Are footy’s biggest critics stuck in the past?

Ben Vernel - Thu, 21st Jun 2018 - 0 Comments

We’ve had emergency committees formed, daily gripes on talkback radio and plenty of column inches devoted to decrying the current state of footy in the AFL. From drastic suggestions like the reduction of players per team from 18 to 16, greater limitations on interchange rotations, and increasing the size of the goal square, football’s greatest minds have all attempted to solve the “problem” with modern footy.

But is there really a problem? Or are our elder statesmen stuck in the past?

The “look of the game” has become the number one trending topic in footy media this year. Every Monday, the problems with congestion and low scoring are raised anew and every Monday pundits and punters weigh in. It’s too congested. Goal-kicking accuracy is worse than ever. Games are just a rolling mass of players with no structure. It’s too defensive. It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t look good? When it comes to footy, what does it look like when it “looks good”?

When you ask most of the past players, it looked good back when they played.

But when you look at the numbers, footy is more popular than ever.

Despite broadcast television viewership dropping between 4 and 5% from 2014 to 2017, footy audiences on TV only dropped 1.49%, bucking the trend. With the numbers of screens per household rising to 6.6, the fact that footy can retain audience more effectively than other broadcast TV programming is to be commended.

Attendance, too, has been rising. The average attendance figure per match for 2014 was 33,484. In 2018, thus far, it’s sitting at 35,433. Impressive.

In 2017, the AFL broke the record for total club memberships, hitting an incredible 907,561 members – a 3.7% increase on 2016.
While scoring might be down this year, with average total scores per game down from 185 last year to 169 this year (May 1st at time of stat), everything else about the game – and interest in the game – is up.

A common complaint is that coaches are introducing tactics that exploit the rules and exaggerate their teams’ strengths in order to win. Yeah. That’s called professional sport. I don’t want the AFL to introduce new rules, or change old ones, to curb my team’s success. I want to see the greatest coaches in the country matching wits in the coaches box while our nation’s elite players go head to head on the park. I want to see them play a game I know and love, and play to win. I don’t want to see shorter quarters or less players or ruck nominations at every stoppage.

I want to see footy.

Hawthorn Premiership star and West Coast Eagles assistance coach Sam Mitchell agrees. On SEN’s Time On he told Sam McClure that, “I would challenge anyone that thinks the game is in a poor state to turn on a random game from a random era that they thought was the best of the game and see which one compares better. I think modern footy stands up pretty well.”

AFL Footy boss Steve Hocking told media earlier this year that “The pressure around the ball is far greater than it’s ever been. The level of application of that pressure from players, the fitness of players, it all plays into that. And so as the game starts to adapt, the players then adapt to that pressure, and we see that over the year players will start to execute to a high level.”

Steve’s admitted that players will adapt to the high pressure congestion as the year wears on. So why form an impromptu AFL committee whose mission statement is “We need to fix footy”? Why not let things naturally play out, evolve over time, and cycle back around? It’s the definition of a knee-jerk reaction.

If you want to see footy like it was played back in the 80s, dig out a copy of the ’89 Grand Final on VHS and sit back with a glass of red to enjoy what a game from bygone days offered because in 2018, football has changed – just as every other facet of life has in the past three decades.

But leave our game, as it’s played now, alone.