Name of the game is up in the air in NSW
Israel Folau at GWS training yesterday. Photo: Steve Christo
SATURDAY night's season opener between Greater Western Sydney and Sydney is obviously a huge moment for a code which just three decades ago could only dream of establishing a foothold in Australia's biggest city, let alone take centre stage.
On Saturday, it will be just a few days short of exactly 30 years since the transplanted South Melbourne took its first tentative steps as the Sydney Swans. Now, with the arrival of the Giants, there's the prospect of a regular Sydney derby over which to salivate.
Which begs a perhaps silly but fundamental question: What is, and what should be, the name of the game we'll be watching?
In Sydney, at least, there's no dispute. The game, not just the competition, is called AFL, a name the league has never officially endorsed but hasn't shied away from, either.
In the northern states, with rugby, rugby league and soccer all commonly known as football, it avoids obvious confusion, and makes our game instantly identifiable.
Which is great for the Swans and Giants, but a bit more problematic for, say, New South Wales competitions like the Broken Hill Football League, whose participants are now, in current terminology, playing AFL in the BHFL. The major Sydney competition is known as AFL Sydney which, it could be argued, is a misnomer on two fronts for a club such as Campbelltown.
Confusing, isn't it? And a far cry from the indigenous game with which I, and most of my 40-ish generation grew up, known universally as Aussie rules, and played across a variety of football leagues, the pinnacle of which was the then VFL, but also the VFA, VAFA, and literally dozens and dozens of suburban and country competitions.
Many of those Victorian-based local leagues, understandably, find the modern trend of calling the code AFL particularly galling. A player for Montrose isn't playing AFL. He's playing EFL. A bloke who plays for Macleod isn't playing AFL, he's playing NFL. And so on.
Indeed, the confusion goes all the way back to the 19th century, when a largely antagonistic Sydney media looked down its nose at what it decided was called Australian rules. That's a name, though, which was never officially codified, either. The National Football Council, formed in 1906, declared our game to be Australian football.
And that, officially, is what it's still called. Check out an AFL rule book, and the title reads ''Laws of Australian Football''. The Australian part is obviously the most important. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou recently reaffirmed, during one of the campaign pushes into NSW, that: ''We're the Australian game. That's going to be our branding.''
''Australian game''? Is that now another alias thrown into the mix?
The Age columnist Leaping Larry touched on the ''AFL as catch-all name for our game'' issue with his usual sardonic effect in these pages last Saturday. But local writer and designer Anthony Costa has a more serious take on it.
''The world is filled with a jumble of sterile acronyms. None of them tell us much about anything. 'Aussie rules' sounds relaxed, knockabout and homespun, whereas AFL, like all acronyms, evokes a more slick, corporate image.
''Using the AFL brand to spearhead expansion plays straight into the hands of those interests seeking to dismiss the Gold Coast Suns and the Giants as soulless money-grubbing franchises transplanted from the top end of Melbourne to kill off grassroots rugby league.''
So let's celebrate on Saturday night a significant step forward for this country's indigenous game. But let's also tell those Sydneysiders we're hoping to convert to the cause that while the competition they're embracing is indeed the AFL, the game they're watching has a simple name. Aussie rules. OK?