Round 8, 2018

Gathering on a football oval, ca. 1890 – ca. 1920, William Henry Wong Ying (photographer), State Library of Victoria, H84.296/25/5

Political protest has been feature of Melbourne this week. City streets were shut down on Wednesday with the Australian Council of Trades Union’s Change the Rules rally and many University of Melbourne staff and students were on strike – protesting about work conditions as part of the EBA negotiations.

Protest was also seen within football as a workplace – former Sun’s player Joel Wilkinson spoke of his intention to lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Right’s Commission. Wilkinson said he ‘won’t be silenced anymore’ and the ‘extreme racism’ he experienced ‘has been a continuous breach of human rights’. He continued: ‘My career was taken from me, my rights violated due to racism, religious vilification and racially-motivated sexual harassment that I experienced for many years. This is not acceptable in the workplace.’

Alongside these protests with the potential to shift society, we also see smaller-scale protests around the rules of the game. In recent times we have also seen much debate about the score review. Last Saturday the Kangaroos had a 2-point win over Sydney at the SCG and questions were asked if Sydney was robbed by a supposedly ‘controversial’ goal kicked by North’s Billy Hartung but possibly touched by Jarrad McVeigh. The AFL was satisfied there was not ‘definitive evidence’ to overturn the goal.

We could think of nothing worse than spending more game time painfully watching the slow motion replays of the ball going forwards and backwards to find this elusive ‘definitive evidence’. Tiger’s coach Damien Hardwick summarised  the score review predicament well: ‘We’re looking at fingernails, for god’s sake. I can’t understand it.’

This of course was not the only time when protests occurred on the footy field – heading back to 1911, it seems there were protests aplenty!

In Round 2 of the Victorian Football League’s (VFL) season in May of 1911, Geelong played Melbourne at Corio Oval and the game was drawn with both teams scoring 7.12 (54). A behind was awarded to the Cats at the end of the game to draw the match. The Demons protested, but there were many questions surrounding the final passage of play and hence the outcome of the game. Under rule 16 the Central umpire was in control of time, and he hadn’t heard the bell ring to end the game. The central umpire explained ‘There were many barrackers using their lungs, and the players were very excited’. Geelong had been awarded a free kick from a boundary throw in and ‘the uproar from spectators and players killed all other sounds’. The Chairman of the Victorian Football League’s investigation committee ‘jokingly suggested that Geelong had better get a new bell’. But the protest was dismissed as it was only the Central umpire who could call time, and given this wasn’t heard or communicated to the goal umpire, the ball wasn’t dead and the goal umpire was ‘at liberty’ to make the a decision on the score (‘Geelong-Melbourne Football Match’ The Geelong Advertiser, 11 May 1911, p3). There was further dispute about this result as people ‘about the goal posts’ were ‘strong of the opinion’ that the ball was touched over the line and ‘the clearly Geelong was deprived of a goal, which would have given them victory’ (‘Football’, Geelong Advertiser, 9 May 1911, p. 6).

The Victorian Football Association (VFA) also had issues with bells and the ending of games in 1911. In September, in a first final, the stakes were high. Essendon were playing Brunswick and Essendon’s Captain, Dave McNamara, kicked for goal after the bell had rung to end the game. McNamara kicked and missed while spectators were on the ground. There was discussion as to whether the path was cleared or not for McNarmara to take his shot.  The field umpire gave evidence that McNarmara should not have taken his shot until the ground was cleared but ‘McNarmara took no notice’ of him and kicked and missed. The crowd on the field didn’t interfere, but people did call out, which the umpire said ‘was enough to put any man off’. That said, the ball wasn’t interfered with but ‘He ought to have waited’. McNarmara argued he misunderstood the whistle blow – thinking it was ‘the umpire signalling to me to kick’. His recount of taking the shot is dramatic – with only a yard square to run in, on the first attempt he ‘was hit by someone in the crowd…I expected to be tripped every stride’. (Argus, 21 September 1911, p5). The protest was dismissed, Brunswick won. The teams played the following week in the Grand Final, McNamara kicked two goals and Essendon won.

Tied matches and unheard sounds marking the end of games are still part of the modern game – as evidenced by St Kilda and Fremantle’s ‘Sirengate’ in 2006. And umpiring and controlling the game remains contentious – but as Geelong’s Tom Hawkins learned this week – it’s advisable to follow umpires directions but never touch them in the process!

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