Something’s not right

 

by Andrew Gigacz 

Something’s not right. It can’t be. Not when supporters of the same footy team turn on each other.

 

But so it was on Saturday afternoon when I joined my three mates for our regular day at a Bulldogs home game. It’s what we’ve always done; for years at Western Oval, for a brief time at Princes Park and in recent times at Docklands. We’ve been through the inevitable highs and lows through all those years, loving every moment, both euphoric and heartbreaking.

 

Last Saturday was different though. It started being different in the days leading up to the weekend. Mick sent out an email which read: “I’m going to the footy on Saturdaty to boo Callan Ward for all I’m worth. Anybody in?” This was after the Age had revealed that Callan Ward’s move to GWS was a done deal.

 

I responded with a “Yep. I’m in.” I didn’t mention anything about whether I’d be booing or not. Generally, I’m a diplomat, a diffuser of tension. Instead of referring to the Ward news in my reply, I deflected the focus to the “for all I’m worth” part of Mick’s email: “Just as a matter of interest, how much ARE you worth?” “Two bits”, came the reply.

 

But the truth was, I didn’t feel like making light of the situation. I was really, really disappointed when the news of Callan Ward’s defection came through, despite the fact I’d been expecting it.

No further email correspondence was entered into, and we met up at Etihad Stadium as we always do for the game. Once inside, the topic was raised almost immediately. Mick made a good case for his feelings: “He’s completely entitled to go to another club for a shitload of money. I’d do the same. But I’M A FAN. Nobody’s paying me. Being a fan IS NOT A BUSINESS. I’m completely entitled to boo the f*#ker on his way. He’s already dead to me.”

 

Not just a good case, but a very forceful and passionate one! Personally, I didn’t feel it was right to be booing, but I really wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was partly because of what I’d read in the paper. Peter Hanlon did a piece in the Age about the situation and garnered the opinions of Ward’s (soon to be ex-) teammates. They, too, were diplomatic, with comments such as “he’s really got no choice to take the money”.

 

But is that really true? From what I understand the GWS is deal is $800,000 a year over five years. The Bulldogs’ offer was something like half of that. I’m totally in favour of the players making big money. They entertain, and they put their bodies through hell to do so. Careers are over far earlier than for most other occupations and players can have physical health issues for years after those careers have ended. So it’s important for players to set themselves up financially if they can. I guess the thing that I wonder about is, could Ward set himself up financially on the Bulldogs deal? And my feeling is that he probably could; obviously not to the same degree as he will with GWS, but to a reasonably comfortable extent. Will the extra GWS cash give him anything more than he really needs for the future? Or will it just enable him to afford some extra luxuries?

 

As it turned out the game was a mistake-fest from the beginning. It was two also-ran teams going around like a couple of, well, also-ran teams. (Funnily enough, I returned to the same venue the next day and watched two more sides with nothing to gain put on an absolutely cracking display. Why was that? Maybe because neither North nor Richmond has a player who we know is going to GWS.) The skill-errors, poor decision-making and an almost palpable lack of passion on the ground just focussed our minds more on the sadness of the whole situation.

 

When Ward went near the ball, none of us actually booed but a sarcastic chant of “Sydney!Sydney!” did start up a couple of times. At one point, Ward had a shot at goal, and Zitter yelled out, “I’ll pay you 20 bucks to miss it, Ward!” He did miss.

 

The jibes emanating from our group turned a few heads. Some told us to “shut up”. Just before half-time, it became too much for a bloke in the next aisle. He came over to our group, angry and aggressive. I can’t remember the exact words he used, but they were along the lines of “why don’t you blokes just shut the f*@k up!” Mick chimed in with his earlier “as a fan I’m entitled to” line. The big bloke retorted, “you would’ve taken the f*%kin’ money”. Mick and I responded simultaneously with different answers. Mick said he would have taken the money but still reserved the right vent his fury at Ward doing so. I actually said I wouldn’t have taken the money. (And, yes, I know this sounds like I am Mr Self Righteous, but I believe I wouldn’t have. Just last year I was offered two separate roles, one with a big bank, one with a government department. When I took the government department one, the bank chimed in with a bigger offer. It was tempting, but I felt that the government role would give me a chance to contribute something that achieved more than just making money. OK. So maybe I am Mr Self Righteous.)

 

Anyway, Mr Aggressive threatened to become Mr Violent. Mick called in the cops. Things calmed down a little. Dave had his young daughter and her friend with him so we chose to move along a little bit. It was the right thing to do but I felt annoyed at the thought the aggressive guy might have thought he’d proved his point.

 

As we settled into a new spot, half-time arrived. We felt empty. Questions were asked. Why can’t we say how we feel? Why is this bloke (and others) defending what Ward’s doing? I couldn’t help but wonder if this bloke would have been one of the ones who applauded Chris Grant for turning down a huge offer from Port Adelaide to finish his career with the Dogs. If he did, then surely he should feel as let down as we do? Another question asked was whether Callan Ward should have played in this match. If everybody knows that he will be at an opposition club next year, what are we gaining from playing him now?

 

I started to wonder why we were even put in a position where we have to ask these questions. I understand the viewpoint that AFL must expand to survive. And that it’s important that clubs such as GWS aren’t basket-cases from the word go. But does it have to be achieved in such a way that fans of the same club are turning against each other?

 

Surely that’s not right.

 

 

 

About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?

Comments

  1. Tall poppy syndrome Gigs? Is that why fans boo one of their own when he’s leaving? Will they boo harder next year? We’re pretty good at tearing people down in this country (unfortunately).

    Booing should only be reserved for opposition players who are smart arses.

  2. Dips, as I said, none of us actually booed in the end. Regardless, for myself, it was certainly not a case of tall poppy syndrome. It was just a case of being sad with the choice made, and the empty feeling of watching a player go around for your team that you know won’t be there next year. We didn’t have finals to focus on. There was no next week.

    I wonder how you would have felt, if Geelong hadn’t made the finals last year and you’d known in Round 22 that he had signed with Gold Coast, watching Gazza go around.

    As Kerrie pointed out in her article, Callan Ward’s own body language appeared to betray the conflicting emotions within himself and within the Footscray crowd.

  3. Gigs – I can honestly say that it wouldn’t have made any difference with Gazza. If a bloke is leaving perhaps the club is better off without him.

  4. Or when you name begins with “Boo” as in Booney.

    Context – when I first took my oldest daughter to the footy, she asked, “Dad, why do they keep booing Cameron Mooney”.

    I’m sure some Dogs fans wondered the same when they first saw Cooney.

    And Breust from the Hawks must have wondered what he had done wrong when he kicked his first goal.

  5. Dips, fair enough. And yes, I think if Callan wants to go, then the Dogs probably are better off without him.

    Pete, it seems there’s always a few players around with a surname conducive to that. Collingwood fans do it for Toovey as well.

  6. Gigs,

    when I saw young Gazza playing for the Suns at York Park this year I realised I still loved him. There were no boos from this little black duck.

    The fact that he was making a few Hawks look silly mitigated my sadness substantially.

    PS. From what I saw on the telly on Friday night there were a few of those Pie supporters paying out on their players. They aren’t losing half a dozen or so to GWS as well are they?

  7. I wish the club hadn’t played him and put him and the fans in this position. Nobody won. It contributed to the flat feeling of the game.

    And I may be Ms Self Righteous but I too find it empty when people say that ‘anyone’ would take the money. Many of us choose to work in fields that don’t pay as well. Loyalty, friendship, camaraderie and family should be factors too.

    Great piece!

  8. Phanom – I haven’t heard about any Pie players leaving but you never know.

    Those Pie fans you refer to need to take a good, hard look at themselves. So too does that particularly obnoxious Pie fan who sits right on the fence behind the goals & gesticulates wildly & vociferously at every free not paid…etc. I tell my fledglings that if I were Ed, I’d run that bloke out of the club.

    But thankfully most of the Magpie Army are mild mannered, even handed souls.

  9. Jack Donaghy (30 Rock) “If I wanted to not earn much money and work in a morally righteous job I would have become a teacher”

    It’s a fine line. I remember the Brisbane Premiership years there were always a few blokes willing to take fewer dollars in order to be in a contending team, although that seems to be waysided with the crazy money of the new clubs. Better to get in on the ground floor and be part of the new club from the beginning rather than missing out when the money being slung is not as abundant..

  10. John Butler says:

    Dips, I reckon tall poppy syndrome has absolutely nothing to do with this.

    The ‘business’ of football does everything it can to encourage players to regard football as just a business. It can be profitable for many concerned if they do think that way. Some resist the notion.

    But most fans will never look at footy as just a business. They’re in it for the passion and the drama. They form relationships with the club and the players. It’s personal. They may understand it, but they don’t have to like it.

    Geelong can afford to be magnanimous about Gazza going. They were left in good nick anyway. It’s easy to be gracious when it doesn’t really cost you.

    If the bloke has doubts, you’re right that it might be better he goes. But the Doggies will be desperately hoping the compensation is adequate.

    Otherwise, the main effect of the new clubs will only be to widen the gap between weak and strong even more.

  11. You are right, Gigs, it is not all about the money.
    But for a 21 year-old footballer, just entering manhood, to be offered twice his
    current salary…very tough to refuse.
    As I said on another thread: knowing the Wards it would have been a
    tremendously difficult choice for Callan.

  12. I suspect Callan Ward felt pretty awkward as well.

    I also think a lot of people have been in a position to make a lot of choices in this whole scenario. Including the fans watching – from both sides of the argument.

    How you choose to behave as a result of the feelings you might have is different from just having those feelings, and containing them, or expressing them in a less dramatic and confrontational way. Was the response to Callan Ward just another form of shaking the fist at the gods, or the machine?

    A very neatly provocative piece Gigs.

  13. @John Butler – hindsight is a wonderful thing. At the time gazza left, many scribes predicted Geelong would struggle going forward. The fac thtta they have covered his loss in no way means they could afford to be magnanimous. Eight years of development and the loss of teh best player for a couple of draft picks that are unlikely to bear fruit for 3 to 5 years was not an easy pill to swallow.

  14. Dave Nadel says:

    But you are right not every player makes that choice. When Port Adelaide entered the AFL both Chris Grant and Nathan Buckley knocked back big offers to move there. In Buckley’s case ne could have gone to the Power without seeming mercenary because, like Wanganeen who did go to Port, he had started his career at Alberton and it would seemed like a return. But Nathan wanted to stay at Collingwood.

    I think the sad thing for Doggies fans with Ward is that he is a local boy and in these days of drafting rather than zoning you don’t get too many locals playing in your team. That is also why I was sorry to lose Rhyce Shaw and Jack Anthony, even though the move was good for Rhyce’s career and should have been good for Jack’s. But both of them were players who had barracked for the Pies before they had been recruited and you always love having blokes like that in your team.

  15. Good comments all round. Thanks.

    I suspect I wouldn’t be quite as sad as I am if Callan had helped us to win a flag or two before he moved on!

    Callan Ward might have some far better reasons than I’m aware of for his decision. Without knowing the man, I’m in no position to make an absolute judgement.

    Nevertheless, I’m very sad that he has made the choice he has.

  16. Thoughtful piece Gigs. Easy to acknowledge the problem, harder to find a response that is fair to player, club, fans and the competition. The Avenging Eagle still hasn’t forgiven Judd even though he had given us a premiership, Brownlow and a Norm Smith in a losing GF. She didn’t boo Tyson Stenglein when he came home to WA from the Crows. All pigs are equal. Some pigs are more equal than others.
    The parallel to the Ward case is when Jeff White went to Melbourne after the Dockers had done all the development work and wasted a #1 draft pick on him. It just felt unfair like Ward does. But I suspect Dockers fans will be saying goodbye and good riddance at Rhys Palmer going to GWS. The good ones hurt a lot more.
    I can only think that players should be bound to a club for a minimum of saying 5 years or 50 games unless the club voluntarily releases them. Dunno how that would have affected Ward, but there should be some minimum return for the investment in young players – but let the strugglers like Anthony or Shaw try to build a better future elsewhere.

  17. And then there is the step before. Where would the competition be without the Geelong Falcons, and should Geelong get compensatory draft picks for the players they’ve developed and lost in the draft (conundrum intentional).

  18. Losing star players to other clubs is never easy, but it’s nothing new either.

    What is new is this experience of watching a player running around in one jumper, knowing that he’ll be in a different one next year. It’s easy to hurl collective vitriol at a player once he dons the enemy’s clothing. But what we’re seeing in cases like Ward is completely at odds with the notions of loyalty and team spirit that we gullible fans cling to in supporting our clubs. It’s no wonder conflicting emotions were running high at the weekend.

    The compensation that the Dogs get for Ward will be interesting. In a sense his loss is a greater one than Ablett was for Geelong because it’s potentially 10-12 years of top quality football that the Dogs will miss out on. For Geelong, Ablett was probably good for another 5-6 years at most and it’s doubtful he would have exceeded the standards he’d already achieved. Yet because of what he’d already achieved, his departure was deemed worthy of two Round 1 draft picks, whereas Ward is unllikely to be regarded as highly because his achievements are mostly ahead of him. It’ll be tough on the Dogs if they get less compensation and Ward then goes on to become a champion at GWS.

  19. JB – disagree completely. What an absurd comment to suggest that losing Ablett cost Geelong nothing! It could well cost us a flag this year!

    Anyway I stand by my remarks.

  20. @Gigs – your perspective makes sense on the surface, but the corollary applies.

    History is littered with shoulda, coulda, woulda’s who didn’t. Ward is currently a coulda who may well get to the levels you hoped for when he was a Doggie, but he may also not. You won’t know for another 2 to 4 years. The loss of Ward is a loss of potential.

    Ablett HAS helped us win 2 premierships. He HAS won a Brownlow, he has been named AFL MVP 3 times, he IS a superstar and he IS one of teh best 2 or 3 players in the League. He is a coulda that did. The loss of Gazza was a loss of realised potential.

    We had a bird in the hand and lost it for two in the bush.

  21. I’m with you Dips.

    Everyone laughed at us when Abblett went. He will be the best of all who head north to the brave new world. By a mile.

    We were told that no Abblett = no Cats more often than I thought polite.

    Now that, perhaps because some clubs would not have been as strategic as the Cats and the loss of a player of Abblett’s quality would be catastrophic to them, we appear in good shape his loss doesn’t matter. Walk a mile in my shoes.

    I just sit back after twelve months of grieving and am beginning to feel a little better.

    I may have empathy, but no sympathy, for the clubs that lose players under the grand expansion plan.

    When the contenders looked ahead to the finals series we are about to embark on they could not see any Cats. We may go out in straight sets as many wish, but we may not.

    Charity starts at home.

  22. John Butler says:

    Dips

    Never said it cost Geelong nothing. It obviously did.

    Just that in comparative terms Geelong could cope with the loss better. Geelong might say that’s because they’ve set themselves up better, and they would have a point.

    But the process of player movement to the newly constructed sides has so far served to disproportionately hurt the clubs who can afford it less.

    And I still don’t see what the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ has to do with this.

  23. Pete, my perspective is purely one of sadness at (a) the fact that we are losing a local boy and (b) the fact that it has led to fighting amongst fellow Footscray fans.

    I have not really even considered how good Ward could or should be. Whether he makes it as a footballer or not, I’d simply like to have discovered that with him in wearing a Doggies’ jumper.

  24. Phantom, let me just say that I wasn’t one of the “no Ablett no Geelong” theorists. Although I did think the Cats would slip, because (a) of the aging list and (b) I thought there might be a settling in period for Chris Scott.

    I have no doubt that the Dogs will be able to cover the loss of Ward if they/we manage things well but my sentiments were all about the loss of Ward for the apparent reasons he left and the ill-feeling it has caused between Footscray fans.

  25. Andrew Fithall says:

    I liked this excerpt from Greg Baum’s article in yesterday’s Age:

    When Greg Williams moved from Sydney to Carlton in 1991, a leading football writer upbraided him for his disloyalty. A few years later, the football writer changed publications. A note arrived reportedly from Williams, asking him about loyalty.

    Gigs – I didn’t know until I read this article, but you have changed clubs. I can’t imagine your reason was “more money”, but nevertheless, you changed. As supporters we ask for loyalty from players, but clubs (and I am not talking supporters here) are business enterprises and make business decision on the retention or otherwise of players. Players should not have to justify making their own business decisions.

  26. John Butler says:

    Agree with that AF.

    Clubs have usually looked after their own interests. Players should do the same.

    Supporters are allowed to think what they like of it all.

    The one variation in this case is that the AFL has actively created a situation where these players are moving. They’ve set up circumstances that enable the new clubs to offer much more money, and allowed players representatives to be approached mid-season.

    Given player movements to date, the AFL has effectively been a party to shifting resources from the weaker clubs to the new clubs. They would obviously claim it’s in the greater purpose of getting the new clubs established.

    But it would seem to contradict all the equalisation steps they’ve previously pursued.

    And I doubt fans of existing clubs would be supportive of the idea if they had a chance to be consulted.

  27. True it is, AF. Certainly my change wasn’t for the money! Or for reasons of potential success! Players have always, and always will, change clubs. I don’t deny Ward his right to change clubs for whatever reason he deems appropriate. But I reserve my right to be disappointed if it was purely for the money. And it’s important for me to reiterate that. I’m disappointed. I’m sad. But I don’t hate Callan Ward or wish him bad things. I’m just disappointed and sad. And it doesn’t “feel” right that fans of the same team are divided like this.

  28. The one that rankles me is Mumford. The Cats took a chance on him as a big, fat porker from Bunyip and made him into what he is now. I don’t think there was anything noble about his departure at all. Add to that all the money that’s tied up in Mark Blake, and it’s a bitter pill. Gaz and GC was a rare perfect storm, Mummy was impatience and greed.

  29. Gigs,

    great article from the terraces. I have no problems. I liked it.

    My comments come from the perspective of one who knows the issue well, has felt the pain and has taken the crap from intermittent, apparantly insulated, opportunistic gloaters looking in.

    Unfortunately the Cats set the benchmark in the who gets pirated stakes. We lost possibly one of the greatest players of all time to the expansion process. It bloody well hurt.

    Those who could not hear the alarm bells ringing had their heads in the sand. Just because it was Geelong who needed to be brought down a peg or two it was ok. Now the reality of the process is more apparent and others are feeling the pinch. It sucks.It will damage some clubs; possibly beyond repair.

    Whether by good management or chance Geelong have capacity to be true contenders and definately something to play for this year.

  30. John Butler says:

    Phantom

    In Geelong’s case it’s obviously good management.

    Only a few clubs could have withstood the loss of someone like Ablett.

    The history of football has been the strong clubs generally taking from the weaker ones. My own club is as guilty of that as any. Some of the weak haven’t always helped their own cause.

    But it’s rare to have the AFL assisting the process.

  31. Your club wrote the book JB.

  32. Andrew Fithall says:

    Geelong supporters seem to have forgotten the toxic environment that had been allowed to develop under their coach last year. I believe Thompson wasn’t talking to Ablett. Part of Ablett’s motivation to move could have been to escape Thompson, not knowing that the coach himself was departing.

  33. John Butler says:

    JTH

    It’s a book read by many until the AFL brought in the draft/salary cap/etc.

  34. Mark Doyle says:

    Gigs, It seems that you are having two bob each way with your essay. Your headline is meaningless. I wouldn’t be concerned about supporters – they will get over it and move on to another hero. The club is always bigger than any individual. The history of all footballers is that they will generally move for more money. Players will generally only play for less money when they play for successful teams, such as some Brisbane players a few years ago and some Geelong and Collingwood players of recent times. Players need only be loyal for the term of their employment. The idea that Callan Ward should be loyal because he grew up in the western suburbs is nonsense. My club Geelong has lost quite a few over the years; Doug Wade to North Melbourne in the early 1970’s; Williams, Toohey and Bolton to Sydney in the 1980’s; Shane Mumford to Sydney in 2009 and Gary Ablett jnr. to Gold Coast in 2010. All these ex-cats had and are having good careers at their new clubs. There are many other examples of players leaving all clubs for more money. A couple of Collingwood examples – Ron Todd and Des Fothergill left for more money 60-70 years ago to play for Williamstown in the VFA. Des Tuddenham and Len Thompson went on strike in the early 1970’s for more money and may have left for Essendon and Fitzroy respectively for more money. Players moving for more money is also common practice in other levels of football.

  35. On the other hand, my club wrote the book on giving away Brownlow Medallists, both before and after winning a medal.

  36. We wouldn’t want toxic environments within the coaching / playing ranks derailing our premiership campaign would we Andrew.

  37. John Butler says:

    AF

    I think you walked into that one. :)

  38. Mark Doyle, my headline is not meaningless to me. In my mind something ISN’T right. No doubt players have always moved for money. There is a difference here that JB mentioned and that is the AFL’s involvement. The Collingwood to Williamstown moves probably meant a huge difference to those players’ abilities to look after their families in the long term. If that’s also true for Ward them his decision is entirely understandable.

    Not sure what you mean by me having two bob each way. Please elaborate.

  39. “It’s easy to be gracious when it doesn’t really cost you.” JB Butler – September 7, 2011.

  40. I can see now what’s gonna happen on Thursday night: An “all-in” at the “All Nations”.

    (Please, don’t anybody take that comment seriously.)

  41. Can I send Daniel Geale in as Tassy a proxy for the ‘all in’ Gigs?

    (Does anyone take any of this banter seriously?)

  42. Phantom, I’m sure Daniel Geale will be most welcome to join in the fun at the All Nations – especially if he agrees with me.

    (And in answer to your question, I hope not.)

  43. John Butler says:

    You’ve finished 2nd haven’t you Dips?

    A tribute to the club.

    As I said, I’m speaking comparatively.

    As for the Cats supporters, I’m sure there was plenty of cost.

    But you were the one trying to imply you didn’t care about it. :)

  44. JB – I do care, I just didn’t see any point in having Gazza in the gun about it.

    See you at the All Nations!

  45. fantastic piece, gush-worthy ;)
    You’re right its not pretty when supporters of the same footy team turn on each other.
    Its worse when the supporter base is big, sometimes i even think, side by side?
    side by side, my derriere!! -_-
    It is perfectly right to boo a player who left for money, especially when back in the day most weren’t paid a dime and played for the love of their club.

    great piece :)

    Danni aka your fav!! :P

  46. My disappointment in Callan Ward is nothing compared to anger I feel about this guy: http://www.theage.com.au/business/qantas-chiefs-pay-rise-sparks-anger-20110907-1jx7b.html

  47. And thanks Danni. ;-)

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