The AFL and the Essendon and Collingwood football clubs are to be commended for their dedication to ANZAC Day. The decision to honour the occasion with a clash between two of the league’s biggest and most successful clubs has been a roaring success from the very beginning, and has only gone from strength to strength.
The new tradition began with an epic draw and has produced many memorable moments in the years since. Who will ever forget a young Zaharakis marking, playing on, and slotting his first goal in AFL football to steal victory in the dying seconds? (A recap for Pies fans can be found here.)
But the success has not only been on the field.
Some worry that the commercialisation of ANZAC Day is in poor taste, exploiting the lost for financial gain. Whilst this is often true, the AFL’s handling of the event has been respectful and produced a win for all.
The entire production is one of the best on our sporting landscape and this has helped to rejuvenate ANZAC Day. The timing of this new tradition couldn’t have been better. With time taking its toll, the ranks at the marches were thinning, as were the crowds. The day was at risk of fading into nothing more than another excuse for a day off and a BBQ. We still have those, of course, but they now come packaged with recognition and appreciation of our history.
The coverage has helped restore the occasion to its rightful status. The broadcast features interviews with veterans and their families. The players and coaches offer their thoughts on our nation’s history. There are scenes from ANZAC Cove at Gallipoli, the Dawn Service at the Shrine of Remembrance and the ANZAC Day March.
In the final prelude to the match, military personnel take the field to the sound of drums. The Ode of Remembrance is recited, leading into The Last Post. The complete silence of over 90,000 spectators. The National Anthem. Then the eruption of the crowd.
The atmosphere is spectacular, stirring, and enough to move the toughest of football fans. This effect remains true even if only viewed from the confines of your lounge room.
This exposure has helped to educate a new generation about an important piece of our history, and has contributed to a growth in attendances at the Dawn Service and the ANZAC Day March.
ANZAC Day and football are now inextricably linked. But there is one division between the two I would like to see, and it is a simple request.
Is there any chance we can forgo the military metaphors? At least for this one day of the year. Footballers are not ‘troops’. Conceding a goal is not ‘the ultimate price’. Nobody is putting their life on the line. Football is not a war. It’s a game.
To equate millionaire playboys striving for personal glory on the sporting field with fallen soldiers who gave their lives to preserve our way of life is more than a little disrespectful.
If this is what passes for sacrifice, I fear the message of “Lest We Forget” may have failed.