Not This Table, Sorry – The Jester’s Hat is for the Football League Over There

* I can’t recall ever having prior occasion to say anything particularly negative about AFL playing legend and coaching icon Leigh Matthews, but during the Hawthorn-Collingwood qualifamation final or whatever we call them now, I finally and suddenly reached the limits of a season’s tolerance of Leigh Matthews, in the Channel Seven commentary booth, trying to defend the patently sanity-challenged methodology of the AFL Rules Perversion Committee, the one he himself sits on. (And when I say “methodology” in this context, I mean the same kind of ordered thought that a puppy might show in tearing a slipper apart all over a lounge room.)

For months now as fellow commentators boggle and bridle at arcane umpiring interpretations that clearly fly right in the face of the context of play in the specific instance and the match in general, ill-conceived decisions that incense supporters and coaches, bamboozle players, and alienate thousands of loyal football followers who see no reason to depart radically from rules that worked for a lazy century or so, “Lethal” has bunged on that cheesy voice where he kind of chaffs (i.e. patronises) all those who don’t agree with the “new broom” approach by implying they don’t understand the subtle magic of the Perversion Committee’s latest brain-fart, and knee-jerk defends the indefensible by lobbing up some poppycock presumed principle which the new rule (Perversion Committee sez “interpretation”) supports for the good of the game.

Here’s the breakdown, from my side of the screen. You don’t bring in rules or interpretations as an end-run way of adjusting or altering the overall game. If you want to alter what the game is or how it’s played, take your insanity in both hands and go do that.

You bring in specific rules or interpretations because the matches seem to need it, because such a rule will help the game in specific situations, or because you’re addressing something that seems to have fallen out of kilter, or probably you’ve gone mad. I mean, why change the game. For every one thing they change that works, there’s about 20 they make worse. About that many a week lately, I think.

For example, if you decide that you don’t want folks to cynically stifle the flow of play by putting the ball out of bounds, you could bring in a rule where you can’t put the ball out of bounds on the full (which they did for the exact reason cited above, in the 1960s). This even worked. (See my as yet unwritten country ballad, “The Last Rule Change Whut Ever Worked”.)

Later you could even bring in a rule that penalises a team that deliberately puts the ball out of bounds, even not on the full.

Of course, you’d have to be sure that the umpire put a fair interpretation on that, i.e. deliberate means deliberate. Since no-one involved has mind-reading powers, the action of the player to put the ball out would have to be very evidently deliberate to garner the penalty.

Certainly if a player’s only legal option in a situation when he was, for example, tackled near the boundary line, was to play the ball by hand or foot towards the boundary line, that could not be deemed “deliberate out of bounds” as he had no other legal option for disposal – it’s clearly an accident of circumstance. Just one of those quirks of the game – ball in.

Also, should a player advance the ball significantly up the field for his team with a kick, then the ball was to take a bounce or two and go over the line 40 or 50 metres upfield, there is no rational way that could be interpreted, in the spirit of the law, or of the game, as a “deliberate out of bounds” action worthy of penalising.

Unbelievably, as any football watcher knows, examples like this are routinely deemed “deliberate” at the officiating umpire’s whim. (i.e. like the proverbial kharma chameleon, the “deliberate” interpretation, she comes and she goes.)

It’s a horrendous nonsense – a dirty great spray-painted blot on the game, as are so many other, different “interpretations” (eg. hands-in-back, various mutations and occasional ignoring of prior opportunity, random outbreaks of completely unnecessary/insane 50m penalties because the umps or rule makers are frustrated traffic cops or someone’s got a touch of shit on the liver at that particular moment) that have been unnecessarily foisted on it to absolutely no benefit whatsoever.

And throughout tonight’s game, as he was the rest of the season, there’s Leigh explaining to us in his most smarmy voice all that we don’t get this great sparkling tide of innovation because we haven’t done our research or some crap.

It  must be like some sort of end of the world cult in there at league HQ and on these various committees – just trust us, oh my children, we are the only ones who can see the way of light and the path of righteousness. And then it all ends up in a pile of cordial and corpses and the world not ending again.

His defence, time and again, was that the “deliberate” interpretation “keeps the ball in play”.

It’s an interesting, not to mention, cumulatively irritating, piece of sophistry – a piss-elegant decorative piece of increasingly time-worn bullpoo. It’s not the job of the rule to redesign the game, exactly.

To be of any value, the rule, as both interpreted and applied has to penalise only those who transgress it, whatever the reason it was brought in.

And as it’s being applied – i.e. the current applications that Matthews repeatedly defends at all opportunities – it penalises players who may not have deliberately played the ball out of bounds. Including the latter group will, indeed, encourage keeping of the ball in play, but it makes an absolute nonsense of the rule as it’s written.

On a separate but intriguing (read, “laughable if it wasn’t quite so annoying”) note, keeping the ball in play will result in more active playing time during the match, and it could be said, a faster game. The substitute rule was brought in an attempt to get players flogged less during the matches – the league has trumpeted many times over how later in the games, there are more individual contests of the old school as the players are tired under the new regime (well they might be, presuming they’re still ambulatory and the current injury tally doesn’t look like the closing reels of the original “Rollerball” movie by that stage, which in some games it does) so they can’t run around as much later on.

This is pristine and classic AFL thinking. We use one rule to speed the play up, and we bring in another to slow it down. One interpretation to give the players more of a run-around, and another provision aimed at making them run less. As a great philosopher once put it, “It’s just a jump to the left. And then a step to the right.”

If this was any sort of a universal defence for the propeller-hat wearing mockery that such ill-conceived rule adjustments as this (and utterly impenetrable application of it by umpires) have made out of the game in recent years , as the otherwise estimable and respect-worthy Mr Matthews inexplicably persists in suggesting, it would be completely undone by the blatant evidence of another blithering nonsense – that the rule has become one of so many that is “geographically specific”.

As seen on a couple of occasions within five minutes in the third quarter, not long after another cheese-ball serving of smarm from Leigh Matthews about how brilliantly the out-of-bounds rule is working in the face of annoyed perplexity from co-commentators not to mention players, spectators and home viewers (and in the face of blatantly self-contradictory umpiring) Hawthorn players blatantly ran the ball out in the forward pocket while in their own forward line.

Ahh, but that’s ok! They’re attacking, you see. They wouldn’t have wanted to get it out in that part of the ground if they hadn’t had opposition players inconveniently on their hammer.

That’s the logic, apparently. And you can probably follow it. The only problem is that a rule is a rule is a rule, and if it is one, it’s a rule anywhere on the ground. You can’t pick and choose. That would make a complete travesty out of having rules. And if it’s a free elsewhere, that should have been paid against the Hawthorn players both times. Has to be.

Leigh Matthews remained completely silent during both instances. As Kelly Bundy once aptly put it, “as silent as the womb”.

Both of those instances were far more blatant and inarguably deliberate than many of the nonsense versions that are paid, such as the kick 40m up the ground that makes real yardage for a team, takes a couple of weird bounces, and then goes out. Which we of course saw paid as deliberate in this same game.

Incidentally, this is the same problem (or one thereof) that I have with the “hands in the back” interpretation. (Which was a rule CHANGE incidentally, and one of the stupider, less accurately enforceable ones, not to mention entirely inessential.)

It routinely isn’t paid when it occurs all over the field, except when it involves a backman doing it to a forward (well, on an occasion when the umpire’s biorhythms fall that way, and he pays it. Or the moment is theatrically-charged enough.)

In which case, it’s hardly a rule. A rule is a rule on pretty much a full-time basis. It doesn’t take a smoko every time the ball zips halfway up the ground.

And no doubt there’s some sort of feelgood end-of-the-world-cult interpretation Lethal Leigh will sunnily patronise us all with down the line about that one too, presuming he hasn’t already while I accidentally slept through it.

But everybody who DIDN’T drink the proverbial cordial already knows all that stuff is pure bunkum anyway.

Unfortunately, we just have to sit back and watch the AFL execs and designated super brains flick matches at each other all around the proverbial dynamite stack while assuring each other and the public that they’re contributing to the cause of greater safety, security and superior lighting. Well, I guess if you think you’re ‘going places’ in a scenario like that, you’re sooner or later bound to be proven right.



6 thoughts on “Not This Table, Sorry – The Jester’s Hat is for the Football League Over There

  1. Totally unrelated yet relative, how can someone take a great song, a masterpiece, and adorn it with strange noises and call it creative art?
    I’d love to have a scribble on the Mona Lisa, add some darker shadows to a Monet, but I’d definately get kicked out of the gallery!

  2. Also, I still remember the Neville Bruns incident, & I gotta say my opinion of the great Lethal Leigh never recovered. Did Leigh admit at some point during the commentary that even he doesn’t understand the vagary of some interpretation of new rules? Certainly inspires confidence.

  3. If an infringement does not affect (or effect I don’t know my grammer/grammar re this!) the contest then the right call should be ‘play on’ regardless of any technicalities. Umpires need to go with the flow of the game, which is what you’re saying regarding the deliberate out of bounds/hands in the back. What I would like to see is a return to a ball up if a player, while attempting to make the play, gets smothered by opposition jumpers rather than getting called for ‘holding the ball’ because ‘they dragged it in/didn’t make a genuine attempt’. We should applaud the fella for getting in and under, don’t you think?

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