THIS IS a wonderful time of year to be in Melbourne, just as everything is waking up for spring. What the councils’ green shirts these days disparage as “exotics”, by which they mean anything that isn’t native, are coming into bloom, so there are sprays and cascades of blossoms and scents spilling over second garden fence. By the first Tuesday in November the roses will be all over Flemington and for a month or two after that, until the first of the north winds bake the Christmas roast before it goes into your oven, there is probably no more congenial location on the planet. The AFL Grand Final is a handy human marker for this annual transformation, a reminder to check the tent and stop by the op shop for a $1 frypan you will not mind ruining over the coming summer’s campfires. This year’s contest, Collingwood v. Geelong, will probably be a fine match, as both their encounters this season have been, the Cats taking both. The first regret of this otherwise splendid season will be that footy is not a game where both sides can lose, as neither Grand Final contender commands the slightest affection at the Billabong.
The second annoyance to soil the season also has to do with footy. It is Andrew Demetriou, who heads the AFL and is seen and heard at Finals time much more than in any other month. You can dislike him instinctively for his looks and mouth, surrender to visceral sentiment and detest the mere sight of a man whom the Great Bunyip fashioned in the image of a proctologist’s butt plug. But that would be a waste of prejudice, because there are so many other, far more reputable reasons to loathe him.
If you are a Tasmanian, it will be for denying your state its own footy team. There are 400,000 Apple Islanders and their passion for the sport guarantees a new club’s success, especially with the government incentives that continue to be tossed on the table.
Bugger them, says Demetriou, who next year will have overseen the birth of two new clubs in parts of the country where the local preference for thick-necked men running each other is unlikely to be shaken, not in a donkey’s lifetime.
In Melbourne, sit through the AFL’s next Green Round – yes, there is one, often played under lights – and try not to conjure the number of homes that could be powered with the rendered fat from Demetriou’s head. If Meat Loaf fails to make this weekend’s game, a guillotine and tumbrel would make splendid half-time entertainment. It would be like snapping the eraser tip off a thick pencil. This being Melbourne, any number of older ladies in the stands will already have brought their knitting.
Or try the Welcome to Country ramble that precedes the Indigenous Day round. Ignore that possum coat and the rent-a-blackfella platitudes tumbling out before the first bounce. To maintain that certain air which tokenism exploits when good manners are present, concentrate on the smoking fire and draw joy from the thought of Demetriou being tossed upon it.
And if none of those options are quite up to what the ardent barracker believes a fit fate for the wretch who is wrecking our great game, consider what the little bastard did today, when he sold out the clubs to Julia Gillard and Andrew Wilkie.
The Western Bulldogs draw 40% of revenue from the pokies, according to the club’s president, and its future, like so many other clubs, depends on those machines. There was a revolt brewing, with Hawthorn’s Jeff Kennett directing some of the spleen left over from the weekend’s heartbreaker at Nanny Wilkie and his belief that human weakness can be remedied with legislation. And then came word that the clubs should stick a sock in it while Demetriou extended a conciliatory hand.
And why, for what what reason did Demetriou lead the AFL's about-face? Because he is concerned for these armies of problem gamblers, who are to be slightly inconvenienced on their roads to ruin, for that is all the practical result of loss limits will be? If Demetriou cared about degenerate punters he would have vetoed bookmakers’ club sponsorships.
No, Demetriou is debasing football and the clubs in order to secure and preserve government monies that help him do further damage to the sport. In Queensland and South Australia stadia are being spruced up with government dollars, nice Labor government dollars.
Demetriou’s plan to force Aussie Rules down northern throats is stupid, but the man pushing it is nothing if not sly. If existing teams are being stripped of talent by the need to staff two new squads, what is to him? He is running a business, and like any tycoon with hand extended he knows on which side his bread is buttered, if not the game’s, and which governments not to irritate. So he will sell out the existing clubs to push his ill-conceived expansion.
That’s the modern game for you. Still great on the field, but an increasingly sad spectacle elsewhere.