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On muppets and manscaping

Touch of the Fumbles

Bad beards, dodgy marketing, annoying muppets in the grandstand – Tom Richardson avoids (mostly) talking about the actual footy as the Crows’ horror start to the season continues.

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I feel sorry for Nick Malceski.

No, it’s nothing to do with the three knee reconstructions that cruelled a chunk of his career.

And I’m aware that having won a premiership, he’s hardly in need of my sympathy.

But the fact is that one day, be it in five years, or 10, or 20, a grim realisation will dawn on the Swans defender – that when he performed his finest professional moment, kicking the decider in a tight Grand Final, he was sporting perhaps one of the worst fashion crimes of recent years. That ugly-but-beautiful goal and its ecstatic aftermath is the single moment from his long career that will be played again and again in highlight reels for decades to come, and he will be forever doomed to resemble an obscure ‘70s porn star.

The wild-and-woolly-beardo look seems to have made an unwanted comeback in recent years, and disproportionately so in the AFL. Which is odd, since you’d have thought these guys don’t have much to prove in the masculinity stakes. Not to pick on Sydney (though I have my reasons) but even the hitherto rarely hirsute Buddy Franklin has been sporting a shock of Grizzly Adams facial foliage since jetting into the Harbour City, and it must have added insult to the injury of his recent form slump when it dawned on him that not only was he playing well below his usual standard but that he was doing it with his head resembling an unkempt scrotum.

At any rate, Adelaide managed to generously play him back into considerable form on Saturday (my sympathy for Malceski was dimmed somewhat by the fact he almost effortlessly picked up 25 significant touches).

It may have been pure coincidence, but both had trimmed back their beardage to a respectable length and shape.

At any rate, through form, injury and evident lack of endeavour, Adelaide’s season now looms as a potential train wreck; the only salvation could be the four very winnable games they have before the bye. On the other hand, drop one of those and that panic button Sanderson is currently “leaning” on will be getting a workout.

Needless to say, that notoriously hard-to-impress Crows crowd was particularly underwhelmed, after the third game on the trot in which the side was well in the game after half-time, only to be completely blown away in the blink of an eye. It’s been a horrid way to kick off proceedings at Adelaide Oval.

My theory is the players saw that “19th Man” ad on the big screen pre-game and felt so disenchanted they lost all their fighting spirit. Indeed, the whole “19th Man” conceit is probably an amiable experiment that’s now had its day.

For most of the crowd on Saturday, this was the long-awaited first taste of football in the city, a chance to finally see what seats and fellow spectators they’ve been lumped with for the next several years. Going to the game in such circumstances is kind of like going on a blind date ahead of an arranged marriage; you don’t know if you’re going to like it, but you know you’re stuck with it. No complaints, incidentally, about my digs, apart from the two cantankerous old codgers seated immediately behind, who bore more than a passing resemblance to Statler and Waldorf, those two old grumps from The Muppet Show. They constantly berated anyone unfortunate enough to accidentally and momentarily block their view, even the friendly cop on his dutiful patrol and my mate’s Dad who was standing up to let someone past. They then proceeded to grouchily narrate the game, loftily pouring scorn on every misfired handpass and fumbled mark.

“Look at this, look – they’ve got loose men everywhere!”

“Ah, they’re useless!”

“They’re killing us – absolutely killing us. They want it, we don’t – simple as that.” And so on.

All of this even before Sydney kicked 7.3 to seven behinds in the last quarter, none of which the two curmudgeons actually saw as they made tracks at three quarter time. I’ve always wondered about these types that you see so often at the footy, who seem to take such relish berating their own team. Why do they actually bother coming to games, since nothing the players do seems worthy of their approbation?

Perhaps they were simply thrown into a funk by the unutterably lame “Go Crows” promo the club insisted on playing before the game, or the laughably naff Crows “squawk” that followed every home side goal (not overly many, in this case).

My theory is the players saw that “19th Man” ad on the big screen pre-game and felt so disenchanted they lost all their fighting spirit. Indeed, the whole “19th Man” conceit is probably an amiable experiment that’s now had its day. It seems predicated on some misguided market research suggesting supporters wanted to feel included, but misses the fairly clear point that football fans want to see their team doing great things, not their cheer squad doing ordinary things.

At least that other Adelaide team lost to North Melbourne, so the weekend wasn’t a complete write-off; indeed, the performances of the Crows and Carlton might suggest Port’s much-hyped defeats of both were not quite the juggernaut-launching triumphs the more hysterical pundits had suggested.

In truth, the jury’s probably still out on them.

All we can say with certainty is that Justin Westhoff desperately needs a shave.

Tom Richardson is InDaily’s political commentator and Channel Nine’s state political reporter.

On Mondays during the AFL season he will be found in InDaily’s sport section, writing this lament – or chronicle of triumph. Time will tell.

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