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What price loyalty?

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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.

Would you?

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 …


About petek8

Pete Evans has just finished going 12 months without watching any sport. The journey stemmed from a sense that the balance was out-of-whack with my time and my priorities. Everything seemed to revolve around creating enough time and space to fit in the last game, games, recap shows or space to surf the net for the latest numbers and analysis. The cycle never ends - one season leads into another, seasons overlap if you follow various sports and the media's insatiable appetite for a new 'story' means that even the greatest of achievements aren't heralded for more than 3 days. So I stepped away from the machine for awhile and intentionally engaging with the journey by writing about it.

3 responses »

  1. Its Western Sydney, I hear they’re having to pay all their players that much just to get them to live there!

  2. I’m all on board for not letting sport become an obsession, like many other things in life can become, but the notion players aren’t loyal to their teams is not quite right. In the NBA and Soccer yes, but in the AFL players and stars in general are highly loyal to their clubs, and supporters.

    Thomas, Pendlebury, Swan, Franklin, Rioli, Roughead, Hodge just to name a few from last Friday nights teams have re-signed with their respective teams when if they had of held off they could have taken the huge coin from GWS or GC. We can’t underestimate the loyalty these guys feel in being part of successful club in a competitive environment and going to war with their mates every weekend. That in itself creates loyalty and pride amongst the individual and will cause him to fight for and defend his club and his teammates.

    The AFL have created this current monster, and as usual haven’t thought thru the consequences of the harm it may have caused. But the beautiful reality is, that loyalty and being part of a strong club has won out over the dollars in virtually every case. GWS have snared Tom Scully, Callan Ward, and Phil Davis. So Ward will be the most overpaid sportsman in the country by a mile, and Scully hasn’t been able to stay fit at all yet, and will be getting $1 million per. So the reality of it is that the loyalty of the players to their clubs and their team has meant that GWS were NOT able to get any real superstar to move for $ at all. Gary Ablett is the only real elite player to actually move, and given he had already won 2 flags, and with a team he thought (and I thought) was on decline, that wasn’t necessarily a bad call. Bock, Rischitelli, Harbrow, Brown, Brennan are just average to highly depreciated players at best.

    Loyalty has won here without a doubt.

    P.S. As for James McDonald, that was a debatable call, but my team delisted 7 last year and I only really would have questioned 1 of them (Beau Muston) and he wasn’t picked up by someone else.

  3. Thomas, Pendlebury, Swan, Franklin, Rioli, Roughead, Hodge……..Campbell Brown.


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