Lockyer Farewell Tour: beyond hero worship and beyond ridiculous

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This weekend, Darren Lockyer will play his last ever competitive game of Rugby League. Finally. I have written that heresy, not because I’m glad Lockyer is finished, but because it brings the end to what must surely be the longest goodbye in the history of Australian sport.

Season 2011 has been the Darren Lockyer Farewell Circus, and everybody has been queuing up for a slice of steaming hot sentimental pie.

All year it has gone on, marketing men and commentators spruiking the next in Darren Lockyer’s ‘lasts’. There have of course, been some legitimate moments of acknowledgement: Darren Lockyer’s last State of Origin, Darren Lockyer’s last home game, Darren Lockyer’s last ever game for the Broncos.

However, then the money men dragged us into the ridiculous. Look at Newcastle v Brisbane in Newcastle back in Round 24. That was, according to the pre match promotions: ‘Darren Lockyer’s last game for the Broncos in Newcastle.’

You see, Newcastle hosted a Test match two weeks after the Grand Final, which meant that the Round 24 game was not Lockyer’s last game, or his last game for the Broncos, or his last game in Newcastle.

The Knights’ promoters ran with it anyway.

These sort of bizarre claims to a special occasion seemed to follow Lockyer all season: Lockyer’s last game at Shark Park, Lockyer’s last game in the Broncos’ away strip, Lockyer’s last game against opposition wearing blue.

Channel Nine, as ever, were the worst offenders in this regard, as each time Brisbane graced Friday Night Football (which was more Fridays than not), the commentary would at one time or another take a few moments to eulogise the Broncos’ captain.

Now please Broncos and Queensland fans, don’t get me wrong. Darren Lockyer has been a magnificent player. His field goal against St George in the semi-finals was one of the great pieces of theatre in Australia’s recent sporting history, and was a perfect way to summarise his career.

But it happened without assistance from desperately grasping promoters or verbose commentators. We know a great player, a dramatic moment or a grand occasion without being bombarded with a weekly soliloquy and montage.

The problem is not Lockyer or his retirement. The problem is that the media take these people and occasions and hijack them for their own purposes. I can only speak for myself, but for me the Lockyer show was nauseating by the end of the State of Origin series. After that it was difficult to watch the Broncos with the sound on, because the game was a sideshow to all the Lockyer hype.

There is no doubt that if Andrew Johns had announced his retirement at the start of a season rather than suddenly and immediately, he would have had a similar, if not more overwhelming season of adulation on his way out. We saw a similar thing back in the summer of 2003/2004 when Steve Waugh played his last summer as Test captain, though it was only a six-Test, two-month tour.

It seems this is a phenomenon which has arisen only in the last ten years or so. To me, it is too much. When the sports media take a player’s retirement and make it their own, they drag it away from the player.

It was only with the last act of his first grade career; that Dragon-slaying field goal, that Lockyer claimed back his occasion from the foaming-at-the-mouth press.

Simply, the media need to settle down and back off. If we spend all our time as viewers of sport hurling about terms like ‘champion’ and ‘legend’, and then creating these drawn-out retirement sagas, we cheapen true greatness, and make the player’s retirement less about the player themself and more about the coverage of them.

All season the media has bombarded us with the fact that Darren Lockyer is retiring, and that he is a great player.

But we already knew that.

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