If Rugby League Was A Drug…

The Australian sporting world has been rocked by the news that former NRL and AFL player, Karmichael Hunt – now contracted to the Queensland Reds Super 15 franchise – has been allegedly charged with supplying cocaine.  

In light of this new development, TPA’s Dave Edwards and Ben Shine have joined forces to answer the one question that has baffled sporting pundits for decades: If each of Australia’s four major football codes were a ‘drug’, what drug would that be?

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Dave Edwards: Let’s start with the obvious one, Ben. I believe that rugby league is ecstasy – or, to use the appropriate term, pingas.

Rugby league was at its peak in the 1990s. Incidentally, so were pingas. In the 1990s, Sydney-siders were going out and dumping at a rave club on a Friday night, then backing up for some Saturday arvo footy at Leichhardt Oval.

The great thing about pingas is that you never know quite what you’re going to get. You might get an amazing unexpected high, or you might O.D. and die. You might get a long-lasting, euphoric high, or it might be “smacky” and sweat-inducing. It even might be laced with heroin. Ecstasy is impure, unpredictable and cheap – just like rugby league.

MDMA is becoming increasingly popular in Australia, by virtue of being a far cleaner high than ‘ecstasy’. But MDMA is just of the many chemicals found in ecstasy – the rest is a hybrid of weird shit like heroin, caffeine and dishwashing detergent.

Am I wrong in suggesting that rugby league is an ecstasy tablet?

"If we dump these now, we should be peaking by half-time in the Souths v Wests Tigers game"
“If we dump these now, we should be peaking by half-time in the Souths v Wests Tigers game”

Ben Shine: I think the parallels between rugby league and ecstasy are uncanny; however, while MDMA has had a local resurgence in recent years, we are still waiting for rugby league to reach the halcyon days of the pre Super League era.

Perhaps a closer fit would be speed, or as it is commonly known by bogan Australia, “goey.”

Like rugby league, amphetamines have been on the scene for a long time without ever having achieved dominance of the market – possibly because the drug is only really effective at keeping you awake, and doesn’t really do much else. Both are cheap, accessible and popular with truck drivers.

I feel rugby league falls somewhere in between an ecstasy tablet and a simple line of speed. I believe that if the code had a spirit drug it would be a cheap pinga with dodgy speed as the primarily ingredient.

Now where does this leave the other codes?

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DE: I’m torn on this one. One thing I think we can agree on is that rugby union is not an ‘upper’. The infuriating stop-start nature of the game is what makes it a depressant.

Is rugby union prescription meds? I know that depressants such as Valium and Xanax are prescribed to relieve anxiety, which is exactly what rugby union can induce in some people. Nothing makes me more anxious that watching a scrum be continually reset by a pedantic Northern Hemisphere referee.

Prescription drugs are commonly abused by elitists. Bored, lonely housewives popping pills with a glass of red at 11:00am on a Tuesday, alone and depressed in their Point Piper mansions, longing to just feel something, anything.

Benzos and Burgundy - just the trick on a boring Tuesday arvo
Benzos and Burgundy – just the trick on a boring Tuesday arvo

I guess another (far more common) depressant is humble alcohol. What do you reckon, Ben, is rugby union alcohol, prescription meds – or something else entirely?

BS: You’re dead right: rugby union is certainly not an “upper”.

This is why Karmichael’s coke charge sits uneasily with me. In many ways cocaine should be the drug for rugby union, in a socio-economic sense (it is expensive and union fans are, broadly speaking, richer than other codes) and also in an excitement sense (the adrenalin rush of running rugby can only be compared to the high of a massive line of the white stuff), but it just doesn’t feel right.

For one, I don’t think the majority of union fans would touch illicit drugs. That would be far too common. Plus cocaine is a bit nouveau riche and gauche these days, isn’t it?

Secondly, rugby union no longer embodies the excitement of the running rugby / act Brumbies days anymore. Anyone who watches the wallabies lose 9-3 against the springboks cannot liken the experience to ingesting a stimulant drug.

It is, as you suggest, a depressant. Pop a Xanax, have a glass of red and knock yourself out.

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BS: It feels wrong comparing AFL to a drug. The code is so family-oriented that I just can’t think of an illicit drug to liken it to. Personally, I think AFL is alcohol. Socially acceptable, its consumption is not bound by class distinctions or geography. Everyone has a sip.

Then there is the insidiously harmful side to alcohol. It can be monumentally destructive to the user and wider community. I don’t think we can say the same thing about AFL, although perhaps the code’s impact on rugby league’s grip on Western Sydney can be discussed in those terms.

Everyone has a sip
Everyone has a sip.

DE: I really like how you’ve compared AFL’s newly acquired foothold in Western Sydney to the impact of alcohol on the wider community. AFL has enjoyed a surge in market share over recent years – and has a strong presence in pretty much all the major Australian states. Alcohol, similarly, is pretty damn widespread across the board and all ages – even despite Kevin Rudd’s efforts to curb youth binge-drinking through his ‘alcopop-tax’.

So what ‘drug’ is AFL? I feel like it might actually be meth.

Meth (or more specifically, ice) is a growing problem in society today. According to the most recent figures from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre’s annual survey, 61% of those who inject substances had used ice in the last six months. Interestingly, the biggest increase in ice/meth usage is in Victoria – the traditional home of AFL. Here, in my home town, 75% of drug users reported using ice in the last six months, up from 55% in 2013.

Over the past 10 years, AFL has become the most polished, marketable brand out of the Big Four (AFL, NRL, A-League, Rugby Union).  It’s no coincidence, according to the NDARC, that there has also been a doubling of ice-related ambulance attendances in Victoria, which they have attributed to a boost in ‘purity’.

AFL is “pure” and popular – and nothing exemplifies that more than a batch of Heisenberg’s signature blue meth.

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BS: Football, and the A League, is really coming up at the moment, but in many ways it is still niche.

There probably is a drug that is comparable to the A League, but I just don’t know what it is. I am out of the loop. It could be a new drug to hit the streets (a synthetic quasi-legal high?) or maybe an old favourite making a comeback in terms of popularity (LSD or magic mushrooms?).

Is soccer synthetic cannibis?
Is soccer synthetic cannibis?

Whatever the case, I think the important thing is that soccer is transitioning at the moment. Whatever drug is symbolises now is sure to change within the next five to ten years. So let’s look forward, rather than at the current situation.

Soccer undoubtedly has aspirations to be alcohol: our country’s drug of choice. It may eventually settle for marijuana or MDMA, very popular drug choices in their own right, but not the most consumed in Australia.

DE: You’re right: soccer is our toughest challenge yet. It’s growing in popularity, but a lot of people here are still afraid of it. It will likely never achieve our warm, collective embrace.

As such, I reckon that soccer is heroin. Soccer is the ‘beautiful game’ – and from the literature that I’ve read (basically just Anthony Kiedis’ Scar Tissue) nothing beats the blissful, out-of-body-experience of your first heroin high. You feel elevated and immediately free of all your worries.

Remember John Aloisi’s famous penalty that put Australia into the 2006 World Cup? That was Australia’s first heroin/football experience – and we will never reclaim that high as long as we all live. Les Murray’s facial expression that day was no different to that of the dishevelled junkie shooting up behind a 7/11 near Sydney’s Central Station: a vision of relief, years of suffering swept instantly away at the mere prick of a needle.

Don't let the haunting image fool you; he's having a good time.
Don’t let the haunting image fool you; he’s having a good time.

But while heroin can be a seductive drug, it is nonetheless deadly. The international body, FIFA, is a corrupt organisation ruled by dark forces. Over the years there have been some terrible tragedies, ranging from violent riots to the Hillsborough disaster. Just last week, 22 people died in clashes between Egyptian police and Zamalek fans at a Cairo stadium.

Soccer is tragic, but glorious, in equal measure.

“They Can’t ALL Be Called ‘Footy’!” Establishing a Normative Linguistic Framework for Australia’s Diverse Football Codes

I’ve just left hospital after having surgery on my hip and the taxi driver asked how I hurt myself. This is the brief exchange that ensued:

 Me: “Playing footy”

 Driver: “Oh that’s bad, who do you play rugby for?”

 Me: “No, football”

 Driver: “Ah, AFL. Tough game.

 Me: “No, I mean soccer”

 Driver: “Oh”

I am tired, hungry and irritable – probably due to the morphine wearing off – and the last thing my brain wants to do is engage is conversation, especially around semantics.

As I sit in the back of the taxi, eyes closed, feigning sleep to avoid further conversation, I start thinking: why is the meaning of the word “footy” dependent on the area code you are in?

'Football' can have a wildly different meaning, depending on where you're from.
‘Football’ can have a wildly different meaning, depending on where you’re from.

It’s the 21st century, and yes, we have a crowded domestic market for footballing codes, but why do we use the same word to describe four very different sports? Haven’t we figured out yet that different things ought to have their own names? You know, like the thing you put in your petrol tank is called petrol, not orange juice. By labelling things we can bring order to the world, and thus prevent unnecessary accidents, like putting OJ in your Corolla.

Australians are supposed to love sport, but if we love it so much, how come we haven’t arrived at a consensus on what we call our codes? Why are they all called footy? My leg hurts, my brain is foggy and all I want is a bit of clarity.

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We’ve put up with this for too long. It’s times to end the ambiguity and decide on new names for AFL, rugby league, rugby union and soccer/football. Below I have proposed a new set of names for the big four codes.

Before starting, a few key points. As everyone wants to be known as “football”, nobody shall be known as “football” or even its cheeky diminutive “footy”. If the four codes can’t agree on who owns the term, none of them can have it. Our cultural lexicon will be poorer, but on the plus side, in its place we will have some fresh, new terms.

This is the first thing that comes up when I type 'footy' into Google Images. But why?
This is the first thing that comes up when I type ‘footy’ into Google Images. But why?

Further, the names I propose are a starting point for a discussion, so let’s consider them flexible. The point is to get a new linguistic framework out there. We can debate the specifics later.

Here we go:

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L’vraissance (formerly known as rugby league)

Rugby league’s modern history can be described as one protracted attempt to camouflage its ugliness with a cheap veneer of class. Like a 14-year-old teenager showering himself with Lynx deodorant to attract “chicks,” rugby league has failed abysmally. It stinks and there are no women anywhere.

So why not do away with the term “rugby league” and embrace a french word. After all, what is more classy than the French language? Here I have suggested L’vraissance, a word I have clearly made up but sounds vaguely Gaelic. Because the only thing classier than French language is ignorant people poorly imitating it…

Example: “YIEWWWW! Welcome to the L’vraissance State of Origin VXII: The Clash of the Big, Beefy Behemoths”

Rugby league will achieve instant class with a French-sounding name
Rugby league will achieve instant class with a French-sounding name

Marngrook (formerly known as AFL)

Since European settlement/colonisation/insert politically volatile verb, it’s fair to say that Indigenous Australians have had a pretty poor run of things. The least we can do is start calling AFL “Marngrook”, given its roots in the traditional game of the same name played by aboriginal tribes.

Yes it’s tokenistic, but so is acknowledging the first peoples in the Australian Constitution. Sometimes tokenism isn’t a bad thing. It’s better than outright hostility or neglect. And it’s fucken sport, after all. If anyone can be tokenistic and get away with it, it’s sport.

Example: “Dale kicked seven goals and had four disposals in today’s marngrook game. One day he’ll be a great marngrooker for Hawthorn.”

Hanky Panky (formerly known as soccer)

“The World Game” is too clunky a term for such an elegant, yet whimsical game. I call it elegant, because it doesn’t involve much more than ball and feet. I call it whimsical as a coping mechanism to deal with a sport that continually throws up absurd results, promotes theatrics and is run by a society of comical super-villains (see Blatter, S, et al.).

Is there anyone more comically villainous than this bloke?
Is there anyone more comically villainous than this bloke?

I am proposing we rename this game as “hanky panky”. It’s light-hearted, playful and in some quarters means “sex”, which is pretty much represents how important soccer is in the lives of the vast majority of the world’s population.

Example: “I don’t want Julian playing rugby; it’s too rough. I’ve signed him up for a season of hanky panky instead”.

Privileges (formerly known as rugby union)

Rugby union is the code in most need of a name change. Most of the bankers and corporate executives who comprise the game’s “fans” do not believe in the right of (labour) unions to exist. So the term “union” sticks out like a public school student at St John’s College.

Things like workers’ rights and fair wages are a real handbrake on investor returns. Such a pesky annoyance should not be associated with the 1 per cent’s favourite sporting pastime.

This image does not accurately represent the elite 1%.
This image does not accurately represent the elite 1%.

“Privileges” is a far better term. In essence, it is closer to the heart of rugby union – a game in which privilege, such as attending a prestigious private school, living in a wealthy neighbourhood and having a father employed as an executive at a major legal firm, is closely associated with credibility within the game

Example: “Let’s go play a game of privileges after rowing practice, chaps!”

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So there we have it: a new set of terms to describe the four major footballing codes in Australia. While you may not agree with the new names, at the very least you should acknowledge the premise on which this article is built: our collective national failure to devise new, separate names for our favourite sports.

Whatever the case, next time a cab driver asks me how I hurt my hip, I’m telling him it was due to a rough game of “hanky panky”.

By Ben Shine

A Short Analysis of a Grubby Act

Chances are, as an Australian sports fan, you don’t know who Nigel Pearson is.

I follow the English Premier League quite closely and even I didn’t know who he was until last weekend. For those not in the know, he is, or quite possibly now was, the manager of cellar dwellers Leicester City.

He’s been around the traps for a while it seems, this Nigel, as you would expect for someone managing an EPL team, but he only came to my attention on Sunday morning after a particularly unsavoury incident in his team’s 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace.

With his side trailing and not much time left on the clock, Pearson was unceremoniously and completely accidentally cleaned up by Crystal Palace midfielder James McArthur after a tackle from a Leicester player.

Initially Pearson appeared to take it well, smiling at the Scotsman, but things took a bizarre turn when he wrapped his hands around the innocent fellow’s throat just before helping him to his feet. He then held onto his jersey, preventing him from returning to the contest.

It is not so much the jersey holding that bothers me (but I do wonder what would happen in that instance if Leicester had equalised, surely the goal couldn’t stand?), it is the wrapping of the hands around the throat.

No matter how softly or jovially done, seizing someone by the throat is the mark of a true psychopath.

Some chokings are warranted, though
Some chokings are warranted, though

I can understand it if someone has sexually assaulted your girlfriend or loved one, or you’ve caught them selling heroin to your twelve year old kids, but other than in cases of extreme provocation it has absolutely no place – and most definitely not on a sporting field.

Like a tracksuit wearing character straight out of ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,’ Pearson then returned to his post accompanied by the obligatory sniff, as it to say; nothing to it, did what I had to, or perhaps I am so fucking high on cocaine right now I couldn’t give two fucks.

That sniff, more than anything else, summed up the type of character Nigel Pearson must be.

It brings to mind the famous incident of Simon Katich v. Michael Clarke, and as much as people bemoaned the dropping of Katich, I don’t blame Clarke for a second for not wanting him in the team.

In that fateful moment Katich was no doubt fuelled by an anger deep within and probably by more than one or two chips on his shoulder. It is slightly more forgivable than the egotistical, Patrick Bateman-esque act of Pearson, but only just. I don’t imagine Katich sniffed after the incident, but he very well may have.

In the sporting world, there is a fine line between being a loveable loose cannon and just “being a c*nt” and as soon as you grab somebody by the throat, you have crossed it.

By Alasdair McClintock