IT’S difficult to imagine a society where a single event which lasts less than three hours holds the collective attention of an audience like the AFL grand final.
People will throw facts and figures around which says other sports are more popular, that AFL is just a sporting contest devoted to the lowest common denominator and that the pedestal on which footballers are placed is contradictory to the society with which will hope to live.
While it is difficult to explain the intricacies of why we love AFL, it is indisputable that the national game has a truly unique impact on the lives of Victorians, amplified never more than in grand final week.
And football is becoming more important to evolving trends in our society.
Bizarrely, the AFL this week celebrated the appointment of Chelsea Roffey as the first female goal umpire to officiate in a grand final. We wish all the best to Chelsea but surely the announcement of her appointment said more about the AFL’s failure to embrace gender equality in the past than the way it might move in the future?
Somehow the AFL grand final has been symbolic of Australian musical talent. The decision to have the (apparently very cool) Temper Trap perform as part of the half time entertainment, after last year’s Meat Loaf (the man, not the food) poisoning. The entertainment has almost been as hotly debated as the game. How very odd.
The current AFL administration has developed footy into much more than a sporting contest and it has reaped the rewards of even wider acceptance in the community. Those who dismiss football as merely a dumb sporting contest fail to recognise its role as a leader of community attitudes to racism, drugs and alcohol through clubs and associations from grass roots to elite level.
That those who take the field are not perfect, indeed many would have little if not for their athletic talents, only provides for the context of exploration of their stories.
Mostly though, football thrives because communities are built around it. More than 5000 people paid to attend the Central Highlands grand final two weeks ago. Not because they were guaranteed the most skilful football expose but because they wanted to support the community with which they belong.
In some places - for argument’s sake Hepburn and Daylesford - footy divides a single community, yet, in a way, the people that support either club feel a stronger connection to their communities than most where rivalries are not as intense.
In Geelong, the success or otherwise of the city’s team can make or break a business, such is the economic activity which is provoked by a community which has a sense of freedom brought on by winning.
In the early 2000s, the town of Sunbury had its reputation harmed by the actions of a couple of very talented yet flawed footballers. In 2012, its football club is revered as the BFL champion. And the township is seen in much more positive light.
In regional Victoria, it’s the passion and and sense of belonging which creates a connection which - whatever you might say about the intense microscope which is applied to everything AFL - ensures the love of football is unrivalled and unsurpassed.
Grand final tip: Heart says Go Swans, head says Hawthorn to win by 27 points.