Bush Week – the AFL ‘matchday experience’ & dealing with fellow patrons

As an opinionated man in his 20’s with a blog, I have a lot of bones to pick with a lot of people. And whether they like it or not, these bones will be heard, if they so choose to click on the provided link. The biggest bone I currently have to pick is with the half wits that each club is employing to improve their ‘matchday experience’, as the AFL so desires. I like going to the footy. I like going to the footy to watch my team, Carlton, play hard and give their best and hopefully win. I like going to the footy, sometimes to watch teams that aren’t mine, in the hope of witnessing quality contest and skills. I can confirm that I do not go to the footy to see fireworks and flames as my team runs out, with a man dressed in a team polo talking at me so loudly that I have little choice as to whether I want to hear him ask the crowd to ‘play the tv bongos’ or not.

On the walk over to the MCG, I saw a lot of things I liked about the matchday experience. I saw a cool kids zone with mini footy activities. If they didn’t have restrictions on the participation of adults, I would go in there and run around like a 6 year old. I also saw people having a kick in the lovely surrounds of Yarra Park, which is a great tradition. Before the game however there was lots of yelling and music and noise which is great if you have ADHD or are so cognitively challenged that you cannot sit and appreciate the grand scale of the ground, or even the anticipation of the contest ahead by talking quietly with fellow attendees, and not so great if you like the atmosphere of warm ups and team songs.

I like the way the ground LED things are navy blue like my team. I don not like them flashing brightly to change ads, rather than humbly rolling over like the old ones did. I do not like the borrowed from America cameras like kiss cam and bongo drums cam and dancing cam and fucking banana cam and whatever other cams exist. I do not like the loud music that is thrown into your ears. Have we regressed so far as a society that the main spectacle, football, is dismissed in the lead up and intervals of the game? We are not loud obnoxious Americans who need novelties to maintain attention and attendance. It is not the BBL, where administrators are so afraid of someone tuning out during a game that fireworks are launched every boundary. Bringing back after game kick to kick is a huge tick from the grounds and the AFL. Bring back some other great traditions, such as silent scoreboards in between quarters and maybe get rid of the fad, faux attempts at generating hype. The footy will do the talking.

Onto part two of this wonderful rant. Attending the football with usually 50,000 other people, you would reasonably expect to be within earshot of a few who lack understanding of the rules, at the simple end of the scale, and the decision making, at the more complex end of the scale. You would not expect the whole bay you sit in to be so plainly dumb in their protests and understanding of what is going on on the field. It seems that each year, the crowd gets dumber.

It is immensely frustrating to go to a game and spend 3 hours listening to supporters from both teams yell and scream and berate for free kicks that just aren’t there. Particularly holding the ball and deliberate out of bounds calls. While the inconsistency in umpires decision making can be annoying for fans, a basic understanding of what constitutes these free kicks should be mandatory before grown adults cry expletives and spittle across their fellow patrons. The biggest misunderstanding of the rule of holding the ball surrounds the tackler knocking the ball loose. If someone is tackling, and prises it loose, or punches it out of the player with the ball’s hands, it is not holding the ball. Maybe people are not seeing it clearly from level 4, but this is not an illegal disposal either. The ball has been knocked by another player, without control from the holder. Play on.

The deliberate out of bounds calls are also frustrating but it’s a bit easier to understand the punter’s confusion. If you have not played the game, I appreciate the difficulty in understanding. Depending on the situation, it is usually to a players advantage to find the boundary line. If they’re outnumbered, they get a chance to reset. If they are out of position, or fighting one off, they can bring more numbers over while it is thrown in. This is why the rule was introduced; to keep play flowing, curtailing resets and encouraging more goals. What people are mistaking is genuine skill errors or unlucky bounces as deliberate attempts to seek refuge. In a slippery game like Carlton vs Essendon, a player has minimal control on quick kicks out packs, or thrown onto the boot high balls. They have even less control of what happens when it strikes the ground. I would hope people have more common sense to appreciate the nuances of using an oval shaped ball. Clearly not.

Another strange one that people still struggle with is kicking backwards. 15 years ago, you had a bit of leeway as an older person because you had probably never seen a deliberate backwards pass. Not now. Old mate who is 60, they’ve been kicking backwards for closing in on two decades now. Pay attention. It is a common tactic, to switch play, to give time for numbers to push to a wing, to draw the opposition away from a desired avenue, to milk the clock etc. This is not new. Stop getting so fucking angry you OLD BASTARDS and adapt like the rest of society does.

I implore people to support with passion. Support doesn’t include idiotic calling for free kicks that do not exist with proper knowledge of the game you support. While I’m finishing – another thing. The free kick count analysis after losing is perhaps the most pointless exercise in the game. Lopsided free kick counts are not the reason you lose. The workrate that occurs for 90% of the winning teams with more frees is the reason you win. Working to tackle, working to front spot for umpires leniency with arm chops, front on contact, push in the back etc. Missed free kicks will happen every week. Stop dwelling on them and focus more on what your team isn’t doing when losing, just as the players and coaches do during the week. Lastly; cease your yelling for frees, unless blatant run downs for holding the ball. The loud cries for ‘BAAAALLLL’ have lost all meaning because they are used every 30 seconds by dickheads that think if a teammate handballs to someone who already has a player with their arms around them and falls to the ground, it is holding the ball. Save it for the spine tingling chases. Less is more!

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