How Leigh Matthews thinks footy should change

“When you ask that question [about the number of players] the only answer seems to be ‘because we have always had 18 on the field’,” he said.

“The field is the same size as it was 100 years ago and players wore boots they nailed studs into. They are more athletic now, running around basically in spokes. They are faster and bigger.

“It’s only logical to me to reduce the number of players on the field, it opens the game up. You need two fewer players per game, so it’s an impact on list sizes.”

While players’ wages needed to be renegotiated post-COVID-19, Matthews said as a general principle the soft cap on football spending should be half of the salary cap spend on players.

Leigh Matthews is chaired off after his last game for Hawthorn in 1985.Credit:The Age

He said the football department soft cap was brought in five years too late and had allowed football costs to escalate wildly before being capped. The football soft cap was at $9.7 million for this year, but has already been cut by $1 million due to the shutdown. It is expected to be cut to $6.7 million or less next year. The salary cap is $13 million for 2020.

“One thing I have said as a principle is that whatever the salary cap is, the soft cap should be 50 per cent of that. So whatever you have to spend on your footy department is half as much as you spend on your players,” the former champion Hawthorn player and Collingwood and Brisbane coach said.

“Some places before the soft cap were spending more on their footy departments than they were on their players, which seemed wrong to me.

“We got to the stage where last year we were spending $13 million on the players and $10 million for the soft cap.

“It’s a good question, if you cut the soft cap do you pay them less, or do you have fewer people?”

Matthews with Collingwood premiership captain Tony Shaw after their grand final win in 1990.

Matthews with Collingwood premiership captain Tony Shaw after their grand final win in 1990.Credit:Fairfax Media

Matthews said the salary cap would also have to drop but this was difficult because the existing CBA remained and would need to be renegotiated.

The Age revealed on Friday the AFL had emailed all clubs a document titled Future AFL Competition, which outlined how football would be fundamentally different post-lockdown and under the “new economy” of football. With drastically reduced revenue they were seeking feedback on changes that could be made.

Matthews with John Kennedy in 1985.

Matthews with John Kennedy in 1985.

“Normally change is a gradual evolution but this is a crisis situation that will give a new starting point,” Matthews said.

“So it is like thought bubbles now – what can we do? And there are thoughts and ideas and some of them sound good, but are they practical?

“It’s very hard to have big change because people don’t like change. Everything, all the changes, that have happened in footy have been a good but people hate change, the fans in particular hate change.

“So don’t waste a crisis because in all crises people accept big change.”

On issues in the game Matthews said:

Shorter quarters: “I think the issue is what do they call time on? The question is more ‘how long do you want your quarter to be.’ Thirty minutes? Twenty-five minutes? The game was always 25 minutes and time on but then time on was only called by the umpire when there was a long stoppage or a goal. Now it’s for a lot of things, so I think the real question is how long do you want your quarter to go for? Twenty-five minutes or 30?”

He agreed the first round was not an accurate sample yet of the impact of shorter quarters because coaches hadn’t yet reacted and adjusted tactically.

Second-tier competition: “If you bring it [list sizes] to 35 it’s obviously impossible to field two sides, so the second-tier competition is critical.”

He said WA and SA spread their seconds players among SANFL and WAFL clubs and while all clubs would like their reserves players all playing in one team, Victorian clubs would likely have to do the same and spread players among multiple VFL clubs.

“If everyone had to spread players who weren’t getting a game among several clubs, well then it’s the same for everyone.”

Matthews during his time as coach at Brisbane, where he won three premierships.

Matthews during his time as coach at Brisbane, where he won three premierships.Credit:Sebastian Costanzo

Draft age: Matthews said he felt cutting list sizes meant fewer 18-year-olds would be taken, so raising the draft age was less consequential.

“Apart from your gun 18-year-olds, the players who come in tend to be in that 35 to 45 bracket on your list.


“Everyone in their right mind would say the draft would work better the older you get them. But if you lift the draft age to 19 there are other things to consider, it is a year after the year 12 finishes, which is when it was always tied to.

“It’s a big change to the system to lift the draft age even by a year.”

Footy wages: “What is the average for an assistant coach? $200,000? If they get $150,000 are they not going to do it? But it is all what the market wants to pay, supply and demand.

“There is a fair chance the players will have to take a cut and the salary cap come down. Reducing the list sizes reduces player payments but it is the lower-paid players you are losing.

“If the top-paid player earned $800,000 instead of over a million [dollars], do not tell me they would stop playing.”

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