Before we realised the long-term potential for groundhog day style damage from a king hit behind play, we excused footy commentary that oscillated between “Ohhhs!!” and “Wow!!!” and the elegant “It’s On!!!” so long as within the parentheis of brawls, bumps and bruising antics on the field. We’ve since turned back from the more violent aspects of the game, particularly that fine line between rules and cage fighting. The watershed was probably Byron Picketts “say goodnight” shirtfont on Hawk Brendan Krummel that effectively killed the bump in 1999 that had lived at the top of the hard but fair food AFL food chain since the possum skin evolved into the pigskin. While the brawls are erased, the bump just will not die despite the games rule makers intentions to eradicate it’s more perilous consequences.
Rules more in the interests of players future interests than the games violent heritage have progressively peeled back the shirtfont, head high contact – with or without malice aforethought – and the slide under a player’s legs. We have concussion tests and 20 minute time outs and close to the near mandatory week off after head injuries. All for the good of the game.
While many with a broader vision of life lament the recent declaration that the Western Black Rhino was now disastrously officially extinct, more in the now focussed sports fans continue to beat their breasts to breathe life back into another threatened species – the biff. “Soft” “Basketball”, even the dreaded (to a man at least) taunt of “Netball” seams the subterranean narrative of loss endured by these violence deprived fans subsisting under the “Nanny state” of the AFL.
One of the many indicators of magnificence this proud nations continues to exhibit is that vicarious joy that comes to many of us as unfit, overweight, injury and disease ridden skill lacking couch huggers openly express joy when a opposition player has their face caved in, eyes gouged, ears bitten, king hit, bumped into next week, clocked round the earhole or in the vernacular of the Footy Show, has the living suitcase wacked out of them legally or otherwise. This was particularly true in the late 1960’s, 70’s and very early 80’s:
Part tribal, part DNA, part cultural, we’re transfixed by hits and bumps, particularly in slow motion where we can observe, perversely, the impact on distorted facial muscles, skin that erupts like ground in an earthquake and the transition from contest to pain. We applaud those most afflicted who can no longer participate as they are escorted from the ground, despite seconds earlier cavorted in their disarray.
Steal the twisties from our TV table however and watch the tears and legal threats flow from we lounge room charades style fight club associate members.
Even my own late mother, an occasional yet passionate fan when informed mid-game by Bruce Mcavaney that one of the Hawks opponents had broken his leg in a collision exclaimed at paint peeling volume with the same judgemental relish she’d rained down upon Gwenith Paltrow’s decision to go braless at the Oscars – “GOOD!!!!!”
My father in law’s most consistent expression of footy intent was “Hit that bastard Williams” directed at Carlton Diesel Williams, sometimes in excess of 30 times a game in a cathartic declaration of some long forgotten quest for vengeance many of us carry.
You see the regular suspects on the boundaries telecast during most games who take this common fascination into something more personal than the average fan. Men, mostly, with a barracking edge wrapped in an invite to a more violent future forged somewhere in their past snugly sitting in their back pocket. Their brothers line the ranks of the suburban sporting fields and courts of all persuasion in leagues where ongoing efforts to stamp out violence dont quite match the intensity of the AFL amid junior official disrespect and an egg on crowd fraternity at ease with confrontation and threat.
The victory over violence in AFL footy is thankfully long won in the professional team focus of the directed emotions conglomerate. This week’s round proves again how tough the game has become in the modified form highlighted by weighted players who run at phenomenal speeds that compound those revered ancient centrifugal forces when two bodies hit:
Hodge’s hit on Dog Mitch Honeychurch, last weeks rising star, in a frenzied attack on the ball on his way to 44 possessions.
Geelong demi-god Joel Selwood sandwiched after a nudge forward from a beaten would be tackler into an oncoming opponent leading shoulder first. He returns from the medical room, black eyed as if an aparition of Lee Harvey Oswald after Dallas’s finests first crack at him.
Chris Yarran’s chilled demeanour collapses, like many before him in the stands, under his proximity to Paul Chapman whom he round arms with a speedy left hook that, like the delisting at Geelong, Chappy didnt see coming. The knuckle graze is straight to the tribunal for 3 long weeks.
A brawl, or where punches are hidden in jumpers or substituted in push and shove erupts in Adelaide after ex Crow’s Bernie Vince’s perpetual tag harassment on Crow megastar Patrick Dangerfield straight out of the Ryan Crowley school of second skin defensive tactics inspired by the chief characteristic of most auto immune diseases.
But, like an ailing Joni Mitchell, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone as attested by the complicit Dr Baltar from Battlestar Galactica musing on what he misses most from no longer being able to return to his vaporised Earth:
“Do you know what I miss most? You’re going to laugh when I tell you this. Sports. I used to love getting to the pyramid game just before tip-off. By timing it right, I could sit down right at the horn and then let the emotion of the crowd flood over me. Waves and waves of it. Like electric current.”