I will be watching the Anzac Day game tomorrow. This may seem like a statement of the obvious to many but the reality is, the Anzac Day game for me is a take it or leave it affair.
There’s a few reasons for this. One is that of all the public holidays, Anzac Day is about the only instance where I actually take a bit of time to reflect on why I’ve been spared another shift doon pit.
I was quite close to my Grandfather who served a long and brutal WWII campaign and on Anzac Day – an occasion he despised – I’ll go for a walk and give a bit of thanks for the simple fact that I’ve never had to run at a machine gun, or hose what is left of my mate off the cannon shell shattered mid upper turret Perspex.
The other reason is that, well, too often the game itself is shit.
Yep, tomorrow we are going to see an up-and-coming Bombers side against a Collingwood mob that will be desperate for a big win to get its finals campaign – and much like the Bulldogs of 2010 a Grand Final and nothing else will constitute a pass mark for FIGJAM – underway.
But it isn’t always like this. For a fair period of the 2000s, Anzac Day was just a pair of bottom of the ladder teams slogging out in an early season home and away game. If you don’t get sucked in by the puffed chest Aussie flag worn as cape full moon party take on Gallipoli, which I certainly don’t, then that is what it is.
Which begs the question: why should it always be Essendon and Collingwood playing this fixture? The reality of the cyclical structure of the league means that there will inevitably be periods when both teams are down the bottom and playing crappy football.
According to The Age there’s a push on to end the Anzac Day duopoly. It is one I support. For the following reasons.
There’s no doubt that Essendon and Collingwood have done tremendously well to make the current Anzac Day fixture what it is.
I’d argue there’s an element of serendipity at work – that the fixture came along at just the right moment, as the wider Australian culture, under the not so subtle urging of then PM John Howard, developed a fascination on the Anzac myth bordering on sexual.
But this should not deny the innovative work put in by Essendon and Collingwood.
However, being innovative and working hard to develop a fixture or a timeslot does not guarantee a club exclusive access to it forever more.
Just ask North about Friday night. Interestingly, both Collingwood and Essendon went on the record as saying they didn’t think Friday nights would work early in the piece.
Lo and behold, when North made them work – also, undeniably, with the aid of other social forces like the opening up of the Melbourne CBD as an entertainment district at night – Collingwood and Essendon were keen to get a slice of the cake, and the AFL let them.
No doubt there’ll those who will claim that no other clubs could be guaranteed to fill the MCG every Anzac Day without fail. Yes and no. The two “foundation” clubs in the fixture are somewhat victims of their own success: they’ve made Anzac Day into such a huge event that it is now ingrained into the footy public’s consciousness. They have built, people will come.
That of course does not mean that we could schedule the Bulldogs vs Port at the MCG and expect 90k to turn up. That is crazy talk.
But what would work is a Grand Final rematch. Every year. It would become an iconic fixture and would attract more neutrals than it does now – that said, plenty of neutrals go now. Even if one of the sides is an interstate team, enough people would come over from WA or wherever to see a Grand Final rematch.
Essendon and Collingwood would no doubt squeal but the reality is that the fixture itself is so well established that it can be taken off them and flourish, just like Friday nights.
If anything, the new Anzac Day would get better attendances and ratings.
I would faithfully watch the Grand Final rematch year-in, year-out if it was on Anzac Day. And I can’t say that about the annual Essendon vs Collingwood affair.
Surely the fans of all clubs should come first?