The ‘quite dull’ life of AFL footballers
The AFL Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick used to work in banking so when he said this week that he would find playing football today “quite dull”, many people were surprised.
But I agree with him. Perhaps not insurance office dull, but dull all the same.
Like all high achieving occupations there is the money, fame, and personal satisfaction but it requires great sacrifice and discipline and ,contrary to popular assumptions, can be tediously repetitous.
Most modern footballers would identify with the words of English poet Philip Larkin: “Life is first boredom, then fear”. Their life is a strange mix of extremes.
The boredom of the long training week recovering from injuries and soreness, not going out with friends, not drinking, having to hear “win the contested ball”,”going forward”, “one game at a time”, and playing the good role model.
And then the pure fear and excitement of match day followed immediately by recovery again.
The reality of life for today’s fully professional footballer, who enters the AFL as a teenager, was illustrated by young Adelaide star Patrick Dangerfield whose idea of fun during his team’s bye this week is not nighclubbing or snorting cocaine but “watching a bit of local footy and catching up with the family”. Fearful that this may be too indulgent, he added: “You can’t have a holiday too long”.
The AFLPA CEO Matt Finnis said he found Fitzpatrick’s comments odd which is surprising because Fitzpatrick is clearly an odd sort from a more leisurely era.
I always liked his style. With an aristocratic moustache and Fabio jawline he looked more like a Spitfire Squadron leader than an Aussie Rules footballer.
In 1975 at the ripe old age of 22 he accepted a Rhodes Scholarship and signed with Carlton but made the Blues wait a few years until his sojourn in England was over.
When he finally decided to devote himself to the club he won the best and fairest and played in the 1979 Premiership.
For his noble bearing and coolness under pressure they gave him the captaincy and he went on to win the 1981 and 1982 flags as well.
In a photo of the changerooms after the 1982 Grand Final, Fitzpatrick , so accustomed to supreme achievement in all endeavours, appears to have fallen asleep. Bored senseless, he retired at the end of the following season to pursue a career in business and sports administration.
Like Fitzpatrick, Australia’s more famous Rhodes Scholar, Bob Hawke, didn’t let success get in the way of a colourful life. In his list of notable achievements as an Oxford scholar there is: “World record for the fastest consumption a yard glass of beer”.
As a young player I knew I was going on an overseas trip before the season ended but couldn’t find the courage to notify the club. I was certain they wouldn’t understand a player choosing travel over the game.
As the departure date grew near I resorted to a desperate measure, writng a letter and mailing it to the club. Apparently, it lay in the manager’s office for over a week and was only discovered after I didn’t turn up for the first final.
On my return the following season, I struggled to get back into the senior team, not surprisingly. Perhaps I should have grown a moustache and claimed I was away on a Rhodes Scholarship. They would have made me captain.