COLLINGWOOD to the core, fervent fan of football rituals, TERRY BROWN turns on the TV and takes in his first taste of AFLX:
THE first thing you notice about AFLX is all the X-cuses. “They’re easing themselves into it,” Brian Taylor explains all the crossed arms and empty seats.
“Not the best time to see their skill level at its finest,” former AFL coach and 1980 All Australian Mark Williams shrugs from the boundary at the hapless and confused talent.
For the dawn of the AFL’s new and horrifying mutation, Hindmarsh Stadium is at its finest, which is to say it looks like it mostly does incontinent dog shows.
It used to be a brick pit, and they would have been more dynamic than the Portland-sized crowd, but rev-up guy Lehmo is trying to be upbeat for everyone.
There is a party atmosphere in the outer, he imagines out loud from the more yellowed than hallowed turf.
Squinting viewers see him gesture at some distant white tents and try to picture the debauchery inside.
The tents have no view of the on-field action – a huge plus?
AFL chief Gillon McLachlan seems to think so.
“You can go out the back and have a drink or whatever you want to do,” he chirps as BT searches for more superlatives.
AFL marketers have worked until their nostrils bleed on this one. Premium seats because there is no view!
Zoopfest tickets were already hot property, of course. Scammers hacked the ground’s ticket site, although the AFL missed the chance to use that as an excuse. Damn.
For those lucky enough to have bought fake tickets and missed the AFLX, the game needs some explaining. And also, for those who, sadly, watched it,
Think Auskick but bruise-free, without the high marking, centre bounces, ruck work or drama. No tense build ups. No time to get a scream up from your tortured depths. No way to tell if your team is crap. Just action.
The object of the “game” is to make the goal posts light up like cheap iced confectionery every two minutes. Steam then shoots out of scaffolding creating the ambience of a just-torpedoed submarine. A large X is painted on the grass to make it more exciting for pirates. Got it?
Or, try the AFL website’s description: “The final was good fun, with the Crows using the Zoopers to great advantage.”
Each pre-season the AFL tinkers with the code, tweaking here, trimming there, injecting the odd bit of faux excitement, dialling up the BS meter. They must really hate footy!
This incarnation disembowels the game so foully and thoroughly it should have been played at Snowtown with axes.
Xplosive action, they promised. Xcitement. And boy the fans get it, from BT and an increasingly desperate and despondent Lehmo.
As BT rifles a thesaurus for synonyms for wonderful, Lehmo attempts to interview a Geelong player as the incessant music mercifully drowns them out.
Increasingly beyond hope, smile nailed on, looking almost ready to throw himself into a steam jet, he plunges on into the crowd, and banters. There are plenty of spare chairs for him.
The crowd seems to enjoy the distraction, but Lehmo seems to just want out.
He crosses back to BT, who has been gaffer taped head to foot during an ad, you’d think, to stop him exploding with AFLX joy.
BT genuflects to McLachlan (off camera?) and begins the grilling.
“There’s a lot happening,” he says. “It looks fantastic.”
Trapped, McLachlan has no choice but to agree.
“I’ve enjoyed watching it, yeah,” he confesses.
“Looks good,” BT is relentless.
“It’s got all the best bits of our game,” McLachlan toughs it out, then rounds on Taylor, asking for his rule changes.
BT seizes his moment to expose the fatal flaws. The X in the middle of the ground is too small. And names on the jumpers, please, so he doesn’t have to memorise them.
Other than that?
“Concept’s great … Working well,” BT adds for balance – mostly his bank balance.
McLachlan ends on the attack, threatening to unleash the mutant code on the world.
“(AFLX) solves a hell of a big problem in that respect,” he says of the piddling ground size and paucity of players.
McLachlan flees the booth to watch aerial feats you only get in AFLX by hiring stilt walkers.
Lehmo, dredging the Snowtown-like barrel, enthuses about yellow footballs but mainly the sponsor’s logo on them.
He fawns over players too slow to escape him, Zooper Dooper Superstars apparently.
“Did you get the hang of it in the end?” he asks a player clearly dying to say, “No,” but not needing the grief.
Crow Jake Kelly tries to deny it is bruise-free footy.
“There’s not many tackles, obviously, but the impact of running is significant,” he says, poor poppet, but none of it matters.
From the first dinky tip-up (no bounces) to the realisation that while you’ve been for a slash you’ve missed your team’s game, AFLX should be AFL-Why?
After dragging on all night like a wormy mutt, the cut down Crows finally beat some of Geelong in the final. Cats coach Chris Scott scowls like he has something nasty on his shoe – so that tradition, at least, survives.
Crow Kyle Cheney gets the inaugural trophy, a giant letter X he might find useful. Two more and he’s got a sex shop sign.
Lehmo is happy. Of course he is. He could not be happier unless he was BT. After three and a half hours, the “excitement” is over.
AFLX is a triumph, apparently.
“The crowd loved it,” Lehmo declares, and who can argue?
No one with a mic.
TERRY BROWN worked for many years as a general reporter, columnist and colour writer at The Sun and Herald Sun. He is now an academic lecturing in journalism and is an unpublished novelist.