The day that footy purists all over the world have dreaded for some time appears to have finally arrived.
It seems as though Melbourne will host its first-ever twilight grand final when regular transmission resumes in September, and the MCG regains its status as the home of the AFL’s premiership decider.
The last two AFL Grand Finals were held at the Gabba and Optus Stadium as a result of the pandemic locking football out of Victoria in the most important month of the year.
In 2020, that month happened to be October, while last year the finals returned to their customary time on the calendar in September.
There was never any doubt that the AFL was going to hide behind the night grand final in Brisbane (2020) and the twilight grand final in Perth (2021) as justification to eventually schedule the premiership decider in Melbourne so that it ends after sundown too.
The pandemic years, 2020 especially, were so wild and experimental that it was simply easier for footy fans to swallow grand finals under lights for the first time. Fans were just grateful that footy was being played at all, they weren’t going to start quibbling over the timing of the grand final, now, were they? Beggars can’t be choosers, eh?
It played beautifully into the AFL’s hands.
And, as it turns out, those premiership deciders have been exactly what many suspected they would be all along – trojan horses for the broadcaster, Channel Seven.
Because the vast majority of the footy public – you know, the ones who actually make the AFL viable with their hard-earned cash and nobly refused to give up their club memberships during the tough pandemic years when their economic futures were uncertain – are vehemently opposed to the biggest game of the year shifting from its traditional afternoon timeslot.
So who exactly would this move be catering to other than TV execs?
Poll after poll after poll have indicated beyond doubt that fans overwhelmingly want the AFL’s showpiece to remain a daytime affair.
The AFL Fans Association conducted a poll on Twitter last month, and of the 1054 responses, a whopping 79.9 percent voted for a day grand final, while only 17.3 percent opted for a twilight match and a paltry 2.8 percent were in favour of a nighttime decider.
What time should this year's #AFL Grand Final be played?
Cast your vote and tell us why in the comments. 👇
— AFL Fans Association (@FansAFL) April 14, 2022
And who could blame them?
There is something truly magical about a grand final at the MCG starting at the traditional time of 2:30pm.
The build-up is electric: the barbecues in Yarra Park; the colour and anticipation outside the ground; the buzz in the pub districts of adjacent Richmond; and, most importantly, the relatively short wait before the action begins - especially for those of us who stay up until 3am the night before watching classic grand finals in lieu of the iconic grand final marathon (that’s another rant for another day) by the same broadcasters that are pushing for this unwanted grand final start time. Tone-deaf, much?
When the weather is sunny on grand final day, the event becomes even more poignant as the shadows of the mighty MCG’s grandstands grow longer in the late Spring afternoon as the match draws to a close – symbolic of another season, and chapter in the long history of the VFL/AFL, coming to a close, forever etched into the history books.
It truly is one of the great sights in football.
And then players and fans alike get a huge chunk of time to celebrate their premiership properly, from 5pm until the wee hours of Sunday morning. A twilight grand final would slash that precious time by a whopping two hours – not exactly conducive for youngsters to fully appreciate and soak in the enormity of the occasion.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But of course, those pushing for a shift away from a day grand final will tell you that it somehow is broken.
The desire for higher ratings is one of the most popular justifications for the time change, even though the last day grand final in 2019 was the highest-rating TV program for that year.
Are we seriously that desperate for an extra few hundred thousand viewers from the theatre-going northern markets that we completely disregard the will of the people from footy’s heartland states?
And the excuse that the live entertainment looks better at night time is even more ludicrous.
Firstly, who gives a stuff about the live entertainment?
Last time I checked, the actual game is the most important aspect of grand final day. Besides, you can count on one hand how many knock-your-socks-off musical acts have performed on grand final day in the last 30 years – hardly a concrete reason to tinker with the sport’s most sacred day.
The AFL’s obsession with trying to emulate the NFL Super Bowl in that department is nothing short of cringeworthy. The half-time show at America’s showpiece sporting event this year featured global r'n'b showstoppers: Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J Blige, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent.
Seriously, AFL, fall on your sword.
Not to mention the fact that waiting until, presumably, 4.40pm for the grand final to start would just be tedious and excruciating - especially for the players involved - as it was the last couple of years.
There might have been a degree of inevitability about the AFL grand final shifting from the daytime when it returned to the MCG, but it still won’t make it any easier for most footy fans to accept - even after the AFL (as they always do) fed the news to selected media mouthpieces in order to condition the public and get it used to a massive/controversial decision before it’s actually made in an attempt to take the ‘sting’ out of the announcement.
Indeed, the fact that this issue wasn’t knocked on the head early in the season - as it always was in the pre-pandemic, manufactured annual pantomime of “will the league, or won’t the league” - should’ve set off alarm bells amongst traditionalists.
Still, this writer is holding out hope of seeing Mike Brady belt out “Up There Cazaly” in radiant sunshine on September 24, rather than in the shadows of the Ponsford Stand.