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Author Topic: Australia's footy wars
Melbourne Arab
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It’s always amazed me that Australia, with just 21 million people, is so good at so many sports – cricket, tennis, golf, swimming, etc. Then there are the four “football codes” (I’m not sure I’d ever heard that expression before coming here and I don’t like it) – Aussie Rules, rugby league, rugby union and football. Now it seems war has been declared and the battle for supremacy is on as the AFL and the FFA seek to expand further into the rugby heartland.

Rugby union in Australia is in a bad way – I know this because John O’Neil the chief of the ARU has said so. He has conceded that rugby union is now a very distant 4th among the four codes. The Wallabies are not very good and are now well behind the cricket team and the Socceroos in national appeal. Participation levels are the lowest of the 4 codes. The new national league, the ARC, lasted just 1 year with disastrous crowds (average of under 5,000) killing it off. The Super 14 attracts decent attendances but there are only 4 teams and it’s not a long season. It’s hard to see how rugby union can ever recover.

The real battle is the NRL v the AFL v the A League. In the next few days, the FFA are expected to announce that the A League will increase to 10 teams with Townsville and Gold Coast coming in. With Wollongong, Canberra and Western Sydney likely to join in the next few years, the A League will be competing head on with the NRL. The extended A League fixture list will inevitably mean a significant overlap of seasons which we don’t have at the moment.

The really big news, though, came yesterday. The AFL is planning to expand to 18 teams by 2012. A Gold Coast team by 2011, a year later than planned because of North Melbourne’s brilliant resistance to relocation, and Western Sydney by 2012. It’s the latter piece of news which has surprised everybody not least the AFL clubs. West Sydney was originally being targeted for 2015 but even that was thought to be optimistic. Now the AFL have announced major investment into a club in Bankstown which will play at ANZ Stadium. It’s highly unlikely that either Queensland or especially Sydney is ready for a second team. However, the AFL has fallen behind both the NRL and the FFA in establishing a Gold Coast team and is clearly determined to get to Sydney’s West before the A League. It took a long time to establish the Brisbane Lions and Sydney Swans and it may take even longer to get the 2 new clubs to a really viable level. However, the AFL has a huge advantage over the FFA and the NRL – massive amounts of cash. The next television deal is expected to generate over $1bn, a figure the NRL can only dream about. Added to that, the AFL’s biggest clubs (Collingwood, West Coast, Adelaide, Essendon) are the biggest sporting clubs in Australia with enormous supporter bases and revenue generating capabilities. Those 4 plus a rejuvenated Carlton and even Fremantle, if they win a Premiership, can prop up the rest of the league. Perth will soon have a 60,000 stadium which will make it’s teams even more powerful.

The NRL are seriously worried – the chairman of Parramatta has admitted the competition is on it’s knees and simply can’t compete with the AFL. I actually think they should fear the A League more – football is making great strides in the rugby states. Melbourne Victory may be by far the best supported club but the attendances at Newcastle and Central Coast have been excellent and Queensland Roar have had the second biggest crowds in each of the A League’s 3 seasons. Even Sydney FC’s much derided support is actually bigger than several NRL clubs. This is the strange thing about the NRL – the crowds are rubbish for a sport that’s supposed to part of the culture. Of course, NRL fans will tell you it’s a television sport but how passionate are supporters who never go to a game anyway? It’s hard to keep track of who is in the NRL with it’s endless mergers. Some rugby league fans are suggesting fighting back against the AFL by moving into their heartland. This conveniently ignores the fact that Adelaide’s NRL team was dissolved due to a complete lack of interest and Melbourne Storm, the current NRL champions, average less than 12,000. If they slip back down the table, half those supporters will disappear again.

The AFL is not stopping at Australia. They now employ 20 coaches in South Africa where 4 clubs have recruitment zones and there are more players registered than in Tasmania. They plan to appoint 10 scouts in Ireland to poach more young players from there. They have played a preseason cup match in Dubai and are planning to do the same in China, South Africa, Japan and the US. Incredibly, one AFL commissioner stated this week his belief that the AFL could ultimately have teams from both South Africa and California playing in the league. Lots of AFL players are on drugs – I think the people running the game must be as well.

Fascinating times ahead.

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jason voorhees
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Great post. As Usual. Thanks.
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jason voorhees
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I have a post in me about the kicking game in the NFL, and how increasingly people are going to camps to learn to be kickers and punters...and with Sav Rocca here there's an opening to teach the game to these types of players who want tackling, are tall but can't shoot a basketball, can't throw a ball far, and like kicking a ball far without playing soccer.

Again the global battleground for gridiron and Aussie Rules is the non-rugby playing countries of Europe, and maybe Africa, and definitely China. Germany has tilted for gridiron, Sweden for Aussie Rules.

Say, if Australia can keep making money from manufacturing and mining, and if they can invest in fields, equiptment and leagues in other countries, they could get a foothold.

There are many, many athletes in the US who aren't good enough to make the NFL, hence the Arena Football League AFL and other goofball gridiron leagues. The same goes for the NBA. But to go after these athletes will take a lot of money and time and investment. The bottom line to this non-post that I'm posting is if they're not willing the spend the money or time, and try to do it half-ass, they can stuff it up their asses. This is no time for pipe dreams, it's time for real hard work that cultural imperialism entails.

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Rory Bunk
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The AFL's push to Western Sydney does seem like madness in a city where a successful Swans side has regularly been outrated by shows on SBS.

However from a talent recruitment perspective it makes sense. The Swans' footprint in Eastern and Northern Sydney has resulted in a trickle-like flow of NSW talent into the AFL. A player a year, maybe two of proper AFL-standard footballers. That's a staggeringly, stupefyingly low catch.

They'll do better away from the affluent suburbs, and where talent for the other codes has more traditionally sprung up.

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Melbourne Arab
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quote:
a successful Swans side has regularly been outrated by shows on SBS
The famous Iron Chef!

Why does Qld produce so many AFL players when NSW doesn't?

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Melbourne Arab
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Some interesting points in your "non-post" JV.

When I heard that the AFL was planning on introducing 2 new teams I thought that's 80 plus new players – where the hell are they coming from when there aren't enough decent players to give us 16 competitive teams.

On Friday night, I went to see St Kilda play last year's wooden spooners, Richmond, in the preseason cup. This tournament is not generally taken very seriously by the better teams (a less prestigious Carling Cup I suppose) but Richmond were at full strength on Friday. St Kilda left out about 10 players and threw in a whole load of youngsters. Despite that, the Saints won by 40 points. There were a lot of players in that Richmond team who had no apparent reason to be on a professional football field. Some of them were very fast but couldn't do anything that involved a ball; some of them were very tall but couldn't take a mark; some of them looked mean and tough but were so slow they were never going to catch anyone to give them a doing; and some of them had dyed their hair to look good but had no idea how to kick a ball to someone wearing the same colours. The number of times the ball floated over the heads of Richmond's forwards straight into the arms of a St Kilda defender had to be seen to be believed.

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Rory Bunk
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quote:

The famous Iron Chef!

Yep, the famous Iron Chef comparison which always gets trotted out. It's stuck in my mind because that very night I too was at home switching between the Iron Chef and the Swans for score updates.

quote:

Why does Qld produce so many AFL players when NSW doesn't?

Beats me, but my guess is the demographic. In Sydney's inner West where I live, AFL is pretty popular. Lots of dads in the park with their kids and a Sherrin. However, when these kids grow up, they are going to go to uni and travel the world, not get seriously involved in a physically very demanding and violent game. The dads are like people out of Love is a Four-Letter World or some other GenX/Y drama. In touch with their manly side enough to love their footy, but far too much a bunch of pussies to be any useful at it.

More seriously, I think there will perhaps be better pickings in the generations which are still under 15. I'm in my my mid 30s, I can't say I ever met anyone out here in my age group or younger who player Aussie Rules, but as I said, you do see a few kiddies around. Surely it can't take much. If Lewis Roberts-Thompson can make the transition from Rugby Union to Swans squad (and a couple of years later, a premiership) after playing the sport a handful of times, it can't be that hard can it?

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Trimster
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The idea of Aussie Rules expanding into South Africa just at the very time when that country is about to stage the football World Cup finals... really does make you think that the administrators of the game must be on drugs as well as the players....

As for the AFL being increased to 18 teams... they probably have the money to do it, so it will happen.

Today's Aussie footy wars involve finances and TV deals.... the real nitty gritty footy wars happened back in the old days- the fifties and sixties- when Aussie Rules used to actively oppose the growth of soccer: to the extent of denying soccer access to grounds, making Aussie Rules compulsory in schools whilst reducing soccer to the level of a game like lacrosse or volleyball, and hiring journalists to write articles of the "a game for sissies" variety.

These days Aussie Rules still has the same delusions of grandeur, but at least they can no longer direct their energies against the growth of soccer.

And I think these days people are quite happy to support more than one code... they would have to be, otherwise I don't know where all the new teams are going to get supporters from....

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Uncle Ethan
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Or their sponsors.

The AFL is taking over the world stuff is always trotted out at this time of year to get TV coverage for annual visits to South Africa by a couple of teams.

The simple reality is that aside from anything else nowhere has the size grounds required to play the game at local level so players will never be developed.

The AFL is certainly in a flap. The Judge looking at the West Coast Eagles reports this week. It has been a probe into player behaviour after a star player finally admitted to Perth's worst kept secret - that he was an Ice addict. Another player nearly died from a reported overdose in America and a former player did die and was a known alcohol and drug abuser in his playing days.

The Eagles are already quietly dropping hints that if they get singled out they will set the ball rolling about how widepsread the problem really is. Two Melbourne clubs, at least, have big name players whose relaxation options the AFL would rather not see publicised.

There are also serious financial problems with a couple of clubs, despite the multi million dollar handouts they get.

Massive media protection has helped them through, and the game is so entwined in the nation's social fabric it will always lead the pack.

Union is a basket case and has been murdered in the Pay TV ratings by the A-League.

NRL is propped up by News Limited, which is having a bob each way by in effect bankrolling AFL through the TV rights payments.

The World Cup appearance has given football a huge boost. I'd venture the Socceroos are now the biggest crowd-attracting national team behind cricket. Two years ago they would have lagged badly in fourth place.

[ 18.02.2008, 07:14: Message edited by: Uncle Ethan ]

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Melbourne Arab
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quote:
Two Melbourne clubs, at least, have big name players whose relaxation options the AFL would rather not see publicised
When it comes to rumour and juicy gossip I'm in a very lucky position. The daughter of my boss is a kids tv presenter on Ten and her boyfriend plays for Carlton. One of my workmates is a former journalist who worked on both A Current Afair and Today Tonight and still has lots of contacts in the media. For about 3 hours last year, the drugs scandal at a Melbourne club now known as The Club We Can't Name was all over the media until an injunction put in place by the AFL prevented them being mentioned again. The AFL made it clear to Channel 7 that, as an AFL broadcaster, it was not in their interests to continue running with the story. What really frightens the AFL is that, last year, a prominent Melbourne journalist described West Coast's 2006 premiership as tainted. The Club We Can't Name has the most talented young list in the game and is widely expected to win more than one Grand Final in the next few years. Their best young player happens to have failed two drugs tests and has serious alcohol and behavioural problems. The image of the brand will be seriously damaged if the truth about this club becomes public but everybody knows who they are and Chris Judd made a very public point of declaring he wouldn't speak to them when they said they wanted to sign him.

The other really interesting story concerns the AFL's most famous television programme and the extracurricular activities of a couple of legendary former AFL players who appear on it. Have these rumours made it to Adelaide and Perth, Trimster and UE?

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Posty Webber
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NRL is not on it's knees.

There's more interest in the comp today than there ever has been previously. The players are better - many of the Pacific's finest young athletes are choosing 'League over Union. For them it's a no-brainer. Look at players like Folau, Inu and Hunt, and you've got world-class athletes who would probably be world-ranked Olympic athletes, or NBA stars, World Cup winners were they born into a different environment.

Right now, as a Roosters fan, I'm absolutely champing-at-the-bit in anticipation for this season. Round one vs. the loathsome Bunnies, and round four against the scum from Belmore will be brilliant. And Origin is getting better every year.

I don't believe that AFL seriously threatens 'League. As Rory Bunk says, your Sydney AFL fan tends to be a bit more refined, and therefore would pose more of a concern to soccer, in terms of stealing potential fans (and talent). 'League will always have a place in the hearts of testosterone-fuelled monkeys like me, and there are plenty of us in NSW and QLD.

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Trimster
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I don't follow AFL drug scandal stories very closely, MA, so wouldn't know about these rumours...

All I can say is thank god soccer here hasn't had any major drug scandals...(yet).

Con Boutsianis' driving a getaway car in a bankrobbery pales into insignificance compared to what has been happening in AFL circles lately....

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blackdogbeak
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quote:
Con Boutsianis' driving a getaway car in a bankrobbery
Jesus!

Anyway, the original post mentions a rejuvenated Carlton - is this some sort of hypothesis, or have they decided to stop being absolute garbage? I got taken to see them a couple of times when I were a nipper, and it stuck with me despite my other family turning out Magpies (funnily enough.)

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Posty Webber
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That's a bizarre quote about Boutsianis above… he could play.

I'd wager that the A-League would be harboring more recreational drug users than the NRL, AFL or Union.

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Melbourne Arab
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Carlton have become the first team ever to have 3 number 1 draft picks in a row which is a measure of how astoundingly bad they've been in recent years. They've also managed to recruit Chris Judd, the best player in the AFL. Added to that they've got immature goalkicking machine Brendan Fevola upfront so things are starting to look promising. They've still got a terrible defence though.
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