1969 was a watershed year. Richard Nixon became President of the USA, man landed on the moon and schoolboys the world over giggled every time they wrote down the date.
It was also the year Rupert Murdoch purchased the News of the World.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Rupert at the beginning. Before he became the media doyen that we know today, he had a problem. Due to printing technology and time constraints, it was impossible to get football results into the Sunday paper’s first edition. In a football-mad country like England, this was a concern, so in order to fill the gap Murdoch began to print gossip about the transfer of football players to new clubs.
Alongside hacking voicemails, this was a goldmine for stories for News of the World and in effect created the media-football transfer industrial complex.
For the benefit of those readers who still see football/soccer as a weird foreign sport played by the Greek kids at recess, the media-football transfer industrial complex is a fancy way of saying that the media, football players, clubs and agents all benefit from whipping up speculation about potential player transfers. Stories about transfers sell papers and tend to boost transfer fees by generating interest.
These stories also means fans – many of whose clubs go decades without winning a trophy – get to a feel like they actually win something when their club lands a new star player. Much like Hot Chocolate’s classic hit, everyone’s a winner.
In Europe media speculation on football transfers typically reaches fever pitch from May to August. Not only is there no football played during this period, but it is also one of only two sanctioned times where players can swap clubs. It is formally known as the transfer window.
In Australia, the equivalent period – the off-season – is dominated by rugby league scandals.
I am calling for this period to be formally recognised as the ‘Summer Scandal Window’.
Instead of trying to shake our head every time a rugby league scandal erupts, we should embrace them. While the NRL competition is contested by the likes of perennials Melbourne, Manly and East Sydney, it leaves most fans hoping their team sneaks into the top-8.
If we formalise the ‘Summer Scandal Window’, it gives regular punters something they can win that doesn’t involve playing rugby league, yet still captures the essence of the game.
By ‘formalising’ the window, I mean introducing a competition judged by a tally of scandals, weighted for their severity – say minus 10 points for a DUI, minus 25 for a drug bust, minus 50 for an assault charge and minus 100 for a jail term – and having an official start and end-date, from Mad Monday until round 1. Those clubs with the most indiscretions sit at the bottom, and the squeaky cleans go to the top. At the end of every ‘Summer Scandal Window’ the winning club receives a trophy and cash prize.
For example, in this summer’s league table of NRL scandals, the Newcastle Knights would currently have the wooden spoon after Willie Mason was busted for a DUI after 10 beers and a couple of gins on Australia Day, Russell Packer was sentenced to two years in jail for an alcohol-fuelled assault and Zane Tetevano was slapped with an AVO.
Such a competition will mean long-suffering fans of relatively scandal-free teams like Parramatta will rejoice. Hurray! Finally we are not coming last at something!
Let’s face it, the only thing better than your team winning is your enemies losing. The Germans have a word for it: schadenfreude. In New South Wales we have a bumper sticker for it: “I support the Wests Tigers and any team that’s playing Manly”.
In a perverse way, it may also encourage players to clean up their act. Before having that last jager bomb and punching someone at a music festival, maybe they’ll think – wait a minute, I want to win this bullshit summer scandal window competition.
Or perhaps not.
By Ben Shine