21 April 2011
This year's Anzac Day marks the most anticipated match between Collingwood and Essendon in recent memory – at least for some of us.
The Magpies are a brutal force in the competition; a sleek, chiselled cohort with imperial ambitions. The Bombers are playing like unhinged bandits, running wild across territory that someone should have taught them respect for.
Regardless of the normal hype around the fixture, this one will be special – one that fans of both sides and football purists are salivating over. But for the rest of the AFL community, the average North Melbourne or Adelaide fan sitting on their coach, it's just another game.
They might prefer to eat their Anzac biscuits.
It might well be a great game of footy, but equally it can be seen to be just another weekend dominated by two Victorian power sides parading on top of their climbing piles of gold.
Why not share the day? Have more games on April 25 or develop a rotation basis so all clubs have the opportunity to play on April 25?
Put simply, it's a bad idea that could undermine what has developed as a new tradition.
This year the date (but not the main spotlight) will be shared – Fremantle will take on the Bulldogs in a twilight match in Perth. With this decision, the AFL has started edging out onto a shaky wire.
Critics have been lining up over the years to denounce football on one of the nation's most special day as irreverent and a commercial exploitation. These arguments cannot be dismissed, and Anzac Day football should not be taken for granted. Any type of expansion move must be done with much caution: or maybe just not at all.
What the AFL has successfully done is construct the Collingwood v Essendon match as one based on tradition, respect and spirit. It is carefully marketed as a tribute to our fallen soldiers by combining the usual notions of war heroics that define our Anzac Day experience with on-field endeavour.
It may not please everyone, but nobody could accuse the AFL of disrespect on any level.
But, at the moment the match stands as a solitary gesture to a day of remembrance, not a day of football. If there are various matches being played across the country as if it were a regular weekend, the AFL risks creating a monster.
No-one need turn Anzac Day into a carnival.
Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse has expressed doubt over whether the Magpies and Bombers should continue to have exclusivity access the special fixture. Malthouse clearly finds strength in the emotion of the occasion and he is one of its strongest advocates. He also knows that under Collingwood's succession plans this will be his last time at the helm of the black and whites, so his comments are muddled in reflection.
However, he raises a valid point about some clubs (namely Collingwood) perpetually ‘owning' the rights to the big stage. It might be unjust, but an important ingredient on these days is the true, bitter rivalry that breeds passion. That cannot be fabricated.
This is the first year in many that both Collingwood and Essendon have been clashing for position towards the higher echelons of the competition ladder. Yet, years of matches contested by lowly sides have not once failed to capture the spirit of the day – not once has the crowd dipped much below capacity. That is the strength of these Victorian powerhouses.
Now that Chris Dawes' ludicrous charge has been rescinded by the tribunal, Collingwood's forward line will have the same brutish brawn that has been so effective so far this season.
Conclusions will inevitably be drawn on how good James Hird is as a coach based on this litmus test against the premiers. The winner of three Anzac Day medals himself, Hird will have his troops prepared. The Bombers are on quite a run, while the Pies look yet to flex their muscle – the MCG on Anzac Day will be the ultimate leveller.
While Melbourne's hallowed turf will be battleground for the brave, the bravest of men are the ones who have served, or continue to serve, on ground far from home.
Lest we forget.
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