In my article last week I asked and answered the question “Is Sport Work?”. The answer was that Sport is work but not Work as making a table, a house, a garden. The product that occurs from the work that is Sport requires an audience. Not a user like a table or a reader to a book. But like a performance, like theatre.
If we choose a single Sport, Australian Rules Football, and go back into the recent history; we will see a Work that is very different from the Work that is the AFL today. Like Work, Sport has changed but if it has changed is it still the same performance?
3,288,470 attended all 138 games in the 1976 VFL season. The population estimate for Melbourne as of 1975 was 2,561,000 people. True, many people would go to more than one game in a season. This still leaves a great number of people in one city who all went to the football that season.
What makes this even more amazing is that in 1976 the VFA attendance was 937,291. The Victorian Football Association (which had 2 divisions) was played at the same time as the VFL. Which makes the attendance for the two major football competitions in Melbourne for 1976 over 4 million.
The Greatest Grand Final
Recently ABC radio replayed the 1970 Grand Final between Carlton and Collingwood. The Grand Final where Alex Jesaulenko took that mark. Kids ask you Great Grandparents about it. This is the highest attended Grand Final ever, with 121, 696. It is a Grand Final that is legendary.
Ron Barassi was coaching Carlton, Jesaulanko took THAT mark. Carlton only kicked 3 behinds in the first quarter. At half time the score was Collingwood 10.13 (73) to Carlton 4.5 (29). In the world of contemporary football that is a winning score. Defences can hold a team back with that lead and not kick another goal in the game.
Those who know will remember that Carlton won 17.9 (111) to Collingwood 14.17 (101). We do not see scores like this anymore. The Coleman medal for most goals in the season was won by Peter Hudson with 146 goals. I wonder if this is truly the golden age of Australian Rules Football.
The Crowd Makes the Spectacle
I was born in the 70’s. I saw the transformation of the VFL to the AFL. I remember watching the game on television. I was born in W.A. I did not go to many games in Perth. I have seen more games on television than live. Even after living in Melbourne for thirty years I rarely get to a game.
The first time I went to the MCG was in 1990. I had never been to such a large gathering of people. Walking up to the stadium at three quarter time I heard my fist MCG crowd call BALL!!! It shuddered through my chest like the bass from a hoons subwoofer cruising down Chapel Street on a Friday Night. The attendance that April 28th was 67,893.
Collingwood and St.Kilda were playing. This was back when Nicky Winmar, and Robert Harvey played for St Kilda. Peter Daicos kicked 2 goals while Tony Locket kicked 7. St Kilda lost by one point. I had to look that up I did not remember. All I remember is seeing the group of indigenous supporters of Nicky Winmar. Which today is even rarer.
Theatre of A Different Experience
Recently, Disney have released the recorded performance of Hamilton. Which is nothing like watching it on Broadway. Sure its all there, but you view a performance in the theatre differently from on the television. I am suggesting this difference is similar for football. But not exactly the same.
If AFL 2020 has revealed anything it is that when there is no crowd there is something missing. This is because Sport is theatre. It requires an audience for the game to be at its best. This is the age of defence first, pay per view dominated, multiple platform rights, streaming apps, online twitter interaction. Zoom crowds do nothing to enhance the spectacle. If anything the fan wall only magnifies the lack of people in attendance.
Me. I Like Football
You may not know about the player from the song “Up there Cazaly” or even Mike Brady who wrote and sung it. Like the football club songs of Richmond, Collingwood and Carlton the fan is essential. “How’s the mighty roar?” Brady asks knowing the roar of a crowd when the big mark like Cazaly or Jesaulanko is taken.
The game transcends the labor of the players with the fans in attendance. It is theatre writ large in the now. The acts of the players become legendary feats that are remembered. Because without the tribal, cultural relationship of the crowd it is just people sweating and running around with a ball.
The Last Grand Day
The last Grand Day of Football I went to was the first ANZAC Day game between Collingwood and Essendon. The attendance is set at 94,825. I am sure there was more. Because, up in the old Ponsford stand I was one who sat on the stairs all game
In the crush to get in to the ‘G you knew something amazing was happening. Something new. It was theatre of the people. Not an organised political rally or protest. Perhaps it was religious. Sport is a religion in Australia. This game merged two icons of Australia together. It was an action of all who attended a Work of historical and national significance. A work I was a part of.
We are not at the football to be entertained. That is not the purpose of sport. Sport is a shared collaborative Work. As we have seen in 2020 without the fans in attendance there is no Work on display. No mighty roar from the crowd. No cheering fans. Just the sweat and toil of specialist Labourers.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.