Rough football: A caution to players and fans.
It rarely happens that so early in the season as the second Saturday a match is marred by such unpleasant incidents as marked the progress of the match between St. Kilda and North Melbourne on Saturday, The state of affairs leading up to this rough play would seem to have been exactly that detailed by the honorary secretary of the Football Association in his report as recently presented, and the gist of which is still fresh in the minds of both players and spectators. Mr. Marshall, speaking of this excess of feeling, said:
“Individual players however, are scarcely so much to blame, when we consider that some teams enter the field with no shadow of friendly feeling towards their antagonists, the result being, that our game is brought into disrepute by the unduly rough play and nasty spirit displayed. Committees of clubs are in my opinion, frequently much to blame for this outcome, as I have heard remarks made in their excitement about opposing clubs and players by committee-men that certainly were not conducive to a continuation of friendly matches. I think committees can and should do a great deal in promoting a more friendly feeling between clubs, by excluding from their ranks any player calculated to bring their club into disrepute, by extending to visiting players and committees a certain amount of courtesy, and by expressing their opinions of umpires and opposing players in a less boisterous and open fashion. Committees must not usurp the prerogative of the genus ‘barracker’, and rob him of the delightful privilege of abusing umpires and players to the top of his bent. I do not, for one moment say that all clubs or committee-men should be included in this category, but I am sure it will be admitted that many of you have had experiences of this kind.”
What was there condemned seems to have been exactly what the North Melbourne and St. Kilda players and supporters elected to do on Saturday, viz., enter the field in such a spirit that a fair game was well nigh, impossible. It shows football partisanship carried to extraordinary limits when one hears of a player who has changed clubs receiving threatening and anonymous letters prior to playing against his former comrades. A player may have good and sufficient reasons for changing clubs, if he has not the action carries its own condemnation without any such cowardly interference as that just mentioned. It would be an injustice to suppose that any club or its executive would be guilty of such conduct, but the club is in a sense responsible for the actions of the mad-headed leather-lunged fanatics who attach themselves like an unpleasant mildew to a healthy and manly sport, and are present in more or less proportion upon the members lists of all clubs. Such feeling having been created the proper thing to do is for the captain of the team whose reputation is imperilled by it to assure the opposing club, and more especially the player whose injury is sought, that neither he nor his team have any sympathy with such action, and that their desire is to play a fair and honest game. An exchange of such courtesies before a match costs nothing, would prevent many little ebullitions of feeling, and make the game pleasanter, not merely to the players, but to the generous lover of sport, who believes that football and manslaughter need not necessarily be associated.
It is too much to expect, perhaps, that a footballer should be a model of all the Christian virtues, but where the consequence of a hasty blow or action may be so serious, it is important that before any man as permitted to wear club colours his control of his temper should be undoubted. Nothing in the way of meritorious play should counter-balance the tendency on the part of a player to lose his head and use his fists. When the player's own good sense does not suggest the correct line of conduct, fear of the consequences may be made a very potential deterrent.
Coming more particularly to the incidents of the St. Kilda and North Melbourne match, the close of the contest was disfigured by the exchange of blows between two players, Farley and Christian. But it would be wrong to run away with the idea that those two alone should be punished. Their action was merely the culmination of bad feeling existing all through the game, and growing towards the close. To punish all those two players only would be to make them scapegoats for a half-score of others perhaps more violent than themselves.
It is a weakness of the game as it stands, yet one hard to remedy, that a player may be rough and yet fair. Indeed as long as he keeps within the four corners of the laws he may be as rough as he pleases. Something is required outside the existing laws to impress upon players the fact that it is undesirable to, in a mild way, garotte an opposite player who has just made a mark. Neither is it essential to the success of his side that the player who has got the mark should at least be thrown down and rolled upon. There was too much of both faults in the match under notice.
As it stands, unfortunately the offending player knows that he cannot really be punished for such an offence. If the umpire gives the injured player a free kick he gives him nothing more than he has already secured in obtaining his mark. It is not a sufficiently serious matter to justify the umpire in reporting offenders to the association, so some lesser remedy is needed. It is doubtful whether the authority given to the umpire to personally warn players has any effect whatever. The warning is given, and in the excitement of the game is instantly forgotten. But the umpire might be requested to report all cases where slight censure was needed to the honorary secretary of the association, who should, without any communication with members, privately write to the players concerned, conveying the censure of the umpire, and warning them to be more careful in future. Anything like a serious repetition of the offence might call for the intervention of the association, and the player receive the almost sufficiently severe punishment of having his misdeeds made the matter for public comment.
Many members of the association-as indicated by remarks at the last meeting-are under the impression that any such innovation requires the adoption of a new rule brought into existence, as most new rules are, by a circuitous process. This is not so. The rules are framed to meet specific, and in most cases, frequently recurring, circumstances, but no rule says that the association shall do nothing beyond what is defined in the constitution. A simple resolution of the association, provided it clashes with no written rule, would therefore be sufficient authority for the course suggested, or for any other that the association may deem desirable. With such a practice in operation, Mr. Trait would probably be called upon to remind several players, through the executive of the association, that their zeal in certain directions outruns their discretion.
All the influence and action of the association will be wasted unless the clubs themselves back it up earnestly, and this unfortunately is just what the clubs seem disinclined to do. The ‘barracker’ is a hopeless case. He will yell and fume, and in his small-brained way disfigure the game to the end, but clubs should take care that none of them get inside the club reserves, where it must be admitted they are too frequently found. Referring again to Mr. M. Marshall's model report we find the following clause:
“I have frequently said that betting is becoming far too common in football circle, and this association, by force of example, should endeavour to do what it can to suppress it. Delegates, at any rate, should be above suspicion, and neither directly or indirectly should they bet on football matches. Umpires are not allowed to bet, and surely those who have the appointment of them should be guided by the same wholesome rule.”
Yet one could not remain long in association with leading members of both clubs on Saturday last without believing that the advice is widely disregarded, in brief quite ignored. One learned that certain players should do well since they stood to win or lose fairly large wagers on the match. Indeed, to meet the active clubman a player who has made no bet would seem to be the exception. It would be over shooting the mark to say that the executives of clubs are the chief offenders in all cases but, generally, it is so, when the secretary, at the beginning of the season, condemns betting they applaud vigorously, and then walk out to see what wagers tiny can pick up for next Saturday' s match.
Players must be reminded that in one respect, abusing the umpire, they do not share the privileges of the general public. This discriminating body, failing to see the reason for awarding in particular free kick abuses the umpire. As a general rule, it may be laid down that if the umpire is strictly fair both sides hoot him. If he is unfair to one side only, the other aide monopolises that privilege. But to be both player and spectator is too much for one man. So the player is expected to confine his expressions and acts of opposition solely to the other team. He must neither use foul language to the umpire, nor express by violent pantomime his opinion that the umpire is a knave and a fool.
These restrictions were largely overlooked by players in the St. Kilda - North Melbourne affair. Mr. Christian, being offended with the umpire, expressed his feelings in a most unchristian like and illogical way by bouncing the ball with some decision off the face of Mr. Farley, who is waiting to receive it, but not in that way. Mr. Farley wanting the ball to kick, retaliates by throwing his clenched fist at Mr. Christian with intent to do him grievous bodily harm and facial disfigurement. So a fuse is lighted which may end in a nasty explosion, for everyone knows the electrical effect upon Anglo Saxon assemblages of the putting up of clenched hands. One thing is abundantly clear, viz., that the umpire, bearing all his burden of obligation and working as he is required to work, is insufficiently paid for his services.
Many people may say that a fast game of football must always be more or less rough. Not necessarily so. Geelong invariably play a fast game, but very rarely, indeed, a rough one. Essendon is also a fast team, yet its record is exceptionally clean. Nor should the bitterness of impending defeat be any excuse. Melbourne has often seen disaster staring them in the face, yet played an honest game. The University Club were also tried by suffering, yet came through the ordeal without trying to spoil their opponents' good looks. South Melbourne, who have a powerful team in the physical sense, play also a manly game. Other clubs may, with a little timely assistance from the Victorian Football Association, be induced to emulate them in this respect as well as in striving for the premiership.
Title: Rough Football: A caution to players and spectators. Author: Donald MacDonald (‘Observer’) Publisher: The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria, 1848 - 1957) Date: Monday, 13 May 1889, p. 7 (Article) Web: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article6246190