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.

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