Quality of current football compared to the past

I know there’s a lot of pointless content being put out by the AFL media at the moment given that there’s nothing else to talk about, but when people try to claim that previous players/teams were better than the current crop it makes me laugh.

Players have never been stronger, fitter and more skillful than they are now.

Obviously this is because of the money and resources involved in the game compared to past eras but facts are facts.

Re-watching some of the great games on fox footy from the past has been fun but some of the skills at stages are pretty bad, just like they can be today but the modern day player is running a helluva lot more than players of the past so it’s easy to put that down to fatigue.

Old games remind me of circle work sometimes with minimal pressure on the player with the ball. Sure it makes for a better spectacle but much easier for the players to execute their disposal skills.

Even still there are that many helicopter punts that don’t look so bad because there are always 1 v 1s across the ground.

Modern footy is built around applying pressure which obviously affects the disposal to a degree. Furthermore teams are so much better at doing their homework and setting up defensively to make hitting a target much harder.

I do concede that players like Bobby Skilton may have been the best ever if they were full time pros who had access to the resources that the current players do but they didn’t.

Many people in the media like to hold out that these players from the 70s, 80s and 90s are the best ever because they were around then and have such fond memories but it’s just not correct.

My views are shared by Leigh Matthews who would know.

It’s the same in other sports like Soccer. Lio Messi is the GOAT, not Maradonna.


Skills wide and fitness levels, yes, today’s footballer is definitely of a higher standard.

But I think there can be no debate that the entertainment value and excitement of watching football in the 80s and 90s is much higher than present.

That really struck me when watching the recent Essendon v Adelaide game from 95 and the preliminary final from 93.


It’s a great post. Until the last line.
I don’t think it’s worth comparing individuals that played in a different era as far as who is better.

I will say, footballers nowadays are far better skilled in almost all facets of the game than they were in the 1980s. I’d say goal kicking from a set shot is well down, but goal kicking from snap and tough positions are more likely nowadays.

Just watching a game from the 80s and 90s shows how different the mindset of the athlete was. They had high ‘AFL IQ’ but would still waste the footy and kick it forwards or into a terrible position even when they had very little pressure on them.

The game is more skilled nowadays. I still have no problems watching games from the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s though. The physicality of the game is at a different level to nowadays.


Football is better and more entertaining now. I think people that think otherwise are a little caught up in the nostalgia. Of course it all comes down to personal preference so nobody is wrong.


They are two different games. One was a positional game, the other is a possession game. Personally I prefer the positional game and the contests it created. If I could have today’s players playing that game I’d be very happy.


I’ll put it a different way.
A 1 point victory now wasn’t as much entertaining as a 1 point victory in the late 80s and 90s.
The main reason for me is that I was shielded from the peripheral stuff. The bullshit politics of the game. The bullshit media opinions were not as prevalent and didn’t run the media circus from day to day. You used to be able to revel in that victory until around Tuesday and Wednesday. Nowadays, as soon as a game is finished, the political and media rubbish just overwhelm what is purely great about the game.

For me, it is the same in other sports.


The thing about saying, ‘oh, today’s game is faster, more endurance, better tactics, the old champions weren’t as good.’

It removes the possibility of old champions being trained or taught to that standard.

Previous champions of the game became champions because they were better than their peers.
I was going to say ruckman are an exception because of the height difference, but I won’t even concede that.
I have no doubt that both Maddens would have been excellent players in today’s game.
As would Lloyd, as would Fletcher (who is only just barely out of today’s game) as would Hird, as would even Dean Rioli.

The idea that someone like Peter Matera or Chris Judd or Darryl Baldock…look, name your player…the idea that they would not work as hard to be better than everyone else twenty, thirty, forty years later…is just silly imo.


It has to be considered in relation to the quality of players around at the time. Yes, you can’t just transpose Gary Ablett into a team today with his fitness, skill, and ability of his playing years and expect he would still be as head and shoulders above the rest of the comp. But it has to be relative to the level of human potential at the time or you run pointless comparisons.

Yeah I do get the relative argument but you’d still have to judge them on what they delivered on the football field.

As I said in the first post, I reckon some of the greats from the 70s, 80s, and 90s may have been the greatest ever had they been born 30-40 years later but they weren’t.

Gary Ablett Sr would have been Stringer if Stringer was in his top form all the time.

The man was a freak, for endurance, for agility, for skill, and for toughness.

And any attempt to turn him into Jack Riewoldt…just lolno.


And some of us who have been watching the game for nearly 60 years, could give you players from every year who would be a champion today.

The ruckman question is a good one as Don McKenzie, John Nicholls and Polly Farmer were both around 191 cm, and you would expect thwey may struggle against blokes that are over 200 cm; however they all could use there bodies very well and hit the ball accurately to rovers. The issue may be that todays ruck rules with line across a centre circle etc make it easier for the bigger guys.

In any case, while Peter Hudson, Petr McKenna, Doug Wade, Jason Dunstall, Tony Lockett may not kick as many goals, they would still be more than good enough to win games for their teams.

Polly Farmer would have been a completely different player.
He wouldn’t have been a ruckman.
But I have no doubt he’d still have been an amazing player in his ‘new role.’

Some key forwards are tricky, I’ll give them that.
On first thought I wondered about Dunstall, but he’d still have that ten metre burst, he’d still have the strength to get away from backmen, he’d still be able to read the play.

And Lockett…I mean let’s face it, it’s not as if there were 12, or 14, or 16 Lockett’s running around at the time.
He wouldn’t fit now, but he didn’t fit then.
I have no doubt that if Lockett’s career was in the 60’s and 70’s then you’d have had people saying, ‘well that’s fine, but he couldn’t have played in the 80’s and 90’s.’

And they’d have been really, really, really, really, wrong.


Well my best player of all time is Peter Hudson, and he was an absolute freak. He would have kicked goals and won games in any era.

Reboot nailed it about positional vs possession. Players like Greg Williams, Joe Misiti and Tony Liberatore wouldn’t get drafted now days due to their lack of speed but they could really read the game well. It’s a very different game, but then again imagine Luke Hodge playing in the 80’s, he would have loved it.

Dunno. Tom Mitchell, Clayton Oliver and Ben Cunnington aren’t exactly quick but they are all very good at what they do.

1 Like

I mean, a stupid club might trade them…

The other thing that is just ignored is the childhood nutrition improvements etc over the intervening period. If Polly Farmer was born in 1995, fair chance is that he’s 197cm or so anyway.

But on so much of this stuff, people are comparing players across eras where the game is not even vaguely comparable because the rules are interpreted completely differently. Alex Rance in 1950. He’d give away 80 frees in a game. Could he compete in that period, being forced one out against Coleman, and having frees paid against him if he tries to play the way he has played throughout his career?

Who knows. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say “well today’s players are bigger and faster and stronger and more skilled”, and sure, they are. But to compare across periods you have to understand that some of those traits were actually meaningless in the earlier period. If you’re not allowed to push players aside with your hands, then that type of “strength” is meaningless.

1 Like

they don’t fit in today because they can kick straight…

Seriously, I agree, these players were champions then and would have been champions today. They could mark, were strong and yep kick straight. Maybe a Lockett would not have had such a long career because his fitness would have found him wanting, but look back and these guys had a “lean-fit” period to their careers.

Mick Nolan, the galloping gasometer, would not have made it.

And with particular rules now where you can’t scrag the forwards, some backmen for the past would find their effectiveness significantly negated.

1 Like

and the Dodoro podcast on Dean Rioli tells you how today’s footy environment. would have helped him meet today’s fitness standards.

1 Like

I would argue on the game being more skillful now, but obviously as people have pointed out, there’s alot of variables and reasoning as to why it might be harder to be skillful in todays game.

games in previous eras were more about one on one contests. if you were getting beaten by someone, esp in the forwardline you had one maybe 2 players for support, whereas today you can have almost the whole friggin 17 other players on your side, plus their opponents clogged into a fwdline.

it’s always an interesting question or philosophical pondering but probably one that will never be able to be answered one way or another.

personally i reckon players would struggle just as much if not more going from now to say the 80’s or 90’s and playing within that eras standards on fitness and play style, just as much as the other way around.
but again only speculation.