Phil Walsh: for the good of the game

Friday morning I got up to the usual routine. The watch alarm roused somewhere in the 6s while the rest of the house slumbered. Turn the radio on, start the coffee brewing and get to making breakfasts. The news reported a father had been murdered by his son in Somerton Park. Sad, but not unusual – more than one person a week has died as a result of family violence this year.

The country is slowly coming to terms with family violence in as far as conceding it is a real and vital issue that we need to do something about. It has entered popular consciousness – as I regularly thud away on a treadmill in the gym I am taken with the number of contemporary film clips that feature domestic violence imagery. This wasn’t previously the case. Like most social issues where no-one is making a buck, the politicians will need to be dragged to the table – action and change will be slow. But momentum is building.

As the family emerged from the rooms and collected their breakfasts, the tenor and the tone on the radio had changed. The host had his serious/solemn voice on and was talking about Phil Walsh. It took me a moment to make the dreadful connection, but it was there nonetheless. This is where the words leave the page. It was just so difficult and so easy to believe at the same time. The dissonance jarred in the same way it did when crying for a man you have never met and did not know beyond his press conferenced words.

I did not know Phil Walsh but I liked the cut of his jib. Coming to a club that had so notably slid in and out of mediocrity, he spoke about standards, hard work and was known as a canny tactician. The slip down the ladder of Port Adelaide this year further confirming that belief. He was known for being consumed by his job, his desire to be a senior coach grew from being hit by a bus in Peru a couple of years back – make every day count, no regrets. The club had to speak to him about working too hard, just the sort of thing a fan loves to hear.

He was also a firm believer in doing things for the good of the game. Earlier in the season he articulately and persuasively argued that the number of interchanges allowed in a game should be dramatically reduced. The ability to constantly rotate players has created a congested and unattractive product. Keeping the players out there longer, he argued, would slow them down but open up the game. It would become a more thrilling spectacle as a result. Odd to hear a coach talk about the game as a whole rather than his 18th share, but it was about the good of the game.

Famously, in Round 9 against Fremantle he chose not to put a tag on Nat Fyfe. Instead he ran Patrick Dangerfield against him, head to head – may the best man win! What followed was an exhilarating contest between two teams and two extraordinary players. The best possible advertisement for the game, except we lost. When asked about it in the post-match presser, Walsh made no apologies for his brave, and ultimately wise, call. It was for the good of the game.

A couple of weeks back he got admiration and ridicule in equal measure when he spoke of the concept of a masterpiece from frustration, having seen the work of Van Gogh on a visit to Amsterdam. The Crows were to be our masterpiece built off weeks of frustration after such a bright start. He was simply asking us Crows fans for patience, understanding and time. The frustration in the short term might make us hurl projectiles at the TV but in the long term it would be for the good of the Crows’ game. If only the time was now ours to grant.

I didn’t know Phil. I didn’t know his family. What happened and why is absolutely none of my business. However, the facts as we think we know them provide an opportunity to consider our relationships with our sons, for those of us fortunate enough to have them.

When the lad got up this morning he was in his Crows onesie, ready for ‘wear your pyjamas to school’ day. I had to tell him what had happened in a safe place. The schoolyard might not be so forgiving. He understood what I told him but still sees footballers and coaches as an abstract concept. His immediate concern was the need for a new coach.

We provide a loving environment for the lad. He is sufficiently bright that he is likely to be able to, at the very least, get by in life. He is sufficiently privileged and supported that his path in life should be up to him to decide, when he is ready.

He, at times, has a keen sense of shame – something I fear he has inherited from me. Getting him to do things he doesn’t feel he is good at can be nigh on impossible. I still remember the time he cried all the way home from school because his Japanese teacher suggested his work was not neat enough. And I remember having shamed him myself, more than once. Most recently when he, again, flattened the car battery by leaving his door open.

Following today’s events my determined intent is to fight the red mist when it descends and try to never shame him again. Resilience must be a key tool in his chest and nothing sabotages resilience like shame. Sure it might make short term discipline harder but it’s for the good of his game.

Phil Walsh will be missed by multitudes in the football community. He was there for so many across his careers. The tweets and instagrams we have seen from current and retired footballers are a testament to a man who made a difference in so many lives. After all, football is not really about winning on Saturday. If it is done right, Phil’s way, it is about growing young men (and women) – nurturing their integrity, courage and character and filling them with love. Success is the mere by product.

When it came to footy Phil saw much further than most of us. Now we can only hope that whatever happens next will reflect the way he operated – for the good of the game.

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. Anna Brown says

    Beautiful piece Dave, and your comments on shame are so perceptive. If anyone wants to know more about the topic of shame and how to manage it positively, books by Brene Brown are a fantastic resource. Our children did not choose to be with us, they are at the mercy of our behaviour until they grow up, and sometimes beyond, are trapped by it. It is our duty to make sure we are their mentors and guardians and not their prison wardens.

  2. Grand tribute with many thoughtful insights. Thanks Dave.
    There are 3 separate narratives being intertwined in our understandably muddled discourse at the moment – domestic violence; mental illness; and mind-altering illegal drugs. All are significant social issues, but their origins and responses (I would never say “solutions”) are distinct and different.
    Whichever proves to be the case in the Walsh family tragedy, we need to keep in mind that it is one thread in a diverse narrative.
    Your comments about shame, resilience and parenting are well made. But the more I reflect on my own life – its privileges and shortcomings, and the more clients I meet – each with different bendings of life’s bough, the more I think that each of us is a lock with a unique key that we are destined to spend our life searching for.
    There are general principles but each of us is unique and distinct enough to have to search for our own combination. The Walsh tragedy made me think that this is the central mystery of human existence.
    No-one could have done more in life than Phil Walsh, but no matter how much we do there are always opportunity costs in the things left undone.
    We are all fallible human beings not just the sum of our human doings.
    Thanks Dave.

  3. Thanks Dave. Many probing and brave insights. Lots to consider.

  4. Great piece Dave and more great comments from PB who always seems to find the words and thoughts on such issues. So many things to get right and wrong parenting.

  5. I concur with Peter re the combination of the role of AOD, mental health and family violence, three major issues us health workers encounter in our working lives. Such a sad story, but there is so much more we don’t know about the circumstances of this tragedy. There’s so much I can say about my experiences dealing with these issues as part of my work, but importantly where do we go from here? Sure we can learn lessons, but what/how do we implement?

    One thing I can say is that the trail of the alleged perpetrator is that we will hear things which we will find confronting and possibly upsetting. It is important to address the factors which contributed to this dreadful event, and hopefully the facts and evidence presented at the trail further explain this dreadful tragedy.


  6. Dave Brown says

    Thanks for the comments, all. They are so nuanced and well educated I couldn’t possibly make informed comment. Thanks again. It was great to go to the footy today, just to be there. Even if the result was other than desired.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Well said and excellent sentiments Dave and commenters.

  8. Skip of Skipton says

    “Like most social issues where no one is making a buck, the politicians will need to be dragged to the table’

    What the fuck are you talking about here?

    Do you see BIG GOVERNMENT as some kind of salve to every problem?

    Get off my cloud.

  9. Dave Brown says

    No I don’t, Skip. But if you think government of any size has no role in dealing with the incredibly complex issues of family violence, mental health and substance abuse I’ll happily exist on a separate cloud from you until the end of my days.

  10. Skip of Skipton says

    Substance abuse, and it’s availability; yes. Mental health and family violence are vague and random things that Community and Family are meant to deal with, hopefully. Without intruding frightfully into everybody’s lives how would Big Brother save the life of Phil Walsh?

  11. Dave Brown says

    I’d suggest you and I know a lot less about this than other commenters on this thread, Skip. But I would also suggest mental health and family violence are neither vague nor random. They are complex – that is different. Government clearly has a role in funding the provision of services (as if there is a market for it otherwise) as well as communicating with society on what is important. I know nothing about the Walsh situation, very few do. My point was about family violence more broadly.

    Do I know that other than frightful intrusion would Walsh’s life have been saved? No, and neither do you. Do I think that reasonable interventions in which government plays a key role can mean that we can have fewer than one person a week dying as a result of family violence? Absolutely. At the very least we should give it a crack.

    Like I say I don’t think either of us are experts but government has the ability to bring experts to the table and put items on the national agenda in a way that would not otherwise happen. If that offends your libertarian sensibilities, so be it. But surely we can have the discussion without the insults.

  12. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Dave if there is 1 good thing to come out of this tragedy it is for government and society have far more of a crack re help for domestic abuse and drug problems in society.Dave is totally correct in that if this had not been such a high profile person we all would have heard the news friday morning thought that’s shocking and carried on that is was,Phil Walsh has hit us all for a six( like Phil Hughes) .We all have a responsibility to make something good come out of this mess.Poignant and well thought,Dave I am very much in your camp re comments thank you

  13. Mark Duffett says

    Indeed it was good just to get to the footy yesterday. Don’t know what you’re talking about re the result though ;)

    Beautiful, insightful piece; nicely put, thanks Dave.

  14. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    One of your main points here Dave is the importance of doing what you can to better the lives of those that are near and dear to you. Always.

    Nowhere did I see you saying that this is the role of government on its own. I guess that some people will go looking for offence, even where none is there.

  15. To me, Skip’s language and inference was over the top, but there is a bigger truth in what I think was his underlying message.
    Rehabs, counselling, etc funded with some government support can provide SOME help in terms of a constructive, supportive framework for people trying to quit an addiction. But people come to rehab with lots of preceding life shit (what is called ‘recovery capital’ in the literature) and ice (if it is ice in the Walsh tragedy) gets you in 2 years where booze or gambling takes you in 20 or 30.
    The best rehab in Perth is run by a committed Christian (and I’m not) Dr George ONeil with largely private funding and an amazing army of volunteers (most of whom have had their own lives touched by addiction one way or another). They go the extra mile where a government program ends up constrained by risk management and protocols.’
    Still, even the best rehabs have maybe a 25% long term recovery rate.
    A quote I love by one of the founders of family dynamic therapy and himself a recovering (never ‘recovered’) alcoholic John Bradshaw is:
    “Talking about your addiction is complex but its easy. Doing something about your addiction is simple but its hard.”

  16. Recent statistics show males are the victims in 40% of domestic homicides. Here we have a high profile victim added to that sad tally, so what do learn, more importantly what do we do ?

    It feels good to hang out our scarves, hug and hold hands but once we get beyond the shock and trauma to realise the world moves on, what actions will take place? We often put footballers on the pedestal as role models, often for the wrong reasons, but football clubs per se are a pivotal part of our world. What role can these clubs play in tackling this scourge? How can footballers/sportspersons play a role here. I’m aware of clubs and sporting figure being involved in the White Ribbon campaigns about family violence. A tragedy like this may see them take an even higher profile .

    Vale Phil Walsh.


  17. Great read, I couldn’t believe the news was very sad for the whole day.
    Phil will be missed by the whole entire football community

  18. Jill Tathra says

    I too got up to hear a father had been killed by his son and then got ready to join the girls for our walkies, Fridays and Tuesdays. I arrived to hear them saying wasn`t it awful about Phil Walsh. First I thought they meant someone in our country town and said I didn`t know the name then they continued about him in sport and I thought the cyclist, Charlie Walsh. It was such a shock when I was told who.

    My thoughts and prayers go to his wife and daughter. His wife is in a terrible possition and I do hope she has a lot of support around her. The daughter is in a bad possition too but the wife carried this boy for 9 months, gave birth to him and, as all parents, did her best to raise him.

    Thank you to all the football clubs, and all codes of football, for your wonderful honour plus all other sporting folks and teams. It has brought us all together.

    Please if you know someone who is suffering try and get them to call for help.

  19. Nice Dave, real nice. Well written. You sound like a pretty good dad to me as well. You can’t plan everything for your kids, only do your best, but I think your little crow is in good hands.

    Watching the event unfold at the end of Friday’s game, I found myself immensely proud of footy in general.

    Fascinting weekend, tragic events.

    Great piece


  20. I have no words Mate, that is beautiful

    we will fly again, one day soon

  21. Steve wood says

    Thanks Dave, one if the best articles I’ve read in a long , long time.

  22. Dave Brown says

    Thanks for the kind and thoughtful comments, all.

  23. Lovely Lisa says

    Excellent article about a man taken too soon.
    Domestic violence is a blight on our society.

  24. Barry Corfe says

    Since Phil death which is sad,I am wondering is Beyond Blue in Adeliade,this organization was started by Jeff Kennent&source for men who need to deal with depression,drugs,talking to someone with other issues,I read all the comments which have points,it’s time now influence people to donate&start service to help men,it doesn’t bring Phil back but hopefully stop it happening to someone else

  25. Just back from the race sin Corowa. Reading the local paper)s) , talking to friends I found out the Wahgunyah football and netball teams this weekend are going to raise awareness of the scourge of family violence. Well done.

    Then the following weekend, July18-19, the Ovens and Murray, the strongest regional footy league in the nation are dedicating the round to the White Ribbon campaign against family violence. Great effort.


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