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AFL Demons hope last really will be first

  • 22 May 2008

Even in secular societies Christianity is preserved in proverbs. For example, in Jesus' saying, 'the first will be last and the last will be first'. Maybe that sounds a little optimistic — like the solace of wooden-spoon-winners all over, a defiant war cry for the backend of the premiership ladder.

I wouldn't know if Jesus ever played competitive sport, but he did know a thing or two about systems of rank.

Take the ancient world's penchant for lining guests up around a dinner table in order of importance. Not so much the modern day angst over the politics of seating plans at weddings, as the out-and-out assumption that a host can measure each guest's importance and simply tell them where they rank. Public shaming or flattery on a regular basis, depending on where one falls.

Well, for those who've been following the Aussie Rules this season, the modern day shame of those ranked last is ably described by the trials, tribulations and (brief) elation of the Melbourne Football Club. They had six demoralising losses before a recent, unexpected win. The Chairman's speech, the Captain's injury and the Coach's newness to the position did nothing to help.

So, given that the Demons look to have the bottom of the 2008 ladder all tied up, they've naturally copped plenty of criticism. But at some level they've just been bearing the natural consequences of a system of rank: where there are winners, there must be losers too.

My criminology lecturer once referred to this kind of thing. He'd been asked to advise some schools in the US about why students fail. He went about his research. He surveyed teachers, and they gave well-reasoned answers — students fail in school because they have unsettled home lives, for example.

Then he went to the school board, and told them why students fail: 'Because you already decided that a certain percentage of students would fail. You standardise for it.'

In systems designed around rank, someone will always be at the bottom. There are risk factors — like students in unsettled homes, or football teams with long injury lists. But such factors are just the things that shape who might be at the bottom. That someone will be there has already been determined.

Perhaps the Demons might be comforted by remembering that, in football, there really is movement between first and last. They might've started out