If you had the DeLorean from Back to the Future, went back 30 years and asked your average footy fan whether he would live to see a player suspended by their own club for something that the player said to an opponent, the answer probably would have been no.
Sledging has been part of the game of football for some time. Ever since Nicky Winmar and Michael Long moved the football world’s focus to the disgraceful racial taunting they endured on the field, the beginning of the end for sledging had begun. Once one way of unnerving an opponent by the spoken word was frowned upon, it wasn’t out of the realms of possibility to think that others would soon go the same way.
After race came religion. As these two identifiers are often seen hand in hand, this was a logical next step. After that came sledges about family members, so the AFL would no longer be the bastion of “Yo Momma” jokes. C’est la vie.
Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. When taking into account Brent Montgomery’s uncomplimentary remarks to Adam Ramanauskas regarding the unfortunate possible side effects of chemotherapy, or the stuff Stephen Milne seems to cop week in and week out (in fairness, this mostly comes from the other side of the fence), it is not inconceivable to suggest that perhaps the only fair game for sledging on an AFL footy field that will be left will be a player’s performance.
This is another example of where the game at the highest level takes a lead compared to footy at a local level. Because while racial and religious vilification are unacceptable at all levels, pretty much anything else is still fair game at the local level.
As a very ordinary amateur footballer, one thing I find that gets me going is getting my mouth working. Obviously even the most casual footballer knows the importance of talk on a football field, but I’m talking about talking to my opponents. If things start to get willing, I tend to get chatty rather than start to throw my small body around. This usually gets the blood pumping and helps me go harder at the contest.
This sort of banter, while usually rather brainless and devoid of class or subtlety, remains a great part of local footy. Usually it is greeted with some verbal bullets back, and when the game is done, a handshake and a smile while the protagonists shake their heads when they think back at what they actually said.
There is no doubt that the AFL has the main role in providing an example for footballers at all levels to follow, and it is equally true that what Will Minson said to Danyle Pearce has little place in today’s professional game. But I personally hope that the AFL and the local leagues located all around Australia can find a happy medium so that banter that helps make local footy unique remains a part of the game.