Dear Mr Stewart,

I read your article on the Herald Sun online yesterday, and I wanted to let you know I agree with you.

Like you, I’ve grown to love the game as much as I do my team in recent years, and I’ve had my faith tested by the supplements scandal, tanking allegations, fixturing flaws, ticket prices and incessant rule changes. And yeah, Lake on Petrie was downright ugly last Friday night.

You say you have a young son, which contributes to your concerns. I can’t relate to you in that regard.

Nonetheless, I’m with you when you say there’s almost too much media coverage, and this and all the off-field incidents can very quickly suck the enjoyment and integrity out of the game.

With that in mind, let me tell you why AFL is not “dead” to me like you say it is to you.

AFL has changed at a breakneck speed in recent years, but the rules, the new teams and the scandals are only half the story.

As a result of all these, footy has taken on a level of ubiquity, gradually migrating from the back of our newspapers to the front.

And like any other issue worthy of a front page spread, the game is starting to have impacts on people’s lives well beyond the footy field.

It’s now no stretch to say that AFL is more than a game – it’s a way of life for those most gripped by its spell.

But here’s the thing, life’s not a game.

Life has its ups and downs, and it doesn’t wait long before throwing you challenges that make it harder to appreciate your life and leave you wishing it was easier.

Having been kind to us for the better part of 150 years, our code is now in this phase of challenging supporters, and in doing so it resembles real life more and more.

The ever-expanding laws of the game are having just as much impact on the players as the law enforced by the courts and government has on society, and are debated as much; the cost of going to the game is subject to the same criticism as fuel or energy prices; our mood changes are just as likely to be tied to our team’s result last weekend (or indiscretion during the week) as they are our personal achievements or failures.

When AFL was just a game, existing exclusively in its own little weekend world, we fell in love with it because it gave us a way of escaping the struggles and exasperations of real life.

But now that the code is a way of life in itself, we have to accept it’s going to have good bits and bad bits like the lives we temporarily withdraw from to watch the game.

As M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Travelled put it:

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I can understand if this isn’t enough to convince you to keep the faith in the national code. You probably think footy should only be a pastime, rather than a way of life, and I agree with you if you do – no one should have to work as hard as footy supporters have had to in the last few years to enjoy the game.

But I wanted to tell you all this to show you why I won’t be jumping ship as you did yesterday. When things are difficult in footy, as in life, it means that when happier times come around you appreciate them that little bit more. Things like Jack Gunston’s lighting pick-up and dish-off to Luke Breust versus Adelaide the night before your article was published, or Lance Franklin’s five-goal third term against Carlton the night after.

With all the other aspects of the football world becoming harder to swallow, the on-field thrills are more enjoyable than ever because they remind you that the essence of the game – the contest between highly-skilled individuals working as a team towards immortality – is well and truly alive.

That’s the reward with which footy still reimburses those who follow it, and what you’ll surrender if you make good on your pledge to give up on the game.

For your sake, I really hope you don’t.



Alexander Darling