These days, the games are only part of the equation. The actual matches are part of the all-consuming swirl of football stories that consume fans for several months each year. The rest of the time, the perpetual news cycle is filled will scandal and speculation, all the attendant issues that exist in parallel with what transpires once the ball is actually bounced.
And 2011 has been no different. There has, of course, been plenty of spectacular on-field action, culminating in this weekend’s grand final, but if you check the sports pages or the fan forums, you’ll find that ‘football politics’ plays an equally significant part in sating appetites for all things footy-related. And this year has thrown up its share of surprises. The AFL is in the middle of some seismic shifts, with ambitious expansion plans bringing two new sides into the fold, precipitating a bumper broadcast deal and some fevered horse-trading for players. It’s also been a tough year for coaches, with younger mentors in vogue. And, of course, the AFL’s never-ending war against the tide of player indiscretions continued.
In April, the AFL exceeded all expectations by agreeing a new five-year broadcast deal worth $1.25bn (£818m). The bumper payday had three major knock-on effects. Firstly, it afforded AFL boss Andrew Dememtriou a serious measure of vindication. Demetriou is unloved by the punters, but overseeing the biggest TV deal in Australian sport proves he is doing a good job. Secondly, it guarantees the existence of all the clubs, which is welcome news for all true fans of the game. Thirdly, it gives the AFL a war-chest to fund its expansion into NSW and Queensland – with two new teams in the mix, the AFL is pouring money into the game at grassroots level, giving rival codes plenty of cause for anxiety.
No season is without its off-field indiscretions committed by players – certainly, the AFL has had its share in recent years. But the nascent issue of players betting on matches took the code’s administration into uncharted territory. After Collingwood defender Heath Shaw was found to have bet a piffling $10 on teammate Nick Maxwell kicking the first goal of the Magpies’ Round 9 match against Adelaide, he was rubbed out for eight weeks. The fact that Shaw was slugged with such a disproportionately harsh punishment – for an offence more reckless than corrupt – demonstrated the code’s zero tolerance for gambling among its players and a commitment to coming down hard on the merest transgression.
The Gold Coast Suns became the first new club to join the AFL since Port Adelaide in 1997 and their first season was a mixed bag. They finished last, which was not unexpected, managing to win just three games. They copped some frightful hidings along the way, and lost three games by more than 100 points. In Round 6, they suffered the indignity of conceding the most points in a first quarter when they trailed Essendon by 93 points at the first change. Ugly. However, their young list also showed glimpses of serious potential, with the likes of David Swallow, Zac Smith and Brandon Matera poised to become stars.
Intrigue at Collingwood
The Magpies love to be the centre of attention but the reigning premiers were dogged for much of the year by conjecture surrounding their coaching arrangement. In a long-standing succession agreement, senior coach Mick Malthouse is due to step aside from the top job, to be replaced by Nathan Buckley, who has done his apprenticeship as an assistant coach. But with Collingwood travelling beautifully, and with Malthouse seemingly as hungry as ever, cracks started to appear in Collingwood’s coaching pact, with Malthouse apparently none too keen on his impending demotion. It remains to be seen how the dominos fall at Collingwood, but Malthouse could well walk away from the club and possibly coach elsewhere in 2013.
Indeed, the frenetic game of musical chairs among the competition’s coaches was one of the features of the season, particularly in the late-season, when the music stopped for more than a few. Adelaide, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs all parted company with their coaches and then, after St Kilda bowed out of the finals in the first week, their coach, Ross Lyon, jumped ship to join Fremantle after they sacked their coach, Mark Harvey. When you consider that Malthouse will likely be replaced by Buckley at Collingwood and that five other clubs – Geelong, Essendon, Port Adelaide, Sydney and the Gold Coast – have men in their first full seasons in charge, it represents a dramatic transfusion of new blood into the league’s coaching ranks.
Giants on the horizon
The Greater Western Sydney Giants will join the league next year and, for much of the season, there was fevered speculation about which high-profile players the new club would sign. As yet, the Giants have failed to land a big fish – the Suns poached Gary Ablett from Geelong, while the Giants have been forced to settle for 20-year-old Tom Scully, a No 1 draft pick only just beginning to make his name at Melbourne. Scully signed a six-year deal with the Giants that will earn him close to $1m each season, making him one of the league’s top earners, despite having played only 31 games. It is a huge gamble based entirely on potential.
Come down to the Elk bar to watch Australia’s Finest sporting event on the big screen with other AFL- obsessed readers!
There’ll be drink specials, cold beers and Jumbuck’s pies to enjoy throughout the game.
Come dressed as your favourite AFL player or a true supporter and be in with a chance to win! Prize £50 Elk Bar tab!
(Please bring your booking confirmation that states your name and
ticket number to the door on the day of the event to gain entry.If you
have purchased tickets for others please make them aware to state your
name on arrival)
Date: Saturday 1st October, Doors open 4:30am Kick Off 5:30am.
£10 Ticket : includes include a VB Beer and Jumbucks pie
Where: Elk Bar, 587 Fulham Road, London SW6 5UA – nearest tube is Fulham Broadway, see map below for directions.
Drink Specials & Jumbucks pies
Entertainment: Multiple TV Screens to watch the big game & best dressed competition!