The Professional Era

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The Professional Era

Post by Flag No.10 on Tue May 22, 2012 9:15 pm

DOES PROFESSIONAL MEAN BETTER?


There is no shortage of bright young things in the AFL fraternity who will spruik that the introduction of professionalism to Australian Rules football has been a wonderful thing. But for whom exactly has it been so great?

For the players? Certainly. They are better rewarded than ever. Likewise for the game’s administrators, coaches, support staff, and media commentators. They all work harder than ever and are paid accordingly.

Has it been good for the clubs? Well not for Fitzroy. And, I would argue, not for my club, West Adelaide. Thanks to the advent of the AFL my club is now no longer in the premier competition in South Australia and I resent it and will to my dying day. The shift in focus away from the SANFL clubs to the AFL clubs will make it extremely hard for the SANFL clubs to attract the next generation of supporters. I feel bitterly sad that, in all probability, there won’t be another child grow up with the passion for the Bloods that I feel.

But people like me, and fans of WAFL clubs and Fitzroy fans are the collateral damage of the push to professionalism. We just have to ‘suck it up’ for the good of football. Well, I don’t know that it has been for the “good of football”. Because I suspect that when they say “football” they mean “The Australian Football League”. Despite a masterful marketing campaign which has resulted in kids declaring that they play ‘AFL’ for Boronia Under 12s, the terms ‘football’ and ‘AFL’ are not synonymous.

I’m not even sure professionalism has been good for the old VFL clubs. Several of them are in financially uncomfortable territory. A couple of them have nearly gone under and/or have had to look at merging or relocating because of the struggle to meet the costs of running a professional football club. I think the majority of AFL clubs (nine) posted losses last year.

Has it been good for the game? That’s only ever going to be a matter of opinion, but mine is that it’s made the game frustrating to watch. The sideways and backwards movement of the ball has become so dominant that it now seems breathtaking when a team has the audacity to move the ball forwards quickly up the middle of the ground.

There must be nearly a hundred senior coaches and assistants in the AFL system now. The game has never been more closely analysed and dissected, and I don’t think it’s holding up to it very well.
The frequent changes to the rules of the game and their interpretation has been necessitated by the way these coaches have stretched the rules and contrived unattractive tactics, whether it’s locking arms with an opponent trying to take a mark, stopping the ball coming out of a ground-level contest by playing “Stacks On”, or conceding rushed behinds rather than kicking to a contest. Australian Rules is full of grey areas in the interpretation of its rules and the exploitation of this vulnerability by the phalanx of coaches has led to many of the blights on our modern game.

Basketball to me (as someone who’s never had anything to do with it) seems to have very little defence about it. Whenever a team scores, two-thirds of the length of the court seems to be automatically conceded by the scoring team as their opponents lope towards their end so they can have a shot. Zoning, particularly at SANFL level, has often had a similar effect. I’ve watched countless times as West’s opponent brings the ball back in from a point and hit easy targets until they get to about the centre of the ground.

Soccer (a predominantly defensive game) has brought us the reluctance to risk losing possession, even if it means going backwards. These are not traits that sit well with the spirit of Australian Rules or with its fans. Why have we felt the need to borrow elements from games that aren’t as entertaining as ours? I guess football department employees have to justify their overseas study tours somehow.

Without having done any research, I suspect that the majority of the ‘skills’ that have improved in the professional era are defensive ones: Tackling, spoiling/holding, tagging, screening, blocking, chasing (especially out of the forward lines). Field kicking is better, but goal kicking isn’t. Players are bigger, stronger and faster. But is the game any more enjoyable to watch? Contested marks are going the way of the dropkick. The torpedo/screw punt is almost extinct because risk taking has been minimised.

There are still gripping games played but often afterwards I’m unable to remember anything about them. They’re very physical, relentless, exhausting and high pressure but often they don’t contain many moments of football brilliance (Lance Franklin to one side).

In the AFL today you are more likely to be drafted if you are just a good athlete with not much of a footy brain than if you’re a good footballer but not much of an athlete. Because you need to be able to run all day, to run deep into defence to clog it up so as to minimise the one-on-one marking contests that fans love. But I don’t follow football to watch athletes running. I can go to a track and field event if I want to see that.

I fully understand that I’m swimming against the tide on all this but when people tell me it’s just progress, I tend to think it’s just change, and there is a difference.
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Re: The Professional Era

Post by Lee on Tue May 22, 2012 11:43 pm

A great read, F9 and I agree with most of the points you've raised.

I do think, however, that we should avoid a tendency to downgrade the spectacle of AFL football. To me, it generally lacks the passion of following your own club, such as Westies, but I've marvelled at the skill and excitement of many AFL games and bemoaned the lack of it at many SANFL games.

On the other hand, many AFL games see me turning off after a while, whereas I'll generally watch most SANFL games all the way through.

I do agree with you about the professionalism aspect. The AFL seems no longer a place for club stalwarts. We even have to have 'professional' timekeepers, etc, replacing the stalwarts who have done it for their club for ages. That takes the passion away to a large extent, without any particular improvement to the game.

More from me on that when I get home in a day or two.
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Re: The Professional Era

Post by Chambo Off To Work We Go on Wed May 23, 2012 2:06 pm

And flowing on down to "grass roots" which means different things to different people, would country clubs, amateur clubs, junior footy and the like be better off from the allged benevolence of the AFL?

Not in my opinion. It just has put them in greater and disproportionate competition with the sanfl for players, sponsors adn the like.

And I think grass roots to the AFL means probably SANFL, WAFL, VFL and not much further. But to me, that is not grass roots.

"The shift in focus away from the SANFL clubs to the AFL clubs will make it extremely hard for the SANFL clubs to attract the next generation of supporters. I feel bitterly sad that, in all probability, there won’t be another child grow up with the passion for the Bloods that I feel."

But the above statement encapsulates the dilemma that must unfold at some stage, once those supporters that remember and hold dear, the old pre-afl SANFL, whether it be as an adult or child, are gone. What interest will then underpin the sanfl?

I see youngsters tag along with their dads and have a kick and a catch. We are already into a generation of kids that have probably moved on only to support afl teams. My lads (13 and 17) are in this bracket. And daughter 19, probably could not even name all the sanfl teams.

I don't really see many teenagers around. Maybe they are playing their own game, or doing other things, but is there a disconnect in the 13-25+ age bracket in terms of those that would logically be the future supporter base, but only really observe the afl?

I would feel a lot more comfortable about progress if I could believe that the all powerful custodian of the game, the afl, had a vision for all levels of footy that were sustainable and recognised the interests of all stakeholders.

They often say they do, but if you ask your grass roots follower, I think they would have a different view.

Taking a slightly different tack, it brings a smile to my face that I can get involved at a local footy club where your contribution, even a small one, is recognised by senior club officers and even the players.

I revel in the fact that I only have to queue for maybe 30secs to a minute for a toilet, beer or pie break. I like the ambience of being able to stand with said beer (without lid) amongst my mates and participate in the often immensely funny banter that takes place between supporters. And banter that doesn't involve putting a fence between them.

It is nice to look up from the action on the field and see a tree!

It is nice to be able to walk on the field of action to get up close and personal with blokes like Tony Dey and say what a splendid job he is doing.

Wouldn't have it any other way. Just hope it remains for a long time yet.
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