Jhe football week started like these things, with a Texan wearing goggles ripping the Queens Birthday game to shreds. It proved that people are still ready to go football in large numbers. It exposed all sorts of cracks in incumbent prime ministers. He saw a playful finish from Collingwood. This compressed the ladder and opened up the race for prime minister. He raised millions more for motor neuron disease research.
It then quickly went, as football week always does, to negative. He focused on an 18-year-old No. 1 draft pick. It underscored the industry’s obsession with bringing these young men in line, with making sure they didn’t get ahead of themselves, with sucking every bit of individuality out of them. This prompted Nathan Buckley to ask, “what do we do to this kid?”
This has revived the debate around drugs. It embarrassed a footballer who is more of a brand than a man. It prompted another silly take from Jeff Kennett – this time droning on about zero tolerance and two-year bans. He revealed the fragile compromise that is illicit drug policy – part punitive, part harm minimization, part rehabilitative, part brand management. He landed on a two-week suspension.
He showcased the best of football at the Hall of Fame Dinner. It gave long overdue recognition to Nicky Winmar. He conferred legendary status on one of South Australia’s footballing greats. He saw a speech from a Rhodes Scholar, and an even better one from a man raised in a mission house.
It sums up, in a single photograph of Winmar, Mike Fitzpatrick, Brent Harvey, Bill Dempsey and Matthew Pavlich – that the champions of this sport come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life and from all cultures. He introduced us to many men we may not have known – stars from the Depression, Western Australia and Tasmania. It reminded us that the history of the sport extends far beyond the AFL era.
It was then hijacked by another of Eddie McGuire’s errant ideas. It was a “remodel”, not a relocation, he said on Footy Classified. It was, in every way, an insult to North Melbourne supporters, the state of Tasmania and the public. It begged the question – has a TV show ever blown more hot air and taken itself more seriously?
It showed how reluctant Tasmanians are to have a rented squad and be told what’s good for them. “It would be the greatest act of bastardy in the history of the game for presidents to vote against,” said Gerard Whateley.
He returned, thankfully, to real football games. It provided a second chance for a mid-season draftee who learned Carlton’s game plan on his MacBook. He then sidelined him for a month when his knee exploded. It attracted more than 50,000 die-hards, in the pouring rain, on a school evening. It escalated into a fight between a former Xavier Collegian whose mother was a Sale of the Century model and a Noongar man who spent three years in prison.
It led to exquisite wet weather skills, the controversial disallowance of a goal and plenty of tedious talk about goal celebrations. It put the fear of God in any team that draws Richmond to the MCG final. This was followed by upheavals at Docklands and the Adelaide Ring, and an all-powerful scare for Geelong in Perth.
He gave a safe trip to a man who was arrested in his bathrobe last year and interrupted his 2022 campaign with padel tennis, massage therapy, bottomless margaritas and tequila throwbacks. It inspired a typically sober headline from the Herald Sun – “De Goey might be dumbest player of his generation.” He saw the player in question hit back via social media, calling for “the relentless persecution of athletes”. It would end in tragedy, he said, if this type of harassment continued.
It ended, for this columnist, his frozen partner, his disoriented dog and thousands of other Melburnians, at the Reclink Community game in Victoria Park. Its genesis was a lunchtime kick-ass at Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda. He has since raised millions for Australians suffering from mental illness, addiction, homelessness, domestic violence and social isolation. It was free of structure, actors and Instagram statements, but rich in spirit.
It was just another week of football, another week of thieves and thugs and champions, another week of all that is useless and ruthless and wonderful in the sport.