Feature

AFL and NRL fairytales are ours to enjoy too

I was utterly captivated by the run of the Western Bulldogs during the recent AFL finals series - unashamedly and unapologetically.

AFL Grand Final

Western Bulldogs celebrate their AFL premiership triumph Source: Getty Images

There’s some skin in that game (my mother’s family are obsessive Dogs’ fans) but it was also the sense of history, extraordinary odds and unlikely heroes that combined to make it - in my opinion - the greatest tale an Australian club has ever told. 

A day later, the Cronulla Sharks rounded out a most amazing weekend for underdogs, knocking off the Melbourne Storm to win the NRL title. 

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There's so many parallels between the two victories: between them, the only premiership won by the pair was the Bulldogs’ win in 1954.

That’s a combined total of over 140 years, in their current competitions, for a single premiership. 

Both have stared death in the face. The Bulldogs, twice, fought off mergers in 1989 and 1996, and Cronulla more recently dodged relocation calls. 

To fans of both clubs: I couldn’t be happier for you. And thanks for sharing your moment with the rest of us. 

But I know there will be people reading these opening few paragraphs grinding their teeth. Plenty will have seen the headline, opening line and made snap judgements. To me, that’s sad. Really sad.
I find it hugely depressing that Australia is becoming a country where the respective codes are being "pitted against" each other. 

It is pathetic. Boorish. Childish. And a reminder that we, as a nation, have so far still to go. 

I’m not going to stand here and argue that the AFL or the NRL are keen to do football any favours. Of course they’re not.

But I don’t think they interfere as often as the public thinks. 

You don’t have to like either of those sports, their players or administrators, but the idea of "hating" other codes is ridiculous. 

Anything that encourages young people to get out of the house and emulate their heroes is a good thing. All sports do this. 

The media should shoulder some of the blame for this. I remember one newspaper in Sydney stamped its sports pages with a mark that said "choose your code" - or words to that effect - several years back. 

It made me uneasy then and it makes me uneasy now. Why do we have to choose?

I see Australia as an incredibly lucky country that has a buffet of high quality sports from which to choose. And there’s plenty of interest to go round. 

Football fans are often accused of being the most afflicted by the tunnel-vision. In our never-ending victim-complex, we imagine other sports, and their fans, are constantly out to get us. Fair enough in 1996 - but probably not in 2016.
There are some issues where there is crossover. The fight for facilities, and government funding, remains a massive gripe of those working within the game. 

Football doesn’t get stadiums of its own - it gets multi-purpose venues with elongated end zones for the two rugby codes. Our Wembley? Forget about it. 

Getting elite training facilities - now established at every AFL club, mostly thanks to government money - for A-League clubs only happens when a powerful overlord (City Football Group, for example), bypasses the need for a handout and funds it themselves. 

Yes, there’s also a battle for the corporate dollar, and prime-time TV, and there’s only so much of that go round. I don’t dispute any of that. 



But Australia has a unique sporting landscape that all of us should embrace. Including football fans.

In America, fans seamlessly transition from one sport to the next, without the need for pitchforks and baiting. We could learn something about that. 

It’s great to see Australian sport conjure up two fantastic stories in such a short space of time. 

We ought to bask in these great sporting stories - and then let fans of all codes enjoy what happens with the round ball. Who knows which A-League club they might be buying a membership off in the coming years? 

We might live on an island, but it’s a big one, and there’s room for all.


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4 min read
Published 6 October 2016 at 11:02am
By Sebastian Hassett