Welcome to World Footy News Sunday, August 01 2021 @ 11:50 pm ACST

150 celebrations previewed by Demetriou and Sheeds

  • Wednesday, August 08 2007 @ 02:21 am ACST
  • Contributed by:
  • Views: 3,256
General News

The AFL has effectively launched the count down to the start of the celebration of 150 years of Australian Football. Although a range of versions of football had existed for a long time prior, the match between Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College, 149 years ago this week, is widely regarded as the first recorded game of the sport. The 150 will therefore come up in 2008 and AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou has revealed a sample of the celebratory events that will unfold across the year. He has also announced Kevin Sheedy as the AFL's official ambassador for the concept, regardless of whether he takes up a coaching position next year. But were a couple of things missing?

The announcement was made at the MCG, not far from Yarra Park where the historic first match was staged. Key themes in Demetriou's speech were the celebration of Past, Present and Future, and the commemoration of Australian Football the game, not just the elite Australian Football League. This will be pleasing for many who have feared the year could be hijacked to remember only the AFL and its precursor the VFL. Having said that, the accompanying video did appear to mainly show old Victorian Football League footage and photos in terms of the Past. This is demonstrated by the voice over in the accompanying video immediately referring to 96 year old Joe Selwood as the game's oldest premiership player, when in fact surely he meant oldest VFL premiership player (Joe played for Geelong) - or did the AFL search the country far and wide for truly the oldest premiership player in the game? Congratulations to Joe and it is entirely appropriate for someone like himself to be praised at such an event, but let's keep the language accurate and the perspective wide. A Melbourne based journalist some weeks ago referred to the 150 celebrations of the AFL - not remotely accurate whether you subscribe to the VFL fitting seamlessly with the AFL or not. There are still some wounds in the football communities around Australia that continue to fester, and it is all too easy for that to be underestimated by those based in Melbourne. A well regarded Channel Ten commentator originating from Tasmania recently boasted about how his fellow Apple Islanders outnumbered the much bigger football states of WA and SA in terms of numbers in the AFL Hall of Fame. It was either mischievous or naive, as all it clearly demonstrates is that those states are grossly under-represented - pick just about any battle between those states and Tasmania from the last 100 years and their superiority is shown in no uncertain terms. The concentration of Tasmanians in the Hall of Frame is almost entirely a product of their favoured status since they left their own leagues to play in the VFL when few players from the WA and SA leagues bothered. Of course some of the issues are long buried, and good natured banter is not to be discouraged, but there are issues to be dealt with.

No one doubts the vital role the VFL played over much of the 150 years, and the Melbourne media and fans should be secure in knowing that history is not being challenged. What is of concern are the early signs of a heavy focus on their contribution at the expense of the full Australian story. That would be a disturbing trend given it would ignore around 70% of the game's history - the epic tales, grand battles and crucial interweaving of the sport and the social fabric of communities is just as important outside of Melbourne, be it country Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, or indeed all of Australia where the game has existed in many areas for a century or more. Token snippets will not do - if the football public are to embrace the 150 concept then the message has to be strong and sustained - it is the Australian game, and not just over the last decade, but for a large part of this country's written history. The AFL is keen for Australian Football to be seen as an Australia-wide sport now, which clearly it is, but this will be much better accepted and supported if its full Australia-wide history is also embraced.

Demetriou also listed other key events as part of the 150. State of Origin, as previously discussed, will return, with four different models under consideration. Kick Around Australia will see a special football travel to landmarks around Australia, there was mention of a gala theatrical event, a National Footy Day, and the celebrations culminating in the 2008 AFL Grand Final.

Unfortunately WFN was able to get a reporter to the launch, but will endeavour to better cover future such announcements. But sifting through the various media reports so far, no mention of the 2008 International Cup have been found. Whether it was not mentioned or the media chose not to report it is not yet clear. The overall launch video of over 10 minutes did not mention it, nor the 7 minute teaser video. The AFL have access to plenty of colourful footage of international teams in action, their distinctive uniforms an eye-catching advantage, and it would be very easy for some of that to be spliced through the dazzling array of footy images presented. With the Cup being flagged as an important part of the 150, we'll certainly be hoping to see it up there with the other 150 events in future media spots. Maybe it's just a matter of the right people such as the head of National and International Game Development, David Matthews, making sure the marketing people are on the same page. The good news is that there's plenty of time to get this right.

We'd also like to suggest that the Kick Around Australia concept should be extended to Kick Around the World, if not in name then at least in practice. Variations on the theme have been discussed before on forums such as Bigfooty, in terms of a way to promote the International Cup. The theory being to have a rolling game or a kick-to-kick make its way around the planet to arrive in Melbourne for the start of the series. With a decision to add several stops around the world the AFL would significantly boost the Australian profile of footy in those countries (and potentially amongst their own media) and in turn the next Cup, which will be in August and September 2008. If not for the potential cost involved it would almost be remiss to not include other countries - they may not feature heavily in Australian minds in terms of the Past, and maybe not even the Present, but surely they will in the Future. The cost factor could be minimised by leveraging sponsors, or having a separate international ball that could make its way at a slower pace as the travel of AFL officials permits. With apologies to all those omitted, but the international ball could for example journey from Melbourne to Perth, to South Africa, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, England, USA, Japan, China, Singapore, New Zealand, Sydney, Melbourne. Other stops, but adding to the expense, could include places like Nauru and PNG, the two other countries to most embrace Aussie Rules.

This article is not intended as a major criticism of the 150 plans. There were plenty of positives in the launch, and Kevin Sheedy declared that he saw no borders within Australia, and he is also a keen advocate of internationalising the game. And of course the start of the campaign only offers a peek into what will occur in 2008. But we offer a cautionary note that the year should significantly and not tokenistically embrace the game's full history and its current international growth if the AFL is to use 2008, as it has suggested, to build a future for the great Australian game. The opportunity is there - build strong bridges to footy fans everywhere and lead with vision - seize the year.

The AFL's 150 launch video can be viewed here.