In Praise of Grass Roots

The Australian Football League is often criticised for investing in other matters apart from grassroots football. The AFL for example, throws money at GWS, Gold Coast and the Shanghai game all in the name of ‘expansion’. GWS and Gold Coast have very few fans and are far from the homelands of footy. Meanwhile, clubs in Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and regional Victoria all struggle to make ends meet.


The average footy fan is left to wonder: what’s more important for the execs at the Australian Football League: gambling and advertising revenue generated from having more games (thanks to the new clubs) or the health of the game at the local level? The proliferation of Purple Coloured advertising [insert gambling company name] across any kind of AFL media suggests that there is an unhealthy relationship between footy and gambling companies these days. (Stories about gambling problems amongst players and coaches are increasingly common. The rumour mill, of course, is spinning even more quickly.)


There is seemingly a great discrepancy between the interests of the Australian Football League with those of the interests at the amateur and semi-professional level. That the AFL has been reported as being willing to spend a ‘six figure sum’ on its new logo is suggestive of an administration that knows no bounds when it comes to narcissism. The average footy fan, ‘the fan in the outer’ is being taken for a mug; he or she is regarded as being a member of broad captive audience who will front up to games regardless of the manner in which he or she is treated.


These issues are of course shared elsewhere in other sporting contexts. The UK has seen the rise of ‘Non League Day’. This day, founded in 2010 by James Doe, is a means of promoting attendance of non-league games and support for amateur clubs. Their website states: “Non-League Day provides a platform for clubs to promote the importance of affordable volunteer led community football while giving fans across the country the chance to show support for their local non-league side.”


Australian rules football exists on a broad spectrum. The finances of clubs and the Australian Football League are a far cry from the perilous times of the 1980s and 1990s when clubs were frequently threatened with extinction. Yet, it is now the minor teams and leagues that are vulnerable. SANFL and WAFL teams now have their players being drafted by AFL clubs mid-season. The non-AFL leagues have stated their firm opposition to the mid-season draft. But no matter to the AFL, who want to increase player movement at whatever cost.


The Victorian Amateur Football Association is home to 73 clubs and some 300 different teams. These clubs are volunteer run and are intricately connected to their local communities. It is possible to watch these games without being frisked upon entry; without paying an exorbitant booking or administration fee and without being under strict surveillance from over-zealous police. There are unlikely to be any traffic jams or crowded trains.


Yes, support your club in the AFL. But, supporting your local team has its pleasures too. One can do both. The AFL, after all, does not have a monopoly on Australian rules football. This is a game founded on grassroots passion, not on corporate interests.

*by Andy Fuller

*Let us know if you are interested in a ‘Non-League Day’ equivalent in the Australian context. Would it work? How could it work?