The Grade: The 2013 AFL Premiership Season

Words by Maggie McDade

Published on October 28, 2013

Reviews of life and stuff.

My footy year wrapped up watching the grand final on a small pub screen in Julatten, a one-street town northwest of Cairns. There were four or five of us at the bar, each with a schooner of XXXX Gold, craning our necks to watch the teev in the top corner. One Hawthorn supporter, a couple of disinterested North Queensland Cowboys followers code-crossing for the afternoon, and the rest barracking hard to see the Dockers win their first flag. The Hawks kicked goal after goal as the sun dropped over the mountain range to the west, and the cicadas and frogs began their loud evening chant.

The mighty fighting Hawks, their eleventh premiership. Matt, from Port Fairy, was ecstatic. He was a sole reveller in a place not too taken with the code. I thought about what would be happening in Melbourne: bars alive with brown and gold, people whopping with joy, tears. A premiership.

2013 was a memorable year for AFL for almost everything bar the actual footy. We remember the year for a drugs scandal, a dwarf set on fire, and a ten-million-dollar deal.

The drugs scandal took the cake really. In early February, a month before the premiership season had even started, the Bombers launched an investigation into the use of illegal supplements during their 2012 season. Over the course of 2013 there were facts revealed almost every day. The drama overtook the club and shook its supporter base.

Supposedly, players were administered a banned obesity drug, and were asked to sign waivers to say they knew what they were taking. As the saga dragged on, James Hird’s name remained at the centre of the allegations. It was said that he had supported the use of illegal substances and let a dirty culture – involved with organised crime, as well — take over at Essendon. And the irony was everywhere. The Essendon slogan for the year, ‘Whatever it takes’ was a cruel reminder across their promotional material and website.

Throughout all of this controversy, I was on the phone to my dad almost every night. One minute we’d laugh in disbelief at half the stuff, but stony silence would eventually take over. All of this — the drugs, the crime, the dodging of the truth — was in the cold endeavour for victory and money. For me, it was as if Essendon had forgotten was it was about. They had forgotten about the supporters who went to games each week, rallied around the club, and sang see the bombers fly up with their whole hearts. Forget the $2 million fine, draft picks, and loss of premiership points. The real hurt and damage was in houses across Melbourne, with the kids whose sporting heroes were found to be cheats.

But back to our premiers, the Hawks. After their grand final win over the Dockers, the conversations shifted straight to whether Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin would be playing for them in 2014, or whether he would follow large sums of money to another club. Everyone thought GWS, but it was the Sydney Swans who got there in the end with a hefty $10 million contract for Franklin over the next nine years. Ten million bucks and a chance to show his chiseled abs to revelling crowds at Bondi Beach; how could Buddy possibly resist.

The deal with Buddy and the Swans left lots of people spooked. It was a signal of the ever-present dominance of the richer clubs, and how money can buy you the best players, leaving clubs with struggling finances little chance of winning flags. The poor old Doggies don’t stand a chance at nabbing good players when there are deals like this being tossed around.

And so the football year ended once again in Melbourne, the last game signalling the arrival of summer, Ashes cricket, and a rest. All before we do it again next year. Three stars.

Maggie McDade manages Operations & Events for Stilts.