A life lesson from Tommy


I can’t remember the exact time but it was certainly in the early 2000’s. His presence was both unassuming and illuminated. He was sitting patiently in reception.

It was winter and of course he was wearing a t-shirt. His physique, honed by his famous life-long exercise routine was chiselled and a contrast to the soft twinkle in his eyes.

It was of course Tommy Hafey and as a life-long Richmond supporter I was seriously chuffed.

I was working for a health promotion organisation that worked in partnership with state sporting associations on many health-promoting initiatives. Tommy was waiting to have a chat with our CEO about some inspirational work he was doing with young people.

I went back to my desk feeling excited to have seen him up close, when Robyn, a fellow Tiger-loving colleague come around to my desk to make sure I hadn’t missed out on knowing who was in the building.

She convinced me to go up and introduce myself and make him a cup of tea. She said I wasn’t to pass up this rare opportunity to meet a legend.

He was still there sitting happily. I self-consciously introduced myself as a Tiger supporter and asked him how he was. He warmly embraced my intrusion and we made some small talk about why he was there and what he was up to. I then asked him what he thought about our current crop of footballers.

“Well, I reckon some of the young blokes need to have a good hard look at ‘emselves”, he said.

I asked him what he meant and he said he thought that there seemed to be a bit of a culture among some young footballers where they pranced around a bit like “show ponies” and didn’t seem to understand the level of hard work that was required at that level.

He reinforced the value of discipline and that nothing replaced hard work – that there were no short cuts. He said he didn’t think we had much of an immediate future if these blokes didn’t smarten up.

He then asked me if I knew who Rene Kink was.

I explained that my brother barracked for Collingwood so I was very aware of Rene.

Tommy said some of the new players reminded him of Rene.

How so, I asked him.

He replied a bit cheekily.

“I remember one day in the rooms Rene said to me: You know what Tommy, I’m a legend. And I said Rene you’re not a legend till somebody else says you are!”

Funny, only five minutes earlier, that’s the exact word my colleague Robyn had used to describe Tommy.

Lately I have been thinking about the philosophies of Tommy and wondering how they might apply to young footballers in today’s social and cultural context.

In a culture dominated by competitive Instagram selfies, hysterical “Oh Moy Gord” reality shows, and Facebook gloatings that amplify personal insecurities and encourage even more empty acts of narcissism.

A strange time when a body covered in tatts now says you know a good barista, not barrister.

A society that places more value on the individual pursuit of fame and money, than the spirit that comes from playing for a team.

I wonder about the young men who are now seen as part of an “industry” not a footy club, and the expectations that follow from this.

Young men who have bodies like the proverbial, but minds that are still emotionally undeveloped. Who are playing a game that everyone is saying is tougher and faster than ever, who are expected to be gladiatorial week after a week, but off the field may struggle with basic life skills like preparing a meal and paying bills.

Who are bubble-wrapped by their clubs, less-equipped emotionally for life’s twists and tumbles but under more scrutiny and criticism than ever. Players who are now at the club training or recovering 24/7 instead of two hours of slog on three days after working in the real world the rest of the week.

Players who are no longer able to have a beer after a game and just breathe out like all we need to, to help soften the heaviness that comes with being human.

And whose transgressions from this highly controlled regimen are quickly on the front page as every phone is now a video recorder.

These same blokes who have thousands waiting on their next Tweet or Instagram posting, thousands happy to tell them how ‘awesome’ they are, genuinely rapt to have instant contact with their idols. This contact helping to raise the spirits and egos of both parties.

But this easy access has the sinister flip-side where players are targeted by abusive trolls and serious crazies. Too much screen-time and continually responding to ‘pings’ can lead to madness.

Today, the whole wide world is now so superficially and addictively connected that no-one has any idea or control over what may be shared and just how enormous the fall-out can be.

This is a time when over Christmas lunch your nephew nonchalantly hands you his phone to show you photos of a couple of saintly footballers and their dicks. It seems, even the most respected and respectful can be naïve to the breadth and savagery of social media.

In this confusing, challenging time of continual change and upgrades I can think of one home-style, tried and true remedy that would help centre those who are struggling to make sense of it all.

A tonic especially for those young people who have grown up in an age – through no fault of their own – where texts and Tweets have replaced heart-to-hearts and hard-to-have conversations.

A remedy that a man and coach like Phil Walsh surely would have endorsed.

A remedy sadly, no longer available; less screen and Facebook time and more face to face time with Tommy.

Today, faced with a nascent Rene Kink, I reckon Tommy would say something like this:

“I don’t care how many followers or LIKES you’ve got – you’re not a bloody legend till I tell you you are!


  1. Phil Hill says

    My wife, Claire, does not follow footy but she did know the name Tom Hafey. However, after Tom spoke a few years ago at a Cricket Society lunch she became a Tom Hafey fan.

    Claire’s opinion that everybody should meet and talk to Tom Hafey.

    I have to agree.

  2. Wonderful piece Tess at so many levels. Everything you say of young footballers is true of young people more generally. Footy is just the pressure cooker microcosm that makes it visible to the wider audience.
    More than anything in the last few weeks, for both personal reasons and due to public tragedies, I have been thinking about the issue of fathers and sons. Or more broadly – families and kids.
    I strongly believe that we have failed the next generation, and then blame them for the narcissism, disconnection and risk taking that we engineered Work, money and recreation (what might be called ‘affluenza’) has supplanted the main thing our kids need – time and connection. Not when they are teenagers – but when they are younger.
    I have always remembered a quote from the author Russel Banks that “we are the first generation to have colonised our kids”. Meaning that capitalism found new markets in Nintendo, Apple, Facebook, Nike etc etc – when the new resources and markets in the third world had started to disappear. We buy stuff to distract our kids so we can extend our own adolescence – and then complain about the ungrateful little bastards because we bought them everything marketers had convinced them they needed.
    I know that in my work life now I try to be a good surrogate father to young men, partly because I was such a poor actual father in my time. Making amends.
    My kids are great adults thanks to their mum. Phil Walsh and Nick Cave are not so lucky.
    Thanks for raising a really important issue. I wonder if St Peter will loan us Tommy for a few years to help Ken Lay on the Ice Taskforce?

  3. E.regnans says

    “…and just breathe out like all we need to, to help soften the heaviness that comes with being human.”

    Beautifully put, Tess.
    And PB.

    We seem only to do this if we (i) spontaneously hatch the idea, or (ii) if we see it successfully modelled by someone influential in our lives. Even more reason to Be That Person. You never know where your influence ends.

    Go well.

  4. Terrific Tess. I agree. The question that has been asked a thousand times or more recently is why the scourge of family violence persists and is, apparently, more prevalent. Perhaps its because families themselves have been systematically dismantled by poor policy and misguided ideas. Football clubs do a lot right, but nothing grounds us quite like a family.

    I really liked the way Tommy Hafey went about it.

  5. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    No short cuts. Except in the high speed hypertextual environment they live in, the young things never see the joins, the intervals, the long ways around. There are short cuts everywhere.
    Great thoughts Tess.
    There seem to be lots of good ‘uns too though …

  6. As the father of young kids I’ve seen the power of the device.
    As a son to a great father, I’ve seen the power of influence.
    Positive, angry, encouraging.
    Always supportive.
    I hope to be as good a dad to my kids as my dad was to me.
    I met Tommy once. Got his autograph.
    I’m not a teetotaler, but I admired him. He stuck to his principles.
    I wish he won a premiership with Collingwood.
    When I’m faffing about as a parent, I think about Tommy’s decry.
    ‘You’re over finessing,,,’
    Keep it simple…

  7. Interesting to read your thoughts Tess. It sums up youth through the football prism and splinters it into the variety of issues that face both young people generally, and those who are better known publicly, thru the world of footy.

    To me, and thru reading your thoughts,Tommy weilded a no nonsense, old fashioned common sense approach to mentoring and guiding of young people. Your reflection on his words about R.Kink, super.

    Not only that, T.H. walked his talk…..not sure where, but I’m sure I read somewhere, about the day to day contact he had with his grandchildren, driving them to school or uni, even as older kids. If this is so, then I’m impressed, because the older generations involvement, at some level, in the lives of our youth is vital.

  8. Beautifully written Tess. Tommy gave us so much, it seems greedy to want him to stick around longer. Good on you for making the most of the opportunity when he came by.

    It is fascinating to me that never has a generation of parents obsessed so much about “parenting”‘ a word that probably didn’t exist when I was born. We are trying so hard to do it right, there is a huge market for books about every aspect of it. And yet so often the results are no better than previous generations.

    I try to assume the best about everyone, and to extend that to young people too. And I try to teach my kids and anyone else who will listen some good basic Tommy philosophy. I’d rather be thought a boring old git than just leave it to TV or YouTube to tell us what’s important in life.

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