Illustration: Mick Connolly

Illustration: Mick Connolly

DAVE the CFO is a corporate fat cat. Naturally, he had no trouble getting a ticket to last year's drawn grand final, where he was stuck sitting next to a large and bellicose woman, whose ignorance about the game did not stop her from barracking hard.

Dave is a keen Pie, while the woman, who wore no team colours and seemingly had no allegiance, had adopted the Saints for the day. In the third quarter, as Brendon Goddard and a heroic Lenny Hayes began to turn the match towards the Saints, she tapped Dave on the shoulder.

''Why,'' she asked, ''is there that rectangle coming out of the goals?''

One would like to think that this woman was an isolated instance of someone who has no business attending the grand final, but we all know that there will be thousands of know-nothing theatregoers like her sitting in some kind of corporate or sponsors' seat on Saturday, and that plenty of rusted-on members of each club will be confined to barracks, so to speak, at home.

Many football folk have been conditioned to accept the theatregoer's grand final. They shouldn't.

The allocation of grand final tickets is a stain on the game's soul. It is a travesty that the AFL recognises, but has not made a sufficient priority. It is a moral issue, a test of leadership and a question of core values - does the AFL really care for the people who care most? Andrew Demetriou has made the right noises about the tickets; now he must take strong and decisive action. If he does this, he will distinguish himself from his business-as-usual predecessors.

The grand final replay of last year must become the template for ticket distribution in the future, when the competing clubs were given a far greater share. If the replay was, relatively speaking, a dud game compared with the draw, its atmospherics and crowd mix were vastly superior. Ideally, at least half the 100,000 grand final tickets should go to the clubs involved.

The replay was strikingly similar to what happened in the 2001 Wimbledon final, when rain delays meant that genuine fans were able to watch Pat Rafter and the multiple personalities of Goran Ivansevic. The Wimbledon stands contained genuine electricity and passion.

The fate of the grand final is comparable to inner city gentrification - well-heeled people are attracted to the colour/atmosphere, but by moving in, they erode the very vibrancy that attracted them in the first place. The preliminary finals are said to be ''the best weekend of the finals'' in part because they aren't like the grand final: the real fans get in. Friday night's atmosphere at the MCG proved it.

Note to corporate interlopers - don't go to the game. If you get offered a ticket, give it back to the competing clubs (the black-and-white one is called Collingwood).

As it stands, the fundamental problem is that the grand final is treated as the property of the entire AFL and all of its clubs, when it should be owned mainly by the competing clubs and their members. Too many tickets end up in the wrong hands and I include the Melbourne Cricket Club's members, whose automatic right of entry is an archaic tradition that detracts from the spectacle; surely, some of the MCC area can be given over to fans of the two clubs. The walk-up system is out-moded, as the failure to fill the MCC for the replay last year demonstrated. MCC members should remember that the AFL pays most of the rent, and millions of taxpayer dollars have been invested in their ground; it is not so simple as ''we pay our dues and get into the GF''.

First, though, the AFL has to do something about the three-quarters of the ground that it controls. This can be done by removing tickets from the 16 clubs that aren't competing and handing them to the participating clubs. The notion of Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney - clubs without real supporter bases yet - having access to several hundred or a thousand tickets demonstrates the ludicrous status quo.

Drugs and alcohol are not the only addictions that bedevil football; the clubs are addicted to the revenue they get from scalping grand final tickets.

The new deal for struggling clubs, to be announced by Demetriou tomorrow, is the perfect opportunity to force clubs to go cold turkey. In effect, they can be compensated for the money they lose from the officially sanctioned scalping of grand final tickets. Demetriou has hinted that this will happen. The question is whether this will be a fiddle at the edges or a genuine reform.

Last year, 14,000 or so tickets were handed to the 14 teams that weren't involved. Why can't this number be cut to a few hundred each? Chop out some of the MCC tickets (the AFL members give first dibs to club support members), cut back the ''events packages'' and tickets you can win by turning up at Fed Square et al - and the grand final can be rehabilitated. Once the change is made, the sponsors, clubs, players, etc will be re-conditioned to the new paradigm. The broadcast billions mean there is no longer an excuse for this shabby status quo.

Fix it Andrew.