Football

“I know there is strength in the difference between us. I know there is comfort where we overlap” -Ani DiFranco

2 Lil Tigers

Side  by side

I was born in Box Hill, Melbourne. I grew up in Blackburn. At school we played cricket in the summer and football in the winter. Australian football. This is what my father did, what his father did, and so on. This game was the centre of my life. I had no comprehension of it’s limits outside of my own little bubble. I never twigged that Australian football was, on a world scale, nothing but a quirky, little-known game played in a Colonial backwater. To me it was everything. All the people I knew followed a team that their sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers all followed.

Of course I could have grown up in Aberdeen, Scotland. My great grandmother hails from that part of the globe. Then my world would have revolved around what we in Australia refer to as soccer, but is better know world wide simply as football. There’s that word, football.

What comes to mind when I say the word cheese? Plastic cheese? Cheddar cheese? Swiss, camembert or mozzarella? Blue vein? Perhaps shaved parmesan? I guess it would depend on your experiences, on your preferences, heck, it might even depend on where you come from. But are they all not cheese? Similarly, I consider football to be a collective noun. Australian Football is my main expression of football, whilst I very much enjoy other expressions and acknowledge that each expression has very similar roots and beginnings.

In a criminally simplified history lesson for those not aware, ‘folk football’ has been played in countless forms world wide for thousands of years. Some kept score, some included beheading and most had rudimentary rules at best. In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, games of football slowly became more formalised. At the Rugby School in England, the game morphed into a physical, ball carrying sport, while at Eton, also in England, the use of hands was gradually eradicated. After much confusion, trial and debate, we ended up with rugby and soccer.

Folk Football Collage

Folk football from around the world

Gridiron is what rugby morphed into once introduced to the United Sates, and Australian Rules football is again what rugby morphed into once introduced to Melbourne, Australia. As history show us, New South Wales and Queensland stuck with the British game, perhaps a sign of the rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney. Intriguingly Gaelic football still evokes that feeling of folk football, a game remarkably similar in movement and ball skills to Australian football.

Australian football began differentiating itself from rugby due to the rock-hard nature of the Melbourne earth. Many injuries occurred which wouldn’t have on the lush playing fields of England. So the game prevented hacking and tripping, but to even things up a little, it was decided that a player had to touch the ball to the ground every 15 yards or so. And from there she kept on evolving. I celebrate the game’s origins. Without rugby, Australian football wouldn’t be. I also love that the game was tailored to suit local conditions. It is these nuances which make the different codes wonderful. It actually all happened rather organically, something we’ll never see again in our overly-managed world.

Face it. If you grew up in the Melbourne suburbs then chances are that you’re an Australian rules devotee. I’ve grown up understanding the intricacies and beauty in footy; the high mark, the perfect bump, a well timed torpedo punt. Kids who grew up in Redfern understand the beauty in a well timed sidestep, a well placed dribble kick, a well executed fend off, a beautifully timed pass which finds a hole in the opposition’s defence.

Those who grew up in Dublin have a deep appreciation of a player running at full speed while executing a solo. My friend Gareth who grew up in Scotland appreciates the beauty in a nil-nil draw, the courage in going up for a header in a pack. Someone who grew up in Chicago understands the skill involved in the perfect block and the quarterback who holds his nerve and hits his teammate with a beautifully weighted pass.

Football

The last time I checked, no one gets to choose where they’re born. If you think ‘soccer’ is purely a game for wusses then be thankful you didn’t grow up in Inverness! If you think rugby players are nothing more than brain dead bum-sniffers then be thankful you weren’t born in Capetown. If you hate ‘AFL’ or ‘aerial ping-pong’ then just thank your lucky stars you weren’t born in Ballarat. And PLEASE can we put an end to the term Gay FL? Or perhaps the AFL should turn what is meant to be a derogatory term into a positive GLBT awareness campaign? I’m thinking aloud now.

I understand Australian football’s limitations. It’s never going to be major football code outside of Australia. But that’s what makes it special. While world football has the magic of truly bringing people together the world over, Australian football is a quirky and rather eccentric game. Now I love finding a hidden gem be it a tiny coffee shop hidden in a back street, a great tiny op-shop or record store. This is how I view Australian football on the world stage, a hidden gem.

Now I’m completely sick of the fighting between the codes here in the melting pot that is Australia, and whist I recognise it is a competitive marketplace, it’s time that we leave that jostling for those in charge of our leagues or codes. The arguments between supporters are that of the school yard. Basically “my opinion is right, your football is shit, and get stuffed.” Now I understand that we are each very passionate about our own code and there’s no wrong in that. But why the derision of other codes? The sneering remarks, the belittling? It saddens, angers and frustrates me. Am I allowed to enjoy more than one code?

I grew up in a Melbourne full of propaganda and fear-mongering that soccer is an evil that will come and ruin ‘our game.’ That was my starting point as a young one. The fear demonstrated by Australian Rules Football, in particular the AFL, highlights nothing more than it’s insecurity. The AFL uniquely operates with conflicting inferiority and superiority complexes. How foolish not to partner with other codes under the banner of football.

Barass

Come on Ron, a bit harder and it might magically turn into a Sherrin!

But it’s not just the AFL or Australian Football. Equally ignorant comments are made by rugby league, world football and rugby union fans, and all are based on grand generalisations and the summation that one’s opinion is right. Can we please put and end to this moronic and, quite frankly, childish behaviour? I’m not asking people to fall in love with codes they’re not familiar with, but at least stop and think that even though you can’t see what it is, that each code has it’s own beauty and charm.

Let’s focus on the fact that we all have more in common than we’d like to admit. The joy of winning, the pain of losing, the ritual of going to the ground to support your team. Wearing your team colours and your favourite player’s number on your back. Using football matches from the past as a reference to help remember life’s key dates and moments. The heroes and villains. Do not all football’s serve the same purpose,  providing a sense of community and of place? Of the team representing you, the fan?

South Melb St George

Sometimes there are more similarities than differences

 I talk often with my dear friend Gareth who hails from Scotland but has lived in Australia for more than 10 years now, adopting local side Footscray as his own. His first love however is Aberdeen; the Dons! As we talk about our love of football (collective) I often forget the shape of ball or field we are talking about such is the common thread of our conversation. It’s the ritual, the passion, unique old grounds, the disappointments, the involvement of family and love of statistics which provides more crossover between ‘our codes’ than difference. Don’t get me wrong-football in Footscray and Aberdeen are vastly different experiences, but there is much that ties both together.

The culture of each game is something which should be celebrated, or at the very least tolerated. Don’t criticise that which you do not fully understand. I’m not asking you to like all codes, but let’s stop this nonsense fighting and realise we’ve all actually got a fair bit in common, but thankfully not too much.

I’ll leave you with this quote, or call to arms if you will.

“It is never too late to give up your prejudices” -Henry David Thoreau

Molly Footy

My 8 year old daughter Molly had her first outdoor match last weekend, while her first Richmond membership came in the mail later in the week. She loves both games.

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Home & Away #4 Arden Street Oval

Arden Street: League venue: 1925-1985. League (VFL/AFL) matches: 529 . Record Attendance: 35,000-North Melbourne v Carlton, 1949.

Melbourne’s football grounds tend to reflect the suburb in which they are found. As I’ve already shown you, Glenferrie Oval, in the leafy, well to do suburb of Hawthorn boasted an art-deco stand, while Fitzroy, Melbourne’s first suburb, with somewhat a bohemian past boasted two elegant pavilions, one of which still stands.

North Melbourne’s Arden Street oval on the other hand mirrors it’s working class roots. Much like Footscray’s Western Oval and Collingwood’s Victoria Park, Arden Street was a no-frills football ground with plenty of concrete and grit. It was practical, yet still charming in it’s simplicity.

 To demonstrate Arden Street’s lack of outstanding features, it was an object separate to the ground itself which is still remembered as it’s most endearing feature; a gigantic gasometer which towered over the outer wing. 

The gasometer overlooking Arden St. Image from –http://www.footballinvective.com/2005/0508.html

The gasometer however is long gone, the humble little ground outlasting it’s neighbour. The old stand has made way for North Melbourne’s new training facility, with very little remaining to suggest league football was played at this ground. A few years back I made a few trips to Arden Street, and was able to capture the decaying ruins of a league venue. Being too young to have ever attended or been aware of a match at Arden St, it was with some level of mystery that I ventured to North Melbourne’s spiritual home. Here’s how the ground stood just 5 years ago.

Firstly the old stand, what I would term a very ‘northern suburbs’ pavillion, much the same design as Carlton’s late Heatley Stand and what’s left of Coburg’s grandstand. Incidentally, North used Coburg City Oval as it’s home ground for season 1965, yet returned home the following year.

With the old grandstand still standing proud, though blocked off from the public, this is Arden Street looking much as it had as a league venue, complete with the old undercover betting ring behind the old stand which was in place for the greyhound races that used to grace the ground. It was destroyed by fire in 2006, though its days were numbered.

This is a snap taken through the old social club-come-gymnasium window. North Melbourne produced some amazing results in the 1990’s considering their facilities. As North players said throughout their successful era, the “weights are just as heavy as West Coast’s.”

North was renowned for playing hard both on and off the field, yet surely the gymnasium in the bar was taking it a step too far!

As you can see below, the old grandstand was in a state of decay, and though I never like to see a grandstand demolished, what’s more important to me is that North Melbourne is still based at Arden Street Oval. Bulldozing the existing facilities and building up to date ones were the only way that North could stay in it’s own suburb. In a nice touch however, many of the old bricks were used in the new structure.

A feature of the ground which I loved was the old entrance next to the social club. It looks to me as though this was one of the last additions to Arden Street as a league venue, coming across as very ’70’s. And what I love here is the glimpse it gives us into 1985, the last year Arden Street was used as a league venue:

Adults $7, Pensioners/Children just $1.00!

Ah…the magic of entering the ground and heading up the stairs to be confronted by the vast field is displayed beautifully here, a feature at many old league and association grounds, and football grounds the world over.

The old players race is about the last remaining feature from days past, other than the oval itself and the grassy contours which once stood as gravelly terraces. The scoreboard and covered shelter areas are long gone and the ground itself has been opened to the public. The seating along the boundary fence also remains, and you can see by the below photo what I meant when I said that Arden Street was a ‘no-frills’ affair.

As I’ve already mentioned, little is left of the outer other than the grassy hills which have replaced the concrete wonderland, so I was surprised to find this little gem which has survived the passages of time. The old ‘Dry Area’ sign still remains at the top of the hill on the outer side, and I had to remove a small branch or two to make the sign visible. The standing room ‘sheds’ that stood on the wing and behind the goals were demolished after the Bradford City fire in England, deemed a fire hazard.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with the words of football great Ron Barassi. This is one of Ron’s quarter time speeches as coach of North Melbourne in the centre of Arden Street oval during the late 1970’s. Let’s just say that Ron did not hold back for the camera! As Ron rants, make sure you take in the footage of old Arden Street as a league venue, the life and colour that once adorned the old ground. Next time you drive past Arden Street, Victoria Park or Windy Hill, it’s worth remembering the contribution they made to football in Victoria. We outgrew them, but they shouldn’t be forgotten.

For more on Arden Street, in particular the scoreboard, check out scoreboard pressure

http://scoreboardpressure.com/2011/06/22/north-melbourne-victoria/

With a little help from my friends…

http://stats.rleague.com/afl/venues/arden_st.html

http://en.wikipedia.org


Happy Snap #11

This is a picture I picked up for $5 at the Don Bosco Op-Shop in Brunswick a year or so ago. My team is not represented, but I love this photo for many reasons, and it now hangs on our kitchen wall. Why do I love it? I’m glad you asked.

Firstly, the old boots. But it’s not just that, it’s the the old, uncluttered woolen jumpers, the old picket fence with no advertising to be seen and the punters standing in the outer. This is a shot from an Essendon v Melbourne match at the old Windy Hill oval. The fact that Barassi (top) played at Melbourne between 1953-1964 places this picture somewhere during that period.

Barassi’s face in fact is what really demands my attention in this photo. You can wax lyrical about his career, but in this single moment you can see all you need to see. Who in this pack of players wants the ball the most? To me, it is clearly Ron. Though out of position, a quick look into those steely eyes suggests he may well have won the contest, or at the very least made life difficult for whoever won the ball. It was in this manner that Barassi continued throughout his career as a player, captain and coach, having a hand in no less than 8 premiership victories.

I am unsure who the surrounding players are, and would appreciate if anyone had any information on who they may be. Purely for interests sake.

Thank you


Book Review #2 A Manual of Australian Football by Alan Scott

 During a routine scanning of the books down at Savers, my eyes came across this plainly clad instructional book on how to play our great game…Australian football. The author’s name, Alan Scott was unfamiliar, and a brief spot of research confirmed he had never played league football. On further inspection of the book, I learned he was housemaster and coach of Ballarat College First 18 football team, and “a successful junior coach at that.”

 Published in 1965, this is one of the earliest instructional books on Australian football, with then VFL president Sir Kenneth Luke saying in his introduction that “when we reflect that our game of football was established more than a century ago, the shortage of authoritative manuals of instruction is astonishing.”

 It was a momentous year for Australian football. To my thinking it signalled the beginning of the modern game. Footy in Melbourne had meandered along essentially untouched by progress for decades. Yet money was about to become the ‘name of the game’, and fittingly, the last of the amateur clubs, Melbourne, won their most recent flag in 1964! The 1965 season also saw Ron Barrassi shock the football world by transferring from Melbourne to Carlton, utter sacrilege at the time, yet a sign of things to come.

 Dramatically, not one but three clubs left “home” in 1965. Richmond, North Melbourne and Fitzroy moved to the MCG, Coburg and Princes Park respectively. Clubs had stayed put for the past 80 odd years, with exceptions in Geelong leaving Corio Oval for Kardinia Park during World War 2 and the Dons 1922 move from East Melbourne to Windy Hill. Things would never be the same.

 The game itself had also been somewhat static to this point, though tactics were beginning to evolve from what had previously been a ‘kick it long, go back over your mark’ game plan. Suffice to say, this book was written on the cusp of great change and serves as a neat time capsule of how the game was.

 It should be recognised that in 1965, though still a simplistic sport, great artistry existed in the required skill-set, with many glorious features now lost. Today, all a footballer needs in their weaponry is a drop punt. Yet Scott explains the finer points of the different ‘kicks’ used ….the drop kick, the long drop pass, the stab pass, the punt kick, the torpedo and even the place kick all get a mention! Of course the drop punt is included.

 It’s clear that Scott was unable to forecast the dramatic change about to take place, as the drop kick would be extinct within a decade. Barassi’s move to Carlton as playing coach would have a lasting effect on football. Apart from the 1970 grand final comeback, where he instructed his team to play on at every opportunity and use handball offensively, the 514 game coach equally had a lasting impact on the way we kick.

 “I was amazed when I began coaching how little was thought of the basics of the kick.” Barassi freely admits that he’s partly responsible for phasing out the graceful drop kick, but is unapologetic.

“It’s the reliability of it (the drop punt)…the drop kick is harder to do. And the torpedo kick has always been a chancy one.” Of course he was not alone, with many contemporary coaches moving in the same direction.

 Click here for a guide to kicking a drop kick on ‘kick2kick’ blog

 The torpedo punt managed to avoid this kicking genocide, with season 2011 providing it with somewhat of a renaissance. Scott raises an interesting point with the torpedo punt. “Because it is possible with practice to make a torpedo punt swing in the air, it is a valuable kick to use when you are kicking for goal on a sharp angle.” As an example, forward this video to 2:05 and watch former Brisbane star Darryl White do exactly that.

 While Scott may not have anticipated the streamlining of kicking, when it comes to his chapter on handball, he seems able to see where the game was headed. “There are many boys who regard handball as a last resort when they have no hope of getting a kick….handball can be used as part of a team’s attack-that is, as part of the teams method of getting the ball up the ground.” Ironically, players these days often appear to use a kick as a last resort!

 There is also instruction on how to perform a flickpass, though the following year, 1966, saw it officially outlawed, as it was too difficult for umpires to detect if the ball had been thrown or struck. The Adelaide Crows attempted to reintroduce this when they entered the AFL with their version dubbed the “Crow-Throw!”

 Click here to read the history of handball- includes flick pass and the crow-throw!

 Many other subjects are covered in the manual of Australian Football, including “Running, Swerving, Turning and Spinning,” where we learn the fundamentals of evasion. A chapter titled “Position Play” gives an indication of the rudimentary nature of the games tactics. Here is all a fullback needed to know about his kicking out duties for instance.

Throughout the book, you are reminded time and again that its author is a school housemaster, such is the authoritarian nature of Scott’s ‘advice’ and the life values he incorporates. Consider the following…

“The game must be seen in its right perspective, no boy should allow football to so dominate his life that he is unable to concentrate on anything else.” Where was that advice when I was a lad? Truly addicted now.

“To lose your temper is quite contrary to the whole concept of sport.” Again true, and a life lesson there as well!

“You should wear the uniform of your team proudly. A slovenly player gives a bad impression” Now illistrator George Melrose deserves special mention for this piece.

It’s the yesteryear version of James Hird standing next to Brendan Fevola! Note the lit cigarette and drunken grin!

“There is a tendency among young players to draw attention to themselves by pretending to be injured. This is very silly. No one is really fooled!” Sorry sir. Won’t happen again sir.

 And lastly some health advice “…avoid constant between-meals eating of sweets, make sure you drink plenty of milk and be moderate in your consumption of fatty foods.” However…

“Do not be discouraged if you seem to be too small or too fat or too ungainly. One of the great things about Australian Rules is that there is a place for almost any physical type.”

Summing up, this book is a great record of how the game was not just played, but the manner in which it was used as a means of shaping students into upstanding citizens. At least that was the idea. And a final word from Alan Scott.

“…if you lose, say nothing. If you win, say less.” Now that I can agree with.