Posted on 28 September 2008 by Will O' in Sport
The 1989 Grand Final was only the second Aussie Rules football game I had ever seen. Having migrated here from the Evil Empire, via its northern neighbour Canada, in February that year, I found myself married into an extended family of 18 Hawthorn fanatics. During that year’s football season I exercised my individual right to shop around for a team to barrack for to prove that I was no sheep who simply accepted the status quo. But by season’s end I was firmly in the Hawk camp. They seemed to best exemplify the heroic standards of my favourite childhood teams: the USC Trojans in college football, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. (In retrospect, the Dodgers were more like Collingwood, in that they had everyone’s heart but mostly failed to deliver.)
The heroics of the 1989 Grand Final sealed not only my respect for Hawthorn, but my opinion that Aussie Rules is the greatest sport on earth. No other team sport can be as intense or allows for so many body types exhibiting so many skills. And no other sport comes close to it as a gladiatorial spectacle.
Yesterday’s storybook victory by Hawthorn is something they and they alone are capable of. But, hell, I’m biased.
I’m also biased in my view of the continual criminal umpiring decisions that routinely go against them. Yeah, I know every team complains about bad umpiring, and for a very good reason. So many umpiring decisions are so pathetic that there should be a tribunal to govern their gross mistakes, as there is against transgressing players. The old cry, We wuz robbed, goes back a long way.
Hawthorn supporters are still smarting over Darren Goldspink’s giving the game to Essendon in the 2001 Preliminary Final. Yesterday’s blind man was Scott McLaren, who did his best to turn the game Geelong’s way.
I’m not suggesting that these people intentionally give bad decisions (though who knows, they’re only human), but the fact that they do so with impunity is infuriating. They hold a position bordering on totalitarian. A coach makes a wisecrack about a decision and he’s immediately fined a huge amount. A player talks back and he’s rubbed out. Meanwhile nearly every game is marred to some degree.
Footy fans bitch about all this but nothing ever changes. And it’s not only AFL, it’s every sport. The training of umpires and referees is far behind the advanced speed and complexity of most modern sport. As the saying goes, they need to take a good hard look at themselves.
Be all that as it may, the mighty Hawks of Hawthorn took on and beat the best team in the competition, and all the bad umpiring on the day couldn’t stop them.