“You cannot compare sport and war, however what you can compare is the passion and dedication that are required in both. While war serves a higher purpose the efforts, dedication and sacrifice of sportspeople is to be admired – which is not to be confused with how we should honour our veterans past and present.” – Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG
Anzac Day, arguably the most poignant day on our nation’s calendar, is becoming more synonymous with football each year.
Since 1995, Collingwood and Essendon have clashed at the MCG. The reverence and respect showed when 90,000 people fall silent and dare not even murmur, as a show of respect to those who have fought and still do for our very freedom, is something to behold. Today marks the ninth year St Joseph’s and South Barwon meet on April 25 at the local level. It is seven years since Portarlington and Drysdale first came together on ANZAC day in the BFL, and Bannockburn and Inverleigh will match up for the fourth time in 2017 representing the GDFL.
Clubs this year have worn specially designed jumpers for the weekend to mark the occasion; even Lara, Grovedale and Torquay, despite their games not falling on ANZAC Day.
If the morning commemorations are rightfully and powerfully solemn, the mood for the latter part of ANZAC Day is often less so as attention shifts to football. It’s perhaps for this reason that the appropriateness of playing sporting matches on the day has been questioned many times over the years. Not least in question, a healthy dose of cynicism over the commercialisation of a national day that remembers those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Previously, we have blurred the lines between honouring our fallen and sport itself.
Sure, footballers see injury and experience disappointments, but soldiers have and do see death sprawled like leaves off an autumn tree. The direct comparison between war and football is as irrelevant as it is disrespectful, for our great game is just merely that – a game. War and the sacrifices it encompasses should stand alone, sacrosanct from the correlations of the sporting world.
However, that being said, the balance we currently have in 2017 is working, and we have found a level – and it feels just right.
As time stretches on and the gap between the origin of the ANZAC legend and the present day widens, it is not only our responsibility but our duty as a nation to preserve and honour the ANZAC Day ethos. If this means a father has to take his son to the wide expanses of the MCG, or the community filled Drew Reserve on April 25 to watch some footy to help explain why this day is part of our nation’s history and identity, then that is a wonderful thing.
All we do as the affiliations between sport and ANZAC Day become closer, can only reaffirm why the day is so special. Former Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell suggesting he had “never seen 44 men go to battle like that” after the drawn 2010 Grand Final was ill-judged and comparisons like that deserve to be thought through more carefully; but so, so much of the reverence shown on the day is very well judged.
Services on the grounds before each of the local games today will mark the occasions, and solidify why this is such a special day. Then the games will begin, and they as a spectacle will reaffirm why they have their place.
If this means a father has to take his son to the wide expanses of the MCG, or the community filled Drew Reserve on April 25 to watch some footy to help explain why this day is part of our nation’s history and identity, then that is a wonderful thing.
Can St Joeys climb the mountain again after an unceremonious finals exit in 2016 up against the youthful exuberance of the Swans? Who out of Portarlington and Drysdale can truly kick-start their season? Lose today, and finals is nearly a bridge too far already. And can the high scoring Inverleigh topple Bannockburn? The Tigers, still snarling from last year’s grand final defeat, are looking to leapfrog the Hawks and dismantle their 2-0 start.
But perhaps, the final word, just as the first did, should go to Ben Roberts-Smith, as recipient of Australia’s highest military honour – the Victoria Cross.
“In the end, sport is an intrinsic part of being Aussie, having sporting matches dedicated to our military on such an important national day is fine with me.”
Lest We Forget