Retirement of Adam Goodes: lifters, leaners, blue stranger

Every now and then a person who necessarily arrives as a peripheral figure in your life, becomes something more substantial.

“All lovers were strangers once; just like us…” – Paul Kelly , Blue Stranger.

And sometimes, in this Age of Communication, an important kind of reverence may develop for a person whom you’ve never met. Such things occur all the time. People around Australia profess their undying love for Beyoncé, for instance, despite failing to meet her in Beith Street, Brunswick eleven months ago.

Sometimes, adoration for another, distant figure, is built upon respect. Our sports heroes usually fit this category. We respect their abilities (to do things we were proven unable to do), we respect their dedication, perhaps stamina, courage. It’s fine. It’s healthy.

But sometimes, a figure appears in life whose presence in the lounge room, front bar, work place (via newspaper/ TV/ internet) causes more than the usual head-nodding murmur. A figure, who by virtue of their own deliberate actions and choices over a sustained period of time, demands careful consideration. A person who, simply by their very appearance, invokes waves of critical self-reflection and thought.

Adam Goodes is such a person.

There aren’t many of them.

And now that A. Goodes has retired from top level football, I suspect a few of us have got to thinking.

I was camping out off the shoulder of the Birdsville Track when he won his first Brownlow Medal. And watching from the couch in Fannie Bay when he won a Premiership Medal. In a game of awards, he collected more than most.

And throughout the many years, he recognised his own good fortune, and chose to help those less fortunate than himself. Yes, he worked extremely hard for his success. But he was a fellow who understood the hollowness of the claims of meritocracy. Western civilisations since the French Revolution have trumpeted meritocratic ideals. We’ve largely done away with Feudalism. An element of justice has entered into he distribution of rewards. And yet, none of us amount to much without the shifty shadow of Luck lying favourably.

We are regularly sold the false mantra of meritocracy: you get out what you put in. Successful people are held up and celebrated for their “hard work” (lifters). The flip-side of this of course, is that low-achievers must be somehow lazy or less deserving (leaners). It’s poppycock, as anyone with half an idea about entrenched disadvantage would attest. Are the life trajectories of prep kids at Dallas Primary School the same, or different, to those at Brighton Primary School. Why/ why not? And that is not to mention the schools of Wadeye or the East Arnhem escarpment.

Adam Goodes pointed this out. The temerity.

He encouraged us to watch the John Pilger movie Utopia;  he reminded us, the comfortable and relatively well-off, of the historic and daily struggle of his people. I consider that to be commendable action. And while I have yet to watch Utopia, I have chosen to inform myself of issues pertaining to indigenous Australians. Adam Goodes’ behaviour has been a catalyst in my ongoing education, and for that I thank him greatly.

Many people have chosen not to engage with Adam Goodes’ behaviour in a reflective way at all. Rather than asking “How can I learn from this Adam Goodes fellow?” it seems great swathes of the population have done away with the idea of critical evaluation and self-reflection or indeed, of simple acceptance. Instead, many are asking “What sort of a clown is this bloke? He’s got tickets on himself” and behaving accordingly (in a mob sense).

Such behaviour points to a feeling of threat, which perhaps stems from an unshakable belief in the idea of meritocracy. Right wing shock jock-types love a meritocracy. These people, and you can use your imagination here, are so threatened when their altar of merit is revealed to be a termite-infested ruse, that they attack (personally) the revealer; in this case, Adam Goodes.

Such behaviour also points, sadly, to some boorish, mob, Lord Of The Flies, base instincts that we probably all have, but which many of us actively suppress for the greater good. It’s called manners. Or even, education. For this behaviour also points, even more sadly, to a lack of education.

It’s understandable for people to be writing “the clowns who are booing are all stupid fools,” for instance. But we should remember that everyone is acting rationally from their own point of view. Perhaps nobody has ever explained the idea of empathy to the these people. Perhaps they have never read a book/watched a documentary/ reflected critically on their own behaviour. Perhaps their Dad yelled this stuff, and has created a world as they know it.

So, as challenging as this behaviour is, rather than despair at the lack of insight on display at Sydney games this year, we could be seeing this as an opportunity for the greater good. The weight of all this is too much for one man to bear, no doubt. I can’t imagine the strain Adam Goodes must have been living with this past while. And that’s a saddening thought.

But we can all of us make a difference. All of us capable of thinking beyond ourselves, at least. And all of us with the interests of others at heart. I hope Adam Goodes finds many allies and is able to notice a growth in support for the issues he has voiced. I hope Australians are able to engage their minds sufficiently to stop, think and wonder about the life Adam Goodes has lived and what has led him to make the choices he has.

His football stands up extremely well. His re-invention during the running game years, the clog-it-up years, the injury years, and everything in between amounts to a serious body of work. What a player.

Without doubt, the sight of Adam Goodes, angular, running with upright stance, bombing another goal for Sydney, is one footy fans would acknowledge throughout Australia. I believe that the philosophy of Adam Goodes, thinker, activist, provocateur, will in future also be acknowledged throughout Australia. I’ll do my bit.

Meritocracy – The School of Life

Blue Stranger – Paul Kelly and the Messengers


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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. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks Dave. A thoughtful and well reasoned piece. I for one will be keen to observe Adam’s life outside footy. I am sure he will shine in many fields of endeavour.

  2. Wonderful piece, Dave. Gave me shivers.

  3. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Oh my. Very good indeed Mountain Ash.
    While you have managed already to compose fragile thoughts, growing on each other like precious crystals, I’m still in the fog of: how will my love for this club swing a while with this particular fulcrum gone?; how will we learn not to look for that presence and what if we don’t want to?; how will we admire someone as much?
    I’m still in the selfish phase …
    What a player. What a man. Time to let the memories come in slowly and catch them where we can. And wish him well on the way and follow alongside, in the ways you suggest.
    Cheer cheer to you and your thoughts.

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Thoughtful as always ER.
    I’m afraid the mob has triumphed…so far. Meritocracy is still primarily defined by white blokes in suits and military uniforms who urge people to find meaning in anachronistic symbols and slogans. I hope Goodsey changes his mind about appearing on GF day and finds the courage and perhaps the guile to face the booers with a Gandhi-like smile.

  5. Bravo ER

    You’ve addressed the issue that’s been seriously overlooked in the commentary about the whole booing furore. The topic generated torrents of words for a couple of weeks, but mostly about Goodes’ on-field actions and the reactions they provoked. When Goodes returned to footy, the commentary (Almanac posts included) ceased as though the “problem” had been solved.

    But what “problem”?

    Goodes has always argued that he took his “provocative” actions out of a sense of pride in his indigenous heritage and a desire to take a strong public stance in the fight against racism and indigenous disadvantage. However, instead of focusing debate on these issues, and, heaven forbid, some actual commitment to do something about them, public reaction degenerated into two trivial side-issues: was the booing of Goodes racist; and, was Goodes being overly-sensitive in his reactions to it? Meanwhile, the elephant in the room – the appalling disparity between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians on just about every socio-economic indicator – was left unacknowledged.

    I suspect that Goodes will be privately disappointed that his efforts to generate serious social debate went off on such a mediocre and uninspiring tangent. Pieces like yours are a timely and welcome reminder that we should not just let it end there.

    It also underlines what a powerful thought-leader the Almanac can be when we get out of the “hot topic” mindset and think critically about “sport” issues and their ramifications beyond the confines of sport.

  6. David you mentioned a really pivotal term early on; critical evaluation. In contemporary Australia critical thinking is not on the radar. if some one has the temerity to think in this manner, and make an informed decision he/she is almabatsda s an elitist. Australia has a long history of anti-intellectualism, with this sort of behaviour in some ways being reflective of a 21st century manifestation of it

    Watching the match on Saturday i felt disgusted watching members of the North Melbourne cheer squad mocking Goodes, pretending to rub their eyes whilst crying. Does any one expect these individuals to have any sort of comprehension of what critical evaluation entails, let alone understand what 200+ years of dispossession and racism have done to indigenous Australians.

    In 50 years when historians and students look back on Adam Goodes contribution he’ll be some one viewed with great respect and pride for his role in both football and the struggle of his people. I can always say i saw this great Aboriginal Australian Rules footballer do his best both for his side and his mob. Good onya Goodsey !!!


  7. Chris Bracher says

    Bloods allegiance aside, I am deeply grateful for the fact that my children saw this man play. I said to them today that despite the ignorant noise that we have all had to tolerate this year, we may just have witnessed the dawn of something truly great in our society.
    We stand with Adam.

  8. G’day all.
    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
    Go well A Goodes.

  9. Here in the red and white the colour knob on the old TV has turned to monochrome tones of grey for a while as we begin to adjust to football without Goodesy. It helps that outside our little playground people following other teams can recognise his greatness; I remember another Swan fan describe sitting in front of a bunch of Carlton fans who were saying, “Gees, I wish he played for us!”

    Then there is the world outside football, including parts we came to know and understand much better through the lives of people like Adam. I’m grateful for that, and have the utmost respect and admiration for what he has done, and am confident we will see more in time to come, whatever form it may take.

    Footballers are often told to raise their eyes and look wider; the rest of us would do well to heed that advice. Thanks ER for your wise words and inclusive vision.

  10. Really enjoyed this piece, ER. Just needed to get over my simmering anger from Saturday night, now replaced with sadness. Living in Canberra in the 00s, we had a lot of Sydney games on the TV (they were effectively treated as the local team). Goodes running with the ball into open space is one of the great sights of this era of football. As you say, go well A Goodes.

  11. Slainte Don, Dave.
    I saw some footage yesterday of A Goodes from the early 00s. It was only 20 seconds or so. Contesting at ruck in the forward line. That leap!
    I’d forgotten.

    Of course, so much more to this story. But still. It was happy viewing.

  12. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful Dave.
    The treatment of Goodes this year has been a sad time for our sport, and our country. We have a long way to go.
    Look forward to seeing what he does next. Have a feeling he will be a very important figure for a long time.

  13. Thanks L Reynolds.
    I also wonder what he will do next.

    And I agree that we (collectively) have a long way to go.
    A less combative environment generally would be handy; more tolerant, accepting, questioning, reasoning.
    Chip away.

  14. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks OBP and at the risk of being shot down if he had performed the dance with Franklin and Jetta and even better with Yarran I would have said fantastic he lost me there,your article is thought provoking as always

  15. Thanks from me too Dave. An old mentor of mine spent most of his life educating about the lenses we bring to the world, and the actions we make sense of through those lenses. As his life neared its end, he came to cite the saying, ‘To understand all is to forgive all.’

  16. Ahh, some fine words and sentiment from your old mentor, AJ.
    Thanks for posting there.
    And while none of us has a hope, really, of truly understanding another, the act of trying to do it is probably helpful in & of itself.
    OBP – No shooting down here. Opinions are well and good. Especially those built on your knowledge and appreciation of the human condition. I understand that not everyone will agree with his approach. That’s fine. I guess we can agree, though, that he has a strong message to tell about injustice. Whether we’re all ready to hear it is another question. Thanks as always OBP.

  17. Dave- provocative , celebratory and reflective. Well done.

    Just as I’m curious about the post-playing career of Bob Murphy, I will watch to see how Goodes uses his influence and skills.

    In many ways it’s been a wretched season for our small, odd game.

  18. Cheers Mickey.

    It’s funny, isn’t it, how we can anticipate the second career of a person (e.g. Bob Murphy, Adam Goodes).
    No one anticipates our next careers.
    Of course that will happen in an industry in which people are cast off at ~age 33.

    Maybe it’s a very healthy thing, to compulsorily change career at the age of early/mid 30s.
    I wonder what we would each choose to do, if forced to start again.

  19. E.regnans says

    The mob has won. So far.

    Spot on, P. Dimitriadis. Three-and-three-quarter years later.

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