From The Press Box: keep Saturday afternoons for country footy

SATURDAY afternoon AFL games should be extinct.

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan says he is giving the people what they really want in more traditional MCG jaunts on Saturday afternoons next season.

Fans cry that this is what they want, but is this what they really need?

McLachlan needs to show a little tough love to the people.

Just like a parent setting boundaries for a tantrum-throwing toddler, McLachlan needs to make the hard decision and stick to it to do what is best for the game’s long-term development.

There will be protests, some fans will drop their bottom lips, but the AFL is bigger than just the national league, which is already extending rounds as long as it can.

Saturday afternoons should be for the people.

This should be when suburban and country footy completely hold centre stage.

This should be when your local stars shine.

Want more people involved in grassroots clubs as players, volunteers, supporters? Take away the AFL option. Stop pitting AFL against its community-based competitions.

The AFL’s move to schedule more Saturday afternoons, particularly at the MCG, really seems like a quick-fix solution to appease and win back live audiences.

A return to the traditional timeslot might make you feel warm and fuzzy, reminiscing on Saturday afternoons spent trekking with the family to the MCG’s hallowed turf.

It is time to move forward.

Promote more Friday night, Saturday night or early Sunday afternoon MCG blockbusters. AFL bosses could really pick any and, if they sell it big and sell it right, the MCG will fill.

It is also hard not to be a little sceptical about the AFL’s grand gesture when its American counterpart is bringing NFL games back to a couple of special Saturday afternoons late in the upcoming season.

Are the AFL’s plans just a mimic?

Saturdays seemed almost devoted to college football in the United States. Football fans could easily follow their alma mater and pro team just as hard.

So when the NFL starts to sneak Saturday afternoon back on its schedule, must the AFL creep more back into its as well?

This is a chance for the McLachlan-led AFL era to take a stance and declare Saturday afternoons purely for people to play the game. Any other time can then be for those who want to watch it.

There is a growing hark back to the football of old with more AFL clubs opting to go standalone in the Victorian Football League and taking full control of their lists.

This has, in turn, brought traditional club grounds back into play.

Supporters have lapped it up but it cannot entirely go back to the way football used to be. The AFL is far too big and professional for that now and the VFL is a marquee league in its own right.

Yet sometimes, for Saturday afternoon AFL, games get pushed into a morning start.

This is the state’s best – including our region’s best lining up for North Ballarat – in action.

Even Western Bulldogs’ new VFL arm Footscray sought out the western suburbs’ best to build its VFL list.

AFL-listed players complement and lift the standard of the competition but VFL teams are no reserves and should not be treated as such.

Saturday afternoon football should be about promoting pathways and celebrating all those that take to the ground.

We are saturated with AFL football and AFL analysis more than ever and that is great for fans, from the super-keen to mildly interested, who can tune in at their leisure. It is great for the game.

As the league rapidly evolves, the AFL should take a step back, rather than a step backwards, and see what is really important and that is where the game all starts.

The AFL should make dedicated time and space for grassroots footy. The people will appreciate it.

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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