I was first introduced to ‘hoomi’ behaviour years ago, having a few after-work beers with some friends who were police officers.
The conversation turned to how each workday went and they described one incident that has stuck with me for the best part of 30 years.
They were in a marked police car following a guy who was all over the road. They managed to pull him over, then went to speak with him.
One officer tapped on the window which cracked open and the officer was hit with the smell of bourbon. He said to the driver, “Sir, we stopped you because you were driving erratically.”
The driver drunkenly responded: “Who me?”
This was apparently something of a game, where they’d have friendly bets on what words would come out of drivers’ mouths. Almost inevitably it was “who me”.
I’ll use my club, the St George Illawarra Dragons as an example of how these behaviours work in the NRL.
The first-grade side had a horrendous few seasons, losing way more games than they won. When this happens, fans want answers about who’s to blame and how the issues are going to be fixed. This is when hoomi behaviours start.
Many blamed the coach, Paul McGregor. His hoomi response was to switch players around, so every round for the best part of two seasons, guys were playing in different positions, or not even playing at all.
At no stage did he put his hand in the air and admit his coaching might have been a large part of the problem, it had to be the players’ fault.
Others blamed the recruitment process. Of course those responsible pointed to the talent they’d brought to the club, including Ben Hunt and Corey Norman. Ian Millward at no stage admitted he might have got some selections badly wrong.
The board were criticised and their hoomi behaviour was the worst of the lot. A top-down review was undertaken and that resulted in some strange decisions, which included bringing in Shane Flanagan as something of a co-coach and having a joint selection committee.
There was no acknowledgement the board itself might have been completely to blame, given its decision to extend the coach’s contract at a time when the team was losing badly, or its decision not to replace those who were making such poor recruitment calls, which are still happening – remember the conversations the Dragons had with Israel Folau?
As an outsider looking in, I’d suggest exactly the same behaviour is currently happening at the Broncos. They’ve unfortunately followed a very similar path to the Dragons, paying overs for players, hiring underwhelming coaches, having serious issues with recruitment and retention.
Again, this all stems from decisions made at board level, yet they’re strangely immune to criticism.
How can this behaviour be fixed? This is seriously hard because this is something many learn from an early age. Those with children will remember the looks they got when they growled at a son or daughter for doing something naughty. The big, guilty eyes and the hoomi look on the face!
Even NRL players do it. Players are pinged for doing something illegal and the looks of astonishment are priceless. Some even say, “Who me?”
Mary Konstantopoulos recently wrote a piece where she used the analogy that a “fish rots from the head”. In effect, she’s describing the same thing I am – an unwillingness for people in positions of responsibility to accept that they are to blame for issues within clubs.
This is particularly so with boards. They hire coaches, they have a say in who is being hired to do the recruiting and, most importantly, they set the direction for the club. Surely when things go wrong, they must be held accountable, but they’re not.
Clubs that are successful have a culture of accepting responsibility at all levels. Not only that, they also actively work on solutions. Again, this positive culture starts at board level.
Sadly, there are too many clubs where this unnecessary hoomi behaviour is occurring.
Unless boards understand this concept and genuinely try to stamp out this behaviour, we’ll continue to have a select few successful clubs and lots of clubs providing fans with mediocre performances.