I think it was the late former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson who said: a week is a long time in pandemic viral outbreaks. Or something like that anyway.
Anyway, he was onto something.
It doesn’t feel so very long ago that my biggest worry about the weekend just past was how I was going to juggle a corporate box invite for Adelaide’s 4pm season opener against the Swans with a 40th birthday party kicking off at 6pm.
In the event, of course, both invitations were cancelled.
The season opener went ahead though – but it was like some ghost of a game we once knew. As if the AFL had become the protagonist of Pet Sematary, trying to keep alive a dearly-held loved one, even as it was obvious they had become a walking corpse.
One commentator across the weekend, trying to take in the empty expanses surrounding the players, lamented the absence of the fans, calling them “the soul of our game”.
And indeed, it was all strangely soulless, and with all the atmosphere of a training session – save for the crack of leather against boot and the unsettling clarity of the on-field banter, which only made me wistful for my regular seat, three rows back, behind the pocket once synonymous with Eddie Betts.
Like the AFL, I left it to the very last minute to decide whether to forge ahead with this column. There are, after all, far bigger priorities in life right now.
But I figure, even as the world crashes around us, it is beholden on your Fumbleland correspondent to take due stock of the wave of global carnage and mayhem and crystallise it into perhaps the most burning question of our time:
And, also like the AFL, this outing will now prove a one-off venture – although its execution will involve greater adherence to social distancing requirements.
It is bizarre to contemplate that all the usual preseason sub-plots that would otherwise occupy a disproportionate amount of mental energy barely registered this year: Eddie’s homecoming/injury layoff, Paddy’s last flag tilt, the elevation of Tom Doedee to the leadership group ensuring he is either our next captain or the next player to leave us heartbroken when he inevitably returns to his home state, the arrival of Daniel Jackson as the Crows’ new leadership development manager – the former Tiger appointed to undo the damage inflicted by, um… the Tigers… all of it went by with nary a second thought.
Sure, it was sad to hear that Eddie will miss the first four weeks of the season. But given that everyone else will too, it wasn’t quite the bombshell it would otherwise have been.
How did we get here?
Less than three weeks ago, the inevitable yet laboured decision to call off Port Adelaide’s Round 11 game in China – then the global epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis – felt like a seismic moment in AFL history. Now it’s a mere footnote.
It’s well known among linguists (or at least pop culture enthusiasts) that in China they use the same word for ‘crisis’ as they do for ‘opportunity’.
But right now, it’s hard to see the latter and almost impossible to look beyond the former.
Looking back on it now, those heady early March days seem like some utopia of blissful ignorance, back when our biggest worry about the looming pandemic was the widely-derided panic buyers causing a looming toilet paper shortage.
Fast forward a few days, and the lavatory lament doesn’t seem quite so comical, as a nation is forced to contemplate the very limits of rectal resourcefulness.
Still, they said, ‘just go about your daily business as before’. Apart from watching sport, travelling and human contact, of course.
And all the while, we had to get our heads around all those viral prevention measures: social isolation, incessant hand-washing, limited face-touching…
Fortuitously, South Australia has at least a 40-year head start on the social isolation, but I’d have to admit, it’s still been kind of a struggle.
And plenty of people have trouble adjusting to the ‘no face touching’ thing.
Of course, the pandemic panic really kicked in once an Australia-bound Hollywood celeb got involved.
Once we got to Forrest Gump-level hysteria, the AFL cautioned that the league was willing to have teams play behind closed doors if they had to.
Yeah right, we all thought. As if that’s gonna happen.
It goes without saying that playing AFL without attendees is something of a nightmare scenario. Unless you’re an umpire, in which case it’s a dream come true.
But for the rest of us, watching top-flight footballers ply their wares in front of entirely empty grandstands was a confronting experience.
Still, at least the Port v Gold Coast game was largely unaffected.
And that’s important. In times of national crisis, you take solace in the little signs of things carrying on as normal. The ‘AdelaideFree’ wifi service jamming up your mobile internet connection, for instance. Or Richmond beating Carlton in an underwhelming season-opener.
Still, it’s a measure of how shit this year is turning out that by far the best thing I could think to do with myself on Thursday night was watch a Richmond win.
And while the result of the AFL’s strange determination to muddle ahead with the first round of its curtailed 2020 season was a puzzling sideshow to the main event of the planet’s catastrophic descent into coronavirus hell, the league also, ever so briefly, became the epicentre of the international sporting universe – given it was about the only one still prepared to play.
Along with the NRL, of course, with both codes demonstrating that celebrated Aussie ‘she’ll be right’ spirit – a spirit evidently entirely unsuited for worldwide pandemics, let alone any kind of ablutionary crisis.
Still, the social media updates of pleasantly bemused Americans who readily jumped aboard the bandwagon added another element to the weekend’s overall peculiarity.
Day 8 of quarantine: I am officially all in on the Adelaide Crows. Time to learn Aussie Football
— Chris (@frostedfrakes) March 20, 2020
And for a brief moment, it appeared the US converts’ minutes of loyal dedication would be rewarded, as the Crows leapt from the blocks with an astounding six straight goals in the opening term, at which point it was pretty clear that 2020 would be – by some margin – our greatest season ever.
Unfortunately, before we could work out whether our premiership miracle should be hereafter known as ‘Crow-navirus’ or ‘Crowvid-19’, our first-term purple patch was rather typically followed up by two quarters of monumental ineptitude as the Crows midfield practised some expert social distancing.
For US viewers, it was a handy primer for a lifetime of all-too-familiar frustration, wherein a dazzling period is inevitably followed by two lamentable ones. Much like the past three years in microcosm.
It was also eerily quiet throughout – I hadn’t seen a Crows home game so silent since David Gallagher shanked a game-saving goal against Collingwood in 2001.
So quiet in fact, that someone might have thought call out to Paul Seedsman when he casually frolicked up the wing ball in hand, only to be brought down in a tackle – something like “look out behind you” or somesuch would have done the trick, and might have helped secure an extra goal.
A handy goal it would have been too, given we lost by three points.
For we sort-of rallied in the last, allowing Tex the chance to bury the lingering ghosts of his bitter 2019 campaign and silence the critical hordes, with a long-range set shot in the dying seconds to snatch an unlikely victory.
Which, of course, he didn’t.
How very 2020.
I’ll admit, I was a bit annoyed: I had long considered this fixture one of our more likely victories in an already uncertain year: playing the sliding Swans on our home deck. Still, home-ground advantage ain’t what it used to be, is it?
But it was all much of a muchness – for, within a day, it was all over. For now, at least.
For, having ensured its decision on whether to push on with Round One was the most drawn-out national announcement since that Rob Oakeshott speech, the league was surprisingly fleet-footed about canning the whole thing ahead of Round Two, as state borders fell like dominos and the PM invoked a national moratorium on non-essential travel.
Which leaves us staring down a desperately grim new world order.
That’s right – Port is on top of the ladder and will remain there indefinitely.
Indeed, that annoying Power anthem proved eerily prophetic: no sooner had they gone top than the whole comp stopped.
And what would in any other year be a much-hyped Round Two Showdown will in all likelihood never go ahead.
Which sadly means my long-planned ‘Covid-119’ banner may never be unveiled.
On the plus side, it probably means they’re contractually obliged to give Crazy Ken a new deal.
So that’s it. The AFL is done for now and may not return in 2020. The AFLW season, abandoned with no premier.
At least the Brownlows will be over quickly this year.
Given our brief glimpse of Adelaide’s 2020 season, let me put on the record that I’m comfortable with the league’s decision. For the greater good, of course.
Although, if we have to forego a season – well, as another former PM would say, there’s never been a better time…
But it’s not merely an inconvenience for the sport – it’s a crisis, and one from which it might not recover.
That’s hardly the nation’s biggest concern right now, but it’s something.
This, then, is life in 2020: the petrol is cheap, but we’ve got nowhere to go.
A disarming number of people have unwanted time on their hands, and no football to watch.
Alanis Morrisette would have been in her element (if she’d understood what the word ‘ironic’ meant).
Oh, and apparently the breweries are warning of a three-month beer drought.
So even without the public health spectre, it’s a pretty grim state of affairs.
And even for those demanding the Federal Government shut everything down, last night’s decision to actually shut a heap of businesses down brought home the fact that life as we know it, however temporarily, is over.
Australians, never great respecters of authority, now find themselves in the unfamiliar position of hanging on their elected representatives’ every utterance – in some cases, for their very survival.
Yes, it was kinda scary seeing the empty streets and shops these past few days… but it’s even scarier seeing the ones that aren’t. The casually crowded bars, the overflowing beaches.
If the universal terminology is that we are now at war, we must be wary not to think that we can simply solider on – for the trouble is that the enemy’s foot-soldiers are our friends, our neighbours and our families… not to mention, potentially, our AFL teams.
Is there opportunity amongst the crisis? Perhaps.
Maybe we’ll appreciate more the things we take for granted.
Perhaps we’ll cherish more dearly our concept of community.
Maybe we’ll recognise that there is indeed more to life than sport – while understanding more deeply than before that our sporting life is more valuable and fragile than we could have realised.
But for now, silver linings seem very far away.
It’ll be a shame not to have the comforting normality of our reliably irritating team to remind us of simpler times, but perhaps the greater loss is that we can’t even rely on that dependable adage which has given us solace year after weary year…
That there’s always next season.
Because for now there’s not even a next week.
Touch Of The Fumbles will return later this year, as will football – we hope.
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