I have had this issue with the AFL for a long time but after writing the post about the Battle of the Bridge, I had to get this off my chest. The AFL is too cavalier with their rivalries. They try and create rivalries where there are none. and that gets on my nerves like no other. Now, it is one thing to market a game in by giving it a name, such as ‘Battle of the Bridge’ but when every game you watch is considered a rivalry, that’s just too much. The word loses it’s meaning. which is a shame for the true rivalries out there like Carlton/Collingwood.
I’m an American, so I know a thing or two (or two thousand) about rivalries. My mother is from Wisconsin, which makes her a Green Bay fan, and I went to college in Massachusetts, which makes me a Red Sox and Celtics fan. Those are three of the greatest rivalries in sports – Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears, Boston Celtics v LA Lakers, and, of course, the infamous Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees.
For two of these three rivalries, post-season games were the key – the Packers/Bears have met more times in the post-season than any other NFL teams. The Celtics/Lakers, hold the same record in the NBA and they have had several bouts where they were the top two teams, repeatedly battling for the top spot (in the 60s, 80s, and lates 2000s). The Sox/Yanks… well. That’s just massive, isn’t it? Babe Ruth was the cause of that. We won’t get into it. Nearly 100 years later and it’s still a sore subject for most.
But there is a REASON for all these rivalries.
The other thing about a rivalry is that people actually have to CARE about it – at least fans of one side (in my experience, the better team’s fans usually pretend they don’t care until they’re on the bottom again). Let me tell you… when the Lakers came to town, I could not count the number of ‘Beat LA’ shirts I saw in Boston. The Packers fans always make banners about how they hate the Bears. And once… a Yankees fan ran over a Red Sox fan with her car (I thought that this person lived, and it was only when I went to retrieve the link that I realized he had died – I certainly do not support killing people over sport).
I know that Australia is a laid-back country and no one wants to do things like this, which is part of what makes sport in this country so great. Sport is supposed to unite people, not tear them apart. And that’s fine. But it then must be acknowledged that concocting a rivalry out of nothing is not only in poor taste, it’s also an unfitting marketing ploy. If no one cares about it… you’re not going to be able to make them care. Sure, there are games that are better than others (who DOESN’T love the Collingwood/Carlton game?!) and there are games that people care about… but no one cares about all of them (unless, of course, they have Dream Team players in all of them, but that’s another story). And trying to make them care about all of them is nonsense – and a waste of time.
In fact, the AFL rivalry Wikipedia page has a list that nearly every AFL team is on – that’s not right. It’s not a rivalry, it’s a competition. By contrast, the MLB rivalries page has much fewer, even though there are nearly twice as many teams, and most of those rivalries involve the Yankees (seriously, who likes the Yankees?). Admittedly, many of the AFL rivalries involve Collingwood, but there are many more, involving most other AFL teams. MADNESS.
I don’t expect Australia to turn into the EPL – ripping chairs out of the stadium and eating the chairs. And you don’t really want them to become Brazil/Argentina with the police and the killing… and all that negative stuff. But THAT’S a rivalry. You must admit. AFL rivalries don’t hold a candle to those of Celtic FC/Rangers FC, Barcelona/Real Madrid, or Man U/Liverpool. Those are real rivalries. Sorry AFL, the Battle of the Bridge is just… not.
To give Australia some credit, there are two Australian cases of great rivalries: Aus/England (cricket) and Aus/New Zealand (rugby). Those rivalries are great because people care – it doesn’t matter who is actually better at the sport or who won last time. Everyone hopes their team will win the next meeting. The Ashes are… outstanding. I have never personally watched one, and I’m excited for this year, but I don’t have to – hearing people talk about it and the coverage that it gets in Australia is enough to relay the fact that it’s a great rivalry. I am actually slightly frightened (in a good way!) for what will happen when Australia plays England…
Likewise, any time Australia plays New Zealand in rugby… I love it. There is so much passion (aka hate for New Zealand) expressed by Aussies, which is rare since Australians are chill, almost emotionless-because-they’re-always-happy, people. That’s what a rivalry is all about!
You cannot just decide: “We have a rivalry.” That’s not how it works, even though the AFL is trying to do that. Rivalries are spawned from actions. From losing. From the pain and agony of seeing your team fall to the worst possible opponent. It’s about hope and passion and fire.
Sort it out, AFL.
(Sidenote: Don’t you LOVE that picture? It’s why I love Jason Varitek)