Earlier this week, Collingwood Football Club began running an Anzac Day-themed advertisement on Melbourne radio to spruik its membership.
The voice of former captain and future coach Nathan Buckley can be heard selling the benefits of the deal. It includes a reserved seat at the Anzac Day game (one of the hottest tickets on the sporting calendar) as well as a couple of other matches and access to finals tickets.
All the while the sound of the Last Post played in the background as Buckley made his sales pitch. It seemed Anzac Day footy had become what it had threatened to be for a while.
Commemoration had become commerce.
My SEN radio program made inquiries to the RSL about the efficacy of the use of the Last Post in the advertisement and it is fair to say they were none too pleased. To the Magpies’ credit, having been made aware of the RSL’s concerns, they instantly withdrew the advertisement and replaced the Last Post with the Collingwood theme song.
The Anzac Day memberships remain on sale and the Anzac imprint is still part of Collingwood’s retail pitch. And it raises a wider question about how sport, war and business have become allied with the re-birth of Anzac Day.
Ever since Kevin Sheedy and then Collingwood administrator Graeme Allan instigated the first Collingwood-Essendon Anzac Day clash in 1995 (which ended in a famous draw — a stalemate — the irony of which wouldn’t have been lost on those who fought in the filth and mud of the Western Front in WW1) the Anzac Day clash has become the most prestigious non-finals fixture in Australian sport.
It’s also a big money spinner. It’s the third biggest day for the Melbourne Cricket Club after the grand final and Boxing Day Test. For the TV and media partners, it delivers huge audiences and big revenue.
Many AFL fans of other clubs resent the monopoly the Bombers and Magpies hold over the day. As a day of national significance they feel excluded from the experience of the occasion.
The ugly turf war that is the annual squabble over who plays on Anzac Day diminishes everyone who takes part in it. The arguments over the crowd size, the “blockbuster” status of the game and even ridiculous claims that football (read Essendon and Collingwood) saved Anzac Day deserve to be filled under M for Moronic.
No one owns Anzac Day; it lives in the memory of those who served. And the size of the crowd at a football match is irrelevant. The silence of a few gathered in solemn contemplation is just as profound as that of the tens of thousands who might do it at the MCG.
Anzac Day is never about who is there, but about those who could never be.
That being said, Essendon and Collingwood have been wonderful custodians of the occasion and have done their best to strike the right balance of solemnity and dignity to the day. I believe as long as they continue to do so they should be trusted with the sacred responsibility of upholding that tradition. Thus far, they’ve proven themselves worthy.
However, using Anzac Day as a sales pitch crosses the line. As does any football coach who compares his actions in lying to the media with those of a wartime leader hunkered down in a bunker under London as the Luftwaffe razed the city. The same with footy teams trekking Kokoda searching for inspiration for the season ahead.
The sacrifices of the many should never become an opportunity for the few — whatever their endeavours are.
And the clichés about sport and war, sacrifices and mateship and playing with “The Anzac spirit” could only be uttered by those of us lucky enough not to have had our lives and those of our loved ones ruined by war.
Maybe that’s why the generations who lived through such horrors and carried the burden of such losses felt so indifferent to Anzac Day for so long. They understood that the blood myths and over-ripe nationalist sentimentality that can accompany memorial days such as Anzac Day bore no relation to the truth about suffering war’s cruelty.
Now a generation that has never had to know the names, faces and stories of those who were lost and left behind see Anzac Day as something completely different.
Anzac Day is in danger of becoming a day about us.
And that should never be allowed to happen.
*Back Page Lead is a new sports opinion website that provides sports content to Crikey.