One Phrase At A Time

Football players and coaches are being coached on and off the field to within an inch of their lives. Their language used to be colourful, but the only colour in football these days is in the jumpers. Media training off the field is killing spontaneity and the thrill of seeing a footballer mangle players on the field and the English language off it. I googled “media training tips” and immediately found a Microsoft business site that had six tips for taking control in media interviews that may well be the AFL players and coaches handbook:

Tip 1 Never wing it

Tip 2 Set goals for every appearance

Tip 3 Nothing is 100% off the record.

Tip 4 Watch your body language

Tip 5 Stay on track with your message

Tip 6 Learn how to “bridge.”

Bridging is the technique of deflecting any attempts to derail your message by using phrases like “Before we get off that topic, let me just add…”, “Let me put that in perspective.” and “It’s important to remember that…”. It’s all a bridge too far for me after terrifying tip number one.

One of the key moments in the blanding of football language was the appointment of Grant Thomas, a former state manager with MLC, to coach St Kilda. Thomas’ business speak must have been confounding to a bunch of kids whose main attribute is they know which way an oval pill will spill. Thomas used phrases like “performance indicators”, “meeting targets” and “core values. How many players listening to a coach talking about performance indicators would think he meant the numbers on their backs? The AFL then ran with Thomas’ ball, because footy’s big business these days and business speak is their language.

The statistical craze has given a whole new arsenal of phrases about “the forward press”, “rebound football” and “inside fifties”, which at least are terms that attempt to define passages of play in a game. The media speak doesn’t attempt to clarify anything; it is designed to hide the truth, but it’s also hiding personalities. My most hated phrase in football media speak at the moment is “going forward.” Teams are “going forward”, the AFL is “going forward”, and players are “going forward”. Sometimes you just have to back into the pack and say what you really reckon. I just want to hear Chris Judd flip off a “I thought I carried the team out there today” or Gary Ablett reckon he didn’t play well because he’d got on the piss the night before.

Footballers are brave on the field, but most are terrified when a microphone is stuck in front of their face and who could blame them with the intense media scrutiny they cop? They’re afraid of the ridicule if they say something wrong or stupid, but they should remember it’s why we love Doug Hawkins or Jack Dyer so much. These days only Jack Reiwoldt mercifully appears to be skipping his media training sessions. I just hope we’re on the same page here going forward.


  1. lscacciante says

    Luckily there are still some players that give good talk in the right setting – Cam Mooney and Dan jackson are two that spring to mind and I found Roughead quite refreshing on One Week at a Time.

  2. Spot on Matt. Consider the post-match interview with a player. You can almost guarantee you’ll here the phrases “they’re a quality side” and “we always knew they’d come hard at us”, along with “it was just a matter of getting our structures right”.

    I’m particularly taken by the “they’re a quality side/outfit” phrase. The word “quality” actually means nothing on its own in that context. Are they a good quality side or a bad quality side?

    Leon Davis was a nice exception when he joked around with Nathan Krakouer last Sunday.

  3. Peter Flynn says

    Cheers Matt,

    “Structures” is the one that does me in.

    Listening to a contemporary footballer being interviewed is largely a waste of time.

  4. John Butler says


    The media is often its own worst enemy.

    If anyone does actually say something, it often gets distorted, exaggerated, or taken out of context.

    If you were a player, why would you give them anything?

  5. Peter Flynn says

    This was Bobby’s media advice to Ian Cover.

    “Do no preparation, say the first thing that comes into your head, tell the same stories over and over and laugh at your own jokes.”


  6. The reason why footballers are scared witless of the media is because many journalists these days don’t report the news, they make the news. A footballer doesn’t want to be a news topic on a slow news day.

    Blame “going forward” on our illustrious Prime Minister whose command of the inane comment is masterful.

  7. Agree entirely with the sentiment.

    I’d also like to suggest that poor interviews are a key factor. The classic example is when Channel 7 interview a player who’s just come off the field. The “question” asked, is “Your really took it up to the opposition tonight didn’t you?” It’s not actually a question. In fact, many interviews go by without asking an actual question. “Gee Cotchin played well tonight didn’t he.” “The young blokes are really stepping up aren’t they.” What’s a player supposed to say? This is compounded by employing ex-footballers in the role of interviewer.

    If someone asked an actual question (do you think Wells plays his best off half-back?), things might be slightly less beige, maybe even off-white.

  8. Careful, Dips. It’s long been an aspiration of mine to attain masterful command of the inane.

  9. David Downer says

    Agree with all and sundry. Opened up a can here Matt!
    Dull mono-corporate speak aside, the one that gets me is the coach’s after-match where the vanquished will say: “we’re not taking anything away from the opposition, but….”. The coach will then rattle off a number of excuses as to why they were undermanned/underprepared and lost the game. After the bleating, they will say something about “not making excuses”, and then trail it off with “…and all credit to the opposition”.
    A package of “credit where credit’s due” quotes was highlighted on one of the footy shows last week. It was a lengthy segment.

  10. Peter Flynn says


    I’ll play the role of Lou Richards and you be Bob Davis.

    Name names Bobby.

  11. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Every fucking team Collingwood plays is a “very good football team” according to Mick. Well that’s a just a fallacy. Can sympathize Matt. This has been a bane for me for a while and it ain’t getting any better!

  12. Jeez you guys are harsh. I remember when you used to get upset at comparing football to war. Now we can’t incorporate business-speak into footy, (hard working pun intended).

    Soon, the only thing we will have left is to treat it like it is a game…

  13. PF – all of the microphone carrying, smug set from Channels Ten, Seven and Nine. I don’t know their names (don’t want to either, couldn’t care), but the male reporters have product filled hair, a smart arse smirk, expensive suits and no command of the English language. The female reporters have product filled hair, a smart arse smirk, expensive suits, no command of the English language and a word emphasis disorder (where words are annoyingly, pretentiously and needlessly emphasized in a sentence.)

    Few names I can think of – Dwayne Russell, Brian Taylor, Eddie Maguire (when he did the foot slogging), Steve Quartermaine,

  14. Peter Flynn says



    If I was Sandy Roberts, I’d now ask for your votes.

  15. Matt Quartermaine says

    Hilarious Dips. I’d just like to point out Steve’s name is spelt Quartemain – no “e” and no relation to me. We don’t have sports Nazis in my family.

  16. John Butler says

    Gus, are we our own worst enemies? :)

  17. Rick Kane says

    Matt, do you remember the scene in Bull Durnham where Costner’s character gives Tim Robbin’s character advice on how to answer media questions (ie: I couldn’t have done it without the team).

    Also, I recall Nick Farr Jones answering questions after a game (back in 1992 in South Africa I think) where his analysis of the team’s strenghts and short comings was more astute that the comentators. He was literally puffing as he answered.


  18. John Butler says


    All I can remember of Bull Durham is Susan Sarandon. :)

  19. Rick Kane says

    You mean this Susan Sarandon –

    Annie Savoy: Listen, sweetheart, you shouldn’t listen to what a woman says when she’s in the throes of passion. They say the darndest things.
    Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Yeah, you said “Crash”!
    Annie Savoy: Honey, would you rather I were making love to him using your name, or making love to you using his name?

    or this Sarandon:
    Annie Savoy: The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self awareness.

  20. Alovesupreme says

    You’ve obviously struck a nerve, and I would concur with the majority view, if I ever listened. A hearing disability protects me from most commentary – before during and after matches. It can be a blessing.

    I also agree with the few dissenters, that the players (and coaches) can scarcely be blamed, since there’s little doubt that any-one breaking ranks will be put in the stocks. Bland is protection.

    Your allusion to a hypothetical Chris Judd asserting his dominance and crucial role reminds me of a story I heard (which I have to acknowledge may be some-body’s invention). Allegedly, during the first encounter with the Weagles after his defection, some senior WC players were giving his shoulder some (barely within the rules) attention. They followed up their vigor with verbal, “how’s the shoulder, Juddy?”
    CJ is said to have replied, “not bad, considering I carried you lot for the last few years.” It wasn’t to a report, and as I’ve acknowledged it’s possibly apochrypal, but it might be as good as we’re likely to get, without an unguarded moment in front of a microphone, for any player not named Fevola.

  21. Matt Quartermaine says

    Wasn’t Fev behind the mic when he got into trouble? If only that happened to all media people.

  22. Matt Quartermaine says

    BTW I was going to see Tim Robbins in Brunswick until Ricky told me he’s separated from Susan Sarandon and there was no way I would be able to sidle up to her at the bar.

  23. Yeah. No. Quality article Matt.

  24. One I hate – we have some quality young kids “coming through”.

    Coming through where?

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