Time I weighed into the ongoing debate about AFL umpiring and suggested a few simple principles by which most, not all I admit, umpiring decisions could be made.

Here’s the basic principle: A free kick should be paid when one player’s actions unfairly inhibit the ability of another to execute their skill. Where a player’s actions initiate a situation where he inhibits himself from executing his skill he should not be paid a free kick.

A player who contributes to contact by for example, ducking his head or leaving his feet should never be paid a free kick for “head high contact” unless the opposition player deliberately tries to punch or stomp him.  All onus should be on the player who leaves his feet, not the player who maintains his feet and reaches down to get the ball.  Recently I have seen Andrew Krakouer paid a free kick against Harry Taylor after he threw himself on the ground and writhed around. When Taylor reached down and brushed against Krakouer’s shoulders he was penalised. This is a complete perversion of how the rules should work. I saw the same incident repeated least night in the Hawthorn and Carlton game, a game in which hardly any free kicks were paid!     I just saw Jack Riewoldt get a free for ducking his head, bad decision. 

Similarly a player who leaves his feet and grabs the ball on the ground should not be paid a free kick simply because somebody falls into his back.  He chose to leave his feet, bad luck. A player who leaves his feet has in effect taken himself out of the play and removed himself from the protection of that rule.   How often do we hear experts criticising players for leaving their feet, calling it weak play? We should not reward bad play with a free kick.

Where a second player (the tackler) leaves his feet to tackle the player on the ground and “wraps” him up, he should also not be given a free kick for “holding the ball”.   It should be play on or bounce up.  If the tackler wants a holding the ball free kick he should keep his feet and grab the guy’s jumper or pin him. If the player on the ground does not immediately release the ball, then, holding the ball, free kick.

The rule about players leaving their feet and being penalised for making contact with other players’ legs is a good one SO LONG AS there is some detriment to the player contacted.  And of course, players who do this and lead to an injury should be penalised accordingly under reckless conduct.

 The founding fathers of the game identified the most obvious and common infringements and for decades they remained fairly intact:

Push in the Back – where a player is shoved in the back.

Holding the Man – where a player is retarded from pursuing the ball or a contest by being held.

Grabbing around the Neck – where a player is tackled above the shoulders.

Holding the Ball – where a player is tackled and refuses to release the ball.

Throwing the ball – where the ball is thrown not handballed.

Added to these were basic attacks against a player: Charge, trip. Technical breaches like time wasting infringements, kicking the ball out on the full, deliberate out of bounds etc are really a separate class.


Where the AFL has gone badly wrong has been its attempt to fine tune these basic rules and make the game like basketball. So various ruck contest free kicks are introduced that nobody understands, especially the ruckmen.  With the best of intentions post the Blake Caracella incident, the AFL attempted to protect the head of the player but this rule has wrongly become a rule involving head high contact instead of “tackling around the neck”.  The two are very different. 

The push in the back is the most perversely interpreted rule of all. It is almost impossible for a player to win a free kick running towards goal and being shoved in the back, even though his knees might get grassburn.  Hack commentators generally blame the player for missing the shot when this is the exact time push in the back should be paid!    

I totally agree with hands in the back in the marking contest being a free kick – so long as it follows the basic test that the hands prevented the opposing player from executing in some way. Simply touching for balance or protecting oneself when an out of position player backs hard into you, should not be a free kick.  But players taking the front position should be protected, in the way that Ryan Crowley recently was not when Patrick Dangerfield shoved him blatantly in the back.

Pushing players in the side or bumping when the ball is on the descent should not be penalised because there is really nothing unfair about that, it is simply a test of strength. 

 Spectacular as it might be to see a player give chase to a man bouncing the ball, why should the bouncer be penalised for holding the ball if caught? He’s not slowing the game down, in fact he’s opening the game up, giving us one of the most exciting sights in the game.  Play on.  In fact, usually when a player is caught and penalised you will see if you scrutinize it that the tackle was incorrect – often starting over the shoulders, or being a lunge in the back that should in fact see the free going to the bouncer. Once again the sheep commentators and morons in the crowd overlook it and the umpire plays his part theatrically waving his hands in a holding the ball motion.  The tackler’s reward is in dislodging the ball, that’s enough.

 Also unless he has already been in a tackle for a considerable time a player who loses the ball when trying to handball, kick or bounce should not be penalised. It should just be play on – and generally this year this is exactly how the umpires have called it, well done. Players umping on the ball and dragging it in are generally penalised, as they should be.


And a throw is a throw, near enough is not good enough.



    • appreciate the response Bob, good to get some debate happening. I know my suggestion about allowing play on to happen and eliminating most holding the ball is controversial and a direct opposite to the way the law has been going but my feeling is that the founding fathers were pretty smart – they wanted the game to roll on, philosophically I can’t see why a tackle should be paid as a free kick unless the tackled player won’t get rid of the ball because the successful tackle is its own reward – the player is dispossessed or slowed, forced to dispose of the ball haphazardly and so on. I can’t think of a game where just making a tackle gives a free – in gridiron the sack is a big win but the ball doesn’t automatically go to the tackler. of course if the tackled player throws the ball, or kicks it out of bounds deliberately other laws come in to play. Anyway, good to get a rules debate going.

    • Thanks for the response Tony. Very different players obviously, I’m just giving an honest assessment of the three best players I’ve seen with my own eyes often enough to make a judgment. If I picked a fourth and fifth they’d be Maurice Rioli and Doug Green as I saw them play many games in WA. Going off the TV I’d add Lethal, Voss, Hird, Carey and Royce Hart though maybe GAblett jnr might end up getting my vote as best of the lot. Looks like a good season shaping up!

      • Doug Green, great pick, you’re not just a pretty face!!I never missed a game at East Fremantle Oval with my old man for years.Doug Green,Motor Boat Mick,Noel Avery,Paul Nichols,Peter Stephen,Freddy Lewis,Max Vidovich (remember that day at Lathlain),Noel Ferguson,Kerry Williams,Turco hitting Duckworth in the nuts,Jimmy Sewell kicking 8 in the last quarter to beat East Perth,Keith Shorthill from the pocket, Neil Dedman missing from straight in front in the ’73 Prelim at Subi.Plugger was way past his best when he went to Sydney.Ablett Jnr is already 2nd best all time.Have you got any Suburban Soldier badges left? I lost my Sargeant badge, I’d love a replacement. I’ll pay.Anyway see you at the Charles.Tony

        Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2013 04:19:28 +0000 To: [email protected]

        • Have badge will travel, will try and remember to bring one for you. Do I remember that game at Lathlain!!! Vidovic kicked 12 that day, right? That game remains etched in my memory as the most perfect game I ever saw East Fremantle play. I clearly recall Graeme Melrose drop-kicking the ball from the centre bounce into the goal square – hitting Vidovic on the tit. Pretty sure Melly actually goaled with one monster. Polly Farmer fixed us up in the prelim when he charged into Alan Prosser after the first bounce but what lost it for us was playing Neil Dedman at full-forward. Dedman always played brilliantly against Claremont and in the first semi they played him at full forward and he kicked about 7 but all year he had played against WP’s Phil Smith at full back and was the only player we had who could beat Smith. I knew travelling to the game they were going to play Eddy Donnes there and leave Dedman at FF and had a sick feeling in my gut. I knew East so well in those days I could predict every nuance of almost every game. Of course Phil Smith kicked three or four in the first quarter and we were shot, though the boys came charging back. A favourite footy memory was in the third quarter when we were on a roll, the ball went to WP forward pocket and Stephen Smeath was charging from one direction and Frizzy Ferguson from the other. Smeath was faster and would have picked the ball up first and frizzy was salivating about the ferocious tackle that he would lay, Smeathy looked up and stopped in his tracks like Roadrunner, almost bringing up smoke from Subi oval. Frizzy was momentarily bamboozled – you could see it going through his brain, flatten Smeathy or get the ball?. He picked the ball up, turned 180 degrees and headed back in our direction – when he was safely ahead, Smeathy gave chase. Many people say we would have won the flag that year but I know East too well. East Perth would have beaten us in the grand final, always a bogey team. In fact the critical game in 79 was the first semi against them, the day big Mic Cronin died at the game. Once we won that game, we were home.

          • Oh my god Smeath and Watling that day, i wish they were off driving at the Pinjarra trots instead.

  1. Hey Dave,
    East Fremantle footy club got knocked off last night. They stole some money and an ATM, fair dinkum it was on 6PR today. I did’nt know “Motorboat Mick was still around!!

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