Gone for the money…
In the past couple of weeks there have been a number of big changes in the AFL scene – a coach and a future gun player, in particular.
Young Demon Tom Scully left for the very green pastures of the Western Sydney franchise and former St Kilda / now Fremantle coach Ross Lyon accepted huge financial incentives in order to change teams. No team in the league can come near to Scully’s offer of $1m+ per year, $2m or so which is front loaded to his first year. Those astronomical figures are simply unimaginable.
No one should blame either one of them for accepting them. There’s hardly a player in the league that would knock it back. And neither would you.
Loyalty is a two-way street
So much about AFL football in Australia is about ‘team’ and ‘loyalty’. Players break team rules or ethos’ and are made to reform in the harsh public spotlight. The rugby ‘code’ of players agreeing to terms with a new team and then continuing on with their current team until the end of the season with all parties ‘in the know’ is simply an unthinkable proposition in the AFL. Terms such as ‘betrayal’ and ’mercenary’ would and have been thrown around.
Yet the end of each season provides a unique insight into the treatment of the cattle that are the players. Unwanted St Kilda players were listed as ‘retired’ without their knowledge; some taking to Twitter (@peterevansblife) [!!] to clarify that this was not the case, clearly hoping for a chance elsewhere. Many a polished veteran has seen their number called before they, their teammates and even their supporters felt that their time was up. All an established AFL player has to do is turn 28 and play a few bad games in a row to see how precarious longevity actually is in the AFL inner sanctum.
The simple premise is that the clubs will preach loyalty and honour when it’s convenient for them and cry foul when players and staff take matters into their own hands.
To be fair
To be fair to both Melbourne and St Kilda, as I’m not following sport in the media, I am unable to measure the depths of the clubs’ indignation at these latest player and coach transfers. For mine, there’s little Melbourne can expect when it treats a respected player and club captain the way it did in prematurely retiring James McDonald 12 months ago.
For the fans, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if either decision caused as much angst as 12 months ago, when Gary Ablett’s decision to defect to the new Gold Coast Suns was finally made ‘official’. We may be more resigned to greater player movement when big dollars are in play. If Ablett, a Geelong icon at the top of his game can’t say ‘no’, how or why would anyone else?
Be careful what you wish for
At the moment, the AFL and its players are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement and in the NBA, players are currently ‘locked out’ in between seasons (unable to access team facilities or work with staff) as they butt heads over their next salary request. As an NBA fan, I do not want the complete absence of player loyalty that permeates that league to come to this country, yet I can understand the AFL players wanting a bigger piece of the billion dollar + pie.
It’s hard to put the shoe on the other foot and say whether, if a wealthy lady or gent offered you $1m+ a year to support a another team, would you do it?! Is it possible to genuinely do it?! Probably not. How could you quantify such a thing… But it doesn’t negate the point that, with a few exceptions, the average fan is far more emotionally involved than the players (and administration) that they so passionately support. In the right circumstances, players will move on and we seem to be more readily accepting this.
The heart of it
At the crux of this as I navigate time away from sport is a reinforcement that sport, like so much else, has become a business. In not begrudging player movement, you acknowledge that you, the fan, care far more about your team over the course of a lifetime than most players do.
Why then the pervasive immersion when the players will never care like you do? Even when things do go your way and a premiership or championship is forthcoming, there is no ongoing satisfaction and you end up seeking out more glory … and quickly!
It provides a strong incentive to temper the sporting obsession. It is indeed just a game. Players, coaches, moments low and high will come and go; hopefully with a healthy dose of reality you can go along for the ride without it becoming more than what it truly is …