Sunday, August 28, 2011

Aussie August: Australian Football

Continuing with Aussie August with guest blogger, poet Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke. Leave a comment to be placed in a drawing for a chance to win FREE stuff!

First played in Melbourne in the 1850s, and long known as “Aussie Rules” or “footy”, it used to be in the DNA of every boy growing up in the traditional football states: Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania. The heathens in New South Wales, epitomised by that Gomorrah Sydney, played rugby league as their winter sport, and were despised by all Victorian kids, and adults too. We were the true believers.

Let us begin with the formation of the Victorian Football League, or VFL, in 1896. The winner of the League each year won the Premiership flag, yes, it was a real flag, and still to this day is, known as “the flag”, by winning the final play-off game of the finals series. That game is known as the Grand Final.

But the aspect of footy I wish to highlight, and in this day and age it’s politically incorrect to do so, is its brutality. Truly, American readers, the NFL is for wimps. Our gladiators don’t bother themselves with padding, or helmets, they just go for it until the blood begins to flow.

Yes, as all footy fans know, over the years there have been many breathtakingly skilful, graceful players. Such as the St Kilda 1966 Premiership captain Darrel Baldock, or “The Doc”, who bemused opposition teams with his blind turns (an especially graceful manoeuvre, a sort of pirouette, sadly not seen much in the modern game).

But it is the enforcers, the tough guys who were in the team to bash the opposition to bits, who made Aussie rules what it is. Notable among them were the Carlton Football Club legend Bob Chitty, whose mother was so afraid of him even as a baby she put barbed wire around his cot.

Chitty played in “The Bloodbath”, the notorious 1945 Grand Final played in the rain-lashed mud between Carlton and South Melbourne in front of 62,986 fans baying for blood.

The next passage of this post is not for the squeamish.

Here is the official charge sheet for the game:
Ten players were reported for a total of sixteen offences:
• Ted Whitfield (South Melbourne): Charged with using abusive language to goal umpire Whyte, attempting to strike field umpire Frank Spokes, kicking the ball away after a free kick was given against him, and attempting to conceal his guernsey so the goal umpire could not report him. Suspended for 21 matches.

• Jack “Basher” Williams (South Melbourne): Charged with using abusive language to Carlton's Rod McLean and goal umpire Whyte, and adopting a fighting attitude to goal umpire Whyte. Suspended for 12 matches.

• Bob Chitty (Carlton): Charged with elbowing Billy Williams (South Melbourne). Suspended for 8 matches.

• Don Grossman (South Melbourne): Charged with striking Jim Mooring (Carlton). Suspended for 8 matches.

• Ron Savage (Carlton): Charged with striking Don Grossman (South Melbourne) in retaliation for Grossman having king-hit teammate Mooring. Suspended for 8 matches.

• “Gentleman” Jim Cleary (South Melbourne): Charged with striking Ken Hands (Carlton) after a mark, and attempting to strike Bob Chitty. Found not guilty on attempted striking charge; still suspended for 8 matches.

• Fred Fitzgibbon (Carlton): Charged with one count of melee involvement; despite serving a four-match suspension from the preliminary final for having king-hit Collingwood forward Len Hustler, he ran onto the field during a final quarter brawl and fought with Ted Whitfield before being ejected from the arena. Suspended for an additional four matches.

• Herbie Matthews (South Melbourne): Charged with throwing the ball away after a mark was given against him. Severely reprimanded.

• Ken Hands (Carlton): Charged with charging Ron Clegg (South Melbourne). Found not guilty.

• Keith Smith (South Melbourne): Charged with striking Jim Mooring (Carlton). Found not guilty.

Carlton won the game, incidentally.

OK, so you’re thinking that’s ancient history, and the game can no longer be like that. Cut to the epic 1989 Grand Final between Hawthorn and Geelong, considered by many aficionados as the greatest Grand Final of the modern era.
Here’s an excerpt from the match report:

Geelong made their intentions clear right from the start when Mark Yeates ran through Hawthorn's champion centre half-forward and enforcer Dermott Brereton. As Geelong coach Malcolm Blight later admitted, this had been a premeditated strategy to protect star midfielder Paul Couch and negate Brereton, who constantly used his aggression to unsettle the opposition.

Yeates was chosen to carry out the deed, partly as payback for when Brereton had flattened him in the classic Round 6 clash earlier in the season. Amidst the chaos in the middle of the ground, the Cats rushed the ball forward to Gary Ablett, who kicked the first of his nine goals for the afternoon.

Yeates’s hit left Brereton with broken ribs and a bruised kidney, which caused him internal bleeding. Hawthorn physiotherapist Barry Gavin recalled the scene years later:

“The thing that really struck me was how bad he was when I got there. He'd lost all the color in his face and was vomiting. He'd dragged himself back on his feet by this stage. But he was doubled over, dry-retching and his color was grey... There was no way he could stay out there. I remember looking up at [Hawthorn coach Allan Jeans] in the box and starting to try to get him off. Dermott said, ‘No, no. Just get me down to the pocket’. Terry Gay (Hawthorn's team doctor) came out. He was more worried than me. He recognized the gravity of it.”

Despite the insistence of the club doctors and trainers, Brereton refused to leave the field and instead was helped to the forward pocket. Hawthorn eventually narrowly won the game. They finished with just thirteen fit players out of twenty-two.

I’ll spare you the match charge sheet.


Nevyn said...

Michael I'm so immensely pleased that you remembered to include the mighty Hawks! That 1989 game was THE BEST! However you failed to mention that not only did Dermie (the fans name for aforementioned Brereton) play so injured, another of our players (yep, I'd be a Hawthorn fan) played most of the game with a punctured lung (how could you omit the Dipper's magnificent effort, Michael?). It was a bloody, bitter game...and we still remember!! We Hawks play the evil Geelong this coming weekend in the first week of the finals! Go the Hawks!!!

Patent Attorney said...

I don't know much about Australian football, so this makes a great beginner's guide, thanks a lot!