Grass roots and green shoots: in praise of Martin Flanagan

This piece from Scott Reid started life as a comment in response to Martin Flanagan’s piece from yesterday ‘In Defence of Grass Roots Footy’ which you can read HERE.



Martin Flanagan is a national treasure and every bit as important to football as Gil McLachlan or Gary Ablett.  He says ignore grass roots footy at your peril.  I say fail to listen to Martin Flanagan at our peril.  He speaks and writes with a depth of feeling about our game that is unparalleled.


My grandfather Reuben “Chum” Reid played with Ivor Warne-Smith at Latrobe in the early 1920s, and in 1923 Richmond brought Pop over to Melbourne where he played with the Tigers for a few years until his knee gave out.  The story goes that, after he arrived at the Tigers, a Committee man said “You go alright young fella, are there any more where you came from?” Pop replied “Mate, don’t worry about me, you left the best player I’ve seen back over there.  His name is Ivor Warne-Smith.”


Again so the story goes, the Tigers had Pop contact his Latrobe captain to bring him over and somehow when Warne-Smith arrived in Melbourne he went to the MCG instead of Punt Road and ended up a Demon instead of a Tiger.


As for Martin’s concerns about grassroots footy those are real.  I think part of the problem is that our game is a very, very hard game.  It asks its players to be incredibly athletic, but also brave and to play without fear or regard for risk.  Yet we live in a society now that is incredibly comfortable, safe and risk-averse.  I’m not sure but maybe footy is just a bit too hard and tough to be at the centre of modern Australian culture?


But there are signs of greenshoots popping up here and there.  Here are a couple that are very personal to me.  I have been directly involved in footy in the Pacific for close to 24 years now.  I have been directly involved in footy in Papua New Guinea now for almost 20 years.  Without going into detail when I arrived in PNG there was no organised junior Aussie Rules program. This year with strong sustained AFL support over 15 years or more we have more than 70,000 kids playing AFL across that amazing nation and Hewago “Ace” Oea was recently signed on an International Scholarship at 17 after debuting last year in the Queenslabd U16 state side with 3 goals and 10 tackles against Tasmania.  He plays our game with grace and a purity that is typical of the indigenous boys, but also with a ferocity of a Pacific warrior.  Ace is on his way.  That is one strong green shoot.


Ace Oea


Another personal greenshoot is that my daughter Dasheille plays footy, great footy for the Richmond Junior Footy  Club along with her brother, named after my Pop, Rueben Reid.  Both go okay and along with their elder brother all have played in the Queensland State  Championships for the PNG Binatangs, proudly wearing their PNG national colours of Red Black and Gold.


And so while Martin has justified concerns for grassroots footy, which are real, I also think that the greenshoots for our beloved game are still strong and the game will evolve but it will survive because it is so great.  And for me personally the neat circle that connects  me and my Pop, Ace and my kids is actually an oval shape like our ball and our grounds.  Footy is in me, it was in my Pop, it’s in my kids and it’s in Ace.  I’ts in a lot of us, but maybe we just need to do more to recognise and express and foster the oval that sits within.  So keep playing, help your local club, watch for greenshoots in the grassroots.  They are out there.

Scott Reid

Self Appointed Footy Missionary


Check out this story from the ABC on Ace Oea HERE

And this story from Bruce Matthews published at  HERE

For more information on Reuben Reid see Rhett Bartlett’s website, Tigerland Archive, HERE.

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