This is the season, for Cricket, for drinking, for our Christmases to become more and more American. And, if you’re a footy club treasurer, or new coach, to stress hard and work it.
It is the season of money.
Players from all clubs, at all levels of the game are chasing the dollar. It shits me. It will see the death of many clubs, and leagues. Money is ripping the heart out of grass roots footy. The wrong attitude, the wrong culture, is ripping the heart out of footy.
I’m no scientist, but here are my feelings.
VFL Grand Finals, like Australians, used to be laconic, without fanfare. We were famous for it. Where as the Yanks dolled up their Superbowls like bloated X-mas trees decorated with Liberace’s vomit, so much so the sport became irrelevant, we would sing some stupid song only a few of us knew the words to, then get on with the footy. And, oh, it was grouse. And, oh, it was mighty!
Aussie Rules Football at its toughest, most desperate, best skilled. You ripper!
Now there are glitter machines, cheese and cracker hype and tinsel, before and after. So much smoke being blown up so many arses. Shit bands, opera, every player made immortal, turned into a giant by the media. Stupid movie voice-over men narrating over slow motion footage as if they’re constipated. And we’ve fallen for it.
Everybody wants to be a winner.
Not a player, or a soldier for your club. A winner.
Look at the photos of Premiership teams and how they’ve changed over the years. Hands held towards the camera in thanks have been replaced by a single finger. No.1, baby! The same thing we used to laugh at the Yanks over.
Down in the lower levels, more and more players are chasing victory. It starts in Juniors. When I was coaching kids in the bush, there was an absolute jet that wanted to play for a team in town that had won 7 flags in a row. All the kids did. They came from everywhere to be a part of it. That team had maybe ten local boys in it. And each of the other clubs had one or two of that team’s boys that ‘weren’t good enough’.
I convinced him that if he won a flag there it would mean absolutely nothing. That with us he could make a difference. And he did, and I’m forever grateful.
But the headset of parents and their children that find doing that okay baffles me. And sets patterns. The kids grow to be men, and think footy is about winning, rather than character. They chase success, leaping from team to team, showing no loyalty. The struggling teams never get to have their shot at the natural cycle, falling further and further down this slippery slope to nowhere.
The flip side of this obsession with victory is failure. The bottom teams aren’t “not good enough” anymore, they’re “Pathetic”, “Disgraceful”, “A blight of the game.” Just took at the AFL, just listen to the commentary. Any team in the lower four is talked about as if they are scum, as if they are insulting, if not out-and-out offending, the viewer. Maybe, sometimes, the other teams are simply better. That’s the essence of competition. And the more teams you have, the further the gap between top and bottom.
The other problem, the bigger one, is the dollar. As the AFL has, rightly, increased the wages of those players involved, players down in the amateur levels are asking more and more o sign up. A good player can earn $700 a game, even at the lowest level. $900, $1,000, easy. They whore themselves to the highest bidder, and in ways, I don’t blame them. $20,000 cash a year, for sport, (no tax), would go a mighty way for a young bloke building his first house, buying a flash ute, whatever.
But grassroots football just doesn’t have that sort of money. Do these blokes know how hard it is to raise? How many old duffs give up their weekends to sell raffle tickets, how many committee members have to suck and grovel to sponsors? How many teams, desperate for the success I’ve mentioned, throw the club into debt, destroy it for future generations, to afford them?
The committees often feel bound to go after these arseholes. With everybody wanting success these days other players surge towards a club, or jump ship, depending on the whims of a few highly paid players. The committee feel if they are going to survive, too keep their core players, they have to offer the big bickies to the mercenaries. But then the local boys, with just as much ability, get their noses out of joint. They feel under appreciated, and want money to stay. And if they don’t get it, they leave, chasing dollars they think they are due elsewhere.
When a team buys all these players, and still don’t win the big one, the deck of cards comes down, and they are rooted for decades. The old duffs and committee people burnt out from going so far above and beyond what should be expected of them for “nothing”.
So the trick becomes to build your team through your juniors. But, unless you’re lucky and/or extremely well managed, they’re off chasing victory at other clubs, or at your club even though they live in another region, learning how to not be loyal.
I’ve been privy to our club’s efforts to recruit this year. Yes, we’ve tried to get a top up player or two, but the prices they’re asking are just ridiculous. Mostly, though, we’ve been trying to get the kids back. Good players and not. Have the club feeling like a community again, reforge loyalty. I’m proud of our coach, he’s young, local and knows what matters.
One of the ex players wanted the most stupid amount of money. So did another, then another. So much more than they were worth. But a few city clubs have that sort of money.
The coach went to a local kid who had left the club because he was only a bench player in the twos. I love the kid. Everybody did. God, he was hopeless. He ruined every drill he partook in. Dropped everything, even handballs, slowed it all down, kicked off the side of his boot. Out on the oval he wouldn’t tackle, or get the ball, it was like playing with 17. But he was of us and ours. We never gave him anything but encouragement.
“Come back,” the coach said.
“Fifty dollars per game,” the kid told him.
This shit is ripping the heart out of grassroots football. Clubs are folding over it. But most of all, it’s warping what’s good about the game. Community, belonging, participation, loyalty.
I would not be a good coach at this time of year. We don’t have a lot of money, and my honesty would make a lot of enemies.