I consider myself a staunch AFL traditionalist. And given how traditional it has been for the AFL to tinker with the rules of our great game it is without shame that I submit a proposal for consideration. West Coast Club legend John Worsfold was laughed out of town when he raised the idea of zoning; where three players from each team would have to remain in each forward 50 arc. I agree with the majority of opinion that this specific proposal is a bad idea. This is mainly due to the fear that we would be slowly turning our great game, the symbol of the Aussie male machismo, into something resembling Netball. However within Worsfold’s proposal is the germ of a good idea. What if the three was simply reduced to one? What if there had to be just one player from each team in each forward 50 at all times? I believe that this would be a winner of a rule change for five reasons:
1) You avoid the Netball fears
These fears are genuine and reasonable. Netball is a sporting atrocity as evidenced by New Zealand’s obsession with it. It is riddled with unnecessary rules and restrictions, leaving far too much scope for terrible umpiring (a commonality in amateur competitions) to have a massive impact on the game. It is far harder on the knees, is completely unforgiving to defenders and only two players get the simple joy of having a shot for goal. Ladies, I implore you to turn your back on this odious creation and play basketball instead.
By having just one player restricted to each forward 50, and having the ability for that player to fluidly change throughout the game (unlike netball there won’t be any bib wearing), AFL will never look like netball under this rule change. Further, it will be far easier for umpires to police the rule if they just have to count up to one rather than three. We don’t want to make it too complicated for them, they make enough blunders as it is. Come to think of it, this could give the goal umpire something to do during the lulls in the game at their end.
2) It will help with the flooding/pressing tactics
It won’t help as much as Woosha’s plan, but one less player to clog up one end of the ground will give team’s the extra meter or two they need to avoid these stifling tactics. This will mean cleaner ball movement and greater scope for those rousing running players to excite the crowd. As a Dockers supporter there are few things more exciting than when Stephen Hill goes for a gallop (2013 Qualifying Final v Geelong comes to mind) but too often he is blocked by a series of well positioned ex opposition forwards and instead opts for a far less exciting handball. With this rule change, such blocking will still happen, but surely it will happen slightly less often which can only be a good thing for the game.
3) The one on one contest will be back
There’s nothing purer in competitive sport than a true one on one contest. Too often forwards are stymied by a gang of defenders who converge to the contest. This rule change won’t prevent teams from the option of extra numbers back, but most teams have been heading towards the defend at all costs, get the turnover and “slingshot” it back into an open (and often empty) forward line tactic. With this rule change, this scenario ends up with a must watch one on one contest, adding to the spectacle significantly.
4) It will provide another element of tactical intrigue
Coaches will be encouraged to try and take advantage of this rule restriction. Do you go for a strong marking type, or a speedy nimble one in the forward line? Which of my defenders can deal with the one on one pressure situations? Can I use it as a surrogate resting position, keeping my players fresh? Am I able to trick a damaging player out of the game by dragging his direct opponent into the 50? Wiser heads than me could probably devise even more crafty ways of using this rule change for some competitive advantage.
5) It will be better for the crowd
Too often at the footy these days all the action is at the opposite end of the ground to where you are sitting. And I mean ALL OF THE ACTION. Every single player from both sides 150 meters or more away. Now this isn’t so bad for myself but my heart does bleed for my poor old Uncle who struggles to see what is going on at the best of times. With this rule change, spectators are guaranteed to be in close proximity to two players at all times of the game. One to cheer on, the other to heckle. Some of my most memorable moments as a spectator were singing, “Carey takes it up the arse, doodah doodah…” with my block within earshot of the great North Melbourne Centre Half forward who did the traditional thing and stayed in his forward 50 most of the game. In addition, it is a delight to hear a funny heckle from someone else in the crowd towards a nearby player. When they are all so far away, the poor old heckler loses his muse, and in so doing we chip away at Australia’s delightfully irreverent culture.
So AFL, I have every confidence that you can see the sense in this idea and you give it a run in the 2015 preseason, ready to fully implement it in the 2016.