Embracing Good Friday football


AFL Anzac Day Match banner run, Collingwood and EssendonEach Anzac Day, upwards of 90,000 people pack the Melbourne Cricket Ground and millions more tune in on television to watch Collingwood play Essendon in the AFL's famed Anzac Day Match. Audiences see buglers play the 'Last Post' and 'Reveille', hear the 'Ode of Remembrance' and have the traditions of wartime service and sacrifice evoked symbolically through a game of football.

On Good Friday, everyone stays at home.

Football on Good Friday has long been a topic of discussion in Melbourne, the home of Australian football, as well as SA, WA and Tasmania. And for as long as football has been played, the controversy has been firmly settled in favour of leaving the day sport-free.

But in doing so, the Church is missing a wonderful opportunity, and Anzac Day could provide a working template of change for the better. Anzac Day and traditions around the wartime service of Australians have received a massive boost from their association with the AFL. Why not the Easter message too?

In the past the Church could, by virtue of its position in society, rely on an ability to shout louder than everyone else in the market square. This is no longer true. It can't shout loud enough to drown out sports, politics, advertising or popular culture. However much we might wish it to be otherwise, the Church is but one of many voices competing for the attention and allegiance of the public.

It does the Church no credit to insist that its holy days be respected by a largely secular society when most people couldn't name the reason for the holiday, let alone identify with it. For most Melburnians Good Friday is associated with a charitable appeal and a lack of AFL football. If the Church wants its holidays to be relevant to a non-churched community it needs to make them so.

Good Friday football would not be a case of simply playing a normal, garden-variety match. The day could be used to promote the Church's mission and give a public face and voice to Easter's true meaning. And just like on Anzac Day, the excitement and interest generated would be immense.

Collectors taking donations for the Good Friday Appeal could be positioned outside the ground. The match could be preceded by several moment's silence, or dimmed house lights and candles or glowtubes. A nominated church leader could offer a prayer of thanks and protection.

The entire day could be a tremendous vehicle for the Easter message, as well as serving to demystify the Church and make it more accessible to the many people to whom Christianity is alien.

The status quo is unlikely to remain tenable. The NRL and the national soccer competition already play matches on the day, a move which they made unilaterally and without input from church groups. Consequently the opportunity to collaborate, influence and use the event has been lost.

That lack of involvement and foresight on the part of the Church reflects poorly upon it.

Football is a social currency. We know this, because television stations pay hundreds of millions of dollars to broadcast it, advertisers pay hundred of thousands of dollars to be associated with it and every office in the country has a tipping competition for us to prove our ignorance of it.

The Church now has to rely on society's mediums to get its message into the world. In this it's no different from any other organisation with a message and a mission, and can't expect to be.

But there's nothing new about this — the Christian message has always needed the symbols of the day for it to be transmitted and made relevant to new audiences and new people. Even St Paul used 'the unknown God' to make his point to the Athenians.

There is nothing that the Anzac tradition has to offer people that the Christian tradition does not. Why couldn't Good Friday, the most important day on the Christian calendar, be used to promote the message of the Church through the medium of football?


Luke WalladgeLuke Walladge is a freelance writer (and Geelong Cats fan) based in Perth and Melbourne. He is currently completing his first novel and advising several public campaigns.

Topic tags: Luke Walladge, Anzazc Day match, AFL, Collingwood, Essendon, Good Friday appeal



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Existing comments

One of the things I love about Eureka Street is the lateral and imaginative thinking your journalists possess. So thank you for helping the the rest of us become more lateral and imaginative thinkers ourselves. Good on you, Luke Walladge. Your article should set the cat among the pigeons and start a lively conversation. I hope someone from the secular press picks it up and gives it wider community exposure.

Marea Donovan | 18 March 2011  

If the match was to feature two teams representing, let's say light against darkness, would darkness be the Pies? Who would be the good guys? Just curious.

Brian Doyle | 18 March 2011  

What a great article. An opportunty like this gives the Church the opportunity to appeal to many people with a message of hope for all. I agree. Let go! Celebrate! Live and engage with a society which has largely not had the opportunity to hear the Word of God!

Jane Robinson | 18 March 2011  

There are a great many things one could say in response to Luke's question: "Why couldn't Good Friday, the most important day on the Christian calendar, be used to promote the message of the Church through the medium of football?" Just for starters:

1) I think contemporary footy should be considered a false religion. It wastes a vast amount of time and money of thousands of people, to no discernible good purpose, other than distracting them from more important things. It used to be that one could say that it represented local community loyalties, that it encouraged healthy outdoor activity, and provided good role models. None of this is any longer the case. It is not locally-based, it is passive rather than active, it is thoroughly commercialised, and its stars are "celebrities" of the most fatuous and irresponsible kind. Why should the church seek to be associated with such a swindle? We should be actively preaching against it.

2) Good Friday is not a publicity stunt. It is -- for those increasingly few who observe it in a meaningful way -- a time for quiet and reflection. We ought to be allowed and enabled to get on with it.
Just a thought!

Paul Tankard | 18 March 2011  

Quite a zany idea but quite in keeping with society's wish to spend money it does not have. Perhaps there is a message here that some some religious ceremonies have outlived their time. Why do rituals have to be gloomy and uninspiring.

Ray O'Donoghue | 18 March 2011  

Paul, I appreciate your points, but should football be shut down to allow Muslims to observe Ramadan or the Jewish community to celebrate Passover? You are welcome to go to a retreat, turn of your TV or simply not pay any attention and privately contemplate in your own way, on Good Friday or any other day. As for the 'increasing few' remark, you've sorta proved my point. And as much as much as you may not like it, I doubt whether preaching against football would be very successful in Melbourne. Maybe in Sydney :)

Luke Walladge | 18 March 2011  

"If the Church wants its holidays to be relevant to a non-churched community it needs to make them so."

The Church needs to make more than just its holidays relevant. Not seeing the wood for the trees here.

"The Church now has to rely on society's mediums to get its message into the world."

Luke is probably too young to have heard the phrase "The medium is the message" but the last thing the Church needs is to get mixed up with the hoopla of televised football.

Russell | 18 March 2011  

Paul your first point makes me feel guilty. My, admittedly, fanatical support of the Brisbane Lions has probably many of the negatives you mentioned. Yet on my death bed I will still acknowledge the day of their first premiership as one of my great memories. Somehow it is compatible with taking life and my Christianity seriously. I think Luke's contemporary wisdom has much to recommend it. We, as Catholics, cannot afford to ignore opportunities like this. I started reading his letter ready to scoff. I finished convinced he has made some really good points.

Grebo | 18 March 2011  

Good thinking Luke Walladge. There is a real imperative for christians to be visible in society which is where they can show their values. There need be no conflict for those who wish to celebrate the religious significance of the Holy Day and for those who are not or are no longer 'churched' at least an acknowledgement of the reason for the holiday would be a bonus. I like Luke's idea of a prayer and collection, maybe for persecuted christians in other lands or similar situation.

For Sydney siders makes good competion to the Easter Show!

Michelle Sydney | 18 March 2011  

I looked at the headline and thought 'Oh, no!'. I read the article and was convinced.

Among other benefits, it should stop the spread of the habit of calling it Easter Friday.

Gavan Breen | 18 March 2011  

Luke, this is a wise and insightful piece and deserves considered responses. I think you're right in saying that the largely secular population is somewhat like the invincibly ignorant wretches of Nineveh in Jonah's time: 'in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle.'

Like Jonah, Christianity might be both confused and resistant to take the initiative in delivering the message. Being thrown overboard ultimately got some focused action out of the messenger.

I believe also that the Church should go to the football on Good Friday and hand out, free of charge, a token reminder of what is 'good' about that day. I suggest that the Catholic Church, in particular, might just have an opportunity to reclaim the Memory. How about getting commercial bakeries to produce at low cost hundreds of thousands of hot-cross-buns which could be distributed at venue entrances by hundreds of WYD 2011 people - they'll love this as a warm up 'New Evangelisation' exercise. The could easily have signs displayed acknowledging the sponsorships and in graphic form illustrating that the cross on the buns appears courtesy of a Palestinian Jews executed by the State for doing good things a long time ago. Maybe, also, the poster could bear a short quote from Luke 23: 47, 'Certainly, this man was innocent.' The crowd might at least remember that line when one of their favourite gladiators is unfairly penalised!

David Timbs | 18 March 2011  

Luke,`Krakoeur`idea!Just make sure it`s ecumenical in flavour and not hijacked by stilted clerics.Anglican Archbishop Phillip Freier would,surely,be a natural contender.

W Justin Halpin | 18 March 2011  

No. No. Good Friday has the most powerful liturgy of the easter story and nothing should take away an opportunity for others to be able to see what is possible in church.

patricia | 18 March 2011  

There are no problems about 'celebrating' Good Friday in Sydney, it's one of the busiest, most crowded days at the Royal Easter Show and if we got a rival fooball game going when would kick-off be? 3pm?

Brian Davies | 18 March 2011  

Great concept. we should look at cultural intergration of the message. maybe it is not useful to 'celebrate' Good Friday without also celebrating Easter Sunday. there are many other opportunities that go begging to make for a community based education approach from the church beside Christmas and Easter, the biggies.

Murray | 19 March 2011  

We are called to be the mustard seed not the main course in the banquet of life. We lost our way when we assumed to dominate the social agenda. We committed the sin of hubris and paid the price-marginalisation and loss of influence.This has been our story over two thousand years. The tail should not wag the dog. It makes us look ridiculous to petulantly insist on our ways now in a secular society. Accept the reality of our current world and seek to influence it as the parable of the mustard seed suggests. I support the thrust of this thoughtful offering.

graham patison | 20 March 2011  

Luke, thanks for this thoughtful article.
A great idea and obviously the Saints should be playing (a logical choice, even from a biased Saints tragic!)

Have you contacted the AFL or any state leagues?

Gareth Williams | 21 March 2011  

Thank you Gareth... I floated the idea informally with some of the folk at AFL House in 2009; the view was that it was an idea who's time hadn't come. I suspect it will take movement from the churches and not the league for it to happen.

Luke Walladge | 22 March 2011  

I have no objection to football matches being played on Good Friday night. My objection to matches being played on Good Friday afternoon is that for the many faithful Christians it would interfere with their wish to celebrate one of the greatest events in the Christian calendar in an appropriate way, undistracted by all the hoopla surrounding AFL football match days.

Another reason is that I am a committed Carlton supporter as well as a committed Christian but I don't want to have to give up seeing a Carlton match to go to the Good Friday ceremonies. My priority in such a case would be to attend the Good Friday ceremonies at my church rather than the match.

In fact I would rather there be Good Friday night matches than matches on Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday nights. There was a Carlton Richmond match on Holy Thursday last year which I did not attend because I gave priority to our Holy Thursday Mass, which is the first in the Catholic Easter Triduum or triple celebration of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday (the Easter Sunday Vigil Eucharist on the Saturday evening).

Tony Santospirito | 24 March 2011  

i think they should use good friday football to support the "childrens hospital good friday appeal". If the match was played at the dockalnds, with the appeal running outside the venue the afl and its fans could contribute to the appeal, all money from ticket sales would be donated to the appeal and the footy match would be helping the community. each year the same two teams should play regardless of popularity

Adam Bell | 20 April 2011  

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