Illustration: Jim Pavlidis
ONE night this week, I ordered a large capricciosa, a large Aussie and a small margherita. The pizza shop man quoted me a price, but said he would settle for Chris Dawes and a low draft pick. I tried to trade for Dawes, but there were too many in the queue, and I was hungry. So I offered the pizza man a pick in the rookie draft, a scratchie, some bric-a-brac that is worth nothing now but might be one day if I ever get around to taking it to the antique shop, and at the last minute threw in Brent Moloney.
We had a deal. The pizza man said he ''couldn't be happier''; it was just what he was after. Dawes said the same thing. So did Moloney. So did I. Actually, I'm not that keen on margheritas, and regretted ordering it almost immediately, and thought to myself that if I did the trade again, I would forget the margherita and hold out for some bathroom tiles and a Northern Territory zone selection, which I've heard are very good. But in draft-week protocols, you have to say what you got was exactly what was wanted and needed. So I did.
But while I waited for the pizza to come and the red to breathe, I couldn't help thinking the AFL's trade week has become a travesty. For a start, the AFL can't get its sums even right in its nomenclature: with free agency thrown in, trade week now goes for a month. Moreover, it is the month in which most footballers are sunning themselves at faraway roulette tables, except those who are in court or under community service orders, or are scrubbing their fire drills to ready themselves for court.
Maybe if there was a bit too much chilli in the capricciosa (it's a dodgy pizza shop), but I began to suspect that it was all an AFL ploy to crowd cricket, soccer and racing out of the headlines for as long as possible, and to propitiate the newly signed sponsor of trade's interminable week. Some see black comedy in the idea that a business dedicated to cutting, nicking and trimming should lend its name to this bloody operation. To my mind, this overlooks the beautiful synergies, which can be summed up this way: The Best Man We Can Get.
But they have to follow a process. As best I can make out, clubs, and agents, haggle over players, draft picks, priority picks, compensation picks, zone selection picks, father-son picks, academy picks and, when things get willing, ice picks. Some picks expire immediately, some not for two or three years, but all are tradeable. The worth of the picks is determined variously by ladder order, by the discretion of the AFL, by reference to the Costco catalogue and, five years too late, by Richmond.
They will be used in any of or all of the mini-draft, national draft, rookie draft and pre-season draft, some on players who have only another year left in them, some on players who cannot play for another year, and some who never could, and that is before even the first glass of the red is empty.
A bright young man tried to break it down for me this week, but got lost at the point at which the worth of one of Gold Coast's picks will be determined by where Geelong finishes next year, concluding his explanation thus: ''Just because.'' He is doing higher maths and not (I don't think) touching the red, although he is giving the capricciosa a good nudge.
At the end of this excruciating process - I am taking a punt and presuming it does end - we are left with a mish-mash of players who have switched to the clubs of their choice, or switched to clubs not of their choice, or tried to switch clubs and failed, or tried to avoid a switch of clubs and succeeded, or tried to go home and been diverted, kinda like Tiger Woods. Some go because their new club is trying to win the premiership, some because their old club is trying to win the premiership, and some because their club is not yet, or still, trying to win the premiership.
But all of them say they ''couldn't be happier'', and all their agents say they ''couldn't be happier'', and all their clubs, new and old, say they ''couldn't be happier''. Meantime, a raft of other players are politely sacked, mostly having not played a game, but all unanimously declared by their clubs to have made ''a valuable contribution'' as they shut the door behind them.
But trade whatever is far from finished, and already I am seeing jarring and mind-bending sights, sights that simply do not compute, such as Brian Lake in a Hawthorn guernsey and Quinten Lynch in a Collingwood guernsey, and Chris Dawes in a different jumper every day, and I'm thinking that either there is something wrong with the pizza, or the now suspiciously empty bottle of red, or the system, and that the margherita is cold and still untouched, and I want Dawes back.