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Bump's life passes before its eyes

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Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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Roughead and Chapman accept sanctions

Hawthorn's Jarryd Roughead and Essendon's Paul Chapman have accepted their one-match sanctions handed down by the Match Review Panel.

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Last week, the bump had a near-death experience. Now its vital signs are being monitored again as six players digest the match review panel's verdicts on their bumps. Expect more wailing and gnashing of broken teeth.

But what is being mourned, exactly? The bump was never intended to be the near-lethal weapon it has become. In instruction manuals going way back when, it was taught as a shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip skill. It still is. ''Make contact with the shoulder and upper arm,'' says a contemporary handbook, ''preferably when an opponent is settled on one foot, so he is easier to unbalance.''

As such, the bump is a test of strength. If one player is bigger, or moving faster, or generally is nastier, it becomes a test of courage. It was never meant to be a test of bone density.

Paul Vander Haar on the ground after his collision with Hawthorn’s Dermott Brereton in 1989.

Paul Vander Haar on the ground after his collision with Hawthorn’s Dermott Brereton in 1989.

Of course, bumping didn't and doesn't always go to plan. Unscrupulous players bumped not necessarily to win the ball, but to hurt. The shirtfront - a front-on bump to an unaware or unprotected player - became a dubious feature of the game. Dermott Brereton on Paul Vander Haar in 1989 springs to my mind; others will come to yours.

The shirtfront wasn't always punished, because the rules were looser and the game was less policed. To an extent, the shirtfront was celebrated, and unconscious players on stretchers made for ghoulish weekly spectacles. Now, it is abhorred. The feeble-minded who cry that football is turning into netball mostly mean that as in netball, it is no longer considered good sport in football to iron out an opponent whose only mistake is to try to get the ball.

Byron Pickett drew down the curtain on that era. Pickett was a good enough player to win a Norm Smith medal in 2004, but also infamous for his shirtfronts and their painful consequences. The rule was changed. Other incidents led to more refinement: Nick Maxwell v Patrick McGinnity in 2009 (suspension overturned at appeal, on a technicality) and Lindsay Thomas on Ben Reid last year.

Finely argued, this tightening only brought the rules into line with the spirit. The purpose of the laws of the Australian football specify only two intentions, to ensure that the game is played in a fair and sporting manner, and to prevent injuries, ''so far as this objective can reasonably be achieved in circumstances where Australian football is body contact sport''.

The laws are explicit in several places about the paramountcy of insurance against injury. The "spirit and intention" of law 15, concerning the awarding of free kicks, has as one of its express intentions protection from injuries. In context, it is not enough to say that accidents happen and injuries are inevitable; the very laws of the game rail against it. Injuries from bumps gone awry might not be the most common in the game, but they are the most horrifying. 

Gratuitous violence largely has been eradicated from football. But fitter, stronger players, running longer and hitting harder, still can and do wreak much incidental havoc. The AFL knows this; it is partly why it has moved to slow and tire players on the ground. Not until now has it moved to deligitimise the bump in all except the safest circumstances.

As noted previously, in the Jack Viney incident, whether or not he could have avoided contact with Tom Lynch, it is improbable that he would have. It is a football instinct, natural to him, trained in others, to make or absorb contact. It is the game moving in them, not them trying to shape the game.

Players say they are now confused. They will adapt; that is how species survive. Jarryd Roughead's felling of Ben McGlynn was the most and least understandable of the weekend's indictments. Roughead authentically tried to hip-and-shoulder. But he should know by now that McGlynn is shorter than him, and that they would never meet as equals.

That is one bump you suspect Roughead will not lay again. Incidentally, note how that was the Roughead bump, not the McGlynn. It was the Viney bump, not the Lynch, though Lynch will feel a part of it, gingerly, for longer than Viney. It is always so. But if the bump was contemplated from the victim's point of view and not exclusively the perpetrator's, the conversation might have a different tone. 

The bump as we knew it might be dying. But to some extent, we have always sentimentalised it anyway. Compared with the high mark among the elements of the game, it was a rogue, and not so loveable as some of its rascally authors would have you believe. No flowers by request at the requiem, please.

14 comments

  • The pussies that play the game these days are just to weak to take a proper bump,imagine what Leigh Mathews would do to a modern player they would not last a quarter.The modern game is just like soccer and it won't be around for much longer and the players might be able to run forever but they can't kick,mark or take any punishment,what was once a great game is now a joke.

    Commenter
    GredenThe
    Date and time
    May 13, 2014, 12:36PM
    • I agree with Baum - the 'bump' designed to hurt has always been anomalous.

      Older parts of the game that have gone and should be regretted are the current interpretation of disposing the ball. This should be black and white - proper disposal or it is a free kick. The current nonsense of 'no prior opportunity' or 'jarred out of his hands' has spoilt the game.

      That Leigh Matthews would dispose of a modern player in a quarterly well be true, but Matthews would only play two games a season tops - 12 week suspensions would follow any of that thugs games today. Never forget he was charged with assault ON the ground, that a week court system let him off changes nothing.

      Commenter
      Wingn
      Date and time
      May 13, 2014, 1:12PM
    • Yep agree, the problem isn't the bump itself, its the modern day players who have no idea how to ride or prepare for contact. It is a blatant failure of all modern day coaches who have lost the plot. When we played you were automatically aware that you would be bumped or blocked from tackling a player. It was common & not even an issue. These days the crowds too so dumb the way they ooooh & aaaaahhh everytime they look up at the big screens after a bump. Football has changed for the worse as a result. Nothing wrong with protecting the head I agree, but the onus should be on the so called elite footballer to have some hardness and grit to prepare. Going down like a fairy is an easy out and many do you can bet on it.

      A new generational breed of dopes in the crowd & over reactive pretenders.

      Commenter
      Bosco
      Date and time
      May 13, 2014, 1:15PM
    • I agree - I grew up playing footy always looking over shoulder and being aware of my surroundings. I still copped plenty of knocks, but that was because I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been at the time. You learn from these experiences and you move on.

      I cant imagine how far I could of progressed had these rules been around when I was younger.

      Commenter
      Luke
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 13, 2014, 1:40PM
    • Just an update for you dinosaurs, the reason players no longer brace for contact is because they are trained to put their head over the ball and win the contest. And that is a far braver act that the king hits on unsuspecting players from yesteryear that you guys are pining for. The bump is alive and well, but head high contact is gone and the game is better for it. I don't want to see the games best and bravest players like Selwood, Lewis, Hayes, etc. get carried off with shattered jaws every week for making the mistake of putting their head over the ball and trying to win the footy.

      Commenter
      Mick
      Date and time
      May 13, 2014, 3:00PM
    • You must not be following Leigh Matthews' present reflections....he now says he's ashamed of some of his acts and that he's not the same person today. You must also have forgotten that Matthews was de-registered as a player and charged with assult by police for one act on a football field. And yes, we all remember the great Leigh Matthews too. Even Matthews agrees the game is better without that kind of violence.

      Commenter
      Village Green
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 13, 2014, 3:34PM
  • Good article Greg to go with your one on Viney out of time.Not many would have known he "bumped" Wingard unconscious in their junior days. We know who the player is of the future out of those two. I couldn't remember who Maxwell "bumped" over in Perth and although he might have got off at the Tribunal, West Coast players namely Embley didn't forget, and poor Nick received like treatment. There is no room for timely late hits and most teams have a player or two who are very good at them. Seems reasonable to avoid head bumps because the sneaky players try and get around the rules with the ball in the vicinity.

    Commenter
    john
    Date and time
    May 13, 2014, 1:15PM
    • Have to disagree Greg. The bump is integral to the nature of the game and always has been. To suggest otherwise is a complete nonsense. The AFL has every duty to outlaw injury with malicious intent but no-one gave it license to change the game beyond recognition. Australian Rules football is a unique physical sport where the ball is won with skill & strength... athleticism and courage... it is, or was, a game like no other. Awareness and ability to avoid, or ride a bump, is entirely what the game is about... as is protecting a teammates run with a hip and shoulder.
      This is more to do with fear of lawsuits than anything else and it's a pity the caretakers of this great game, commentators included, do not have the courage or where-with-all to stand tall and protect it.

      Commenter
      Gecko
      Date and time
      May 13, 2014, 1:26PM
      • Full support for this article, the author and his views. From a passionate footy fan.

        Commenter
        Village Green
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        May 13, 2014, 1:49PM
        • Sorry. I agree with Gecko.

          Commenter
          Macca
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          May 13, 2014, 6:34PM

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