AFL legend Leigh Matthews says he was left “disturbed” by the umpires’ decision not to award Jack Ginnivan what appeared to be a clear-cut free kick, saying the decision showed “the fabric of our game” was under attack.
Ginnivan was taken high in a vicious tackle from Essendon defender Mason Redman on Sunday, but was not awarded a free kick at the time, with the AFL coming out 24 hours later and admitting the umpiring error.
However, the league’s concession didn’t help ease the sour taste left by the incident, with Matthews admitting he “felt sick” when the controversial tackle first took place.
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“The fabric of our game is umpires treating every player the same,” he told 3AW’s Sportsday.
“That was virtually not only a high contact headlock, it was bordering on unduly rough play from Mason Redman. And the best umpire in the game, Matt Stevic, didn’t blow the whistle.
“I didn’t blame Stevic. I thought to myself, ‘What are they doing to our game?’ And when I say ‘they’, I mean Richard Goyder and the commission, who are the only body that can change rules, and Gillon McLachlan and his cohort of advisers who are making the game easy for the tackler and harder for the bloke with the ball.
“I was anything from disillusioned to disappointed to angry to shocked. It got my blood boiling. I love the game more than I love any club these days … and what is being done to the game is its very fabric of looking after the player with the ball is being put as a lower priority to stopping players from playing for free kicks.
“It’s one free kick, but it’s a symbolic free kick that’s showing this is where the game is. Of course it was a free kick. It’s been a free kick for the last 100 years and I’d hope it would be a free kick for the next 100. The fabric of the game is being attacked in my view, so I yeah, I am disturbed. It’s the symbolism of it that just disturbs me.”
Matthews said he was so disturbed by the decision that he struggled to sleep in the aftermath of it, but refused to place any blame on the umpires involved in the call.
“Umpires only do what they’re told to do,” he said.
“I’d love to know whether Matt Stevic thinks he’s made a mistake, or is that what the rules are now? This is what the game is saying, we want umpires to umpire, that’s what disturbed me the most.
“Matt Stevic, the best umpire in the game, he’s more watching what Ginnivan was doing with the ball than he was concentrating on what the tackler did.”
Matthews is far from the only former player to come out in vehement opposition to the decision, with Kane Cornes claiming the 19-year-old Ginnivan had been “targeted” by the league.
“That was a violent tackle and I’m not sure how that free kick wasn’t paid. Jack Ginnivan has been targeted by the AFL again. In this instance, he absolutely is (being victimised),” Cornes told 9News Melbourne.
“You’re umpired for 16 weeks one way and then they change it on the eve of the finals, it’s not fair.”
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