Manly supporters are in a state of disbelief. Less than a week after taking their beloved Sea Eagles to another premiership, coach Des Hasler announced he was leaving. He isn’t the first, nor the last.
One fan remarked that he couldn’t imagine Des in any other colour than maroon. I hate to tell him but by the time 2013 comes around Des’s bright blue get-up will seem as natural as the blue haze hovering over Western Sydney.
When Stephen Kearney decided to leave the Storm to coach Parramatta, I implored him not to go: “Melbourne is your home Stephen (before that it was Paraparaumu, Western Suburbs, Auckland and Hull). This is where you belong. And besides, Parra’s colours don’t suit you – they’re so common!.”
But after only a few games wearing his new team’s blue and gold polo shirt and cap – the things they get you to wear! – Kearney was as Parramattaian as Pirtek and spotted eels.
To his credit, he had been hoping to coach Melbourne but the cerebral aneurysm that Craig Bellamy was expected to suffer in the coaches box didn’t eventuate.
Instead of fronting post-match interviews wearing the royal purple logo of a weather god grasping a lightning bolt, Kearney had to settle for “fluid transfer solutions” and an eel with warts.
Wayne Bennett, it seemed, had spent his entire life at the Broncos. The iconic man wore the maroon and gold like a second skin. The chances of him leaving to coach somewhere else were thought to be the same as apricot brandy becoming popular.
But then suddenly he was gone; only to reappear shortly afterwards – looking like a pickled herring in tomato sauce – dressed as the Dragons’ coach.
The iridescent red of his new outfit screamed “TRAITOR!”. Spraying syrup and shards of pineapple over their Broncos lounge-seat covers, the Queenslanders hissed: “Judas!”.
Soon he’ll be wearing blue and red, and everyone will have forgotten he ever coached St George and that other team.
At some point during this professional era a gulf formed between the game’s practitioners and its supporters. The club once represented the community from which it sprung.
While the modern coach and player no doubt feel some affection and a sense of loyalty towards the fans, the game for them is essentially a job.
The serious and specialised nature of the professional footballer’s existence means he is isolated from normal life. Overwhelmed by the fawning of over zealous supporters and fearful of being glassed in public by jealous thugs he seeks out the company of other players.
The clubs are now essentially businesses and have no compunction referring to themselves as “the brand”. Sponsors’ logos have now gone to where the most tasteless of fashion brands refuse to go: the shirt collar.
I suppose it could be worse. In Japanese rugby there are teams with names like Coca Cola Wet Red Sparks and Toshiba Brave Lupus, and fans who are presumably employees scared of not attending games because they might get sacked.
It makes you feel like giving up on the game altogether. I mean, why do we follow sport so passionately anyway? Mature adults dressing up like clowns and identifying with animal mascots. Educated people yelling: “Carn the Tigers… Broncos…Sea Eagles…!”.
However, despite the dispiriting corporate nature of our clubs, you can’t ignore the excitement surrounding the evolution of the game and the never-ending stories of defection and deceit.
I know I’ll be back watching next year. I wont be able to help myself.