Saturday, August 3, 2013

Days 1 and 2 of the Third Ashes Test at Old Trafford

The monstrous outsourcing conglomerate g4s might be a villain in the English press mainly due to its incompetence supplying security at last years London Olympics, but the light touch approach applied by groundstaff at Old Trafford would be a great model to follow for the aggressive and needlessly imposing security guards who intimidate spectators at some Australian sports events. The smiling reaction to harmless beer cup snakes here at Old trafford was an example that Aussie train and ground cops will unfortunately never follow.  Further props for the short beer and toilet lines at the ground.

Old Trafford cricket ground would remind many Australian sports fans of the charm of approaching a sports ground through the streets of suburbia. Ordinary people in their houses pay no bother to the thousands approaching the oval just metres from their home. The standardization and gentrification of sports grounds in Australia is something to be regretted. So the preservation of local grounds hidden away in an otherwise anonymous suburb is to be cherished by those who don’t often get to see it.

Peter Siddle might be the anti-Shane Watson. In the Australian consciousness Watson is quickly becoming enemy number one. Aussies hate unfulfilled potential more like they hate Marmite, or Stephen Milne, or Mark Neeld. Conceived as arrogant, complacent and under-achieving, Watson is very close to being labelled un-Australian. Only a five-for or a cracking ton can save him now. A smile on field may also help. 

Siddle is a workhorse that does much more than a workhorse. On the pitch in Manchester he is Australia's highest wicket taker and the only quick that can consistently avoid long term injury. Yet here he was bowled fifth. In fact both Starc and Harris got a second spell before Siddle was given the ball. No complaints. No dropped head. If Clarke had waited 100 overs one gets the feeling Siddles reaction would have been the same. Steam in. Put it on a length. Rinse. Repeat. Get an edge. Quality player. Quality attitude.  Quality Victorian. 

The English media had pretty much knighted Joe Root for his big hundred in the last test. Only the royal baby is more important. Just.  This golden boy was Ashton Agar on steroids. Dave Warner's sin wasn't trying to hit a Pom in a pub. It was trying to hit the wrong Pom in a pub. If he had had a crack at wannabe Englishman Trott (nice accent) he might have become a guilty pleasure for the English crowd. Now they hate him. Like all cricketers, Warner is one angry ton away from being popular again.  Or he may need two.  Root can now experience reality.  After the string of shameless, fawning puff pieces of the last two weeks, one spectator has already suggested dropping him back down the order.  The English cricket media can also be embarrassed about how quickly they dismissed Australia’s chances before this test. 

The low down on Australian players: Mitchell Starc is the hardest hitter around. One big step. Back lift. Bang. Could have flailed the poms for another hour.  Rogers is the least likely looking ‘international athlete’ you are likely to see. No back lift. No real follow through. Bang.  Could be/Should be/Maybe is a polite well-spoken librarian in a primary school of a small country town.  Nice 20,000 first class runs though.  Steve Smith is no gun.  In fact his career would be on the precipice if not for the umpires and their incompetence.  Such is the life of a middle order Australian batsman.  Ashton Agar worked nearly as hard as anyone, managing the Michael Clarke glove conveyor belt with diligence.  Clarke must have changed gloves every 6-8 overs for his whole innings.  Clarke is a legend, and as he and Ponting can attest, sometimes the Australian people have to hate you before they love you.  Watson, on the other hand, is not a legend.  Great tight bowling though at the end of the day, but he needs a redemption story that Aussies love, like Davie Warner might write in the next few years.  Haddin top effort. 

Note to Jonanthan Trott: engaging drunk supporters in banter is a no-win situation.  Don’t bring yourself down to our level. Note to all fans at the ground: great days.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas gifts for all: Get tanking issue solved before New Year

It would be a good time for the AFL to finish their investigation and to release their punishment of Melbourne for tanking.  If sanctions are inevitable, December would be the ideal month to make the dees pay.  Neither Melbourne nor the AFL want the tanking issue still in people's minds when the season is about to begin.  And with Melbourne's constant onfield pain, only the most sadistic football supporters want to see them humiliated in public once again.  If they can get it out there now, it might well be all over by Christmas, and other scandals will wash it from the publics mind before the season starts.  And there will be scandals.  

Mark Neeld is right in that the tanking issue will probably not have much affect on the demons playing group as they train through summer.  With the discipline that they commit themselves to football, what player really has time to contemplate what is happening in the boardrooms of the club?  Whether the players suffer from the clubs further loss of credibility or not, they are out of excuses.  Melbourne's 2012 season was dismal.  Some people might remember Neeld's first few months as dees coach last summer, where every second day he was making brave statements about the dees being a tough team to play during his first year.  He even joked about ignoring the advice of media advisors when he honestly answered media questions.  His transparency and availability might have been refreshing then, but as the team sunk from loss to loss, his tough statements looked sad.  This scribe privately wondered if Neeld might have been better to wait for the dees to have some wins before befriending the media sharks.  He certainly learnt the hard way.

Neeld will hopefully be much more quiet this preseason.  Far from talking tough, he will definitely keep expectations low.  Read: when you’re playing in premierships, most sides (have players which) are around about the 100-game mark, and we’re far away from that, so we’ve just got to make sure it’s time spent really well."  Emphasising lack of experience and long term vision is an easy option for a coach, but some supporters have had just about enough of it.  If Neeld continues that train of thought, Melbourne supporters will remember the Bailey years, and the sense of dejavu would be unbearable.  

The tanking issue cannot and will not be used as an excuse.  The AFL hopefully will not take draft picks from the Melbourne.  If it did, the cycle of demon poverty would be amusing, if it wasn't so sad.  After a period of sustained success, call it the Daniher years, the team lost some champions, got a new coach, and went downhill very quickly.  At that time, it was the done thing, and many a famous club accepted the harsh reality of failure as a the first step to success.  Supporters did too.  High draft picks were seen as the best, if not only, way of getting back to the top.  The priority draft pick was an incentive to lose.  Melbourne did just that, contriving to win less than five games and getting said draft pick.  It was, cynically put, exploitation of a flawed system. And if players still tried their best at every contest, then surely it was legal.  But in a cruel twist, the player Melbourne lost so hard to win was taken from them by another 'playing god' flaw in the system, namely salary cap exceptions allowed GWS.  The draft picks have not brought success to Melbourne, quite the opposite, but still the demons will have to answer for tanking during that fateful year.  If Melbourne were successful, resentment would be rife, and the punishment for the tanking years would be harsh.  Because they are not, let's hope the punishment is reasonable.    

Because Melbourne, in contriving to lose games, have punished themselves to a far greater degree than any administrator could do.  They have disappointed supporters much more than simple on-field incompetence could ever do.  They have almost destroyed the faith of long term fans who wonder now if the club has any heart at all.  In an age of obsession with club culture, the tanking administrators have done more damage than a busload of drug addled players could do.  Forget the long suffering supporters.  Think about the players who were part of that dismal season. 

Players like Brad Green, Cameron Bruce and James McDonald had played in a Grand Final in 2000.  They were there when the dees went all the way to the last Saturday in September.  And then, as their careers were coming to an end, they were there to witness orchestrated losses.  Bruce left as soon as he could.  McDonald was mercilessly forced to retire, even though he was the captain and still a top 5 player and the heart and soul of the team.  Green hung around for a few more years of disaster, shafted out of the captaincy for two kids.  Now the connection with the most recent period of success is lost, and current players have no one to look to for leadership.    

Thankfully, Sydney has won the flag.  The idea that you MUST have top 5 draft picks to get to the top 5 a few years later has now been debunked.  There are many ways to win a flag, and hopefully no team will be given reason to lose a game again.  When Jimmy Stynes died last year, most demons fans thought the team would come alive out of pure passion.  They didn't.  The time for talk of the future is well over.  Neeld must put up or shut up and leave.  If he can't find ways to win games and be competitive in losing games this season then he can tell his story walking.  Melbourne have 11 players who have played over 80 games. Add to this Chris Dawes, captains Trengove and Grimes, and previous first pick Watts, and the whole looking to the future card looks a little bit weak. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Summer in Suburbia can be a lonesome time: Young Men in Australia

“It is a cliche to say this, but one of Australia's greatest problems is that young men drink too much, take too many drugs, drive recklessly, break the law, disrespect women, act violently and harbour depressive tendencies.” Caroline Wilson, Nov 24, 2012 
The definition of Cliché: a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser, or strong as an ox. 

Stories about football in a summer newspaper most likely drift through to the keeper with minimum interest from the batsman. Tired fans, instinctually drawn to a football headline, might find themselves at first interested but then disheartened, particularly in November and December. Perhaps this lethargy comes from the heat and the slow silence of suburbia; or the gentle hum of cricket commentary in the background. Or more likely it comes from the sad fact that round one is so far away, distant enough to be almost unreal. And so it seems that attempts to keep AFL in the public consciousness throughout the warmer months are doomed to fail. 

 Is there is a clear strategy from AFL headquarters to maintain media coverage of football during summer? There seems to be considerably more articles appearing during cricket season than usual. This relentless self-promotion and needless attack on ‘rival codes’ might even backfire, as many AFL fans, like James Pattinson, need an enforced rest from the game, whether they admit it or not. Journalists, just like the players, need a break, and a chance to realise the true triviality of a sport and industry that dominates their life and is their livelihood.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The New Football Lexicon - April 1 2011

Snide comments from my fan base aside, I always said Round 1 would provide the inspiration to get leather poisoning back on track. Now the real stuff has started and the yawn-fest NAB cup can be consigned to the blurry drunken memory that was another unsatisfying February. Pre-season form means squat and I could find stats to back me up if I need but I won't.

Histories great philosophers always preferred thoughts over numbers. Sadly, footballs respected thinkers (with some notable exceptions) prefer the safety and certainty of statistics over the lucid and infinitely variable sea that is football thought. Such commentators tirelessly grab at the stats sheet in a useless attempt to make sense of the chaos that they view. Their conclusions are, invariably, baseless, but still they insist on feeding us. For this lamentable stats-based football analysis we have Dream Team and it's followers to blame. As a non Dream Team/Supercoach player and a football thinker of high intelligence, I am constantly offended and not a little bit shitted by networks constant stream of Dream Team scores. That Mitch Robinson was rated amongst the Blues' best for his numbers on Friday night is proof that commentators mainly rate players on statistics. Cotchin overlooked as Richmond's best is further evidence. All commentators bring some bias into their views of games (my bias and dislike of Robinson is hereby disclosed) but using statistics as a way to objectively assess a game is even more wrong.

The bias of commentators and umpires towards Carlton legend/messiah captain Judd is becoming more obvious and irritating season by season His game was alright on Friday night but not nearly worth the praise he received from commentators. One broadcaster gushed at Judd's massive impact despite the fact Juddy had just come on after four minutes on the bench, which his co-commentator had mentioned. Let's not speak of the first name basis Chris and the umpires are on, safe to say that he will definitely poll Brownlow votes in Round 1. Australian football is a riveting game, albeit quite hard to understand at times. If a new viewer is not completely confused by the rules and strategies of the game we should be thankful that some football wordsmiths are doing their utmost to destroy said viewers braincells with a new football lexicon. It is great that every season coaches players and commentators come up with new words to describe the new aspects of the sport. Awesome football commentator but fast becoming over exposed all round good bloke Tom Harley has time and again proven he is not just a pretty face with his cutting analysis and advanced use of the English language. Harley introduced a blitz goal, which I gather means a goal scored very fast, like a blitzkrieg, but with a footy and on the g. He also mentioned ballistic football, which I gather means players are going ballistic on the ground and things are getting messy, like when you mix coke, pills, jager and Viagra. You know it.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Blight on the game, tampering to blame

The following article was published on on 27 May 2010

When I was 14 a friend of mine asked if I wanted to become an umpire. We could play football on Saturday and umpire junior games on Sundays. And earn some extra pocket money. The next Friday night I was down at ‘umpire training’, a collection of outcast nerds seriously practicing positioning, bouncing and backwards running. The following Sunday I was umpiring an under 11’s practice match, more nervous than I’d ever been before a football game. It didn’t occur to me then, but now it is obvious that the league needed umpires. Quickly.

My father drove me to the ground bemused. Having watched over 100 games of me playing, he was not particularly keen on spending a few hours at a suburban ground watching his son umpire. ‘Good holding the ball decision in the last quarter’ was not a comment he really wanted to make. And how would he respond if he ran into someone he knew? ‘Yes, I’m watching my son umpire’. ‘Oh but yes he still plays’. Originally, umpiring junior games was quite a rewarding experience. It was enlightening to see a game from a different viewpoint, to restrain myself from going for the ball and from turning my head to the umpire when I saw an infringement. And after I realised that I was that umpire, I found the job quite easy. Most players with significant football experience have a natural reaction to an obvious infringement. As an umpire, you simply have to blow the whistle and pay the free kick. There is no reason to think. The free kick is very obvious.

The Curse of the instant society

The following article was published on on 20 May 2010

Round 20, 2008. Hawthorn sits second on the ladder and has a full strength team, one remarkably similar to the group that received premiership medals over a month later. In fact their starting 18 consisted of 18 soon to be premiership players. As a tune up for the finals, the Hawks took on 10 th placed Richmond. The Tigers were surging, again, towards an inevitable 9th place, giving their hungry fans a short look at the finals and another number 8 draft pick. Incredibly, then coach Terry Wallace was even fending off questions about a possible contract extension, such was the momentum the tiges were building. At such an important part of the season, the Hawks should have comfortably beaten Richmond, stamping their authority on the competition. Instead, the Tigers led at every change, and ran out comfortable 29 point winners. Exactly 41 days later Hawthorn fans were celebrating an unlikely flag. Richmond supporters were speculating (foolishly) on how their team’s late season form would lead into glory in 2009.

The concept that a team’s round 22 form can lead into good round one form 6 months later is complete folly, as proven by Richmond. In the same way, the idea that Collingwood’s sparkling round 8 form improves their chances of a premiership later in the year is naive. The best thing about Collingwood’s form right now is that the team can maybe afford to lose games later in the year and still finish top four. A football season is much like a football game. Momentum swings are inevitable, and the pies will no doubt lose some of their current form before the finals, be it due to injuries or top players simply losing from. Whether they can regain it is the most important thing. As Geelong found out in 2008, and StKilda in 2009, maintaining brilliant form for the whole year, culminating in a flag, is practically impossible.

Lies, Damn Lies, AFL commentary

The following article was published on on 13 May 2010

It was about 30 years ago that a visionary dad approached the quarter time huddle at his kid’s country under 15 game. To the slightly bemused crowd he said: “I’ve taken two types of statistics. Kicks… And shit kicks”. He was way ahead of his time.

It’s a tough business recruiting, and it’s only going to get tougher. With two new teams coming, all the talk is of recruiters searching far and wide for decent players. Country leagues. Amateur leagues. New Zealand. China. And of course in other codes. Kevin Sheedy’s comments that code swapping will become common place in the next decade are ill-conceived. His comparison to ordinary people changing industries and jobs over their career is also rather naive. He overlooks the fact that professional footballers are trained in very specific skills, have relatively short careers, and do not generally have a long time to acqure the new skills. Players who have played football for long periods during their childhood have inherent decision making skills that are not easy for a mature age player to attain. As clubs and their coaches emphasise relentless pressure on opposition as the first step to winning games, decision making skills are all-important. Turnovers, the result of such pressure, often result in goals, so ball handling and even more importantly kicking skills, are of extreme importance. To suggest that a rugby player, who has barely spent any of his adult life kicking an Australian football, can pick up these kicking skills to reach AFL standard is something of an insult to those who have spent their lives perfecting (or trying to perfect) the art. Other skills such as judging a high ball in flight and bending at full speed to pick up an oval ball are also very hard to learn, even for an elite athlete.

Paying a rugby player huge money to change to AFL is a similar insult and also quite short-sighted. I challenge the idea that paying this money is worth it in sheer marketing terms. Saturation news coverage may be beneficial at the beginning. But if this player turns out not to reach the standard required to successfully play AFL and moves back to rugby after two years, the supporters of the club will be justifiably annoyed that the cash was not spent on a player with an AFL background. The negative coverage that this will generate could be quite damaging to the club and it’s ‘brand’. If any publicity is good publicity clubs can easily contrive a booze cruise scandal and let the media go on a typical feeding frenzy. If this marketing coup is supposed to attract rugby fans to Aussie Rules, simply imagine if an AFL player switched to rugby. Would real AFL supporters follow a player and begin watching another code? Emphatically no. Finally, the recruitment of a player from another code on an inflated salary may also anger players who feel that the recruit has not yet earnt his large pay packet. This disgruntlement could influence player performance and morale.