Whenever Melbourne and Sydney play at anything, a range of biases, paranoias and preconceptions emerge, all masquerading as home truths. Toby Greene is a case in point. Greene is a highly talented but suspension-prone forward for Greater Western Sydney who came under scrutiny for two nearly identical incidents in the first two weeks of the AFL finals. The first time he escaped a ban, the second cost him a match, last week’s preliminary final.
Cock an ear to Sydney and you will hear that the AFL pursued Greene so eagerly because of its prejudice against the Giants and resolve to keep them in their place. Listen in Melbourne and it’s that the AFL was reluctant to go after Greene at all because of its prejudice in favour of the Giants. After all, the AFL did not so much put them in their place as plant them there.
It is a syndrome peculiar to Australia, a federation, yes, but with deep-seated sectarian proclivities. The AFL is a national club competition inflected by fiercely parochial state rivalries. Today’s grand final is the eighth in a row pitting a Victorian club against a non-Victorian club. In Melbourne – Richmond supporters excepted – it again poses the blood-versus-water question about which winner would be more tolerable: an age-old rival who at least is Victorian, or another interstate usurper? As a perspective, it is outmoded, but persistent.
GWS give the question a twist. Hitherto, the out-of-town grand finalists have been either transplanted Melbourne clubs or amalgams from historic footy states. Last year’s winner West Coast, for instance, was seen as loathsome but legitimate. The Giants are seen not so much as a footy club as a marketing campaign, created specifically to take the game to new frontiers, lavished by the AFL, draining resources from heartland clubs while ever growing as a threat to them. The AFL can’t deny it, and doesn’t.