The AFL Rule Change That Will Kill Kids' Love For The Game
I remember feeling the atmosphere reverberate from my head to my footy boots.
I remember how my itchy, oversized woolen jumper didn’t bother me.
I remember snapping a goal, turning to Dad and celebrating like mad. I remember the old man’s smile but can’t remember how he’d snuck out on the ground in the first place.
I remember standing there stunned as North Melbourne ran back onto the MCG, Wayne Carey leading the way, to restart the game.
I remember boarding the bus for the six-hour drive home to the country and treasuring every blade of grass I managed to pluck before hitting the change rooms.
Slash the halftime break, as the AFL has proposed last week, and you’ll be taking away those same memories and experiences from the thousands of Auskickers who are next in line.
The change, which proposes cutting the duration of main break from 20 minutes to 10-12 minutes, was floated in briefings at AFL House with chief executives and general managers from all 18 clubs, and is the latest in a string of edits the governing body has either baselessly enforced or used to condition footy fans for imminent changes.
The game I’ve loved before my moment on the ‘G to this day is slowly but surely dying under this constant meddling.
The AFL states it’s progress, but I’m not so sure.
The AFL says cutting halftime by half will make the product more appealing and keep kids and those watching at home or new fans engaged for longer.
Even some coaches and players have come out in support, believing games are too long as they are.
The broadcasters will be happy, no doubt. But are they really thinking of the children?
I’ve spent my fair share of time in the stands and would be hard-pressed to recall a kid tugging at their parents’ coattails begging to go home under the current time-frames because they’re simply bored. Going to the footy, grabbing a record, navigating a pie with sauce and watching their heroes run around for two-three hours on a weekend sounds like they’re living their best lives.
But, the entertainment factor and broadcast dollars seems to have taken precedence over the lifeblood and the very future of the game.
I know, I know, there’s cash to think about and broadcasters do pay big bucks for the rights.
But does that give them and the decision-makers at the AFL freedom to do as they please without the backing of the game’s key stakeholders: the fans?
The AFL says it can accommodate Auskick, opening the doors a little earlier so the little tackers can get on pre-game -- there were even reports of potentially playing them during each break.
This is a throwaway line, because anyone who’s been responsible for a group of Auskickers knows the difficulties of forming a simple orderly line, let alone herding them from the stands to the change-rooms to the ground and back again in the time permitted.
I was able to bottle all those experiences as an Ausckicker because time permitted.
Not only was I allowed to play a game of football on a stadium that usually took my breath away, but there was enough minutes on the clock to take the time to breathe it all in and even notice the small things like a friend hanging over the fence and fist-pumping the air after spotting me from the Southern Stand.
Why would you want to take that away from the kids?
And Auskickers aside, what about the general punter? What if the bathroom calls or if it’s someone’s round or your stomach is rumbling? Try getting through the toilet queues, food queues and bar queues then back to your seat in 10 minutes.
To capture the “hearts and minds of fans” is a commonly used tag line thrown out by the league and clubs nearly every season, but how are they exactly living up to this promise when we’re keeping the kids off the grass?