven’t written the annual thoughts on the final 8 teams post. So, in one sentence: My tips for this weekend were Hawks, Freo, Crows, Tigers and my tip for the premiership is Freo.

Get up, Joe! You weak bastard! (replay comes up on screen) Oh, he didn’t even touch him. Fuck the stretcher. Dig him a hole!

– A classy Collingwood fan at the Essendon game doing her best to fulfil her role as the stereotypical Collingwood fan. She was yelling this out to Joe Daniher who clashed heads with a Collingwood player and had to be taken from the field. It is nice to see that all the messaging about the dangers of concussion is cutting through the fans.

Yeeeeeah, bend over. It’s a 12 inch coming your way with no lube.

– Another classy Collingwood fan doing her best to fulfil the role of the stereotypical Collingwood fan. This was at the VFL and she was yelling out at a fellow Collingwood fan who was going to buy her a drink. She was thrusting her groin as she said it. They were standing on the balcony of the Bob Rose stand, serving his legacy.

They might be called the Cats, but they are a pack of dogs!

– Overweight Pies fan at the bar during three-quarter time in round 22 when Collingwood ended Geelong’s run of successive finals since 2007.

I think your Mum’s a Hooker! (laughter) And she doesn’t charge much!

Collingwood fan in the social club bar last week as Cale Hooker lined up for goal. He missed.

If we lose to Essendon, I’m not coming to football for 6 months!

Another Collingwood fan in the social club bar said this to me afterwards. He had the kind of red face that only those with years of dedication to drinking unhealthy levels of alcohol can achieve. He had no idea what the score was or what was happening throughout the game. He laughed so hard at this joke he looked like he might have a heart attack.

Shit Racist People on Social Media Say

by williamschack

Kick-to-Kick

by williamschack

 

In the very cool evening on Sunday, myself and some friends were kicking the football to each other on Elsternwick Park. We had just witnessed the drought breaking victory for the RRR/PBS Megahertz in the Community Cup. Our kick-to-kick was partly to celebrate the victory and partly to warm ourselves up. With Graveyard Train playing live on stage on centre wing, it was a lovely way to finish a great day.

A few weeks earlier I had another such experience at Victoria Park at the end of the most recent round of the Renegade Pub Footy League. I had no interest in the results of any of those games, but it was great to be at the spiritual home of the Collingwood Football Club. At the end of the day our group broke into two and kicked multiple footballs back and forth to one another in front of the Sherrin Stand. My friend Ben was enjoying himself and he said to us all: this is the best sport in the world – by a long way.

There is something so pleasurable about the simple act of having a kick-to-kick. It feels therapeutic. It might be nostalgia from childhood. It might be that when you are having a kick with friends you are truly being in the moment.
Richard Flanagan’s Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, has a great section in the beginning of the novel that depicts the very real place that kick-to-kick holds in the Australian culture. The protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, leaps up to take a mark above his combatants and immediately wins the respect of his peers. It is a fine piece of writing by one of Australia’s finest writers.

Of all the things that the AFL changed in 2015 to re-engage fans, the most successful has been the reintroduction of kick-to-kick after the game on Sundays. It was the simplest of the changes, which is part of the reason for its success. It was the most obvious one to win over fans, as anyone who can remember taking part in the practice before it was banned looks back on that time with fondness. I can’t remember exactly when it was banned, but somewhere along the way it stopped and then it just became one of those things we used to do before football was referred to as the ‘football industry’.

I always assumed that it was stopped because of the advancement of groundskeeping. I assumed that having thousands of people running on the field at the same time would cause damage to the surface that was unacceptable for modern conditions. It turns out that this was only part of the reason. I was shocked when I learned that factor was because the league was receiving too many liability claims from fans for being hit in the head with a football.

It is a sad indictment on Australian society that people would try and take advantage of such a simple of act of pleasure for financial gain. It would be great if our legal system would allow a defence on the grounds of stupidity. It would be great if our legal system could simply advise people that if they’re concerned about being hit in the head by a football, then don’t willingly walk onto a field where thousands of footballs are being kicked. Thankfully the league has now reorganised its insurance in a way that makes kick-to-kick viable.

The first game this year in which I experienced the post-match kick-to-kick was after the Richmond v Collingwood game in round 7. Richmond had just beaten Collingwood by 5 points after being behind by 4 goals early in the game. Collingwood fans had much reason to be disappointed, but after the game thousands of Tigers and Pies fans ran onto the ground to kick the football together. I met up with a Richmond friend in the pocket at the Punt Road end. He was with his family, including his young Tiger loving nephew and his friends. There were Collingwood fans in the group, but the memory of the loss seemed to have quickly left them as they ran around kicking the ball. Everyone looked happy. I guess that is what football is for.