Saturday, 30 May 2020

Hey Nineteen - Season restart special

Now the prospect of civilisation being wiped from the face of the planet has been temporarily halted we can get back to doing normal things. Bad news for those who have turned 'working from home' into a rorting masterclass, great for people like me whose lives are validated by whinging about footy.

I'd almost come to the point where I could do with footy, but can guarantee that by 4.36pm on Saturday June 16 I'll be pacing around the room like a mental case and hurling foul invective at the TV. It's what the Melbourne Football Club does to me. On the occasion of the game returning (unless somebody catches the big one in a rogue root with a groupie), I thought it was only right to round out the crisis trilogy update. The first two were hardly the original Godfathers but I can assure you this one will be as good as Godfather III.

The most important development after confirmation the season would continue was the release of the first four weeks of the rebooted fixture. Had to sit through a week of drip-fed updates to find out that the AFL's fixturist has gifted us a golden opportunity to either set our season up or implode it like a condemned building.

After everything that's happened between 2017 and Round 1, 2020 I genuinely have no idea where this side is at, so while I assume we're better than Carlton I'm not taking it for granted. The good news is that either we win and get a much-needed infusion of hope or lose to a side that's been rubbish for years and get the chance to blow up deluxe. Just to confirm, if it's the latter we're not going to pay the coach out - we can barely afford to pay staff at the moment, they're not going to take half the list to Cash Converters to fund a termination.

With only 15 games left after that you can all but shut the door if we lose, but the full month will tell you what you need to know. There are two games to follow that we should be winning if we're in any way serious about this season. It's hard to get excited about a sawn-off mini year played under altered conditions but I've not reached a level of sporting zen that allows me to write it off and start again in 2021. If hell freezes over and we somehow turn this debacle into a flag (hah) it will still count. Unlikely as that is I need them to lift my fragile spirits by having the best possible ping. I think even our best only gets us to the fringe of the eight if we're lucky but that will reluctantly do.

A 0-2 start wouldn't be mathematically fatal, but it would leave us in a far deeper hole than at the same stage of a regular length campaign. Let's break the habit of a lifetime, try to be positive and believe that we'll beat the Blues by somewhere between the 5 and 109 point margins of our last two meetings. Then, if we've squared the ledger we have a great opportunity to set ourselves up over the next three games. What are the odds any team called Melbourne will take it?

I care not that Essendon made the eight last year or won in Round 1, they are a mid-table mediocrity that we should take care of if we're anything close to a finals side. But as John Worsfold begins his coaching exit lap we fondly remember handing him his first win as Bombers coach by going to pieces against their B-Side. Which brings up giving James Hird his last victory, a week after they lost by 110 points. History has no bearing on what will happen here, but in my supporting lifetime Essendon sit neck-and-neck with North for most bizarre results (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 148, 9, 10, 11) so I wouldn't be surprised by any sort of wacky result or contentious finish. Don't kick your TV in, you're going to need it for the rest of the year.

Also, this happened once...

... which was a grand old wheeze at the time, but backfired a bit when Hardwick beat us in a Grand Final the next year, won another at Port in 2004 and two flags as a coach, equalling our premiership tally from 1957 onwards.

After that it's a rare MCG game against the Cats. This will no doubt justify sending us back to Kardinia Park with fans next year. Locations shouldn't make any difference, one glorious Friday night aside we've been as bad against them at home as away for nearly 20 years.

This would be the least likely win of the four but it's not completely off the agenda. As bad as we were last year I have faith that our list can beat anyone anywhere, the problem is getting them to perform on the same day. Compare to the years where you would leave the house knowing full well that short of the opposition being blown apart by rogue landmines Mutant League Football style that we couldn't win.

Speaking of that Sega Megadrive classic, did you know it featured an early look at the Neeld philosophy of man management?

It's difficult to comprehend that by the time we play the Cats it will be five years and one week since that breakthrough win against them. After the briefest of flourishes, which still took another three years, we're back in the same place (or worse), while they've done so well to keep the predicted death spiral at bay that they've only missed the finals once in a decade and went within 20 points of a Grand Final last year. I can't even imagine ever having that level of comfort as a supporter. By now I'd be crippled by fear on a weekly basis waiting for it to collapse around us.

Finally, in the much delayed Round 5 it's Sydney at the SCG. A ground where we were shizen for years before breaking through for a win last year. Even that took a Stranglewank near-death comeback. Forget them easily dealing with us at the end of the season, by then we were in total freefall and desperately looking for the finish line. Like Geelong they've been an almost constant fixture in the eight for years. We've been patiently waiting for them to return to an early 1990s state of disarray but it never happens.

You'd like to think we could go 3-1 but at this stage of my life I can't bring myself to be optimistic. I'll say we come out of it 2-3 and in some level of difficulty but not dead. The problem is winning enough of the remaining 11 games. With West Coast out of the way that leaves us to play Adelaide, Brisbane, Collingwood, Footscray, Freo, Gold Coast, GWS, Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Richmond and St. Kilda. There's an equal mix of good, bad and ordinary sides in that group but we're going to need to beat at least seven of them to stand a chance.

It's probably unfair to compare this 17 round season to any other year at the same stage but recent records of eighth-placed teams after that round suggest you need to be 9-8 and have a decent percentage (2015 - 9 wins, 2016 - 10, 2017 - 9, 2018 - 9, 2019 - 9). Have I told you how much I hate the short season? I know it's unavoidable this year, but when it comes to future years restrain yourself from whacking off over the NFL and...

In a sport that doesn't involve non-stop traumatic brain injury there's no reason to compact the regular season into four months. Even the Yanks don't want it, they're going from 16 to 17 games and would play more if it wouldn't reduced the life expectancy of players to below 30.

There's no scientific reason why 22 games works but it's just long enough to allow the season to ebb and flow but short enough that it doesn't over-expose the game with so many matches that none of them mean anything. The evidence is fairly strongly in favour, with record crowds and ratings despite the competition being talked down as if it's worse than rugby union. Spare me the fake trauma about people giving at the end of the year when their teams are shit, that nearly 24,000 people went to our last home game of 2019 should be considered a triumph of the human spirit.

'Fairness' is the only upside to 17 games - and you can imagine the sort of nonsense the AFL would do to stay in the papers for an extra five weeks every year - but even that doesn't impress me. It's only fair to the point where half the league plays and extra home or away game every year and Collingwood never travel to Hobart. It might be as fair as you're ever going to get but it's still compromised to the point where there's next to no value in it.

If we assume you can never balance interstate travel perfectly, the next fairest option would be a 34 game season, which is deadset laughable. Have a lie down if you think that's ever going to happen. You could execute seven sides and go back to the 1970-1986 model of playing 11 other teams twice, but even then teams were unwillingly shunted to Waverley for home games so it lacked something too. The only time it's ever been really even was the 1908-1915 period when University was in the competition and everyone played nine opponents twice on the proper grounds. I'm sure the fairness was a tremendous comfort to them at the time.

It's a nice, utopian concept but ultimately meaningless. Play as many games as you like, good teams will still be good, shit teams will still be shit. I will sell the perceived fairness benefits in a heartbeat for stories like Richmond winning their last nine to make the eight, or Port going from two games inside the eight in Round 17 to finishing a game and significant percentage out. I might be in the minority but that's the sort of stuff that fires my interest, not the 13th placed team having the chance to win a 'wildcard' as if we owe them anything other than scorn for being so low on the ladder. Channel 7 now own the game and will do whatever they like, but let's not fall over ourselves catering for spectacle lovers and allied tradespeople.

The constant moaning is like the Itchy & Scratchy nerds in The Simpsons. "They've given you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? If anything you own them." In this case 'them' is the sport of Australian rules football. I respect that it might not be everything you want it to be (it's not everything I want it to be), but ask that you respect the rest of us by not going to extremes to fix terminal problems that don't exist.

You're not guaranteed bell-to-bell excitement in every match, so how 'bad' does it have to get before you turn off? Maybe give it a go. Forget an extra five weeks a year, if you switch off you'll have a full 52 to do things that make you happy. If enough people follow something radical will probably be done, and sporting conservatives like me will have fewer grounds to oppose it.

The usual whinging continues.
There was a period mid-lockdown where I was ready to consciously uncouple myself from the AFL. I'm here for the Dees until the last dog dies but when it looked like shortened quarters might be here to stay (and why are we still doing it this year now teams aren't playing three games a week?) that was doing to be it for me. If I lived 20 minutes further away from the city grounds I wouldn't cart myself there every week, and likewise I'm not doing it if the games are shortened.

There are obvious benefits to watching on TV every week, but the idea of downgrading my membership to match my reduced commitment made me feel so guilty that I just wanted to pretend footy didn't exist.

Unfortunately, when people realise you're a footy fan they think you're down for a chat about every aspect of the game from Jake Aarts to Cameron Zurhaar. As one of the few people working from work during this worldwide schemozzle, people were looking for non-Corona topics and went for the easy option of footy mingling. After nearly 40 years of operating on my own deranged part of the spectrum I struggle with small talk at the best of times, and while sports are usually a safe subject to muddle through personal contact, it was difficult to slap on an air hostess smile and feign interest when somebody was blathering on about Richmond.

Fans of other teams, I hope that you all have a nice time but I do not give the fattest rats' clacker about anyone on your list who hasn't previously played for Melbourne. Give me Lynden Dunn comeback content until it bleeds from my ears, keep Joel Selwood mopping the floor with his wife to yourself.

As much as I loathe the idea of shortened games, what really put me over the edge was the idea that we'd cave in to the media loudmouths and sort of people who watch nine games a week and act like they've been forced to do it at gunpoint. I'm prepared to sell out on almost any off-field issue including night Grand Finals and rolling fixtures, but lopping 16 minutes of play from every game was the last straw. Like Lisa Simpson, it's the answer to a question nobody asked.

Until vested interests like McGuire and Hutchison started pushing the idea how many people thought the game was too long? You might turn off during last quarter junk time or wonder what you're doing with your life midway through a 1.10 Sunday slopfest between interstate sides but was it really causing you issues? Not bloody likely. Then a few famous heads throw hand grenades and people start to wonder if there is an issue. We change prime ministers based on opinion polls generated from a handful of people but can't use record attendance and ratings to justify the idea that both footy goers and TV viewers are ok with the game. Maybe they're not overjoyed but few are at the stage of wanting to apply dynamite to the foundations.

If Eddie worked for Channel 7 and said "I don't think you can actually ask people to spend four hours at the football these days" you'd think he was just trying to pump up the ratings, but as the president of a well-supported club he may actually believe that this would lead to more live attendance. This is the same sort of optimism that had internationals going gaga for AFLX. At that stage I was ready to give everything non-MFC related away, but was heartened by the almost universally negative response to the idea.

Saving 20 minutes per game may suit you (but really, if you're watching nine games a week do you deserve to save any time? Seems to me you're struggling to fill your weekend) but have some respect for the game itself. Like the reduced season, removing the opportunity for ebb and flow is a recipe for things to become very dull, very quickly. If people didn't hit 6s in T20s do you think people would care? What's the footy equivalent, Luke Darcy's nine point torpedo?

If we have to save 16 minutes I'd hack and slash at the length of the quarter breaks but I accept that this would be shithouse for fans who like to eat pies and sink bulk piss. At the very least we could look at small changes like not waiting for ruckman to run to a ball up and nominate before getting on with it. Just chuck it up straight away wherever it is, let every bastard jump at the same time and get on with it. Surely third man up reduced congestion by putting more people in the air and less on the ground, waiting to pounce on the first person to grab the ball? At least try this stuff before ripping away at the game itself.

We'll see how the rest of this season goes with four minutes less per quarter. About the best compliment anyone's given is that you "didn't notice" it wasn't there. Not that it had any positive benefit, just no negative. Not to one round of games anyway, but spread it across a full season (of 22 games plus finals thanks) and we will miss things. Nobody's going to kick 100 goals ever again but they'll be lucky to get 70, barely anyone will win a game by the ton again, and if your side is four goals down at three quarter time you may as well go home. Imagine how much dinky side-to-side kicking there's going to be when a side only has to protect a last quarter lead for 16 minutes?

Four minutes doesn't sound like much but I was ready to blow up deluxe if it was introduced permanently. Imagine when all the other levers they pull to enhance scoring - as if that's the only mark of quality in this sport - finally work but teams have 16 minutes less to kick goals. They'll still struggle to get to triple figures and perception will be that nothing has changed. We'll end up back in the same place and they'll have to keep ramping up the excitement level until the AFL looks like The Running Man. With your guest commentator Captain Freedom:

Outside of general Collingwood mockery I have no personal animosity towards McGuire, but his ideas on footy are almost as poorly thought out as his Adam Goodes gag. This is the man who wanted the winner of the pre-season cup a bye to the finals, which is where we should have stopped listening to his ideas about competition structure forever. But he's run a successful club so any kooky idea gets a serious airing. I wish I was famous so I could demand the return of the deliberately rushed behind. Why does somebody's success in the 'industry' (*spit*) make their ideas more valid? Malcolm Blight kicked a shitload of goals and coached two flags but he also wanted to put sandpaper on the ball so players could "pick it up easier". Enough said.

Thank Gil the idea has been put to bed. Temporarily anyway. Like the Night Grand Final you can be sure the idea has been kicked down the road for a couple of years. Once Channel 7 find a way to foist 16 more minutes of those dreadful Samsung ads on a captive audience the hand up the league's jacksie will activate and spurious evidence will be used to justify the change. Tellingly, McLachlan didn't say anything like "the negatives of this idea outweigh the positives, we'll work with broadcasters to make watching games more attractive", he just said they weren't considering it "next year." Start by getting some commentary teams that don't talk four quarters of BOLLOCKS.

Contrary to the expectations of people who are paid to watch nine games a week and 'influencers' who are about to put their head in the oven out of despair at the quality of the game I reckon it's still pretty good. Obviously, I would prefer it to be 1991 all over again but anyone who thinks they can recapture the spirit of a past season under modern conditions is living in a fantasy world or conflicted by self-interest.

If you've got any sort of profile your focus should be on getting through this year with as little damage to clubs and the competition as possible and delivering a 2021 that will leave supporters needing to have the smile on their face sandblasted off. Instead they've cracked a Corona Boner that could have your eye out.

Beware of anyone that says "opportunity" or talks to you like you're a moron for having stuck with the game this long. These are the ChangeMakers and ThoughtLeaders who pushed for rule changes to enhance scoring that ended in it going down even further. So why not change the game again, like the people who contributed to an unprecedented 7.5 million attendance to games last year can't be trusted to make their own decisions and need spectacle rammed down their throat like footy Fois Gras.

It's not just administrators who have free reign to fill the 24-hour footy news cycle with ill-conceived ideas. People who are good at footy can also say literally anything and have it reported like they're on the verge of a great scientific breakthrough. Scott Pendlebury's opinion was already irrelevant to me the moment he seriously suggested a 34 game season (at the same time half the players on his list are wondering if they'll have a job next year), but the bit where he seriously suggested a best of three Grand Final series made me actively dislike him.

While a nitwit friendly "everyone gets a prize" wildcard series is sadly inevitable, the idea that anyone thinks that (Steve) hocking a giant loogie into the face of the game's greatest event would be an improvement is so offensive it made me want to filter out everything a footy player ever says again. Even the Melbourne ones, I don't want to have to turn on them as well if they agree.

The violent tuggery over everything American is selective. NBA fanatics want to extend the season and have multiple game playoffs, NFL viewers want to shorten it and have a Lady Gaga concert at half time of a night Grand Final. You can't have it both ways and I struggle to find a problem with the current setup. Here's an American concept for you - if it ain't broke don't fix it.

This goes equally for the game itself. With respect to the people who have and will lose jobs, maybe reduced lists and the decimation of assistant coaching ranks will have unexpected benefits for scoring and open-play, keeping both spectacle creationists and evolutionists happy, and giving Channel 7 the chance to organically play more ads. Maybe not, but can we seal off the rulebook and game structure for a couple of years and find out? There's a lot of changes from recent years that I don't like but can live with. Then we can have some certainty and a proper, evidence based debate at the end.

For now the white knights who are desperate to save the AFL from the best position (pre-Corona) it's ever been in can't even come up with a clear position on what's wrong. Nor can they tell you where they want to get to and how, it's all just piecemeal ideas presented like everyone else was stupid for not thinking about them first. Don't just give me buzzwords like "congestion", tell me exactly what you're trying to achieve. It's like the night I was stuck at work with three 9/11 truthers, all who were convinced something was wrong but had ideas that contradicted each other. Get back to me with a unified manifesto and I'll give it a fair hearing. Until then I reserve the right to hang shit on any suggested change to the game. Unless I come up with one, then it's a genius idea that should be introduced immediately.

Unexpected outbreak of pragmatism corner
Who knows what sort of razzle dazzle wankfest the AFL will be in five years time, but one thing we know is that for the rest of 2020, Channel 7 will be piping in fake noise like an episode of Family Ties to try and take your mind off the fact that nobody's there. Having nothing but the authentic sounds of the game and the inauthentic enthusiasm of commentators is a problem for some people. I sympathise with them, but there's also a point where you just have to decide to take the year off and come back fanging to go in 2021. You won't miss much, certainly not the comic moment when the camera zooms out to reveal 100,000 empty seats making noise.

When this idea was first floated I expected it to sound like the main event of Wrestlemania III, so was pleasantly surprised to hear an example so inoffensive that it's not worth punching on about. I don't know why they needed to consult with Hollywood types to come up with something barely above Sheffield Shield levels of enthusiasm but at least this is one 'innovation' guaranteed to be gone next year. I wouldn't choose it but I can live with it.

I was hoping that Foxtel would refuse to join in so we could enjoy the relaxing sound of Dwayne Russell going off like he's in a burning building five minutes into the first quarter, but given they used it on their NRL coverage it looks like no such luck. At the very least they should use one of their few natural advantages over normal TV to allow people to turn the fake orgasm noises off.

The NRL's hairdryer.mp3 was such an irrelevant sound that it took me about 20 minutes to realise it was fake noise and not just the background hum from support staff and bench players. This was a good thing, and at first it didn't annoy me. Didn't see the point, or how it would enhance anyone's enjoyment of the broadcast but nothing worth starting a picket line over.

But the longer the game went on the more annoying it got. If like me, you haven't had a good night's sleep in about 20 years you'll be familiar with the use of noise machines and apps to try and create and create relaxing noise. The problem is that it's never properly random and you either hear or think you're hearing the same bits over and over again, creating a counter-productive distraction. By the 80 minute mark - a game length that encourages barely anyone to turn up even under normal circumstances - it was starting to give me the shits.

Still, it didn't have a drastic impact on my experience so if it keeps broadcasters happy and other people from self-harming then I'll wear it. Things can always get more ridiculous, novelty cardboard cutouts look silly enough, but the Americans are thinking about digitising fans in the seats. Don't give Channel 7 access to this technology, they'll create holograph Essendon fans to do their block when a free goes against them.

Also, I didn't mind Alistair Clarkson's suggestion of adding two subs for this year only if the VFL isn't played. I say this as a fan of a club that drafted a project player with pick three, but what a waste of a year's development if the kids can't play any games. They can train until the cows come home but it's not the same. This would give us the chance to give players who are ready to play four quarters every week a taste of the big time, even if it's just for a quarter.

I hated the original sub rule because it took a player off the interchange, this I can get behind because a) it adds rather than subtracts and b) it's temporary. I'm sure Clarko will disappoint me with some kooky concept eventually but for now I'm backing behind the man who punches holes in walls and yells at junior coaches. Spectacle fanatics - note the difference between this temporary change intended to benefit players and plain old dicking around with the game in the hope of the 1989 Grand Final breaking out.

Rattling the tin
Back to the familiar club business of being poor. For once we've got an excuse, but after years of debt demolition the fan-free season is going to rip an even bigger hole in our finances than the disastrous 2019 season. Fortunately for us, especially now that we've sold the pokies and reduced our Northern Territory cash grab... err.... commitment to one game a season, the AFL has a fund specifically designed to keep skint clubs from going under. Which is nice of them. (update - perhaps not) This is money we'll have to pay back eventually but at a better rate than what the banks would do to us, and with less chance of them foreclosing on us Nauru style if we can't pay up.

We're in a better position than a couple of clubs - St. Kilda especially - but as expected the fan-free season is going to rip a massive hole in our finances. Not to mention the reduced opportunities for sponsorship when proper businesses are cutting costs as well. We should get a hand sanitiser company on board, one that you can drink Donald Trump style to cleanse your soul after another distressing performance.

Barnet Watch
A couple of our players have NQR haircuts. What sane and reasonable person cares?

Random House
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro, and after the runaway success of my first book (lest we forget, temporarily the #1 'American Football' book on Amazon) I'm pleased to say a real publisher is looking after the next one. My original pitch for an MFC Disaster Years 1965-1987 retrospective became an in-depth look at season 1964.

Forget having to stick to a rigid word count, the hardest part was having to write about a successful Melbourne Football Club. Speaking to a lot of players who played in an era of guaranteed success probably didn't help my mood about being back on Struggle Street in 2020.

For obvious reasons it will lack the self-loathing and full body misery of the original but I think it's going to come out well. I've just got to get back into the State Library and MCC Library for a little bit more research and it will be done, but I've got until November to submit it to the publisher, so if you or somebody you know saw the '64 season and wants to contribute memories please get in touch via demonblogger AT

The actual playing of Australian rules football
In two weeks we'll have a named squad and our first game back will be imminent. The lack of injury updates on the website suggests that nobody has burst a tendon in their Playstation controller hand or dropped a jar of salad dressing on their foot.

If you take our last list and go forward 10 weeks that should mean the only players unavailable (last minute training mishaps notwithstanding) will be popular ethnic duo vandenBerg and Kolodjashnij. Don't fancy seeing either of them again at this rate, though AVB should have one more foot explosion in him before he gives it away. I don't know the status of Hibberd after his recent personal tragedy so I'm factoring him in for now but wouldn't object if he CBF engaging in something so frivolous as football.

Jones and Salem are obvious ins, but I don't see any point swinging the axe otherwise. After the Goodwin speciality of being jumped in the first quarter we weren't that bad against a top team in Perth. Some tidier kicking into the 50 and we should clean this lot up.

IN: Jones, Salem
OUT: O. McDonald, Spargo (omit)
LUCKY: Brown
UNLUCKY: Jackson, Weideman + Oscar, who played his best game in a long time

And the Clarko Plan is adopted I'll have Jackson and Rivers in the green vests thanks. Because they have to wear a vest, otherwise they might sneak on without anyone noticing. They should take advantage of the world situation by wearing masks and performing illegal substitutions like The Killer Bees.

Final thoughts
I didn't think I would be ready to go but I am. Give me all the Melbourne games you can find and I'll pick and choose from the others as we go.

Friday, 17 April 2020

While you were isolating - April crisis update

One month ago the AFL said "piss off pandemic" and boldly decided to go on (albeit in a reduced, broadcast deal fulfilling way). Slightly less than a month ago they slammed the brakes on in a way that suggested shock at getting away with playing the first nine games.

And here we are, with the competition in limbo and a lengthy trail of blood from all the people who have had to be thrown under the bus to keep it alive.

The league didn't have much of an alternative once interstate travel became nearly impossible, but I'm surprised they didn't try to ram through a hastily rearranged Round 2 of local derbies and all-Victorian games to get another nine matches towards completing this already sawn-off 17 game season.

Even if they'd held Crisis Round, they'd have still had to find a time and place for another 135 matches, not to mention a final sseries that won't be able to use the MCG after early October. This should be easy enough to do (relatively speaking) if restrictions are eased by the end of May, otherwise an NRL Island style logistical nightmare will be required to keep broadcast cheques coming. We know the playing of sports is of stuff all importance right now, but this is important for the future of clubs, the more money they extract from Seven, Foxtel etc... now, the less reliance on borrowing later.

People have an automatic bias against housing NRL players together because one of them will probably shit on the hotel carpet, but unlike most sports fans I'm not entirely against the idea. For one I'm acutely aware of the need for the broadcast money, two because it's not me who's being locked in there, and thirdly because I'm high on the novelty value of premiership games being played at NQR venues.

It just might work, especially if the NRL somehow pull it off without players escaping by boat to shag a 17-year-old. The issue with playing in biodome isn't just having to take every fit player you've got to Gilligan's Island (and we're got two more teams and five more players in every matchday squad compared to rugby league), it's convincing support staff and everyone required to transmit the broadcast feed of the games to go as well.

There's no chance this is going to happen in any state where you have to isolate for 14 days on arrival, so while it wouldn't be fair on interstate clubs, why don't they just revive the VFL and do it in Victoria? Can't see a government that is rightly or wrongly mad for restritions allowing it while everything else is shut, but it means you've got 12 teams that already have accomodation and training venues. If you're really made for keeping teams spaced out you could park them in regional towns that have facilities to hold them and grounds that have proven acceptable for TV broadcasts.

Of course, there are now significantly less staff to worry about, assistant coaches, analysts and general tinkerers were the first victims of the Austerity Football League. Many of the assistants will be back eventually, a few analysts will survive, but the tinkerers are fucked. If we get anything positive out of this fiasco hopefully players no longer being coached to within an inch of their life does more for the natural improvement of scoring and 'spectacle' than a decade of jack off rules changes.

Whenever the game returns it will be without crowds, possibly until the end of the year. This doesn't concern me in the slightest, but some people are so nervous at the absence of fans braying like wounded farm animals they've come up with a solution. And what a solution it is. Serious consideration is being given to an idea originally floated by the Lord Mayor of Spectacletown Matt Thompson where some plonker DJ will spin fake crowd noise to provide 'atmosphere'.

AFL 2020 is going to be a throwaway season anyway (what's different Melbourne fans?), so part of me hopes they do this. It will be so humiliating for the sport that it'll give us something to talk about for the next 30 years. Even professional wrestling, a concept that is basically useless without the reaction of live fans, didn't stoop to this level.

For a few days the spirits of the nation were lifted by some American bloke's love of the game, and while his interest was halted in time to stop him declaring the game is no longer as good as it used to be, this will get us back on every sports show in the world. This time with people rolling on the floor, tears pouring from their eyes over footage of 100,000 empty seats making the sound of Frenzy.mp3.

What's next, video game style virtual crowds? Are you that hard up for spectacle? Maybe you just don't want to watch footy anymore, that's fine, we all feel that way sometime. Just take the year off and come back in 2021. There's even talk that this fake noise will be pumped into grounds so players can hear it. Good luck with that, I once stood in the forward pocket of the Ponsford Stand with nobody in the stands and could barely hear the PA system.

By the time this is over the AFL will be saying "yes sir, three bags full sir" to Channel 7 like never before, but this is Fox Footy's chance to take a principled stand and refuse to participate in rampant stupidity. They think there's wide community interest in Dwayne Russell so they can't be entirely trusted, but surely they won't lay the sound of birds chirping over 13:10 Sunday games that wouldn't have had anybody at them under normal circumstances. Dignity, always dignity.

Random thoughts on everything else:

Finance Corner (featuring trading while insolvent)

Against all odds the hero of this near-death experience has been the much-maligned Docklands Stadium. Fortunately I was ahead of the curve and changed my opinion of the place two years ago, because it's just become the ground that saved the AFL. Three years ago they paid $200 million to buy it, now it's being used as security for a $500 million competition saving loan that will prop up 10 clubs.

Contrast this to the NRL, who own bugger all and have only been able to cobble together $250 million to stay alive on god knows what sort of crushing terms, and you'll be out on your balcony doing a round of applause for dear old Fortress Shithole at 8 o'clock every night.

Ironically the ground that ripped piss out of us for a decade is our saviour, the AFL loan should ensure the short term survival of all 18 clubs. Even the ones more pointless and financially stricken than us. The game is going to be on shaky ground over the next couple of years, the last thing the AFL needs is bad publicity for trying to bump off clubs.

For once I choose to think that they'll do the right thing rather than timebomb assistance packages to leave a couple of Victorian teams on the bones of their arse in a few years. What's the point in killing classic teams now, broadcasters will want as many games as possible, nobody's going to spend money to expand the competition, and Tasmania will probably be off the agenda (sorry Hutchy).

While they are doing their bit to keep everyone afloat (for now), for everyone who says there was no way the AFL could have protected a broadcast rights agreement that generated more than half their revenue, may I introduce you to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. They bought insurance that covered pandemics after a SARS outbreak 20 years ago, and will offset the losses of not playing this year's tournament with a $226 million payout. Have they ever considered running a footy competition as well?

The Ideas Shower (guest star: Blue Sky Sessions)
With nothing serious to report on, footy media has been reduced to anyone who's ever played or coached the game being able to float every zany theory non-5G related theory under the sun.

Malcolm Blight has ideas to save the game. Wasn't aware that it required saving pre-Coronavirus but he's obviously got a lot of spare time on his hands at the moment and has decided to be its saviour. Like his stint on Channel 10 again he's just saying whatever comes into his mind at the time, probably unaware that there's somebody on the other end of the phone.

His four point plan - last touch out of bounds, 20 metre kicks for a mark, play on if you kick backwards, less rotations - are a significant step back from when he last tried the save the game two years ago by reducing the number of players on field and making the ball more sticky. These are the people you've got to watch out for, if somebody's got a deep held belief that they're consistent about then I'll argue it with them, but thought bubble dickheads who change their tune every five minutes can safely be ignored.

Not content with being remembered as a multiple premiership winning coach, Mick Malthouse is also trying hard to stay involved in 2020. He thinks that the results of Round 1 should be wiped because of the long gap to the next game. So now we're going to have a 16 game season? May as well just decide the flag with a Lightning Premiership. If you held it at Waverley the locals could watch from their balcony.

Not surprisingly, this half-baked suggestion was received like a turd in the punchbowl. Even though it would mean having a loss wiped from our record I find it laughable, we sent 22 players out who weren't good enough and lost, stiff shit to us, try to do better next time. Kane Cornes saw his job as Clickbait Captain of the Sports Entertainment Network under threat and came out swinging at Mick's wacky idea. He's probably just upset that Malthouse said it first.

Speaking of the Hutchy empire, nobody would ordinarily give the fattest rats' clacker what he thought but as he's done well enough for himself to own a TV show so we were able to enjoy his big idea. He must have thought the talkback airwaves needed a rev up so suggested including a hastily constructed Tasmanian team in this year's comp - the one that nobody knows where or went it will be played. This strategy backfired when he presented an idea so loopy it couldn't even be seriously debated, living and dying in one segment of Footy Classified that should be submitted for a Logie.

In HutchyLand, the team's list would have be partially staffed by a short term loan of two Tasmanians from each team (Kade Kolodjashnij, come on down) and presumably a couple of out of work lumberjacks. This is the sort of person that qualifies as a powerbroker these days, and the reason why in two years we'll be playing 15 minute quarters with 16 players in zones.

If you thought that was bad, the follow-up show (another Hutchy production) featured Liam Pickering and [?] feigning righteous indignation about the ratings in a video game. Your Andrew Bolts of the world are skilled at pretending they deeply believe something when they're just doing it for clicks, Pickering's acting was so wooden you could have made a table from it. I haven't seen filler content like that since Fishcam.

The next frontier for filling time is arguing about the draft. With the disruption to junior competitions I'm sure the minimum eligible age is going to be increased this year, and will be left like that forever. The AFL has wanted to do this for years, now they've got a convenient reason. Matthew Bate sees a one world government, I see Steve Hocking as the face of turning footy into a wankfest.

Luke Beveridge wants the minimum age to be 19, Damien Hardwick hates the youth of Australia to such a degree that he wants it to be 20. I want to vom. These people obviously know more about what happens at clubs than some poon on the internet but is this not an unnecessarily harsh penalty on kids who can cope with the pressure? They're making it sound like being drafted to an AFL list is the worst thing that can happen to you - maybe have a look at how you're running your business before shafting talented kids?

It's noble to let kids finish Year 12 and give them time in the real world, but for every one that flames out after being drafted surely there's more that benefit from entering an environment of structure and discipline? What are they all supposed to do during the extra year, get a three year uni degree? Can't see too much enthusiasm about working towards an AFL career from 14-years-old, getting within touching distance of your dream, then having to go and work at the McDriveThrough and do your knee playing for free on the weekend.

The same people crank it over American sports like kids in the college system don't have the same instant pressure to perform, as you can see from this picture of a friends and family 4.40 Sunday style crowd watching the University of Michigan:

If the mental health of Australian youth is so important, what about limiting the number of 18-year-olds a club can draft and putting restrictions on what they can do for their first year on the list. Say they can only play a certain number of games, train a certain number of times a week etc... etc... For mine this is still an overreaction, but better than screwing talented kids out of a year of development and payment just in case something goes wrong.

It's the sliding rule all over again, a few people had their leg snapped so we try to legislate accidents out of a sport where you can legally knee somebody in the base of the skull while taking a mark, leading to unnecessary confusion and disruption. At least the draft age would presumably be a hard and fast rule (wait for the academy exemptions) that you can't police to within an inch of its life one week, then forget about after Round 23.

Next we get to punch on over how this year's draft is handled. In theory, a 17 game season should provide the fairest draft order known to man, but considering teams are going to be playing three games in one week in Swan Hill then not again for two months there's a decent argument that the system is too compromised to go on like normal.

I only partially say this out of self-interest, but I'd dish out picks based on this year's ladder order with all the future pick trades pushed to 2021. Still leaves us at risk of handing the Roos a primo pick then, but also gives them better security that they'll pick a player who has been properly scouted. They gave up a player in a real draft to get one the next time around, you can't expect them to use it on a blindfold pick of somebody who's missed a year of development.

No doubt somebody will suggest using last year's draft order again, which could go either way for us - future trades and concessions aren't included and we get pick 2 (hooray), or they are and North gets pick 2 without having to wait for us to collapse on field first (boo). North's CEO would rip a tendon rushing to sign on if they offered the latter.

This year
If the season goes past early October, the MCG is out due to the T20 World Cup. I hope they make Perth's dreams of hosting a Grand Final true but nobody is allowed to go. Based on Round 1 you could play it in a Wuhan wet market and have players drinking bat soup from the cup, we won't be involved.

Writing everything off based on one away loss to a top team is risky, but while I think we could still make the eight I'm confident that we can't win the flag. I'm still confident that we can beat teams 5th to 18th but are nowhere near top sides.

In theory we've already got one out of the way (no thanks to Mick Malthouse), so there should still be plenty of opportunities over the next 16 games to take advantage of lesser teams but 30 years of following Melbourne has left me naturally pessimistic so I'll wait to be convinced. Feels like a good time for a team that went all out to drill fitness into its players over summer to get screwed by the league unexpectedly shutting up shop for several months.

Give me a date for a Melbourne game and I'll get excited, but whisper it quietly I'm not even missing footy that much. Bad luck to my family having to spend more time with me on weekends, but maybe I don't need it as much as I thought. It's not quite like your team folding, it's easier to take because everyone's in the same boat and you don't have to see the game playing as normal without the side you cared about. The worst thing has been the effect on workplace mingling, I'm down to weather, Coronavirus or hiding in the toilet half the day.

It won't come as a shock but what I really miss is the statistical side of the game. This is consistent with my interest in most other sports, 'm keen to know what's going on and how but can take or leave the contest itself. Satisfying my desire for simulated scores, realistic looking goalkickers, and a clock ticking down in real time has been Squiggle's Virtually AFL season.

Last week I was checking in on the end of our 'game' against St Kilda like it was real, and actually let out a yelp of celebration when Tom McDonald kicked a goal on the siren to win by a point, before catching myself and realising that this was a bit of a silly way to act. Only out loud, internally it's right up my alley. If only there was a proper AFL simulation game like Out of the Park Baseball where we could play it (and historical seasons) out ourselves. I could probably do without for the rest of the year if that was on offer.

Meanwhile, everyone's doing flashback games and replays, and I'm no exception. On Saturday we're doing watch parties of old MFC games on Facebook. I can't promise every game will be a solid gold classic, but unlike what the AFL and Channel 7 serve up I guaran-damn-tee you that Melbourne is going to win. I'm also continuing to smash away on Demonwiki, where we've reached an enthusiasts only level of new information.

Next year
Who knows in what form or health, but I'm 100% confident there will be a Melbourne Football Club for the 2021 AFL season. I'm just concerned that they'll be playing some bullshit form of the game that doesn't interest me. It's almost certain that they'll keep the shortened quarters, which is the tip over the edge I need to stop going to every game.

Probably lucky I had a year to get used to the idea of not going to games almost every week, because as much as I love being at a game, if there's 20 minutes less of actual play every week I can't see the justification in travelling an hour when I could just watch on TV. Maybe that's what they want, until it backfires on the atmosphere wankers and they have to get the DJ back in to sweeten the crowd noise because people are losing interest.

I want to keep paying for the membership with a reserved seat that I don't even use now and a Grand Final ticket guarantee that has done nothing for me in a decade other than cost me another $5 in 2018 but I won't if I'm not going. Will support the club until one of us is in a box, but I can't be slinging money around like a drunk sailor if I don't respect the sport itself.

On that cheerful note, I haven't got a clever outro so see you for another update in mid-May, or when something major happens.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Behind closed doors

After 160 seasons of gags about us having no fans the inevitable finally happened and we played in front of zero paying customers. I always thought it would come to this, this only surprise is that the rest of the competition came along for the ride.

Nobody was doing it by choice, but if playing in front of empty stands was the price to pay to have something to think about with the country about two weeks away from The Purge breaking out then that was ok with me. More importantly there was the long game of trying to keep the AFL and clubs afloat after Channel 7 come knocking with their hand out to get a refund on the broadcast rights fees. We've come a long way since the competition was in such rude financial shape that they could afford to spend millions importing semi-interested rugby leaguists for expansion sides.

Hanging shit on the league is a national sport around here, and as of a few days ago I was floating conspiracies about them taking the opportunity to stick with shorter quarters forever, but they tried their best to make sure the 17 game schedule was delivered. They had to, not only are their high paying jobs on the line but they'd be well aware of the cataclysmic effect on club finances when they can't replicate the $314 million they distributed to clubs last year.

The next TV rights deal was already a ticking timebomb for a competition over-leveraged to buggery on broadcast money, now it's prematurely gone off and they'll need a forensic Air Crash Investigation style team to stick it all together again. You could have forseen something like this happening, but realistically nobody expected a situation where the world is crocked by the playing of sport was still feasible - we thought more likely an asteroid would clobber us or rising sea levels would wash the eastern seaboard away, something that would have made footy impossible to play. Now we've got several hundred players, thousands of support staff, empty arenas all over the country, and a host broadcaster that lost $400 million last year and has had 1/22 of what it paid more than that to show this year.

I don't know if there was some insurance scheme going on, but the AFL dithered throughout the week like they were waiting for somebody else to make the decision for them. Eventually they decided to go on, and by the way Gil ended the week looking like Marty Feldman I accept that they were under all sorts of pressure. If somebody's not already working on a documentary called Round 1 then the media is kidding themselves. Get a start on it while stuck inside for 14 days, do the interviews when enough time has passed for it to be hygenic, factor in the aftermath in a few months and drop it right before next season (presumably) starts. This could be the greatest AFL story ever told if it doesn't end in voluntary administration.

Much to the disappointment of people who think you can turn 18 businesses with a $50 million turnover on and off like a tap, they did their best to go on at a reduced capacity. We already knew clubs were still going to be in deep financial shit based on the loss of gate reciepts, corporate hospitality, memberships, merchandise etc... the idea of getting some sort of season away was important in making sure the league was able to provide the safety net to help clubs stay afloat. I don't buy any of these pearl clutching theories about it sending a bad message to the community about isolating, it was the right thing to do for their industry, and a low enough risk that you wouldn't be able to pin the end of Western civilisation on it.

For three days the idea worked. While we all knew the season was on borrowed time and would be pulled up eventally, and the empty stadiums were a bit strange, footy gave people an outlet to do something else other than bulk buy TP and feel sad. There even time for a Coronaboner when sports starved Americans discovered the game. As one of the two games not televised in the US we didn't even get to participate in that - though you'd have to be a masochist to willingly follow us. One TV station decided they were going to be massive fans of the team that plays at the MCG - Richmond. It's enough to make you put your head in the oven.

Not everyone was satisfied with the compromised start of the year. Players wanted 22 games (and so did I, completely ignoring the reality of the situation and focusing on my own interests), Channel 7 didn't get the chance to cut to shots of defectives hurling abuse at umpires over the fence, and some were rattled by the lack of crowd noise. For mine it just looked like when they have a VFL curtain raiser at the 'G and nobody is there to see it, I was otherwise unmoved by the silence. Which should come as no surprise given my long-held views on isolation at football grounds. Some had the corny idea of piping in fake crowd noise to create 'atmosphere', and I'm sad that didn't happen because it would have replaced Leanne Cock as the funniest thing to ever happen on Australian television.

Then, as usual, Sydney ruined everything. 5000 people enjoyed a night at Virus Beach, the country shit itself en masse about people not taking 'social distancing' (CLICHE) seriously and started slamming down travel restrictions down left, right and centre. We could have gotten away with Tasmania and the Northern Territory shutting their borders, but when South Australia joined in that was curtains for the AFL. And thus, two hours before our game started we already knew that there wouldn't be another one for a minimum 10 weeks. This cast an air of disappointment over the contest, shortly before we smothered that with the doona of negativity.

I'd love to know if they floated the zany idea of temporarily relocating all 18 teams to Victoria carrying on like the VFL had risen from the grave. You know how it would work, give them a couple of weeks to work things out, shift everyone here, dish out bullshit grounds like Casey Fields to interstate clubs and carry on regardless. It would have looked stupid and been rough on players - especially those sitting around in a hotel room for seven days a week because they can't get a game - but given the choice between the mooted 20% pay cut and the 50% now looming they might have gone for it. Could have made Sydney and Brisbane perform as South Melbourne and Brisbane respectively.

Alas there was no miracle solution or NRL style attempt to play the competition on a mining complex (imagine the carpet cleaning bill after 500 rugby league players have been there for a few weeks?), they bowed to the inevitable and the season died with dignity. Which made the playing of the only full game after the news came out seem like a waste of time. Except that after waiting since August 24 for another competitive, meaningful game I was prepared to suspend my disbelief for a couple of hours and pretend it meant something.

If footy returns this loss becomes relevant, because in a 17 game season losing the opener instantly puts you on the back foot. 22 games is a one dayer, there's plenty of time for ebb and flow - 17 is T20, where a shit start means the game is over for everyone other than the betting community. Imagine we still had to play the Giants next week? I take back all those years where I demanded good teams in the first few games so we could test ourselves. That was only because I knew we wouldn't make the finals, now it's expected that we'll at least be fringe contenders and I don't like the idea of only having 15 games to battle back from 0-2. Will it matter? Probably not.

Pointless as it was, the contest allowed us to answer that time-honoured philosophical question - what is the sound of no mouths booing? And would an interstate team finally get a free kick in Perth if locals making noises like a constipated cow were removed from the equation. Footy Unplugged narrowly got got us over the line in free kicks 11-9, only for us to waste any advantage by kicking into the forward 50 like arseholes again. You can change the world in the space of a month, you can't change the way Melbourne go forward.

It was another example of necking ourselves in the first quarter and being left to chase a significant margin. No chance of a Stranglewank here, the Eagles were too good to let us get close, let alone to a point where we may have threatened a boilover. I'm not here to sack Goodwin - god knows we won't have the money to pay anyone out now, let alone the senior coach - but the ratshit first quarters under him deserve scrutiny.

Since 2017 we've been down by 20+ at quarter time 12 times in 70 games, which is better than Neeld's 11/33 or Roos' 16/66, but they were in charge of slop. That's not even taking into account games where the slide continues after quarter time. This is a good team (on paper) that starts like a busted arsehole and rarely recovers. In an unwanted throwback to 2019 (and let's be fair, some parts of 2018) we weren't that bad, just incapable of taking advantage of opportunities, leaving the ball to spring back off the Demon Trampoline at warp speed, putting the backline under so much strain that they had to crack eventually.

Under the circumstances the tall defenders did well. Well not to tell their teammates to piss off and storm off to sit on the bus until it was over. The smalls... not so much. And after a few minutes at the start where we were competitive, the Eagles showed us the joy of having a spaced out forward line with people standing on their own. If the season ends here we managed to get a Kingsley in, allowing journeyman forward Brendon Ah Chee - likely not even playing if the other bloke hadn't substituted Red Bull for urine - to run riot. In this time of shortened quarters one 16 minute domination session is enough for me to add his name to the list.

For most of the first quarter it was, if nothing else, less of a fisting than the infamous Preliminary Final. Classic Viney was scrapping in the middle like society had already collapsed, Pickett flashed onto a loose ball and nearly kicked a spirit-lifting goal, and Langdon was sweeping up everything that went near him on the wing. Shame he was kicking it with a peg leg, but we were delivered goods as promised - lots of speed, suspect delivery. Still played a good game compared to many of his teammates. I'd prefer him streaming down the wing than Michael Hibberd, who demonstrated a near sexual fetish for hammering the ball inside 50 and straight to a defender.

I'd love to tell you how bad their disposal efficiencies were, but in their pre-crisis wisdom the AFL website completely buggered up the player stats. Never thought I'd think back fondly to the functional but detail light original. Until I discovered this:

That's all the stats you can get - and the Dream Team numbers are so very important - in alphabetical order, with no way to filter out any team not called Melbourne or sort the columns. Suspending the season is almost preferable to having to use this. They've got bigger issues at the moment but just a filter and column sorting would be a start. The IT department is probably redundant as of this morning but there's got to be some 15-year-old kid who understands this shit and can fix it in exchange for a signed footy.

For 15 minutes it was like watching our AFLW team, with the backline barely hanging on because the forwards couldn't convert for shit. Then whack, whack, whack and whack went the Eagles and we were five goals down in the blink of an eye. Can't even blame a curse on our training facilities since men and women shifted to separate venues.

The bit where it was most 2019 was when a centre bounce skewed in favour of Nic Nat, and as Gawn stood back waiting for him to tap it to somebody the Rich Man's Stef Martin just grabbed it one handed and pumped the ball back into attack. That's when I half contemplated switching off, before realising that I will always be a Dees Nuffy and keep watching no matter what.

Ending a first quarter in Perth 30 something points down without kicking a goal, didn't that bring back memories of days past. Remember the glory days of September 2018, when the Dees were on the way up, interstate travel was unrestricted, and you could still duck down to the shops for a milkshake without being shot at by a paramilitary strike force. 63 point half time margin aside it was truly was the better of times.

The rest of the game barely deserves coverage. You don't care, I don't care, nobody bloody cares. Anal-Bullet did kick a nice goal out of a pack when everyone had given up waiting for the umpire to blow his whistle, so at least we had one goal on the board. In no way did I expect this to be the start of a miraculous, Lily Mithen-esque comeback. And indeed it was not. He does get the Aaron Davey nomination for the week, so that's some sort of high to end your season on.

Meanwhile, can I tell you how I hate Harmes in the backline with a passion. It's a complete waste of him, he's more useful in the midfield than Brayshaw and I hope that by the time footy returns and Salem is fit that this ludicrous concept will be put to bed. If that means Brayshaw is dropped then bad luck, he's solid but Harmes is better. Salem may be required to replace more than one person, because we also have to 'look after' Hibberd too (in the sense of a dignified exit). Not sure Nev isn't losing significant ground either. Lockhart moved well in defence but that's a work in progress, and suddenly it feels like we're half trying to go for it with players like Langdon and Tomlinson, and half in a rebuilding phase.

Forward Fritsch didn't live up to Coleman expectations, but can you blame him with that sort of delivery into the 50? He was still the only player to make a half decent go of the mince that was being aimed out of the midfield. Mitch Brown didn't get near it but I don't blame him, Tony Lockett would have struggled to contend with having the ball panic bombed to the point where you'd have to be Shaun Smith '95 to mark comfortably.

Same goes for Tom McSizzle, but he's not entirely blameless either. Stop backing back into packs like the ball is going to fall neatly to you, everyone's sussed this move. Sure you've had multiple leads burnt by horrible forward entries but you just have to keep going and make them change what they're doing. Still, you wouldn't argue if he kicked two goals a week by any means necessary. If he keeps that up for the rest of the season he'll end up on.. two.

Literally the only interest from the third quarter, as I started to adjust to the idea of not watching this rubbish for a few more months, was Kysaiah (not Kozzie - work on spelling his real name right and you'll get it eventually. Let's not have any of this Buddy, Jeffy etc.. rubbish) Pickett running relatively riot. There was not much to come out of this that I wanted to see again next week but he looked like a natural. We'll soon coach that out of him.

By three quarter team Team Gaff had Team Gash well covered, and the shortened quarter meant that Spartan fitness regime or not there was no chance in hell of overtaking them. That's your lot when 16 minute quarters become the norm (and they will, because after this Channel 7 will get everything they ever want including floating fixtures, 6-6-6 finals, and BT as the CEO of the competition) don't expect to see your side ever come back from five goals down in the last quarter again.

We kept it fragrant after quarter time but the performance did nothing to dispel my theory that we wouldn't be able to go with top teams this season. However, I do think we'll kick shit out of a few lower sides and fellow mid-table strugglers if we ever get the chance to play them. This might not be such a bad thing, it could still land us in the lower reaches of the eight if we're lucky, but if you think there's a premiership just around the corner you've been drinking 600ml bottles of Methadone.

So that's it, everyone go your separate ways and we'll see you in June (?). Should give them plenty of time to review this to see how a consistently good team plays. Here's to half the squad coming back looking like they've sucked air from a hose and the one or two who'll be keen to know if off-season drug testing still counts as an essential service getting away it.

Also, Jake Lever. Your moustache looks shit at the best of times, but in play it makes you look like you should be invading Poland. Please attend to it during the break.

2020 Allen Jakovich Medal
If the season never comes back it's lucky we've got leaders in all categories except the Stynes. This is probably the longest standing club award outside the Bluey Truscott so perhaps I should protect its integrity and not award anything if there's no a minimum number of games played. Watch this space. But not anytime soon.

5 - Jack Viney
4 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Ed Langdon
1 - Kysaiah Pickett (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Apologies to Oliver, Lever, Neal-Bullen, Harmes and, Lockhart

In these tough times noted humourist Gerard Healy gave us all something to smile about when he said he was going to "enjoy the next two hours". Which was a change from the last decade of moaning for four quarters every week.

Speaking of Fox Footy, soon to be the second least viewed channel on Foxtel behind the Jesus one:

a) Who thought playing the menu music from a Sega Megadrive game after goals would add anything? Makes it sound like somebody's playing Ecco the Dolphin after every major.
b) The on-screen scoreboard is awful. It's equally as 1994 as the soundtrack
c) Gerard Whateley doesn't look at all comfortable doing that Robbocop ad. Sufference definitely involved.

Next Week
I didn't want to play GWS next week, but this is an extreme way to get out of it. See also all the other games until winter at a minimum, and that's not a time of the year where anyone gets flu like illnesses is it? What about poor old Nathan Jones, this has shot both his 300 games and a run at Neitz's record. Even in a pandemic my thoughts are still with Jones. I would give him my last roll of toilet paper.

With no actual game to watch I'm going to put on a weekly Facebook Watch Party of classic content. Had to give myself a crash course on how to do it this afternoon but it seemed to be ok. The only issue is that it turns out I stopped downloading torr... err... legitimate copies of our wins at the end of 2013 so the options are a bit limited at the moment. Trying to get copies of the two 2018 finals in a usable format, but we might have to go for a few classics from the vault in the early days. Please contact via the usual channels if you have an easily accessible stash of 2014-2018 wins.

Final Thoughts
As they used to say on The Virology Show, it's been a big month in illness. On March 1 my season preview didn't mention Coronavirus, Covid-19, or the prospect of our season being stopped for any reason other than good taste. Less than 22 full days later the whole competition is walking the Brad Green Mile, and there is no longer rock solid certainty that clubs are going to come out of the other side of this ok.

If you're a bored billionaire this would be the best time to amuse yourself by proposing a new competition, with club costs bankrolled for the next few years until they get back on their feet. There's no reason for this to happen, but if you're loaded and looking for something to do while you're in lockdown it would give us something to talk about.

Unless you really need it give your club this year's membership money as a donation. I'll be getting even less use out of my reserved seat and Grand Final guarantee than ever before but this isn't the time to be scrambling to save every dollar, especially now they're shutting brothels down.

Whatever happens we go again, in the unlikely event that the AFL dies under a mountain of debt and the Melbourne Football Club is dragged down with it then we'll start again in whatever competition - top level or otherwise - will have us. Lineage that goes back to 1858 will continue in one way or another, even if I have to go down to VAFA HQ and sign up to start a team in the Division 4 amateurs myself. It shouldn't come to that but we have to remain vigilant.

Not only has the men's season come to a crashing halt, but the miraculous victory of the women on Saturday is now worth nothing except memories because their season has been stopped too. They don't even get to come back and play the last two rounds in August, they've had the plug pulled entirely with no premier to be awarded. Bit rude, but that's where we're at.

So, with no new Melbourne FC content in any format, unless there's a need for a midweek Crisis Post I'll be off blogging again until games resume. If you need me I'll be hosting the watch parties on Facebook or doing doing the usual discount Titus O'Reilly schtick on Twitter.

May you and your families stay safe in this arsehole of a time. Play us out Charlie...

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Standard 'post delayed' notification

Hello AFL season 2020. Goodbye AFL season 2020. I've got 10 weeks to write my post and it will take longer than that for anyone to give a rats about such trivial matters but I'll still try to get around to it Monday if I'm not digging a plague pit.

Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link. Send any thoughts on the game via the usual channels and I'll incorporate/shamelessly steal them.

Miracles in an emergency

Before we start talking remarkable finishes and heroic victories, let's admit that in most ways this has been our worst AFLW season yet. We peaked at five wins in season one, and at 39.85 points a game last year. This season it was 4-2 and 34 points with a potential strangulation by an unbeaten side to follow. It's good to know some things never change though, losing last week left us perfectly poised to miss the finals by a slender margin again.

Enter the Coronavirus. You may have heard of it. With the league needing a sacrificial lamb to pretend they're taking public health seriously and not just playing the men's game to protect broadcasting rights, AFLW season was curtailed with two games to play.

Rumours of going straight to the Grand Final were unfounded, and instead they ambitiously decided to try and get three more weeks out of the competition. In classic AFL fashion that announcement was a cock up, suggesting that only the top two teams would qualify. This seemed feasible under the circumstances, before a few minutes later they had to clarify that it was actually going to be an eight team series - in a 14 team competition. This was a bit excessive, but I think we're clear that the AFL has decided to use this worldwide crisis to test all the nuffy shit they've been dying to do for years.

Though playing the last two would have likely seen us fall to fourth, we weren't an entirely fraudulent finals side. We were in the top three anyway, and while I doubt that would have survived playing the Dockers this week we were in the right place at the right time when everything that didn't have A, F and L in it ground to a halt.

Given that Collingwood was only behind us on percentage and had nearly beaten Freo a few weeks earlier. Adding them meant you had to find an eighth side (though did you? Couldn't just give the Dockers a bye?), which was good news for Gold Coast. Teams that have lost more times than they've won playing finals - welcome to the AFL's dreams. They played the part of space fillers to perfection, losing to Freo by 70. We'll handle the fairytale finishes in this round thanks.

So, after three years of last gasp misses than ranked somewhere between heartbreaking (2018) and brutally inevitable (2019) the sweetest words of all were de/fault. The general effect on the global pandemic has been extremely poor but if it's worked for anyone it was the mid-table mediocrities of AFLW. We were well on our way to demonstrating that they should have just picked the top two on either side before some deadset bonkers shit went down.

Realistically, it would have been hard to get properly upset if we lost. In a season where knees have been popping like bubble wrap, we also lost both the Irish players to the fair enough idea of getting home while they still can. This meant picking a first gamer who was a mile off the pace, a ruck who was in no way 100% match fit, and a handful of others who wouldn't be getting a game on form under normal circumstances.

Alas, there's no connection between realism and being a footy fan, so as we were sliding to our doom in the last quarter I was becoming annoyed as if there isn't much worse to worry about at the moment. If we'd just flat out lost it would have been easier to take, but we were rising above all the handicaps to play so well in many parts of the game that it was frustrating to see it break down so often while going forward.

Libby Birch was safe as houses in defence, the star midfielders were doing what the star midfielders do, and the return of Lauren Pearce in the middle was much appreciated, but whenever the ball got near our forward 50 we went to shite. It wasn't even the usual hopeful long bombs and endless stoppages in front of goal, just rubbish that broke down before it even got there.

The Giants weren't much better, contributing to a quarter time score of 2-1. This was great news for people who like to hang shit on AFLW, but you'd have been hard-pressed to try and spin it as anything approaching a watchable quarter. I say this as somebody who's seen all but one premiership game this club has played, but there's no way I'd have come back after quarter time as a neutral.

Imagine how much more depth these teams would have if they hadn't added six teams in two seasons? I love the way semi-professional players go about the business, but the standard of play is no better than four years ago, and arguably worse. There are as many excellent players as the first season, but a whole lot more who have no reason to be in a top grade competition.

It's a long term project, so nothing to pull the shutters down over but they'd be mad to add the remaining AFL teams anytime soon. Let Port, Sydney, Essendon and Hawthorn play a post-pandemic, off-Broadway series at the same time as the next AFLW season, but adding any of them (and Kennett will whinge until they add the Hawks) to the main comp would be suicidal.

I don't know if there was a wind, certainly nobody mentioned one, but as much as the Giants had dominated general play in the first quarter (including keeping six of our players without a disposal) it was now our chance to return to traditional values and trap the ball down there for little reward. In case there were any neutrals left watching, we did our bit for entertainment value by finally kicking the first goal. After four seasons and a razor-thin near miss against the Eagles, Lily Mithen got the first of her career from a set shot. Keep that in mind, it'll become important again later.

Would have been a good opportunity to kick away, but after keeping the Giants goalless for almost the whole first half Ms. DemonTime arrived, and in the last minute they swept from one end to the other and kicked a goal right at the end. Of course they did. Even in a game where the scoring is the subject of unkind comparisons to the world game we can't help ourselves.

The scoring end came into play again in the third when we couldn't score. Not a cracker. Not even the traditional botched set shot or a long kick that slides through for a point. The forward line was basically non-existent until the last eight minutes, and for the first few minutes of the final term both teams were still unable to introduce oval ball to middle posts. This just made me more upset, the Giants were there for the taking but our inability to convert was going to neck us.

Enter one of the more remarkable MFC related finishes you'll ever see. The Giants went into full lockdown mode a few days early and unsuccessfully tried to ride out the last few minutes. Despite what happened this was the sensible thing to do. After the way we've attacked all year how were they supposed to know that we'd pull off the million to one shot of kicking three in a row - much less all from set shots.

After a day of not even being able to get it into the hands of forwards so they could spray their shots, we finally started to consult experts. First dairy extraction specialist Shelley Scott, then Tex Perkins. Tex barely had a touch in the first three quarters but when required she smacked through the sort of set shot that we've been missing for four years. She also deserves credit for battling hard in the ruck duels while the ball was trapped in our forward line.

That goal, from 40 metres out on a shithouse angle, cut the margin to less than a goal with three minutes left. Plenty of time for us win it, then lose it again. Enter the returning Lauren Pearce winning a ruck contest, and the well-held Kate Hore thumping a kick forward in hope, only for all nothing of Lily Mithen to take a huge contested mark. Semi-contested anyway, the defender clearly had NFI where the ball was going to drop and got caught behind.

Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome suggested that having stormed back into the game, and because she'd converted from a similar spot earlier in the day that this would slide across the face and land in the pocket for no score. Amongst the feelgood video of the men watching there was some criticism of the bloke who said she wouldn't make the distance - to me that demonstrates an intimate knowledge of the way this team has kicked for goal since 2017.

In this case though, she was ice cold, sinking the shot then doing a celebration that resembled an Irish jig. It was a terrific end to a terrible game, making it memorable for at least one reason. Nothing that happened suggests we'd beat a good team but I was happy to take this and run with it in this time of grave national crisis. There was 30 seconds left for us to cock it up, but against all odds we survived.

I'm not concerned for GWS fans, because you'd need the world's most powerful microscope to find them, but you had to feel for the players who'd been swept away like that. Other than not trying to get it out of our forward line and the marking contest for the winning goal they didn't do much wrong. You'd say we thieved it if all the winning goals hadn't been so well taken.

Apart from Giants players, the most disappointed person was Demonblog Jr. She'd parked herself in front of the Megawall midway through the last quarter and declared the Giants were her favourite team. Must have seemed a good bet at the time, before the family tradition of being bad at picking sports teams came back to haunt her.

Mind you, there was a heavy element of trolling at the Towers this afternoon, at three quarter time I'd been presented with a card which I thought was a nice gesture until I opened it to read...

Yes, that's indicating NO DAD. Didn't quite capture my hair but a decent effort nonetheless. I'd have been more triumphant at the siren but it's best to remain diplomatic towards your family when you could be locked inside with them for two weeks at any moment.

2020 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Libby Birch
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Eden Zanker
1 - Daisy Pearce

Apologies to Scott, L. Pearce, Hanks, Cordner, Gay and Sherriff.

31 - Karen Paxman (WINNER: 2020 Daisy Pearce Medal)
20 - Libby Birch
13 - Kate Hore
7 - Eden Zanker
6 - Elise O'Dea, Daisy Pearce, Shelley Scott
5 - Maddie Gay
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Tyla Hanks
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Harriet Cordner, Sinead Goldrick

Next Week
Theoretically it's Fremantle in Perth, but there's fuck all and no chance of that happening. Either the season is delayed or they just call it off with four sides left. Maybe Western Australia will secede? Nothing would surprise me now.

Let's just say it goes ahead - Freo has won all seven games this year, and if we don't find an avenue to goal they will kick our brains in. Unless they have a total meltdown we're not going to beat them by scoring 28 points. If it was the Pakistani AFLW you'd be some chance of them throwing it as part of a betting rort, but in this case our slender hopes rest on putting up a minimum score of 40.

I guess when you've got replacement players on the list that you can't play them in preference to the originals, but given the option I'd drop Cunningham and use Tex, Scott and Zanker as the talls. Perkins is not racking up massive possesion numbers but when she gets the ball she's doing good stuff with it, is a competent forward 50 ruck, and most importantly a better set shot than anyone else on our list. They're off chops if they don't draft her to play full forward next season, she's never going to do a Kate Hore style turbo running goal but it adds much needed power and accurate kicking to our otherwise toothless forward line.

Final Thoughts
If it's got 'Melbourne' written on it, and I can watch I'll go bonkers for winning under those circumstances. Twice more for the women please. And somewhere near 20 times for the men.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

🎶God help me, I had COVID 19 🎶*

(* not personally, no. I'm just pleased with the gag and running it into the ground appropriately. Now, on with the scheduled misery)

'May you live in interesting times' they say. And here we are. Just as Australian rules football reached peak professionalism and clubs achieved total control over players, along comes a super virus that blows the doors off the sport and leaves it in its most perilous state since World War II.

What we know at the time of writing is that the season has been reduced to 17 games, and will start with games in front of empty stadiums but if one player blows a fever it might be over in an instant. What a time to be alive. At least temporarily.

You can understand why it's happening, but shutting the gates is one of the wildest angles in the history of the game. Even when the Spanish Flu was clobbering people at a rapid rate in 1919 the paying customer was still welcome. Fans of omens will adjust their collar nervously at the news that we didn't win a match that season, but at least they got a full 18 game program in.

Not since 1943 has a regular season had less than 18 matches per club. Then they had the bloodiest conflict in the history of mankind to blame, with the war escalating to the point where we only had six of the premiership side of two seasons earlier on the list and Geelong was forced out of the competition due to travel restrictions. The VFL had a unique solution to having an uneven number of teams, dumping the last placed side after Round 10 and playing five more games between the survivors. This time everyone plays 17 - in theory anyway, quite literally anything could happen between now and time running out to get the season finished.

It will come as news to the people trying to look humble with "my grandfather went to war and I had to sit on the couch. I'LL BE FINE" Facebook posts, but until it mutates and we start bleeding from every orifice there is no fair and legitimate comparison between Coronavirus (or COVID-19, if you prefer to be formal/do headline gags) and war, but think of all the challenges of the years since that haven't caused footy to grind to a halt. Since then a couple of rounds were delayed by weather, the goalposts were torched at Waverley, and one game was understandably called off when a coach got murdered, but even after five decades of Cold War where we were one accidental button press away from the nuclear apocalypse, nothing has seen games trimmed off the schedule, or the widespread changes expected to help keep things going.

For mine, I'm happy to keep playing if they can find players to do it. I think we can handle a few hundred people going out in public without it becoming the tipping point that wipes out the human race. If any players don't want to play then they can stand aside and Jay Lockhart can win the Brownlow. Views amongst fans vary, but as we'll get to shortly I think simply getting something on TV is important. This will pass, I don't want to come out on the other side without our clubs. Feels selfish, but bad luck. Call me when societies into a re-run of Threads and I'll reconsider. You've got to give the people some entertainment, it's not like the community is going to pull together and do great things without sports.

As trite as it is to say, things may never be the same again. We're at the early stages of this fiasco, but I'm struggling to think of many more significant events in my lifetime. The first major news story I remember was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union going under, but that was a win for our side. Also, nobody took that lot seriously by the late 80s anyway. The closest I got to a personal rivalry with the Iron Curtain was Debbie Flintoff-King beating them in a photo at the '88 Olympics as a young Bruce McAvaney nearly burst his o-ring in elation.

Next cab off the rank was the original recipe Gulf War, which not only did we win in a canter but also provided the novelty of being able to watch bombs dropped down people's chimney. For the rest of the 90s I was too much of a self-indulgent sulky teenager to be moved by world events. Can't retrospectively claim to have been hanging off the war in Yugoslavia or the Rwandan Genocide, and couldn't for the life of me understand why my mum started crying when Princess Di stacked it.

At this stage September 11 remains clubhouse leader based on the near two decades of flow-on effects. I reckon that was the first time I ever got a shameful rush about being alive for a earth-shattering calamity. There's no pleasure derived from these things, it's just an uncontrollable adrenaline hit that you feel bad about afterwards. Don't suppose Channel 10 are ever going to get to that episode of Sports Tonight that I was waiting for when the second plane came from nowhere out of the corner of the screen and... well, you know...

That was easy to treat like a video game, our current situation as left me in gloom, despair and agony. People who live in countries where this sort of crisis is par for the course are saying "welcome to the party dickheads", while we throw haymakers at each other for the opportunity to buy toilet paper but you can only deal with what's in front of you. I certainly won't be putting on a woe is me routine when I inevitably catch it, especially when you consider that people in nursing homes are sitting around waiting for the bullet with their name on it while the rest of us go "nah, she'll be right it's only a flu". I am legitimately flat even before anybody I know has been affected.

Under the circumstances the fate of a few footy teams isn't all that important, but nevertheless it still means a lot to me and many others, and my concern is that by the time this is over there will be a lot of clubs teetering on the brink of disaster. My immediate concern is with the Melbourne Football Club, but should revenue pour out of the game in the next few months then I reckon everyone other than Adelaide, Collingwood, Essendon, Hawthorn, Richmond and West Coast will come up skint. Can't even hold a public gathering to rattle the tin.

This feels a bit "the sky is falling", but I have my reasons for concern. Last season we lost money on a $48.5 million turnover, with gate reciepts accounting of $6.2 million. This year we should have banked at least $2 million more than that, now every week without crowds there's a hole being torn in that. Then there's the $10.2m from corporate hospitality and sponsorship. At least if games are played on TV we can give the sponsors some value, but hospitality is down the tubes, merchandising is finished, and membership sales will have dried up to somewhere between nil and bugger all (update: not quite, well done humans).

Arguably we sold the pokies and banked the cash just the right time before all but the most self-destructive gambling addict thinks twice about putting their finger on a germy screen next to somebody hacking up their lungs coughing, and if you add that money to the property asset of the Bentleigh Club we might just get through this crisis ok, but where's the cushion against future suffering?

Leighoak has been sold, the pokies licence gone, and if things become grim in the future there's nothing other than the Bentleigh Club to sell. The $11 million currently in the bank sure isn't going to be replenished through simply being good guys at sports, this century we've made a $1.3m operating profit once and have lost at least that much five times. I think we're better placed than at least two Victorian clubs if the AFL declare their version of The Purge but I feel cheated that we've worked out way off the canvas only to see financial security disappear again.

There's an idea that the AFL will be the Bank of Bailout for clubs that get into trouble, but where's the money going to come from if they're in the hole as well? Everyone hung shit on the NRL asking for a government bailout but maybe they're the smart ones. The government will inevitably tell them to piss off but maybe they're trying to signal - without creating too much panic - that they're so indebted to broadcasting revenue that the competition is rooted without it.

What I need to understand before I decide to get really morose or not is the AFL's exposure if they can't fulfill the 198 games that were sold to broadcasters. Their desperation to play the lot by any means necessary is tinged with the sort of panic consistent with having to write cheques to Channel 7, Foxtel, radio stations, Telstra and god knows who else if the games aren't played.

Channel 7 lost $444 million in the last financial year, they're not writing off five weeks of premium content (cliche) out of goodwill. Similarly, Foxtel is about as financially secure as the Venezuelan Bolivar, so they'll also be wanting a refund if entitled to it. If they haven't got a clause that gives them money back if the agreed product isn't delivered then their negotiator was a bum. Maybe there's an insurance option that will cover both parties? I'm sure companies (probably Zurich, likely to go bust under the pressure and cost us a sponsor) would have been happy to take the money from sporting competitions to insure their season when the only reason a major sport has ever had its competition curtailed since the invention of television has been industrial strife.

For now we can write off a large part of the gate receipts, but as long as we can find a way to play Anzac Eve, Queen's Birthday, and the game in Alice Springs things might not turn out too badly. But what are the chances? If Dick Wilkins can catch the thing from mingling with the stars of Hollywood so can 700 professional players, any number of coaches, and the semi-professional ring-ins required to play a condensed season. They might get to 17 games eventually but there's as much chance of them in a row as there is of Oscar McDonald winning the Coleman. Whether it means in-season breaks or them just shutting down will depend firstly on whether governments make them stop, and secondly on how much ending the season early is going to cost.

As far as I can tell the full broadcast rights agreement isn't available anywhere, but let's say on average it costs the league $500,000 for every senior men's game that isn't televised. That's less than a third of what you get from dividing the total annual payday by 198 games, so maybe I'm being too conservative. I'll update if anyone can provide more realistic insight.

Assuming that the maths randomly plucked from my keister are right, the five cancelled rounds will cost the AFL $20 million. Last year, after distributions to clubs, special funds etc... they had a surplus of $27.9 million. By far the biggest expense was distribution to clubs (for instance, we got $16 million from them), so there's not a lot of fat to cut if they desperately need money to keep the existing clubs alive. People will demand the slashing of executive salaries but that's not going to pay for much, and I can't see them risking a critical beating by axing AFLW to save $20 million. More than half their revenue came from the broadcast rights, so you can understand why they'd be so keen to get anything resembling the regular season on TV.

I'm well into the conspiracy theory of a Victorian club being welded to Gold Coast in order to open a spot for a new Tasmanian side but in this case I'm prepared to trust that the AFL is doing the right thing to try and keep everybody alive. Which is like the frog carrying the scorpion across the river, but what's the other option? Go all Premier League and sell clubs to Middle Eastern oil interests? Clubs could borrow more money but that's just going to create a death spiral of debt that will end in them having to be bailed out or euthanised further down the track.

That's the cheerful picture of the long term future of small clubs, what about the short term. The upside to no crowds is that if Sunday goes ahead we might get a free kick in Perth for once. In the unlikely event of the season continuing beyond that, the reduction to 17 games means not playing anyone twice. Technically it's fair, but the T20 of season lengths, greatly reducing ebb/flow and the opportunity for teams to either storm the finals from a mile back or die in the arse from a great height.

We lose second winnable games against Gold Coast and St Kilda but dodge the return against Collingwood and Freo in Perth. I presume they won't be cruel enough to take our Alice Springs payday away, so if they don't radically alter the fixture after the first four games that also knocks out a visit to Adelaide Oval. However, anything could happen from here, up to and including not a single ball being bounced and the game being bombed back to the stone age.

One idea is to smash as many games out as possible early in the season just in case it's shut down later, which seems like both the most cynical thing you've ever heard in your life, and confirmation that the league (trickling down to clubs) are in more trouble than the early settlers if TV games are lost. To faciliate this they're talking about shortened quarters, and at this point I'd like to switch back into conspiracy mode. Steve Hocking would have a Corona Boner at the chance to trial this so they can leave it that way once the game goes back to normal. Somebody ask Gil for a commitment that the rules will return to what they were before crisis mode and see if his eyes swivel about uncontrollably.

They're also talking about increasing the interchange cap. Hopefully that has a positive effect on scoring (in proportion to the length of the game) so we can rule out this ridiculous theory that the game would improve if you deliberately made players tired.

To faciliate the playing of games on four or five day breaks there's also talk about having yet another draft, this time for temporary players. With the VFL shut down until the end of May you don't want to go down this path too quickly, otherwise you'll just be left with five, 10, 20 more players hanging around doing nothing. The part of me that loves statistical anomalies (which is probably the same part that perks up for disasters) and obscure players is the only part getting any enjoyment out of this debacle. Maybe we should do something really unusual and draft Karen Paxman, that would throw the cat amongst the pigeons and add some much needed interest to what's otherwise going to be a shithouse season.

Everything is going to shit, but if you're looking for a positive omen in these times of strife, we won the flag from sixth in a 17 game season in 1900. It doesn't matter how many games are played in the regular season, as long as the finals are played as expected the flag is valid. There's something to aspire to.

Just our luck that we'll Bradbury our way through to the Grand Final and it will come too late to be played at the MCG due to a clash with the West Indies - New Zealand T20 BLOCKBUSTER being played there on October 25. Assuming the guaranteed Grand Final ticket that has given me so much joy over the last decade would still be valid I'd be sweet to get in, but if you thought the price of flights for the prelim was bad, imagine the cost of getting to Perth for this? Don't care, will accept a lift from Bradley John Murdoch if that's what it takes. Maybe by then it'll cost less to fly cross country than catch a train to the MCG?

More likely scenario - we lose the first two games and spend the next 15 (probably spread over 45 weeks) scrambling just to stay in contention before finishing 10th. Anything lower and forget Coronavirus, I'll be offering to test Ebola vaccines.

I have no good way to end this post, so let's part until Sunday (maybe) by agreeing that weird shit is happening, and given the pace of the weird shit there may be further crisis updates required by the end of the week. In my book (which is the perfect length to read while in self-isolation) I had a back cover quote that said "the man who laughs has simply not yet had the terrible news", and that feels equally relevant now.

By the weekend I'll need a distraction and opportunity to yell obscenities at the TV. For now I'm almost at the point of applying a hot towel to the forehead and coughing so I can lock myself away for 14 days and not have to have every workplace conversation revolve around this bloody virus. Give me a fortnight away to crawl through newspaper archives on Trove and maybe when I come out this will all be over. Until next time sports fans...