The Year of the Asterisk

Having not lived through any major wars, or revolutions, or epochal asteroid impact events, I can safely say this has been the weirdest moment in history that I have lived through. Maybe the only other major shift was probably the late 80s-early 90s period when Hair Metal suddenly got very uncool – oh, and the Cold War ended, that kind of counts I think).

Obviously this is unbelievably big, and I will drop a few thoughts about the bigger picture shortly, but since this site is focused on football, I will deal with that first.

So, there’s no footy! Obviously I have done my usual preseason preparation, which included the return of the AFLW page. I even managed to go to the Carlton v St Kilda game at Princes Park, so that was the first time I’d been there in about three and a half decades. Funny to think that for ages it was Melbourne’s Second Venue, before Waverley and then Docklands took that mantle, and now it feels a little dilapidated, aside from the Blues’ HQ. But nice atmosphere and, I enjoyed the game, and felt the quality of the competition, at least the top teams, has picked up quite a bit (still a few stinkers, but that’s going to happen).

The news was getting more serious and I was increasingly aware that weekend was going to be the last for a while so I was glad I got to enjoy that. Have to say, the post-match trams from Princes Park weren’t any better than when I was kid – I ended up traipsing to Royal Park to catch the train, ironically, the same station as the night before as I’d been to see Stereolab at the zoo.

Of course we didn’t get to the pointy end of the AFLW with the hastily re-arranged finals series falling over as the clampdowns began. At least they got a few games in, though.

As for the Men of Football, well, we have seen one set of games played in front of empty stands before that got shut down as well. A fair bit of argument about whether even that first round should have been staged, and I can see both sides, but ultimately it was foolish to continue further considering the public health considerations, which we are all going to have to work around for at least the next six months.

I felt that conflict within myself as I was glad to see some king idiots propel the ball around as usual, but the total lack of buzz, fizz, and razzmatazz was frankly, eerie. The reactions of various Americans who had discovered it in lieu of everything else and become completely gobsmacked within minutes was pretty amusing though.

From a statistical point of view, with the reduced game time of 16 minutes per quarter, scoring rates were actually a little high compared with last year, but that’s only 9 games, so only a fool would draw any conclusions from that small a sample.

Whether we see any more such games this year, I cannot be certain. Three months is the bare minimum I can see play returning, perhaps in empty stadia again, but I think it will be closer to six, which pushes the resumption back into… September. Which will run right across the T20 World Cup. Since the AFL hasn’t ruled out playing into December (which will surely shorten the 2021 season as well, even if that is played under more normal circumstances), and in that heat, it would have to be a night grand final.

And under what circumstances? With 12 weeks, you are probably looking at a 8 or 9 game season, which might require a conference arrangement and then figure out a finals series from the two pools – possibly identical to the original AFLW system this year. I am glad I don’t have to make those calls, much less the calls affecting the community at large.

Given even less time, it may be more workable to have shorter exhibition series with no official premiership to be given, maybe three pools of six, have five games, then a short “finals” series to be contested by the three pool winners plus one runner-up, or maybe stretch that to eight (top two from each pool plus best two third-placed) and then have a straight knock-out finals series.

Basically we are in the unknown – the two ideas I’ve put forward are just speculation as there is a strong urge to salvage something from the financial black hole, but frankly this season is always going to have an asterisk whatever the outcome, and since at least the prognosis is reasonable that we will have a working vaccine 12 months from now, perhaps better to weather this storm, give everyone a gap year, and start Season 2021 on a more normal standing.

Although it is obvious nothing is ever going to be “normal” for a good while.

If we take this pandemic seriously, which fortunately we are mostly doing, there will be losses in life, but will not become an overwhelming tragedy, even if it means dealing with this mass inconvenience for a few months. If we don’t, well, I think certain North American country is going to show us the consequences of that path, one which we don’t have to follow.

Even still, every economic fundamental that has been relied upon for the past three or four decades has been overturned, and sport is just a small part of the damage. I think the question will be, if every sector has taken a hit and thus it’s just going to be blanket write-offs to keep everyone in some sort of step, then the recovery will be slow, but at least it will happen. Or otherwise if the After is so radically different to the Before, then you may see some dramatic changes in the game which may not be for the better.

But we will miss it, like everything else that makes life more than a routine existence, like going to see bands or films or go looking at art, like going out for lunch or having a few drinks with friends or putting on a barbecue, even just going to Bunnings looking vapidly at whatever power tool you are going to purchase and then never use. (Doing that online doesn’t have the same fizz.)

When the storm passes, we will embrace all that with a vengeance, and whatever we learned will better equip us to deal with the challenges of the future.

In the meantime, getting back to GRAFT, since the matches are off, this mean I have a little more time to work on those backburner projects like the historical stuff (I’ve gotten a bit done but it’s not quite ready for prime time yet), plus there are some really stupid sport-but-not-football ideas that I’ve been playing around with for a while. So I may do that. We’ll see.