Brave or stupid? So often it’s a fine line,
and that’s how it was for the AFL with the 80s-themed Heritage round. Why? Because
by showcasing some of the old fashions and how footy was played not so many
years ago, the League accidentally turned the spotlight on some of the worst of
the changes to the “modern game”.

I’m talking about the cosmetic but
significant changes that have all helped to bland out the AFL. Like putting goal umpires in smart
coloured polo shirts and baseball caps, instead of the traditional white
painter’s coats and broad-brimmed lawn bowler hats. They were back on the
weekend, and looked sensational.

Or like having umpires wearing white, as
they did for 100 years, before some genius at head office decided that their
uniform clashed with team guernseys also featuring white. Somehow Collingwood, Geelong and the Kangaroos all took the field on
the weekend, along with an umpire in traditional white, and nobody died.

My question is this: if the AFL felt so moved to make the “Men in White” the
“Men in Multi-Coloured Hues” as some kind of workplace safety measure, why can
they carelessly ditch that concern for an entire round for marketing reasons?

I know this is all low-level stuff, but it
matters. You want to hark back to the 80s? I interviewed some Americans at
a VFL game back then who had only come to that game to stand behind the goals
and marvel at the goal umpire in the white long coat and big hat. They actually
had fan clubs devoted to these idiosyncratic officials on the college
circuit back in the USA. I’ll bet nobody has a Goal Umpire Fan
Club these days, now they’re dressed like every other ho-hum official.

Is the AFL gutsy enough to admit a mistake? Put the
umpires and goal umpires back in the clothes they belong in, and only bring
back the coloured shirts and baseball caps as a chuckle in a future Noughties
Heritage Round? Let personalities like Akermanis have their head, instead of
slapping them down for breaking team ranks?

Not likely. Which is a shame.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey