Tom Boyd

The first I heard of Tom Boyd was the day he was traded from GWS Giants to the Western Bulldogs for the 2015 season. From the newest, shiniest club, to the underachieving underdogs, pride of the working west.

 

The Bulldogs had lost their coach and captain and some on the outside were using disparaging words like ‘crisis’ and ‘irrelevant’.

 

To inject some confidence into the place, Peter Gordon, president, landed the biggest fish available. Tom was a former no 1 draft pick, nineteen years of age, and had played only a handful of games.

 

He signed a seven year, multi-million dollar deal.

 

In interviews, he looked bewildered and in shock. He was a Melbourne boy, but from the eastern suburbs, and had never thought of playing for the Bulldogs.

 

He was Rhett Butler handsome with the shoulders of Ali, but his eyes were anxious and stressed.

 

I felt sorry for him – well, as much as you can for a kid who’s getting paid a heap to chase a footy around. I imagined him nervously walking into the club day 1 of preseason and facing his new team mates, most of whom had been there longer for a lot less.

 

I also wondered why if he was so good the Giants gave him up.

 

Luke Beveridge brought a humanistic approach and the overhead handball to the Bulldogs. While everyone else got on board, Tom battled. His form was patchy. He got in a punch-on with Zaine Cordy, apparently over his output versus wages. He was in and out of the team.

 

Eventually, he opened up and admitted to mental health problems.

 

In 2016, around the world, the sporting gods repaid the faith of the neglected. In Melbourne’s west, despite history, injuries and inconsistent form, belief grew through the season.

 

Beveridge, mysterious and charismatic, brought his young men with him, Willy Wonka style. The club has spoken since of a sense of destiny and momentum building after the final home and away round and with each finals win.

 

Preliminary Final night, against his former team, Tom was a steady ship on a turbulent ocean, as the Bulldogs wore down and ultimately broke Giants’ hearts, in one of the most intense and thrilling matches ever played.

 

Against Sydney Swans on Grand Final day, he was leading man in a musical, stealing the final scenes, arms outstretched centre stage.

 

Through 2017, Western Bulldogs struggled with new success. No longer the underdog, battler, or hunter, they were the hunted. The hypothetical poor family who won the lotto, but lost their identity and each other.

 

The Premiership team quickly dissipated and the Bulldogs fell away.

 

Tom was there for a while, but then he was gone.

 

After disappearing from public view for a while, he appeared on TV news in a story about headspace, the Australian government’s non-profit youth mental health organisation. Tom’s presentation was classic young male with serious mental health issues: medicated, tired looking, slow of speech, unkempt appearance.

 

Early this season, he returned from injury through the reserves. Beveridge asked for patience from fans and the media. It may be months, not weeks, he said, before Tom would be considered for senior selection.

 

Last week, a few days after playing Box Hill at the MCG, scene of his and arguably football’s greatest moment, Tom decided he’d had enough after 61 senior games.

 

Aged 23, it’s time for Tom to find something else to do with his life. Hopefully, he will find happiness.

 

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Comments

  1. Hear hear, Starkers. Hopefully he does indeed find happiness.

  2. Paul Daffey says

    Beautifully written, Stark. Superb.

    You’re right about the appearance of a medicated mess.

    Tom might regret his decision at some stage, but part of dealing with these problems is simply by making decisions. You can always make more decisions down the track if the original ones fail to work out.

    In my view, most footballers with a brain will come to a point between the ages of, say, 23 and 27 when they wonder what it’s all about. Why am I doing this? Is footy stopping me doing other things with my life?

    I found the news about Alex Rance’s deliberations along these lines to be unremarkable. They were consistent with the actions of many footballers with a brain who are in the middle years of their career.

    Admittedly, it’s different when you’re on an AFL contract, but it’s still footy.

    I was certainly not on an AFL contract, I was playing only country footy, but I quit the game at 25 because I was sick of the ups and downs. Selection, injuries, my place in the club, etc.

    Then I went back a year later, and never played the same footy again, but I was renewed in my love for the game.

    Sometimes you have to leave something behind to realise how much you enjoy it. In the meantime, it can pay to clear some space for whatever might come along,

    Good luck, Tom Boyd.

  3. Sensitively and imaginatively told Andrew. While not all problems can be predicted or prevented, I reckon the AFL Draft/Yearling Sale/Highest Bidder system has a lot to answer for. Just because the NFL/NBA do it – why does the AFL have to follow mindlessly?
    Surely a more back ended payment system that accumulates on the basis of games played; B&F votes etc would be far better – with some guaranteed base for those who miss out through form/injury etc.

  4. Great work Starks. I’m not surprised if anyone gives away top line sport. Its a factory. But the flip side is that it makes some young men (and some young women) very wealthy. What price your soul? (Is that question too harsh?).

    I haven’t played top level footy but I have had an insight into sport at an intense level. It is all consuming. Whilst it held my focus I operated on adrenaline and a feeling of constant excitement. It was false, of course, but it was good. However it wore off. And when it did I went to Europe. I reckon this happens at different times for different people. Like a downer from a drug high I suppose. Those who understand that it is their career and their “job” probably survive better because that way it keeps its perspective.

    Good luck to T. Boyd.

  5. Stainless says

    Let me preface my comment by acknowledging that it is unquestionably a good thing that there is an increasing openness about mental health issues generally and that high profile sports figures admitting to such issues is helping reduce the stigma of mental illness.

    But frankly, whilst a case like Boyd’s might shed some light on the issue of mental health and the pressures of elite sport, this pales into insignificance when compared with the vast majority of people experiencing mental illnesses who have nothing like the financial or institutional supports that he has. A cursory glance at any reputable newspaper will quickly highlight the massive funding and systemic problems in the mental health sector. The horrendous stories of the victims of this barely get a fraction of the column inches that people like Boyd do. For all the suffering he may have endured, he can at least has the consolation that money does buy you good treatment and support. Not many have this luxury.

    The related point is that the world is full of bright young hopefuls across all sorts of professions who are “sucked in, chewed up and spat out” by tough, demanding employers. Very few of them would be in a position like Boyd’s where if he could survive in the system for a couple of years, he’d basically be set for life. Even a long AFL career, say ten years, is short by the standards of most of our working lives. The trade-off between enduring the unrelenting pressure and taking the big bucks over that timeframe would be a lot easier to rationalise than the choices most of us have to make about work, life, money etc.

  6. Andrew Starkie says

    Men,

    I reckon we’ve come a long way as a society in relation to MH. As has the AFL. Think back to how Harry O’Brien was treated by Collingwood when we revealed he was victim of sexual assault. Remember him walking alone through the carpark at Lexus centre, surrounded by the media swarm? Yes, we have a long way to go.And we all have our own set of pressures and triggers. If Tom has a predisposition to MH problems, working in the public spotlight and being the highest paid player at the club couldn’t have eased his anxiety.

    Stainless, yep, Tom has the cash to gather the best support around him. But, all the money in the world will not ensure perfect health. There are worse countries in the world to be in when you’re sick. I work in the community sector and everyday see the challenges our society has in caring for the disadvantged and from my perspective we do a pretty good overall. But, we can always do better. A ‘system’ is only as good as the people who work in it.

  7. I feel the that part of the problem today is the fact that sport has become professional. There’s a certain disconnect about it because it used to be our recreation which allowed everyone to enjoy escaping the stresses of their working lives. Highly paid professional players are an elite group. They’re not leading the normal lives that the rest of the population does. Football clubs have become enclosures. How often are the players allowed out to mingle with the rest of the population? How can they be expected to become balanced citizens when they’re earning obscene amounts of money ?

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