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Max McGraw and I mix in different circles and dance to different beats. But I dips my lid to him – he was right on the money with his recent article about ANZAC Day.
When I was a kid, they still played the Last Post and had a minute’s silence before football games but it was always soiled by the yobbos sinking tinnies and yelling out inane comments. These days, you can hear a pin drop. But there’s an air of militarism and jingoism that has very slowly taken over the way the day is played out in Australian sport. Do we really need a cavalcade of war heroes with the voice over man telling us how many NVA soliders they had disarmed? Do we need that prolonged ceremony that precedes the Last Post? And do we need the Collingwood coach presiding over the whole thing like a year-12 history teacher, ripping into his players when they let a winnable game slip as if they’d just been beaten in the theatre of war? It’s a very, very fine line and maybe it’s been crossed. 20 years ago, there were obviously a lot more veterans alive and if they had one thing in common is was that they didn’t much like to talk about their experiences. I just wonder what they’d make of the day now…
It’s not just ANZAC Day. The first thing Alistair Clarkson did upon taking on the Hawthorn job was to ship his players off to the Kokoda Trail. When they arrived back, about a stone lighter, there were plenty of ‘now we understand how hard the diggers had it’ type comments. When his side was a few goals up at ¾ time in last year’s Grand Final, he reminded them how hard they had done it at Kokoda. Again, it’s a fine line between using your fame to educate the public about war and taking yourself too seriously. Alas, nowadays, the poor Papuans can’t even go for a walk these days without bumping into a football team.
It’s easy for people like Max and I and others to be cynical about the whole thing when so much good has come out of it. Five days ago 60,000 people were at the Shrine on a freezing cold Saturday morning and that has to be a good thing. I just reckon that the role that footy and the Essendon-Collingwood fixture has played in reviving ANZAC Day should not be over played. And Mick Malthouse should lighten up a little.
Essendon didn’t win on Saturday because they showed more ANZAC spirit. They won because they chose not to kick the ball along the boundary line all day. They won because they had leg speed and a ruckman with a bit of go in him. A few postcodes away, De La Salle lined up for the Last Post on Saturday afternoon and two minutes later went out and kicked ten first-quarter goals against a very good opponent. Somehow, Uni Blues managed to still get up and win. Did De La’s coach get and up and lambast his players, accusing them of letting down the East Malvern RSL down the road? I suspect not. In terms of amateur football, ANZAC Day was usually only commemorated in annual fixtures such as the Scotch-SBMT and Marcellin-St Bernard’s games. But because ANZAC Day fell on a Saturday this year, the Last Post was heard all over amateur and suburban grounds and many a coach would have touched on that hard to define concept ‘the ANZAC spirit’. But I’m tipping none of them accused their players of letting down our diggers if the game didn’t go according to the script.
Playing for the love of the game is a lesson in perspective and humility in itself. Sometimes, our counterparts at the top tier of the game need to sit back, take a deep breath and recognise that they’re not really that important.