Monday, March 26

First Successes, Last Hurrahs

Continuing the series of VFL / AFL 'decades in review'... In part 3, a 'golden era' of the VFL, where most teams had a realistic shot at the flag.
In the 30 seasons from 1950 to 1979, 10 of the 12 competing teams did indeed carry off a season with a flag. While the writing was on the wall at the end of this period for the two teams that missed out, South Melbourne and Fitzroy.


The first full post-war decade brought the first real success of the 'new teams' introduced in 1925, with Footscray breaking through for their first Premiership in 1954. Even that successful year didn't amount to a successful decade, with a winning percentage of only 48.9%.

The fifties also was the era of dominance by Melbourne under the legendary Norm Smith, when they won 4 flags and could have bagged another 2 more (missing 1954 and 1958). And the Melbourne dominance didn't finish with the end of this decade, with more flags in the 60's.


The 60's were possibly the most balanced and competitive decade of the VFL, with 7 different teams winning flags, and only 4 teams not having positive winning percentages. It could also be argued that it was the beginning of tough times for the 4 clubs that had the poorest winning percentages. Of those 4 two have moved / merged and the other 2 have had both additional AFL funding and changed their name as well.

This decade was (and still is) St.Kilda's best, with a flag and a 61.2% winning performance. Best by a long way (nearest was 50.4% in the 90's).

It was also the decade of breakthrough for Hawthorn, finally winning a flag and leaving only North Melbourne without a premiership.

The 60's also marked the start of Collingwood's 'Decades of Dissapointment', with no flags for the 60's, 70's and 80's.

With the advent of television and televised games (along with radio coverage) you could also mount an argument that the additional media coverage fuelled the divide amongst the clubs, with more focus on the successful teams pulling in more supporters and dollars etc. You could mount that case, but I will just call it a theory and leave it at that.


The 70's were the era of colour television, where teams accommodated the TV networks by changing jumper colours (e.g. Melbourne to a lighter blue), and even wearing coloured shorts (Richmond and Essendon both donned shorts that matched the sashes, Footscray went for red shorts too). The first real decade where the media influenced football.

In turn it was also the decade where football influenced popular culture as it was when the first Australian Football based feature films were made:  "The Great MacArthy" (1975) and "The Club" (movie: 1980, play 1977).

It also saw the last of the 1920's new boys break through and win a flag, with Barassi at the helm and Aylett working the 10-year rule to effect, North Melbourne picked up their first 2 flags. It was also the begininning of a dominating period by Hawthorn and Carlton as well, with 3 flags each and more in the 80's as well.

It also returned football back to a decade of dominance of some clubs, but this time with a twist. Clubs were now openly spending and securing the best talent, as well as developing players from within their zones, which continued into the next decade until the boom time turned to bust.

The spending was partly triggered by the introduction of the 10-year rule, but also by the increased flow of funds into clubs. No longer reliant on memberships and benefactors, this decade brought sponsorship to a new level. No longer were the fences on the outer draped with supporter made banners, but sponsor signs. Jumpers also first sported logos over the left breast
 - North Melbourne and Courage Breweries
 - Essendon and Don Smallgoods
 - Collingwood and Yakka
 - Richmond and Carlton and United Breweries
for example.

Notably, without sponsorship dollars was St. Kilda, Melbourne, Footscray, Fitzroy and South Melbourne. And for the latter, it was their last decade in Melbourne. The beginning of the end of the VFL had begun, without most people realising it.

And the next three decades would shake the foundations of the football world, well as re-invigorate it into a new dimension.

Friday, March 9

Ask Your Grandfather

Continuing the series of VFL / AFL 'decades in review'... this time from the 20's through to the 40's... another period that the VFL and Australia was touched by war and troubles.

An era where legends were made, heroes were only read about and dreamed of. Where kids kicked rolled up newspapers around because they couldn't afford footballs, but loved the game intensely.


The 1920's was the final decade of footy before electronic media, radio, television etc. Players then were more mythical legends, with deeds only seen at live on match-days, or read in the papers, or discussed in workshops, pubs or schoolyards. It was the last days of the most pure form of team supporting... of being at your local ground as the only direct contact and involvement you could have with your team.

The 20's also saw the VFL push for the introduction of a new team and elimination of the bye. VFA clubs spent years lobbying the power-brokers at the League before finally settling on North Melbourne, Hawthorn and Footscray (with Prahran missing out). Those three teams were selected for inclusion to the VFL during the 1924 season. At the end of the '24 season, Footscray as VFA premiers, famously went on to win the title 'Champions of Victoria' after defeating the VFL Premiers, Essendon.

The three new clubs commenced VFL action in 1925, but owing to the existing VFL clubs not relinquishing suburban recruiting zones, they were hamstrung from the start (somethings never change). Essendon also recruited a few of the Footscray players that defeated them in the Champions of Victoria match (one of the purest examples of being a sore loser!).


The depression brought in hard and tough football, where playing with an injury was a must unless you wanted to lose your match payments. Also, as money was tight at clubs, the wealthy benefactors at the bigger clubs were able to help with player payments and recruitment through the decade, and this is reflected in the teams listed at the top at the finish of the decade.

In fact, this decade was so lopsided that it is the only one to produce a top 4 that won +60% of their games and have +120% for/against. (The only challenger is the 70's, although the for/against percents were lower).


The war years again brought a suspension in play, but only for Geelong who stood out of the 1942 and 43 seasons due to wartime travel restrictions. Geelong's players were temporarily transferred to other clubs to allow them to keep playing. Melbourne and Collingwood also struggled to field teams, relying on VFA players and Servicemen to complete their squads.

Matches were also played away from major grounds, as they were requisitioned for the war effort. US soldiers and Australian RAAF personnel were stationed at the MCG (in what the Americans called 'Camp Murphy').

St. Kilda also missed playing some games due to a quirky draw the VFL introduced to eliminate the bye mid-season (in 1943 after 11 rounds, the 11th team got tipped out for the remaining 5 matches).
The war and ration years also proved to be the worst period in Collingwood's history to date, with no flags and the the first time they had won less than 6 out of 10 games. Quite a contrast to the big spending decade before.

Wednesday, March 7

Taking It One Decade At A Time

As we draw into the start of the 2012 AFL season (Yep, I don't count pre-season games as real footy) its time to trawl through my VFL / AFL 'all games ever played list'.

Last year, I could console (post-Grand Final loss) the Wobbler fans on this blog post with a bit of an historical factoid... that they are currently the team with the best winning record in the full history of the competition. (and for you Gen Y'ers, than means they are the 'most winning-est' team).

So lets paraphrase an old football adage, lets review teams performances "one decade at a time".*
*yes, the first really is only a 3 year period, so not truly a decade... understood.


The first three years of the VFL involved the VFA power teams, and for geographic balance*, St. Kilda play 14 game seasons, plus a convoluted finals series that is best left for you to research and try to understand (because I wont try).
Essendon topped out the 1890's as the best, though Fitzroy actually had more Premierships. The St. Kilda failed to win a game in 3 full seasons.
* Port Melbourne were a VFA power and touted for inclusion but were rejected (possibly on the grounds that their players and supporters were 'too rowdy') in favour of weaker St. Kilda.


The first full decade saw the competition expand with the introduction of Richmond and University joining in 1908, and the number of games per season grow to 18. Interestingly, the VFL leaders chose to include one more VFA team (Richmond), and University which was then playing in the Metropolitan Football League.

From the turn of the century, Carlton had the best of the decade with 3 premierships, but it was Collingwood that dominated, winning 2/3rds of their games and 2 flags. Fitzroy also picked up 2 premierships as well.

University's first two seasons were quite productive, winning 15 of their first 36 games. Not a bad result for a new team, and better than Richmond performed as well. St.Kilda started to win some games, but a 25% win rate over the 10 years made for tough times at the Junction Oval.


After the introduction of new teams in the previous decade, the call to arms saw the loss of many a young man from Australia. And during the war years also saw the temporary loss of Melbourne (1916-18), Geelong (1916), Essendon (1916-17), South Melbourne (1916) and St. Kilda (1916-17)  from the competition on "patriotic grounds".

Also in this decade, after 51 consecutive losses and a total of 126 games over 7 years, University left the VFL at the end of the 1914 season. This left the competition as 9 teams (and a weekly bye) at the end of the decade. A situation that would be rectified in the next decade, with 3 new teams being accepted into the league.

A nice spread of premierships too in the war years, with Collingwood securing 3, Carlton, Fitzroy and Essendon securing 2 each. South Melbourne had the best of the decade, winning almost 7/10 games, but only 1 flag. Also worth noting, three teams (South, Carlton and Collingwood) dominated, winning 2/3rds (or more) of there games for the decade... clearly more than any other team.

In the next blog post: the 20's, 30's and 40's.

Friday, February 24

Did I contribute to your downfall?

Amateur blogger and even more amateur food critic.
Surely not the sole reason for the demise of a restaurant...?

Just a tiny pawn, in game of life, eh Mongo.

What I wrote about the departed Liquid Tapas Bar

Friday, November 4

...and furthermore...

In these two previous posts ("Blow-out Me Down With A Feather" and "Money Can Buy You Wins"), I have tried to highlight that the blow-out losses are not necessarily the result of bringing in the Suns, and that other factors, mostly financial, are also at play. In particular, Andrew Demetriou made specific mention that bringing in new clubs would of course cause problems.

You can only assume he meant 'under the rules in place for the introduction of the Suns / Giants', because not only do the numbers not stack up (as per the second of the above links), but also according to the first post ("First Bounce") over at the AFL FootyMaths blog, all other teams introduced in the modern era (i.e. teams starting from 1987 on) have all performed extremely well in their first year.

So well in fact, that winning less than 1/3rd of their first season games is the exception to the rule. Only the Suns (Win rate: 14%) and the Brisbane Bears (Win rate: 27%) fit that exception. Where-as, all the other teams introduced since 1987 all have better first season records.

          1987 - West Coast -    Win rate: 50%
          1991 - Adelaide -         Win rate: 45% 
          1995 - Fremantle -       Win rate: 36%
          1997 - Port Adelaide -  Win rate: 48%

So, tell me again Your Andrew-ness... just why is it again that we have an emerging gulf in the AFL? Have you not overseen the creation of 'haves' and 'have-nots'?

Friday, October 28

A-League: I'm Struggling

Like most football (round-ball) fans, I was happy to see the reforms to the Australian game under Lowy. With the new teams and a fresh start, I joined and became a happy follower (even if from the distant reaches of suburban Tokyo).

But as the seasons work by and wheel away, I cant say I love the competition as much as I should... here is why...

1. The Melbourne Victory. 
The first team in Melbourne, and carrying the state colours. Must be the one team right? ...Well, no.
Picking navy and white is just too easy... teams picking colours on state affiliations is easy... lazy... cliche. 

As much as we love the Navy and white of the Big V...

I prefer this...                                                             ...over this.

And, then of course, navy and white is always linked to the very mortal enemy of the RFC faithful.

So from Day 1, I was never fully 'on-board' with the Victory.

2. The Melbourne Heart.
Seriously... that's the name. You almost lost me completely right there.
But the colours are at least not such an obvious choice on one hand (i.e. state based), but on the other hand, with a team in blue as your local rival, well red is just too easy.

I still cant get behind them though even though I do like the traditional shirts they have for home and away strips.

Home                                                                            Away

In fact, I actually prefer the away kit... very clean, very stylish.

But I can't get behind 'The Heart'. It feels wrong, odd.

So, I am kind of off the A-League...


Wednesday, October 26

Money Can Buy You Wins

... but I'm still not sure if money can buy you love.

Earlier, I posted about how the 2011 season was the worst for blow-out margins in the history of the competition on several indicators.
On looking at the chart further, I could see a period in the past that was similar to the 2011 season.

But first, let's pick -apart the season that was a bit further, as there is some feeling (from AFLHQ and others) that this was inevitable due to the introduction of the Gold Coast.

So It's All About The Suns Then?
As noted in my previous post here, blow-outs were expected by the AFL, as the expansion teams came in and built teams. So using this as a premise, let's allow that "we knew they would happen with Gold Coast etc" point stand on its own, and ignore the other "these are very rare occurrences" comment (from the same post) COMPLETELY ALONE then.

So, taking AD's comment that its all about the Suns, then I have to call bulltish. A simple check of the winners and losers highlights that the Suns may well be the worst, but there were quite a few others that also dished up some rubbish as well.

If you look at the thrashed teams what do we know about their 2011 season.
- Adelaide and Port Adelaide: teams in rebuild mode, profit and financial issues associated with the SANFL licence and ground deal. Both sacked coaches (one in 2010, one in 2011).
- Melbourne and North Melbourne: Perennial Melbourne-based financial misfits, both these teams were belted by Collingwood and Geelong in 2011.
- Fremantle: The financially weaker brother of the WA teams, but perhaps their losses were more injury or travel related, as they had two bad losses in Melbourne.
- Throw in the Richmond and Western Bulldogs results, again from a pair of teams that have had financial crises (and often poor recruiting) too.
- You should disregard the Collingwood result (the Round 24 loss to Geelong), as it was in a game that had little value for them... well, that's their side of the story anyway!

And how many of the above were in receipt of financial assistance from AFLHQ? From the AFL's 2010 report (pdf),
          A total of $7.1 million was paid from the AFL’s Annual Special Distribution
          fund to the following clubs:
           Western Bulldogs Football Club ($1.7 million)
           North Melbourne Football Club ($1.4 million)
           Port Adelaide Football Club ($1.25 million)
           Melbourne Football Club ($1.0 million)
           Sydney Swans Football Club ($0.8 million)
           Carlton Football Club ($0.6 million)
           Richmond Football Club ($0.4 million)

From the winners perspective, the competitions big spenders and power clubs are there (CollingwoodGeelongWest Coast), joined (some what incongruously) by Melbourne. The grain-of-salt for that would be to consider their big wins were vs. Adelaide, vs. Fremantle and vs. Gold Coast, in what was a very odd season for them.

I think there is a case to be made, that the competition is unbalanced and that the richer stronger clubs have opened up an advantage over others. But in the world of the draft, and salary cap how can this be?

Well, there is still unrestricted off-field spending, which it has been argued has reached a new peak (FoxSports May 4 2011).
So, I put it to you, persistent reader that has gotten this far... that it comes down to spending and club finances as to not only how well your season goes, but also to how well you destroy the on-field opposition and create a blow-out game.

Finances and Poor Performance.
So how can anyone suggest in this day and age (of the salary cap, draft and other equalization schemes) that the finances and spend of clubs is creating disparity?
Looking back at the past year, there are many stories and hours of broadcast time that had been sent out around the off field spend of clubs, the overseas visits, and club facilities and staffing levels.  

Look back at the chart that shows the number of games lost by margins over 60 points. There is another period in AFL history that shows a very similar trend... that period between 1982 and 1996.
Any suggestions as to what happened between 82 and 96?

Here's a potted history right here...
    1981:    South Melbourne, in financial trouble, are relocated to Sydney by the VFL.
    1985:    The first murmurs of financial problems and payment issues at Fitzroy surface.
    1986:    Ranald McDonald resigns from Collingwood, leaving them in debt and at the foot
                 of the table. 
    1988:    Richmond, suffering from rash management and a 'trade war' with other clubs
                 (principally Collingwood) have a huge debt, and create the "Save Our Skins"
                 campaign to fight off death.
    1990:    Footscray fight back against a merger with Fitzroy and survive (even though Ross
                 Oakley wasn't merged into outer space).
    1994:    Further financial troubles around Fitzroy.
    1995:    St. Kilda launch the "save our Saints" campaign.
    1996:    A proposed merger between Melbourne and Hawthorn is rejected, after both
                 teams struggled with debt and low membership levels. 
    1996:    The Fitzroy fight for survival finally ends after 100 seasons, and they 'merge' with 
                 the Brisbane Bears to form the Brisbane Lions.

That period must be the most de-stabilizing to the VFL/AFL competition in its history, with at least eight clubs suffering debt crises at some time (tell me if I missed any or got the years wrong). 

So, let's look at when these blowouts began rising and peaked (see the main chart here), and I will choose the period from 1973 (the year the '10 Year Rule' was introduced and retracted*) until now. Looking at that specific time, and overlaying the troubles above, yields the below chart.

Click to Expand

What is also noticeable is that there is an arrest in the growth of blowout games** from 1996 onward (for about 15 years), which may be related to the end of the turmoil of mergers and financial crises, the declared support of the 16 team structure by AFL HQ, and the generally improved fiscal management of the clubs and league itself.

What I haven't considered so much is exactly what is being paid to players... and whether third party deals or even breaches (known or unknown) are also skewing teams performances.

The Reduced Talent Pool
The main idea behind the Demetriou 'new teams = blowout games' theory is based on the idea that adding new teams reduces the talent pool and lowers the playing standard. This  also, doesn't stack up so clearly

Firstly from the above, adding a new team (and say 40 senior list players) does not necessarily create a higher chance of blow-outs.
- 1987 introduced both the West Coast and Brisbane Bears, and there were less blowouts than the previous 2 seasons.
- 1991 brought Adelaide with less blowouts than the previous season.
- 1995 brought Fremantle into the competition, with less blowouts than 4 of the previous 5 seasons.
Port Adelaide's entry in 1997 also saw the exit (via merger, if you like) of Fitzroy. That season, and the next two, were more even and balanced than 14 of the previous 15 seasons.

Final Proposition
So, I would think that with the above, you could offer a position that clubs financial strengths has an impact on performance. This was manifested in the 80's and 90's via general club financial problems, and in the recent era in the power to spend off-field and in the back rooms, to build on-field strength.
You can buy yourself an AFL premiership, even in the age of the salary cap and draft.

Let me know if I am wrong, or have missed something.

* What a great moment in VFL/AFL history the '10 Year Rule' was. Introduced as a kind of free-agency policy to allow players with 10 (or more) years service to transfer to a club of their choice, usually for an inflated fee. It caused such ructions and player movement that it was rescinded early the following year over concerns about ballooning payments and clubs wage-payment pressures. Additional player payment and recruitment detail here, by Ross Booth (pdf). 

** You could point to seasons 2000 and 2001 as exceptions, but looking at the raw data shows higher 60 and 80 point losses, but only a few losses over 100 points. To me, the dark yellow and red results are the key problem areas.