Dissed and forever divided
Tasmanian footy fans get excited about the crumbs of AFL footy they are thrown. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
AFL boss Andrew Demetriou has at last attended an AFL game in Tasmania. Coincidentally or otherwise, the fixture that drew him south after a long absence was yesterday's clash between Hawthorn and North Melbourne.
Now there are two clubs, not just one, sucking Tasmanian dollars into AFL coffers: the Tassie Hawks and the Tassie Roos. But forget the money for a moment.
In any discussion about Tasmania's claim to having its own AFL team, the state's tendency to self-destructive division is raised. It's always been a problem and one that needs to be addressed for the state to have any chance of joining the big league. Yet the AFL only appears to be exacerbating it.
It has divided the island's football interests by having two teams playing out of the two major population centres - it has scheduled a match in the island state between the two symbols of division - and now the chief executive of the organisation has marked that occasion by at last attending a game in Tasmania.
Yesterday's was a match with the inevitable effect of pitting north and south against each other. At the 1967 state final in Burnie, Wynyard fans (from the north-west) pulled out the goal posts to prevent North Hobart taking a winning kick for goal after the final siren. Nothing divides Tasmania's regions like footy.
When the CEO of AFL Tasmania, Scott Wade, appeared on Eddie McGuire Tonight last Sunday, he discussed the social case for Tasmania's admission to the AFL. He spoke of the power of football to offer people something to hold onto in hard times such as those being experienced in Tasmania at present.
But there's more to the notion of the state's social case. A Tasmanian AFL team would offer potential for healing and unification of the island like it's never known. Just as nothing divides Tasmania like football, so nothing could bring it together like the indigenous game could. Yet not only has the AFL never recognised the role it could play in this, its actions lately have been those of an agent for disunity.
A couple of months ago, Paula Wriedt - Tasmanian economic development minister when the government of Paul Lennon made a push for the state's admission to the AFL - spoke out about that experience. Regarding the treatment Lennon received on his visit to AFL House, Wriedt said: "I've never seen anyone speak to a premier like he [Demetriou] spoke to Paul Lennon."
And that was only after Lennon gained entry to the boss' office. The man presiding over the tens of millions of dollars Tasmania was putting into the AFL had first, according to Wriedt, been kept waiting at reception, under the gaze of television cameras, for 15 minutes.
Demetriou would have had no such problems yesterday and he would have felt good as he arrived at the back of Aurora Stadium's main grandstand. He'd have seen the sign proclaiming "The Home of the Tassie Hawks", reflecting the fact that northern Tasmania feels as though, for once, it's winning.
For anyone who cares about Tasmania as an emancipated football state, though, it's a stomach-churning sight.
Tasmanian footy fans get excited about the crumbs of AFL footy they are thrown. They have little else. Their local competition is moribund. They get six days of decent football a year - albeit involving Victorian teams, which represent two minority holdings within the state - shared between the two major cities.
Once upon a time, Tasmanians had full seasons of vibrant local footy played in each of the three main regional zones. It was an enormous part of the lives of many. But the 10 games per week - about 200 per year across the state - of those days are long past; a relic of another time. They've been replaced by six AFL games a season in which Hawthorn and North Melbourne pull on Tassie masks. And Tasmanians are expected to be grateful.
For the foreseeable future, if not forever, the forgotten state has missed the boat. Faced with a choice between serving a heartland constituency, which actually craves the game, and seeking to sell it to two other constituencies that don't, the AFL chose the latter. And the jury is going to be out for a long time before we know whether the decision was a triumph or a money-guzzling calamity.
What we do know is that Tasmanians support AFL matches. Even treated as indifferently as they long have been, and without anything like universal support for Hawthorn, Tasmanians have attended the club's games.
Since the Hawks gained "exclusive rights" in 2007, the average crowd figure at Aurora Stadium has been marginally below 17,000.
Given a team they could all support, it stands to reason well over 20,000 Tasmanians would attend on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, Greater Western Sydney is still trying to work out where it lives, the Gold Coast shapes as shaky terrain, and support for both new teams is barely lukewarm.