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A Beautiful Set of Numbers

I’ve got some advice for the critics who believe uncontested marks and 16 metre dink kicks across the back-line are ruining football – get yourselves a Dreamteam, select both Bowdens, and start enjoying footy again.

Joel and Patrick Bowden

Mark to Joel, three points. Chip kick to Patrick, three points. Mark to Patrick, three points. Handball off, two points. A Tiger not in my team chips back to Joel. Uncontested mark, three points. Slows the game up. The crowd’s screaming. To think some unreconstructed fans aren’t enjoying this. Patrick runs on. Chip kick across to Patrick, three points. Get out of it Pettifer! You’re not one of mine! Patrick looks around. Joel makes good position. Chip kick on to Joel, three points. Uncontested mark, three points. This is breathtaking Dreamteam footy from the Maribyrnong Mustangs. Now if only Joel can find Richo. For god sake not Simmonds! I’m playing the Oompa Loompas, and the Loompas have got Simmonds!

For those who have missed the whole Dreamteam phenomenon, there are 183,273 ‘coaches’ at afl.com.au, who have each picked a fantasy squad of 30 players. A coach starts with a salary cap of $6.3 million, and drafts 9 forwards, 9 backs, 6 centres and 6 rucks, with the selected player’s price being determined by past and present statistical performance. A player scores for every act he performs on the ground, except unrewarded running (which is indeed unrewarded) and one percenters, which are worth exactly zero percent. Across a round of footy, a coach can count 22 player scores in his or her total, which is then pitted against another coach’s total in a hotly contested 16-team private league. The afl.com.au website maintains a ladder for every private league, and at the end of Round 18, a top 8 is declared. Finals are played in rounds 19, 20, 21 and 22, which leaves September free for Dreamteamers to head off to Queensland for the good weather.

Currently, my Maribyrnong Mustangs are 4 and 1 are charging towards August. Not only that, but our only loss came against Nuggets Guns, and Nugget himself has admitted in the online ‘coaches’ box’ that he is doing VCE, so hopefully he will be distracted at the business end of the season.

The coaches’ box exists so you can sledge other coaches competing in your private league. The frustration of an online ‘chat’ system is that sometimes important team rules don’t reach the boys who are pulling on the Maribyrnong jumper week in week out. Rules such as –

  1. ALWAYS take a kick after the siren, no matter how far away from goal you are. In Round 3 at Kardinia Park, I watched in horror as Spida Everitt handed the ball back to the umpire at half time, costing Maribyrnong 3 much needed points.
  2. ALWAYS kick in preference to handballing. Where possible, aim for stationary targets under pressure who will be forced to give the ball straight back.
  3. WEAK ineffectual tackles are worth just as many points (4) as bone jarring, dispossessing tackles. Don’t risk injury by tackling too hard.
  4. EVERYONE has Dale Thomas and Josh Fraser. These two don’t win us games.
  5. The result of the game, and the overall spectacle, is immaterial. The match of the season so far was Fremantle versus Hawthorn at Aurora. Who could forget the waxing between Maribyrnong teammates Birchall and Hodge.

Each Friday, I thunder these rules at my players until the arches in my typing wrists feel they can take no more. Yet what I was craving was face to face contact, an opportunity to flex my jugular vein and really lay down the law.

Three weeks ago it happened. I was standing in a backyard in Ascot Vale, competing with John Rerakos’s three kids for the best bits of the lamb on a spit. Little did I know, but John is a founding member of the Tiger’s Club 80, and his former restaurant Piraeus Blues is a player sponsor for Joel Bowden. After fifteen minutes of quality picking, I looked up, wiped the grease from my face, and saw that Joel and Patrick Bowden were hovering over the fatted calf too, looking for a leanish clandestine scrap that might just fool the dietician.

I shook greasy hands with them both, pretending it was just a social hello, but knowing there was important Maribyrnong Mustangs business to attend to. I started by subtly moving the conversation to Tiger rookies, potential Maribyrnong recruits in the all important $66,500 price range. Joel laughed.

‘I suggested Andrew Raines to another Dreamteamer at the start of the year,’ Joel said. ‘He was a bargain apparently. That guy’s absolutely rapt with me now.’

I needed future not past! It was clear that the older Bowden, despite being in the Mustangs leadership group, was allowing his focus to wander from the task at hand. Sipping my beer, I glanced at Patrick. If it was going to happen, now was the time for him to tell me to draft Dean Polo, who was at that moment four days away from making the most sensational debut in recent history.

‘This is great meat,’ Patrick said.

The meat was clearly a distraction, so I positioned myself lamb side of the two Bowdens. Quietly, I laid down the team rules. Both boys listened intensely. By the time Susie Rerakos came out with the spanakopita, I’d found my rhythm.

‘So wherever possible, kick short, preferably to each other, and where there’s no short option, look for Richo. Joel. You’re my captain so you’re worth double points which means Patrick, where possible, leave it for Joel.’

I gave them both a slap on the back, and let my message percolate with them for a while. Patrick apologised for his recent statistical output not matching his scintillating early season efforts. I told him that his commitment to the Maribyrnong cause was admirable, and that in the coming weeks, he should dominate the stats sheet, although not at the expense of his Mustangs teammate Barry Hall.

Since that night, I haven’t had a further opportunity to address the boys, but on the weekend, everything just clicked. In his 8th game for the club, Joel Bowden had 28 kicks and 20 marks for a points total of 167. Patrick had 19 kicks and 15 marks for 119. Even young Courtney Johns played. The Mustangs scored a season high total of 1980 points, a number that has a beautiful shape to Richmond supporters. But for the Mustangs, it’s not about shape, beauty or reminiscence and it’s certainly not about Richmond. It’s enough that we beat the Oompa Loompas, thrashed the little mites, and in a season as tight as this one, there’s nothing more important than a win.