AFL Round Trade – Citizens v Consumers: Dreams matter

“What is hard to understand is that our dreams matter”

“The Testament of Mary,” Colm Tóibín


Dream 1

  • What a story she is.
  • Yes, crossing over from Lowlyville last season, who would have thought she would be a premiership player 12 months later?
  • It’s a great story.
  • She took a risk nominating as a free agent, and luck has favoured the brave today.
  • What a great story she is.


Dream 2

  • What a story she is.
  • In a matter of hours or even minutes, she’ll take that famous jumper off for the last time.
  • And yes, she’s missed out on premiership success, but she’s shown loyalty.
  • A one club player.
  • And look at the kids there. They’ll never forget her. She will remain a hero in their eyes long after today.
  • What a great story she is.


Dreams matter.

Via imagination, they lead directly to motivation, decision-making, prioritisation and action. Are more teenagers having Dream 1 or Dream 2? Does it matter? I’d argue that yes, it does matter, as Dream 1 places the wants of the individual as paramount. Reckon you need to change clubs to win a premiership? Then change.

Recent history is full of examples of people making this choice (B Lake etc etc). Of course that choice was infamously made by N Buckley while marooned in Brisbane (and we all know how that worked out).

Yet dream 2 places the wants of the club as paramount. Am I likely to win a flag here? No. But am I likely to mentor the next generation of young players and in doing so give back to the club that has given so much to me? Then stay.

Recent history contains examples of people making this choice, too (B Murphy, C Grant, etc etc).

These two dream scenarios may be comparable if the likelihood of premiership success was the only point of difference between them. But of course money and contract length also raise their heads in trade period.


Dream 3

  • What a story she is.
  • Who would have thought it could ever happen?
  • She walks out of a premiership team and joins another top contender on huge money.
  • And now she’ll be playing the very next year for the chance to win two premierships in two years; with different clubs.
  • Incredible.
  • What a great story she is.


Dream 3, like Dream 1, places the wants of the individual as paramount. Yet the difference here is the motivation of the individual. Rather than seeking a move for the chance of experiencing team success (which is already occurring), this individual is seeking to maximise career earnings.

And in her workplace, why would anyone begrudge that?


Sportspeople, just like the rest of us, are ensnared in the paradoxical quest to behave simultaneously as both a good citizen and as a good consumer.

Being a good consumer

He will play for us (I will play for you) – and we (I) will satisfy your demands as private and public sector consumers. That’s it. Value is decided by the market. The problem is that the sporting cycle means clubs regularly fail to deliver, and more fundamentally, it turns out that our demands as consumers are insatiable; the more we get the more we want and the more angry we become if we feel let down (lose, become injured/ delisted).

Executives and coaches are self-pitying, trapped by the impossible demands of difficult customers. At Essendon and in other places, we can imagine hearing: “footy is impossible, it’s not fair, so I should be able to do whatever it takes to make things more bearable.” And the competitive nature of sport makes it incredibly hard to reform. Every administrator knows the system is broken, every administrator wants to engage the public more honestly, but every club would rather win on a dodgy fixture/ trade than lose on a fair one.


Being a good citizen

This means moving AWAY from an us-and-them paradigm. It means moving AWAY from a baying media pack that is little more than a disorganised conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage. It means we move AWAY from making impossible demands (e.g. on the one hand: you must honour your contract; on the other: you’re sacked).

Instead, as good citizens, we move towards an us-and-us discourse. This starts from citizens deciding what they want, citizens engaging with the trade-offs between different interests and objectives, and citizens understanding the role they themselves must play in creating a better future. All leaders, indeed all PEOPLE in this model, have this capacity to turn a problem outwards and make it one we all own – for example A Goodes’ conduct on race.



The top level of Australian rules football has become a commodity. Supporters have long been treated as consumers; this is increasing at a rapid rate (the false search to enhance game-day experience for consumers, TV dictating start-times of 4:40pm, etc etc).

As last week showed, (and I expect this week will too) perhaps the saddest and most disillusioning change to be orchestrated on Australian football is the commodification of players themselves. People and their hopes and dreams are effectively bought and sold; traded on the open market. This was going on via unregulated chequebooks in the 1980s, of course. Now though, with a regulated market of player payments and draft picks, we have a sanctioned time period in which to trade. The resulting frenzy of reporting: “moving,” “being put on the table,” “complex three-way moves,” “free agent,” “deadline,” etc, ad nauseum, is the final blow of commodification. The trading in hopes and dreams has become a sport. And the reporting of it has, too. As Titus O’Reilly tweeted last week: “AFL considering dropping season, retaining trade week.”


I hope the hierarchy are making an effort to understand how this rise in commodification, the rise of the consumer culture, is affecting players.

Likewise supporters.

Writing on politics and society in 2009, Matthew Taylor (UK Guardian) suggested that a new way was needed; a new politics that treated people as citizens not consumers.

“How politics is conducted from the cabinet to the local constituency is profoundly dysfunctional, 30 years and more behind the way successful modern organisations run themselves. A new politics needs new institutions and new processes but it also needs a radically different culture, and a style of political leadership that is open, collaborative and emotionally literate.” Matthew Taylor, The Guardian 4 June 2009.

Dream 5

  • What a story she is.
  • She took the reins of the competition when it was splintering.
  • And she’s brought everyone together.
  • We’re all citizens together.
  • Citizens of Dream 2.
  • What a great story she is.

“What you loved, you scorned; what you hated, you were. It was the definition of Australia and being Australian, as far as Kyle was concerned, but it made him wonder if he would be better being someone else from somewhere else, stepping right out of who he was and living in another country altogether, or even another planet.”

“The Following,” Roger McDonald


About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Unsettling times for football supporters. Trade period can be unnerving. I find it particularly difficult trying to explain to our daughter, who has an intellectual disability, what the hell is going on. She was a footy tragic, but I fear that the confusion of the yearly cattle trading has forced the game away from her. As a Geelong supporter she has grappled with Chappy and G. Ablett leaving the club (amongst others like Josh Hunt). She no longer sits on the couch with me to watch the games.

  2. Neil Anderson says

    Interesting and proud to read your two examples of good citizenship and staying to mentor young players coming through were Bob Murphy and Chris Grant.
    When people ask why you don’t jump ship and follow a team that wins lots of premierships, the answer usually has a lot to do with people like Bob and Chris.
    The quality of the people at the Club who stayed will be remembered long after the deserters who leave to join the enemy so they can be called a premiership player.

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