Mastering the Rage – Roy Masters’ Vendetta Against the AFL

On the weekend, I was fortunate enough to be in Geelong to continue to follow the journey of the GWS Giants. It was great to see them put in a big effort to shut down the imposing Cats’ premiership winning central corridor play for the first half. It was like watching the Gold Coast Titan shutting down the halfback – five eighth – hooker combination of the Melbourne Storm, to use a rugby league analogy.

The main question I was asked in Geelong was why I followed AFL – and I gave my 1981 VFL v Rugby League TV coverage answer. Maybe I should have said that I didn’t like the teams produced by Roy Masters. I didn’t, though, because I don’t have a vendetta. That isn’t the case with the former coach, who, in his heyday, was responsible for ramping up the “Fibros v Silvertails” rivalry of the 1970s.

He seems determined to use the same caustic, vitriolic approach to the threat he perceives from AFL in the form of the Giants. Today’s article in the Herald continues that battle from the warhorse.

Lonesome Giants endangered in wild west

June 5, 2012
On a hiding to nothing … GWS star Israel Folau. Photo: Steve ChristoYes – the article starts with Israel Folau, the league convert who continues to develop his skills. To criticise the slow speed of that conversion in an easy target.

They are called Giants but the AFL’s newest team has more in common with the giant tortoise of the Galapagos Islands than the usual cast of super-size heroes.  

The Galapagos tortoise nicknamed ”Lonesome George” is considered by researchers to be the rarest creature on earth. The 90-year-old, two-metre high shell-back therefore qualifies as a protected species and deserving of even more care and comfort than that accorded other rare giants, such as the colossal squid and the giant tube worm.

And the point is…

But the AFL’s Greater Western Sydney Giants are an even more exotic beast, judging from the protection they receive from that vile enemy, the media.

Ah, there’s the metaphor.

Week after week, the opposition scores twice their number of points, yet the media describes these abysmal defeats as a ”giant effort”, ”brave performance” or ”gallant”.

Perhaps watching a Giants game might help Masters understand the difficulty of starting a new AFL team without a core group of seasoned players.  Maybe going back into the annals of the Penrith Panthers, who took 24 years to win a premiership. Perhaps Parramatta, who took 34. Or Cronulla.  All new clubs struggle for early positive results, except if you were the Brisbane Broncos. All that context is left out of this comment, revealing Masters’ agenda of criticising without context or understanding of the game about which he is writing.

Sure, the team is very young, consisting of the best draft choices in the nation and coached by a man, Kevin Sheedy, who is described in terms usually reserved for Albert Einstein.

Masters makes this comment without quotation – though, it does need to be said that Kevin Sheedy is often spoken about in positive terms. Possibly winning four premierships as a coach affords that kind of respect.

But when is someone going to point out the Giants’ efforts in remaining competitive until half-time is not good enough?

I would like to have seen Masters write about the Gold Coast Titans in 2007, demanding they win from the start. I don’t think he would have. In any case, it is a poor comparison, because the Titans had purchased star players like Scott Prince and Luke Bailey and had a more experienced team than the Giants or the Suns.

Just as Lonesome George’s ancestors liked to island hop, the Giants have abandoned their Blacktown base for Sydney Olympic Park. This received very little attention in the media, which is obviously responding to the Giants’ open-door policy.

“Open door policy” – it is not clear why Masters would object to a football team being open to the media when so many object to the closed door tactics of teams. It is a bad thing, apparently.  Here also we get the main nub of Masters’ vitriol – the playing to regional warfare.

To be fair, there are sensible reasons for their deserting Blacktown.  The modern footballer is, in his own way, a coddled creature. He likes all his training demands at the one location. Collingwood, Carlton, the Broncos, Storm and Titans have centres of excellence, where players can train, be massaged, watch videos, treat injuries, swim and answer pesky media inquiries in the one complex.

The GWS player in the pre-season was spending up to four hours travelling between venues for training and their luxury resort in the inner west.

Luxury resort. Breakfast Point is not a resort and nor is it in the “inner west” – but let’s not facts get in the way.  The reality was that the club has set up a close set of living facilities near their home ground – also preventing the situation where players can take off to nightclubs and perform various activities of which Masters may well approve.  In addition, the Blacktown venue was no available for training in summer months, due to the presence of Cricket NSW.

By relocating to Sydney Olympic Park as their base for training and playing, they are eight minutes’ drive to their Breakfast Point villas, and closer to their upper middle-class supporter base in the Hills district.

Again, Masters plays on class consciousness and lazy stereotyping for his point – that this isn’t “real” “Western Sydney” the club is representing.  This denies the reality of pockets of AFL supporters and clubs throughout the western, north western and south western suburbs – not to mention the Blue Mountains, where AFL has had a large presence for many years.

I am also guessing that current players for Parramatta, Penrith, Canterbury and the Wests Tigers aren’t living in fibro shacks in Lidcombe.  Some of them may even live in villas.

It makes these young, high draft choice players less vulnerable to being lured back to Melbourne at the end of this season.

There is more than just location that will be influencing the decisions – but looking into that would take some actual research.

It’s not known how much money has been spent preserving the habitat of the Galapagos giant tortoise but considerable taxpayers’ dollars have been devoted to the Giants.

The NSW government spent $15 million on developing the Blacktown precinct for a second AFL team and cricket. It also allocated $45 million for the upgrading of the Sydney Showground to make it suitable for Australian football.

Apparently, spending money on preserving tortoises is not something that adds to the greater good of the population in the Masters mindset. Neither does providing for community infrastructure like football grounds.  Governments spend a lot of money on different codes and sports.  There is the $8.4 million spent on the Canterbury Bulldogs’ training ground, Belmore, the $136 million provided to the Sydney Cricket Ground for an upgrade to their members’ sections, Penrith Stadium’s upgrade and so on. Not mentioned is that the Showground will continue to be used by the Royal Agricultural Society and will be good for a number of events, due to its proximity to trains and buses. The same can’t be said for Belmore or Penrith, which are not used for much else other than football. Facts, though, are as lonely as Masters’ tortoise in this article.

According to reports in July 2008, Blacktown council siphoned off its taxpayer-provided sports budget for the facility, described as a $27.5 million project.

The AFL and cricket provided $2,875,000 and with the NSW government tipping in $15 million, presumably Blacktown council provided the rest.

Presumably? Masters possibly should have got on the phone and find someone who would know how much they contributed.  This comment, though, is loaded with the implication that the money is now wasted – though cricket’s use of the facilities is just a peripheral fact that is swept away in Masters’ pursual of a one eyed agenda.

On the eve of the Giants’ first home game at the renamed Sydney Showground, Skoda Stadium, the federal government announced it would contribute $2 million to facilities at Sydney Olympic Park.

A press release from the Minister for Sport, Kate Lundy, announced the funds would be allocated to ”an elite-standard AFL training oval and community sports field”, while ”the AFL and the GWS Giants will build a multicultural community education centre (MCEC), which will feature a 75-person theatrette, dedicated classroom and community meeting rooms”.

Strange that Masters posts this without comment, Andrew Bolt style. He either finds nothing wrong with providing community facilities for people near Homebush, or he is wishing for people to pour scorn on the proposal. It is a strange way to compose an article.

The ACT government has also given the Giants $26 million over 10 years to play four games a year in Canberra, while Wagga Wagga council will pay $300,000 over three years for pre-season games.

Masters could have mentioned the money provided to NRL teams by cities that host various home games throughout the season as a way of balancing the money that is paid for such a right – but that would introduce objectivity here – a commodity more rare than Lonesome George.

The AFL insists they haven’t abandoned Blacktown, pointing out it will be used as a base for development where they claim to spend $4 million a year.

They will also play an additional televised pre-season game there, run their elite junior competitions plus train there for 12 sessions a year.

Again, posted without comment. Perhaps that’s because it sounds reasonable that the AFL will still use Blacktown in a way more appropriate for its size and access to transport – it is an excellent facility for those purposes and will continue to be long into the future.

Just as scientists are desperately searching the Galapagos Islands to find a mate for Lonesome George in order to perpetuate the species, the AFL’s plan in having two Sydney teams was to foster the code in Australia’s biggest city.

And we get back to Masters’ metaphor, now turned vicious – that the AFL is like an old, dying, desperate tortoise. It more shows the desperation of a bitter man seeing that AFL might have a future alongside the NRL in Sydney.

The Swans have access to the harbour and the city, something the people of Sydney’s west have been travelling to for 70 years.

Oh, really. Masters should listen to supporters of the descendants of his Wests Magpies – the Wests Tigers – bitterly complaining about the onerous journey to Moore Park, with its buses. Or others claiming that even Homebush “isn’t western Sydney” when referring to the Showground. The recent fan forums undertaken by backers of the new West Sydney soccer franchise have had the consensus view that Homebush is too far. So, the “harbour and the city” argument in relation to the Swans is woefully off the mark.

They won’t welcome the view the Giants had to leave Blacktown because the players were spending too much time in cars.

That is not the argument of the Giants. Perhaps reading the whole of the press release would have helped Masters.

Similarly, Lonesome George has rejected the Volcan Wolf tortoise and those other floozy tortoises marine scientists have paraded for him to reproduce with.

Floozy tortoises. Thanks for that.

The artificially created mating of the now inner west Giants with the Swans might have a similar fate, particularly in stimulating interest in Australian football in Sydney’s greater west, a region long taken for granted.

A region long taken for granted by whom? The AFL? NRL? The article doesn’t say, but it can be fair to say that the AFL is doing anything but taking it for granted – otherwise, why spend the money.  And it’s puzzling that Masters insists that the Swans and the Giants are “mating” – if anything, they are rapidly developing two different identities. As for the “inner west Giants” – that a pretty silly label from a man defending a competition where the “Wests Tigers” have home games in Leichhardt and Moore Park.

Roy Masters will continue his vendetta on every forum with which he is provided – such as Offsiders and the Herald, due in part to his own status as a respected former coach – pretty akin to Sheedy. The difference is, though, is that we won’t see Sheedy write a vicious attack on the Melbourne Storm or the NRL in general. That’s because first of all there doesn’t seem to be a single AFL writer who hates league in the same way Masters hates AFL. In addition, the AFL don’t seem to feel threat from the NRL.  Masters, however, loathes a future that will see people choose either NRL or AFL for their children for reasons that aren’t really that apparent, other than an irrational hatred.

Masters himself is a bit of endangered species – the Old Grizzled Anti AFL Leaguie. The species, as represented by Masters, is not really like a Galapagos Tortoise, it is more like a Tasmanian Devil, increasingly isolated and snarling at passers by.