Thursday, February 10, 2011

you’ve tuned the idiot box into an AFL match & commentators like Bruce, Parrot, Lethal, Wallsy, Huddo, Ox or Quarters are hypothesizing - usually at considerable length - about whether the players will be:-
  • dressed to play; or
  • joined by their clones eg the Judds, Carrazzos, Kreuzers, Garletts, Swans, Didaks, Harveys, Firritos, Bartels’, Abletts, Porplyzias or  Johncocks; or
  • tall & playing short - or short & playing tall; or
  • effectively using the fat side of the ground; or
  • experiencing the earth move beneath their feet; or
  • adhering to team structures when the ball’s in dee-fence or o-ffence. or
  • performing as on-ballers, ¼ backs, designated kickers or go-to men

 Then, during the match, there is the inevitable Broooose-o “you just get the feeling that if …. (insert the name of any team losing by a shed load of goals at any time) can get the next goal we’ll have a real game on our hands”, & of course, his classic “speshaaaarl”.

Not to be outdone, Parrot can’t seem to get through a match without telling us “that’s ambitious”.

Well it's all I need to make me grumpy

It’s also all I need to invariably cause me to lose interest in the match.

Or cause me to switch on the wireless & hope to hell that the good old ABC is broadcasting the same match.

Even if it’s my beloved Bluebaggers who have come “dressed to play”!.

Do you reckon I’m even grumpier when the result is no – mate, not today?.

Do you reckon I’m even extra grumpier when the result is yes – mate, but the powers-to-be have made sure the wireless commentary is not synchronized with the telecast?.

Now I have to confess that I never quite made it to VFL/AFL level. This was mainly due to a lack of the required level of fitness - not helped by exceeding the desirable weight/height ratio. Perhaps being devoid of the necessary talent was also a factor.

I only ever played bush footy Victorian style, & more precisely, “out on the swamp” (West Gippsland) for Catani & “up in the hills” (Dandenong Ranges) for Olinda/Monbulk.

In my day we always came dressed to play. There were no fancy-pancy coloured shorts, fluorescent boots or logo-ridden jumpers for us. But we did have to remember white shorts for home matches & black shorts for away matches.

Admittedly the white shorts were often grey or showed traces of previous muddy encounters. But, to be fair, even black shorts could show tell-tale signs of mud. Boots were often not quite polished, were still moist from being washed under the tap to remove mud, or still had mud stuck to the soles no matter how many visits under the tap. Miraculously, jumpers were always in pristine condition – apart from often being a size or two smaller than original after countless washes (to remove the mud of course). Most sensible players owned long & short sleeved varieties of jumpers that were both regularly worn to keep the chilling effects of ice-cold winds/hail/sleet/pelting rain at bay – but sadly, not mud.
In my day we were never joined by clones when we ran onto the ground. There were no fictitious, la-la-land players for us.

Although the word wasn’t even invented, the team sheet only permitted real people being named to play. Apart from cheating, to name more than one McEachen, Healey, Doolan or Marsden would’ve been ridiculous as there was only ever one of each.

Instead, we actually had real-life brothers of the same name playing to refer to. It was accurate for us to refer to the Vanstones, Corbys, Kyleys, Kemps, Nortons & Koelewyns. Catani could even boast the father/son duo of Palmers.

In my day we were either tall or short - or somewhere in between. But there were no height-adjusting imposters for us.

I don’t recall anyone ever really trying to play above or below their natural height. Perhaps an exception may have been the small heroes who tried to take, or occasionally managed to take, screamers above the pack – that usually involved using a much taller team mate or opponent as a step ladder. Another exception may have been the somewhere in between characters who had to go for the tap at a boundary throw-in or bounce because the ruckmen were lumbering along somewhere behind the play.

I’ve been 6ft for almost ever – just 6ft, no more no less. I’ve looked at other 6ft people straight in the eye, taller than 6ft people with a slight upward tilt of the head & shorter than 6ft people with a slight downward tilt of the head. I find it difficult to imagine how, after all my 6ft years, I might go about thinking I’m now, say, 5ft or 7ft. How I could suddenly remember who I was to look straight in the eye, or with a slight upward or downward tilt of the head, is beyond me.

In my day we didn’t ever play at any ground that possessed a fat (or skinny for that matter) side.

“Out on the swamp” grounds generally had a side that was the source of more mud than the rest of the ground. Not due to corpulence but because that side was lower than anywhere else. “Up in the hills” grounds generally had a side that was the source of more wind than the rest of the ground. Not due to obesity but because that side lacked a suitable windbreak – usually in the form of pine trees. From memory, all grounds had a change rooms side and, if really up-market, a grandstand side which were sensibly located on the opposite side to the muddy or windy side. Nowhere a fat side to be seen.  

Those grounds were established by local volunteers, without the assistance of specialised equipment & personnel. But I’m sure that a photo/video taken from a helicopter/crane/high building would’ve shown them to be as close as possible to an oval – without either side having a bulge resembling fat.

In my day we did experience the earth move beneath our feet – just not The Dome/Etihad style.

What we were more concerned about was the depth of good old fashioned mud. Depending on the location of the ground &, when somewhat drier, this afore-mentioned mud was apparently great to grow spuds, carrots, rhododendrons or camellias elsewhere in the district. But a definite hindrance to the playing of good quality footy.

The old sayings of “ankle/knee deep in it” or “up to your ankles/knees in it” were applicable to the sticky material that often covered much of each ground we played on.  Sometimes the mud would also be rather foul smelling. A reminder of what the cows or sheep that had kept the grass down over the summer had left behind.

My particular area of concern was always the goal square at each end. Without being too boastful, I was a full back who possessed a lethal drop kick (well if I got onto one at least 60-65 yards was achievable, or 70-80 if the wind was behind me). But a muddy goal square was always my downfall. The drop kick was a disaster, the drop punt only got about 50 & the torp would go anywhere. Which often meant the ball was returned fairly quickly by the opposition for another point, or worse still an easy goal.

In my day I don’t recall hearing about, or adhering to, team structures – regardless of the location of the ball. I’m absolutely certain there was no talk of dee-fence or o-ffence for us.

Footy was a pretty simple game in my day & it’s not radically different today either (despite the determined efforts of the commentators & the money-hungry AFL  administrators). It’s still just a form of “keeping’s off”. Since the game began, the object is for a player to obtain the ball before an opposition player does & then get it to a team-mate by hand or foot. That process is then repeated, for as long as it takes, until the team scores. If the team moves the ball that way more often than the opposition, & kicks more accurately, it’ll win. Simple enough really.

My coaches apparently all learned the art of pre, during & post match addresses from the same source.

The pre-match address was generally the theme of “we’re going out to beat this mob today boys, I can’t say much more because it’s in your hands when we get out there, look for/help your team-mates & keep the ball away from that muddy &/or windy side”. To which we’d respond with loud applause & guttural voices.

Occasionally I received extra advice of “now listen Southby (nickname only, no cloning – McEachen on the team sheet) I don’t want you to bother with drop kicks today – got that”. “Aye aye Coach” was always the wise reply. But I’d always try at least one. Then I’d hear “what did I tell you about those @#$%^&* drop kicks McEachen (gee Coach, no more Southby?). “Sorry Coach - I forgot” if I bothered to reply. But the back pocket(s) would hear “what do you know about kicking off” being mumbled.

The during match address was generally “now we’re behind boys, but stick at it, we can still beat this mob, if we can get in front we’ll win this one”. To which we may have responded with applause (but not very loudly) & noises (grumbled more than guttural). The address was less frequently “now we’re in front boys, stick at it, we’ll whip this mob, if we stay in front we’ll win this one”. To which we certainly responded with very loud applause & guttural voices.

Post match we generally heard “bad luck today boys, you tried, see you at training”. No noise followed. Less frequently, & above the extreme noise (applause, voices, back slapping, etc), we might’ve been able to hear the coach say “well done today boys, I knew you could do it, if we do it more often we’ll be off the bottom of the ladder, see you at training”.      

But listening to all those addresses there was never any mention of structures - that I heard – for us.
In my day we had a back line, half-back line, centre line, half-forward line, forward line, ruckmen & rovers. No on-ballers, ¼ backs, designated kickers or go-to men for us.

You got to play in the back line if you were tall(ish) &:-
  • could kick a long distance but not necessarily accurately
  • could go the punch in a big way but couldn’t be relied on to take a mark
  • had a few tricks up your sleeve (or elsewhere on your body) to unsettle forwards
  • didn’t have a lot of – if any - flair or imagination
  • weren’t the fleetest of foot
  • were a former ruckman in your twilight years or a current ruckman gasping for air, & not sufficiently talented enough to be risked in the forward line
  • were uni-directional & found turning very difficult 

Playing in the half-back line indicated that you were also tall(ish) &:-
  • could kick a reasonable distance & more accurately than a back man
  • could usually be relied on to take a mark but might also remember to go the punch
  • had more flair & imagination than a backman
  • were fleeter of foot than a back man
  • were a former half-forward or forward in your twilight years who might anticipate your opponent’s next move
  • didn’t find turning that difficult but preferred being uni-directional 

Centre line players were generally short(ish) &:-
  • could kick fairly accurately, not usually any distance,  but sometimes with either foot
  • would nearly always try to take a mark because going the punch was foreign to them
  • had enough flair & imagination
  • were always up the front of sprints at training
  • could turn on a six pence
  • had blonde or red hair that may have been tied in a pony-tail
  • were always happy to run towards the forward line hoping to kick a goal
  • were most unhappy about giving any assistance to the half-back or back lines

The half-forward line possessed players of varying height & they:-
  • could kick accurately over most distances, often with either foot
  • would always hope to take a mark because for them going the punch was also foreign to them
  • had plenty of flair & imagination
  • were near the front of sprints at training
  • could turn quickly
  • were rarely seen past the centre line
  • were happy to give advice to the half-back or back lines

In their own minds the forward line players were the cat's whiskers, also of varying height & they:-
  • could kick accurately within 30-40 yards, often with either foot
  • would always try to take a mark because they’d never heard of  going the punch
  • had more flair & imagination than anyone else
  • could turn quick enough when they smelt an easy goal
  • devoted quite a bit of time adjusting the height of their socks & re-tying their boot laces
  • were never seen past the forward line
  • were happy to blame anyone else for the team’s misfortunes
  • were a former rover in his twilight years or a current rover gasping for air
  • were a former ruckman in his twilight years or a current ruckman gasping for air & too talented to be assigned to the back line

The mix of today’s players is, fundamentally, not all that different – except they run all over the ground rather than adhere to the lines of days gone by. But why the infatuation with on-ballers, ¼ backs, designated kickers & go-to men?. We’re bombarded with enough Americanisms already without aspects of grid-iron being introduced to our great Australian game.

But am I being a tad hypocritical?. Was I before the time of the current batch of commentators?. In my days with Catani, whenever I got a kick I always looked for either of the Kyley kiddies – because they (a) were well over 6ft & (b) could be relied on to take a good grab. Were they my go-to men?

In my day I played in more losing than winning games - & losing regularly by the proverbial “country mile”. Would it have made a difference if I’d heard “you just get the feeling that if Catani (eg losing by 10 goals at ¼ time) can get the next goal we’ll have a real game on our hands”?. Would it have made a difference if I’d heard “speshaaaarl” after either of the Kyley kiddies took another screamer from one of my kicks?. Would it have made a difference if I’d heard “that’s ambitious” in response to any example of flair or imagination I’d mustered?. I think it’s fair to say the answer is no…..not me. Not hearing any of it didn’t make me bitter & twisted.

Which all leads me to ponder

Are these current commentators & their jargon adding anything to our great Australian game & the reason for my grumpiness?, or

Am I really just a grumpy Mature Aged Australian male - anyway?

Author’s Note: The blue background & yellow bold, italics are in fond memory of the No 30 Catani jumpers I wore for many seasons with great pride. Because I was sensible the short sleeved variety was, of course, worn over the long sleeved variety!.

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