A matter of dimension

Friday, May 3
Geelong Advertiser

THE good news for our grandchildren is that when the AFL builds its next stadium, it is likely to get the dimensions just right.

Its first try, as the then-VFL, saw it build an arena at Waverley that was far too big. Its second try, at Docklands, saw it build one far too small.

According to the football doomsayers who are about to pack their Thermos and find another sport, the new evil that threatens the beauty of our game is flooding.

The only flood Waverley ever saw was the weekly washout in the car park.

In its original form, Waverley was just under 20 metres longer than the MCG, and was 10 metres wider. In its final year, when the boundary line was pushed in a massive 18 metres from the fence in some areas, the oval was still six metres longer and four metres wider than the MCG.

It also had deep, wide pockets like the MCG, which over generations has proven to be the perfect shape for Aussie Rules.

According to AFL statistics, Colonial Stadium is the same length as the MCG (159 metres), but its big flaw is that it is too narrow. It is eight metres narrower than the MCG (MCG 138 metres/Colonial 130 metres). Colonial is also six metres narrower than the smallest ground in the AFL, the SCG.

But what makes Colonial Stadium's total playing area even smaller by comparison to most, is the shallow pockets that go with the narrow width. Colonial stadium's pockets curve like the top of an egg, instead of sweeping wide like the bottom of one.

The result is an easily-flooded corridor.

Hawthorn Football Club director David Parkin said last year that the modern games which are played like basketball, with whole teams flooding back to defence, were boring.

But it was Carlton coach Wayne Brittain who hit the nail on the head after the Blues' loss to the Roos at Docklands last Sunday.

``This is Colonial Stadium. You play basketball,'' he said. ``It's an indoor stadium and the roof's shut. It's a football/basketball brand of footy that you play at Colonial.

``As soon as you start coming to terms with that, you start winning games here,'' Brittain said.

Age writer Martin Blake spat his mouthguard out in boredom and disgust this week, claiming that the blight that is flooding will slowly strangle our game to death.

``Show me the games this season that could count as classics,'' he wrote. ``Close finishes, yes. Classics, no way.''

But Blake's problem may be the same as many Victorians who see a lot of games at Colonial.

Try to tell Collingwood fans that Anzac Day was not a classic, old fashioned, do-or-die wet-weather battle on the grandest stage possible, the MCG.

And last week's Port Adelaide/Adelaide showdown at Football Park was nothing less than a tough, hard, super-skilled, high drama classic in every sense of the word, although Victorians may still be loath to embrace it.

For the record, Football Park is bigger than the MCG (168 x 133).

If Charles Darwin is correct, species evolve to suit their surroundings. Victoria's teams, which spend a large deal of the year at Docklands, are changing our great game into one that suits that stadium.

And teams like St Kilda, which are poorly skilled, injury-riddled, and in danger of being embarrassingly thrashed if they play a conventional game, will continue to reduce a match to a low-scoring floodfest at Docklands, because a five-goal loss looks respectable.

The Saints were hammered by Geelong by 20 goals (26 goals to six) at Skilled Stadium two weeks ago. Skilled Stadium is narrow, but is 10 metres longer than Colonial and the MCG, and its pockets are deep.

Last week at Colonial in a game many say was the worst of the year, St Kilda flooded, and in perfect indoor conditions, kept the Swans to just eight goals; a massive 18 goals fewer than Geelong the previous week.

It is hoped that the combination of evolution and clever coaches will produce a way of making the flooding of Docklands obsolete.

The AFL made that bed. And for the time being at least, it has to lie in it.