Brendon Goddard: the rules provide; the rules take away

The story goes that Brendon Goddard cried when back in 2002 he heard he was off to St Kilda. Apparently, too, his mother rang the St Kilda CEO and begged the Saints to let her boy go to Carlton, the club he’d been eyeing since way back when, his childhood love.

But the Blues had lost its right to the number one draft pick for systematically rorting the salary cap in the years prior. The AFL had changed the rules to punish them. By default, St Kilda jumped the queue. So as Goddard sobbed and his mother pleaded, the Saints licked their lips. In 2001 they’d snagged Luke Ball, Nick Dal Santo, Matt Maguire, Xavier Clarke and Leigh Montagna in the so-called ‘super draft’. The year before they’d nabbed the best number one draft pick in years, a key position freak named Nick Riewoldt. Now they’d snared an esteemed utility who could win his own ball, play tall or small and kick the bloody thing like a mule. For once in it’s dismal recent existence, St Kilda’s future was secure.

I remember little of Goddard’s first year beyond the rather impatient and underwhelmed mutterings of twitchy loyalists in the outer awaiting a golden egg to hatch. But I do recall one game. It was late in the season and played in long afternoon shadows at Princes Park. The Saints’ new youthful vim was finding a rhythm, the ‘measurables’ and ‘processes’ demanded of it by its dare-to-be-different coach, Grant Thomas, finally leaping off the whiteboard and making sense out on the turf. Conversely, it’s opponent, Carlton – hitherto Goddard’s first choice – had lost it’s way entirely. The Saints flogged the Blues that day. I think Fraser Gehrig kicked nine as the Saints showed off that rampant devil-may-care style that would carry them to the brink in 2004 and again in 2005. And in amongst the mayhem stood an impossibly young frame belonging to our boy Brendon. A 17-touch game. A modest return, really. But that flying mark on a wing.  The perfect arc of those raking right foot punts. Those targets hit. Such polished beginnings.

Over the next decade, Goddard would become the epitome of the Saintly cause. Together with fearless skipper Riewoldt and the endearingly brave Lenny Hayes, Goddard was one of a triumvirate of red, white and black spiritual leaders champing at the bit to win. Brow furrowed with intense passion, by his own example he’d demand plenty. He’d thump the St Kilda crest with a clenched fist and bellow like William Wallace when he kicked a goal. Three times during 2009 and 2010 he rallied his troops on Grand Final day. Three times he was all but the Saints’ best. Three times, the Saints fell short – twice agonisingly so. But not even one of the game’s greatest ever high marks was enough to let his Saints take a much deserved Premiership. Perhaps all this was salt in a creeping wound. In the end the whole ordeal rendered him a kind of ghostly, craggy presence. Goddard’s recent years have been solid enough, but the colour from his game has faded. Even if his average is better than the efforts of most, a lethargy has crept in. The all-over rover of yesteryear now specialised as a playmaking quarterback, a function reserved for a spare man in defence, a player without an opponent, a man alone within the team. Eventually, this game can drain you of life. They say that if you go without food for long enough, somehow you lose the will to eat.

And so now, a decade after it all began – perhaps inevitably in hindsight – Goddard’s time as a Saint comes to an end.

Not just a little ironically it’s a rule change that sees him leave.

Free Agency – a new system that affords long serving out-of-contract players an opportunity to jump ship before they are either pushed or under-appreciated – is the culprit.

Goddard is 27. St Kilda could afford to keep him until he was 30. The Saints made an offer in keeping with Goddard’s recent form line, the figure ‘not insignificant’, a figure reflective of his place in the current St Kilda pecking order.

Essendon, with a middling contemporary history and a squad bereft of a spread of stars had room in its salary cap to make a much grander bid.

They did so to the tune of as much as $300,000 a season over four years, one year beyond what the Saints could hobble together, the equivalent of an unencumbered inner city Melbourne terrace over the full term of the deal. Forget this ‘one-club player, unfinished business’ bullshit. With his name on a dotted line, Goddard was instantly superannuated and some. The choice, for him, was simple. He autographed in the right places then promptly jumped on a plane to the USA ‘for a holiday’ and away from the public glare – a far cry from the badge-beating tyro who so courageously carried his share of St Kilda’s hopes for so long.

Commentators pondered the wisdom of Essendon spending so much on a player two seasons post his peak. Others argued a change would see the fire return to Goddard’s game. Some raised an eyebrow at the ethics attached to an Essendon Board-member’s deal-sweetening offer of a job. Most however moved quickly onto which trade would likely to draw headlines strong enough to encroach upon the start the A-League, domestic cricket and Spring Carnival Racing seasons.

Among St Kilda people, reactions swung from the furious to the philosophical. But for every die-hard screaming bloody mutiny there exists plenty of rationalists. Every player has a price, they say. Money saved now can be better spent later. And we get a compensation pick. We might even get someone better. For them, the past is quickly glossed over. The future is where glory lies.

As a proud – if battered – St Kilda man I’m not sure where I sit on it all. Rage is so futile, disappointment so wasteful, and pragmatism so cold. I do think back to my brief time working at the Gold Coast Suns, though, and in particular the night of the 2010 National Draft. At one point I found myself up close to the action while some of the big name recruits had their destinations read out to a full room and a national television audience. Backstage, I listened in as they discussed who would go where. The surprising revelation to me was that the colour of their new jumper mattered nil. Instead, for them, it was all about the opportunity to play, to compete, to be recognised as part of a collective rather than as one of a subset. My reaction at the time was shock at the weird kind of sporting androgyny of it all. And with the ink still drying on Brendon Goddard’s new ground-breaking deal, I again wallow in the same pond. More and more the things we hope for in this game – sepia-tinted things performed by semi-professionals when jumpers were woollen and grounds did not have rooves – are not a reflection of reality. Not even close.

As if we needed reminding, this game is now a hard, ruthless, expensive business.

At moments like this I wonder for how long we will continue to pretend it represents something more.

Originally posted at Matt Webber’s site


  1. Ben Footner says

    Your words echo my thoughts as an Adelaide fan on news of Kurt Tippett’s defection this morning.

    Today’s game is now a hard, rutheless, expensive business as you say. That business is fuelled by our hard earned though, and the players and powers that be would be wise to remember that.

  2. Matt,

    it leaves you with the same strength of feeling as when you are jilted. There is worse to come when he lines up against you.

    Michael Mansfield (not as good as young Brendon mind you) was my favourite player at Geelong but was lured away to the hot shot Blues.

    I was devestated. All we got was a second round draft pick. That draft pick became Paul Chapman.

    We got Smedts (yet to be established) and still have a priority pick for young Gaz.

    Hang in there.

  3. I am a die hard Essendon supporter and was ecstatic to see the name ‘Brendan Goddard’ appear on my beloved’s website and could not have been persuaded that it was a poor choice by Hird and co. I am also a romantic and love tradition and what is pure . . . after reading this I realise that, as much is gained by a great joining my team, so much is lost, as it is not for the passion that they play but for the remuneration and the fame. More than ever right now I feel Australia is America’s copy-cat.

  4. Matt, beautiful piece. Poetic in a fashion.

    I think thought that regardless of how hard, ruthless, and expensive it becomes, it will always mean something more.

    After all, we are essentially supporting the colours – players will always come and go.

  5. N eil Anderson says

    Matt, you get the elephant-stamp for a wonderful piece of writing. Great insight and not a word wasted.
    When the Bulldogs began their declining years after ‘some good effort’ years, I always consoled myself by saying a lot of the key players were loyal because they were local. Rohan Smith and Brad Johnson were the best two examples. I thought Cal Ward would add to that list, but suddenly he was off to the GWS and it was a big wake-up call to us long-time supporters.
    I see the Bulldogs are looking at young striplings again before the mature-bodied players. I may be an ignorant supporter, but I wonder if someone like Quentin Lynch might have been handy to help out the the young striplings already at the Club?
    I guess we’ll all be watching the new free-agency comings and goings for a number of reasons. A bit of a worry when Paul Roos declared it a disaster rule for the bottom clubs. God help us!

  6. Dear Matt, since hearing the news 24 hours ago, I have been all over the shop. Thank you for the back ground you provided, I wasn’t watching 10 years ago and appreciate the history. I have a painting of Goddard, along with 5 other stalwarts that I now have to work out how to change (for exhibition hopefully next year). The funny thing is that the medium I use may not be friendly to me painting over it with the red slash, so it may have an interesting the meaningful reaction of the Saints background not being able to be completely covered. I think we all knew he was going, I wrote at the Best and Fairest that if he was staying, he would have said it there amongst the faithful, so I am not surprised. Just sad. And I have watched Matt Macguire go and Luke Ball and Zac Dawson (which I didn’t mind) and it is the nature of things, so I’m cheering myself up with the following positives:

    1. A dream of the pick we get and the future player to watch become a Saint
    2. Our other players having the take up that mantle and become bigger than they are currently to take up the space that Goddard leaves
    3. The spare money we now have to buy someone or a few someones, who wants to be there and I think Scott Watters and the group have people in mind. I think that’s why they didn’t fight so hard. I think there’s a plan (or I hope there’s a plan).
    4. I will watch with interest how he will go at essendon and whether he’ll be happier now and not such a grumpy bum
    5. As supporters it is all our of our hands and our job is to love the colours and whoever plays in them. Perhaps Wilkes improvement when faith is shown in him makes him that bigger man to help steady the ship.
    6. we have some great young players that will distract me and delight me, Saad, Milera, Siposs, Steven just to name a few.
    7. Eighteen teams now fight for that one cup, so we are in good company as we all try and assail that mountain, and perhaps as supporters we have to learn to enjoy the journey because the pickings of Grand finals are ever so slim. Just ask Hawks supporters.
    8. What doesn’t kill us just makes us stronger. There may be silver lining to all this in the future. I kinda get the whole thing of not attaching too much to superstars and going for the equalisation (within reason) of the team.
    9. Having had three kids of my own, I now feel like I’m a little pregnant again waiting to see what is born over the next few months. It’s kind of exciting too.

    Be well and Go Saints


  7. David Downer says

    Eloquently put, Matt. A number of varying emotions to reconcile here for us Sainters, you’ve succinctly depicted as such.

    The stings will come when he fronts that first Essendon press conference in polo shirt sans-white. His destination certainly adds further steam to the kettle.

    For me, the Bombers feel like a club who, forgive me, continually bend the Saints over. Even the compensation for this deal comes from the AFL, not Essendon themselves.

    At least the boys will certainly know how to press BJ’s buttons when first they meet – which might be off-field at N.Riewoldt’s wedding. The Best Man’s speech for the ex-skip might have become a touch more complicated!

  8. Yvette,

    That red sash (with silver dollar signs) over the nice silver Bombers background could well nail the situation for your exibition.

    It would make a very clear statement about one club being able to pay the contemporary Goddard “toll”.

  9. Simon Willcox says

    Beautifully written and Insightful

  10. Matt, you’ve captured the roiling emotions of free agency perfectly. Though we’ve got much more experience with this here in the States, one can’t help but feel disappointment and anger and resignation and helplessness, sometimes all at once. But in this case I guess I’m a rationalist — the Saints have many promising youngsters, more room under the salary cap and more options for the future. And BJ seemed a tortured soul the past couple of seasons. My desktop wallpaper will still be his iconic mark in the drawn Grand Final, and I wish him well with Essendon (though not when they play the Saints). And I’m willing to bet the Saints will grow and prosper without him.

  11. Trevor Blainey says


    I’m a Bomber and strangely not as happy as might be imagined. He has been a very good player and might yet be but I’ve got a strong disinclination to raid other clubs playing wealth. if we can do it it can be done to us and I/we won’t like it. our marquee young player is Michael Hurley and at 22 after 3 years service he’s just been signed to a 5 year contract. when that concludes he’ll be 27 and a restricted free agent. available and all things being equal (the progress you might imagine, form, fitness etc) ripe for the picking. at the very least other clubs would be mad not to want to throw a grenade into the Bomber trenches. so let’s see who laughs last i guess.

    club loyalty is a curious beast. i reckon clubs play that card when they might lose someone and conveniently forget it if they want to cut or attract someone. its used as a pressure point on players and a rallying cry for disgruntled supporters. i favor these traditions but remain curious about when clubs seek to pull that rein.

    and finally anecdotally the effect on young fans. my now 22YO worshipped Gavin Wanganeen. had Number 4 on the jumper, didn’t barrack for Essendon he barracked for Wanga. when he left (when Alex was about 7) he had his mother remove the number. he still follows the Bombers but nowhere near as passionately. its not a reason for a player to stay put but having seen the effect at close hand its at least interesting to observe.

    if someone has a crack at Hurley or Heppell or Ryder anytime soon I know how I’ll feel.

    regards, Trevor

  12. Trevor Blainey says

    and also if free agency is the more general topic my fear is that what has happened in the States in for instance the NBA will happen here. and that is that the bigger clubs raid the riches of the smaller city franchises and leave those teams floundering.

    if any of the readers here know that sport consider Cleveland after Le Bron left, Minnesota after Garnett left, Orlando after Shaq left, Detroit after the Wallaces left. its a long list. in our game Carlton, Collingwood and yes Essendon will circle Footscray, North and St Kilda greedily every year.

    it wont pay to be in the bottom 10 teams (it never has really) when one of your guns is coming out of contract.

  13. Trevor, I can see where you’re going but the AFL free agency won’t get to the NBA scenario, primarily because of the salary cap, and secondly because being a top of the table club means the playing list is deep therefore requiring those clubs to spread their salary cap money around more equitably.

    If anything, I can forsee the bottom teams being the greatest beneficiaries because 1) the successful clubs will increasingly struggle to hold on to underpaid players (because leaving a club will have less stigma), and ; 2) the bottom clubs will be the ones in a position where recruiting high-dollar free agents causes the least impact on their existing playing lists.

    And when it comes to player payments, wealthy clubs have no advantage over poor clubs as all clubs are pretty much spending the same on players (+/-5%). This is instituted by the AFL and I cannot see them changing it.

    Wealthy clubs will have an advantage however if players are attracted to the environment and facilities rather than to a bigger pay packet.

  14. Matt Zurbo says

    mAtt, really grouse piece! Thank you.

    There have always been players chasing the dollar (Barrassi, etc, all) and will always be loyalists, who stay. (Half of Footscray, most of North, Lenny) Personally, I think it might be a good move for both clubs, like Shwass to the Swans. I hope I’m right. Love the way her plays.
    Peter was right, we barrack for colours.

    Thanks again, a truely great piece, I reckon!

  15. Mark Doyle says

    Football supporters should understand that AFL players are only responsible for loyalty to a club for the term of a contract; they are no different to any employee in any industry. Loyalty to any employer is not emotional as is loyalty to family and close intimate friends. AFL players have less freedom than most other employees about where and with whom they play. Supporters should also ignore most of the illinformed media speculation about what AFL players earn and the reasons for moving to a new club. Reasons such as homesickness are a nonsense; these AFL players are adults who are independent from their families. I believe that the main reason that 99.99% of AFL players who voluntarily move to another club is more money; any other reason is peripheral. Money is the driving force in our society where most people have a philosophy of life which is secular materialism. I personally do not adhere to this philosophy.

  16. Can’t agree that home sickness is a nonsense Mark.

    I have studied societies that have a great afinity with their home surroundings and sometimes fail to cope with loss of contact with the physical surroundings and social aspects.

    There are various levels of the sickness and varied times of for recovery. We are becoming a little more sophisticated in our understanding of the reality of illness.

    Extreme home sickness is another form of depression and it would be a strange animal that would these days describe depression as a nonsense.

    I also have had to deal with dislocation from a place I love. It can make a person physically sick and is akin to mourning at times.

    I recommend you have a listen to the Dubliner’s ‘Spancil Hill’.

    Cheers, Phantom.

    (safely at home in the cave)

  17. Phanto, spot on. Indigeneous players are a great example of it – home sickness is a very real thing for them.

  18. Mark Doyle says

    Phantom, I think I heard either Luka Bloom or Christy Moore sing the song ‘Spancil Hill’ a few years ago. There are lots of similar folk songs from all parts of the world. Are you looking forward to Arlo Guthrie in Australia next year?
    I think that you are exaggerating the meaning of homesickness and it is drawing a ‘long bow’ to equate it with depression. I think it nothing more than adjusting to a new and unfamiliar environment and most people get over it when they become familiar with the new environment and meet a few people. I also think that we have a romantic memory of the home place that we grew up as a kid because of many good experiences such as Christmas, birthday celebrations, family celebrations etc. as well as lots of fun times at school and sports clubs – we often refer to this place as ‘home’. I also do not think that indigenous players suffer from homesickness any more that non-indigenous players who relocate from a rural or regional area or interstate. I have known a few indigenous blokes who have relocated from the northern part of Australia to places such as Adelaide and Melbourne and the cooler climatic conditions are difficult for them to adjust to. I have also heard non-indigenous people have a similar whinge about cooler conditions.

  19. You’re talking top shelf with the Moore brothers Mark, even though Christie does not touch it any more. ‘Good night to the port and brandy, t’d vodka and d’ stagg…….

    Have seen them both, seperately, in Hobart.

    The thought of them singing Spancil Hill excites me.

    I saw Arlo Guthrie in St Kilda a few years ago. Good old fashioned radical and a memorable night.

    Horses for courses with the home sickness. I suffer from depression and one of the initial, but not all, triggers was moving and being disenfranchised from land that had impregnated my soul.

    (Whoops, it looks like I just came out as a confirmed nutter on the Almanac Blog. Who would have guessed that.)

    I suppose I can’t really speak for others but when the ‘black dog’ has it’s teeth into your leg and you go through the whole Psych business you certainly learn about it.

    Cheers. Thanks for the Spancil Hill tip. I will see if I can get a clip of either singing it. Are they talking to each other?

  20. Looks like the Cats are in the box seat for Caddy. Has anyone seen him play? Does he look the goods?

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