The language of ANZAC Day football

ANZAC Day is upon us once again.

Along with the diggers marching through the streets of Melbourne, this great city will also play host to another ANZAC Day tradition: rabid Essendon and Collingwood fans descending upon the MCG.

In celebrating the sacrifices of the men and women who have served our country we hear talk of their brave acts in battle.

Many Australians, young and old, will be visiting lands far away, making personal pilgrimages to the battlegrounds of their own personal experiences or visiting the battlegrounds of their ancestors.

These distant places are what have become known to Australians as “hallowed”.

Today we will try to imagine the bravery and the terror these locales have born witness to.


The connotations associated with “pilgrimages” and “hallowed” ground will not be limited to the various ANZAC Day marches and services taking place.

These words will migrate to the day’s football match between Essendon and Collingwood.

These words will be bandied about by every football commentator and journalist.

These words will not be alone.

They will be joined by other descriptors of battle, such as; warriors, gladiators, titans, heroic deeds and will include the word battle, itself.

This is how timeless images of battle, harking back to the Ancients will frame what is after all, just a game of football this afternoon.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with adding a little drama to sport. Ultimately, it is the drama of sport that compels us to watch.

No-one gets excited by a one sided, boring sporting event.

No-one ever wants to see a whitewash, a flogging that is often as painful to watch as what it must be to participate in.

But to suggest that the ANZAC Day match between Essendon and Collingwood is a “clash between warriors” or that the battlefields of Gallipoli or France can be recreated on the MCG, between two football teams of highly paid professional athletes, takes the drama of sport too far.

There is no doubt that the today’s match is a welcome tradition in the narrative that is Australian Rules Football.

ANZAC Day at the MCG is a day for the fans, not the corporates, unlike the Grand Final.

It is a day where the occasion rightfully outweighs the match itself.

However, it is not a battle.

It is not a clash.

There are no warriors, titans or acts of true bravery or heroism.

It is fitting that our national holiday to commemorate the sacrifices made by others is marked by a game of football as well as by the many ANZAC marches and services that take place around the country.

But the MCG will host a game on ANZAC Day and war is not a game.

Today we should remember those who have served our nation and we should enjoy the spectacle that is our unique code of football.

But we should not confuse war with sport.

Building drama into a sporting event is not derogatory toward that sport but it must be careful to not be derogatory toward the broader events of the day.

Collingwood and Essendon running through the banner.
Collingwood and Essendon running through the banner.

Like all Bombers fans, I’m looking forward to seeing a game of football that should be hard fought between two teams with a soundly developed, traditional rivalry.

And tradition is important.

It’s important in sport just as it is an important element of our national, cultural and even personal identities.

Let’s remember to pay our respects to those who have done what most of us could never do.

Let’s enjoy the spectacle that is ANZAC Day at the MCG.

Let’s not trivialize sacrifice and suffering by misusing language to sell sport.


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