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'Don't be sad it's over, be happy it happened': 2023 retiring crop is one of the best ever - and the most emotional yet

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17th August, 2023
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Mr Brightside is no longer just a song, but rather, for three minutes and forty-three seconds, acts as a sort of personal time machine.

It’s the anthem of an era, one that brought such incredible, meaningful joy that proved just how important this great game is to us.

So when Jack Riewoldt announced his retirement this week, following Trent Cotchin last week, it felt like a bittersweet blow, one that signalled the end of an era.

This is an entirely relatable concept for every single football fan, as we head towards the end of the season and the news of retirements comes through.

These retirements give us a bit of perspective and really help contextualise the importance of what the game means to all its stakeholders, from its highest-paid stars to the paying fan.

It’s very simplistic for someone whose passions lie outside of sport to dust off the old “it’s just a game” at the semblance of passion shown by a member of the community, but its meaningfulness to millions can’t be undervalued.

Jack Riewoldt of the Tigers celebrates

Jack Riewoldt. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The scope of fandom within footy isn’t really any different to its fellow Australian codes, or its cousins in the Northern hemisphere.

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We’ve got the one-eyed supporters who cannot and simply will not even consider other clubs and we’ve got loyal fans who’ll begrudgingly respect the opposition.

There are those who love their team but most of all, love the game. There are those who work in any form of media who preach objectivity to the point of denouncing their support for any team in fear of their true feelings being seen as a weakness.

There can be objectivity found in the mix of loving a team and the game, and that shouldn’t be shied away from – having been accused of supporting each of the 18 AFL clubs in the comments section of different pieces, it rings true here.

Holding on to the importance of passion and support within this context certainly hit home hard over the past fortnight, when Cotchin and Riewoldt announced their careers were ending. Two all-time favourites will no longer share the field beyond this weekend.

Footy’s always been a constant and it always will be. It’s a magical game that has brought such strong emotions with it. The Tigers had barely seen any success in a lifetime with more tough footballing years than good ones.

Then 2017 happened. Then there was 2019, which was then followed by 2020. It’s that first one which means so much – Riewoldt called it his favourite one for what it did for every Richmond person.

Trent Cotchin celebrates a goal.

Trent Cotchin. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

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It’s such a simple comment, but it’s vitally important. For Riewoldt to highlight this, contextualising it far beyond his personal experience, it validates the feelings and emotions of everyone who follows sport and holds it in high regard in their lives.

Because we’ve all heard that “footy’s just a game” and “sport doesn’t really matter”. But just like any form of entertainment, footy is more than just the ball, the grass and the posts.

It’s an escape from the difficulties of life sometimes. It’s the constant that some people need when faced with personal turmoil. It’s the foundation of relationships. It’s the highlight of a person’s week.

Footy can provide structure to the life of people. Footy helps us build connections. Footy helps people belong, where they otherwise feel they may not.

It brings joy, it brings frustration, it brings sadness, it brings jubilation. Just like any other art form, it brings emotion.

By going to the ground or watching on television, it feels like these players, these people who represent the team one may support, become a part of our lives.

Sport matters, footy matters.

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So when Cotchin and Riewoldt announced their retirements, for as staunchly as some may want to believe in pure objectivity, we’re all supporters at heart and the emotion that came with the news was the same across the broad spectrum of fandom.

These players, those years and special moments, they feel like meaningful life moments and guess what? It’s more than okay to feel that way, because that’s what sport does. It represents such a big part of our lives as do these people, and we’re allowed to be grateful for that.

It’s a fair class of retirements so far, with the list being incomplete.

Lance Franklin of the Swans celebrates a goal during the 2023 AFL Round 19 match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Sydney Swans at Optus Stadium on July 22, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Lance Franklin. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

We take a look at Lance Franklin, arguably the greatest forward of all time and certainly, the best by far of any in the modern era. It’s in his nature to sort of disappear quietly, away from the limelight as much as he can.

He’s one that transcends supporter bases. Sure, what he brought to Hawthorn fans was spectacular. That 2008 season in particular, my goodness.

Then, there’s what he has done for Sydney. It’s about time we put to rest whatever talk there is about his legacy being defined by a flag at the Swans.

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“Buddy” is in many ways the closest thing we have to LeBron James, in the sense that there are some fans who simply follow Lance Franklin and adore the player, more than any team.

While the steady decline that comes towards the end of any player’s career has been present, there’ll be nothing quite like watching Franklin play. The headline act of any and every show, he provided moments that could boost the morale of a working week just by being himself.

Hawks fans may feel like he’s one of them. Swans fans certainly feel he’s one of their own. In reality, Buddy’s just one of us.

It’s the end of an era too at the Eagles, in more ways than one. Nic Naitanui is in a similar tier to Franklin in his influence and impact on supporters. The best thing you can say about these players is that they attracted people to the footy, bringing eyes to the product with their style. Box office.

Shannon Hurn was the 2018 premiership captain and Luke Shuey the Norm Smith Medal winner. Those were the cherries on top of magnificent careers, but the highlights that resonate most with Eagles fans. Joy to the seas of blue and gold that fill stadiums.

Isaac Smith of the Cats celebrates kicking a goal.

Isaac Smith. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

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But we absolutely know that premiership success isn’t the defining factor. It’s really all about passion, from the supporters about their club in their favourite sport, and from the players themselves when wearing that jumper.

Jack Ziebell and Ben Cunnington typify passion, they’ve represented themselves and the North Melbourne Football Club spectacularly and have given people hope, joy and good times.

Isaac Smith’s won four flags and a Norm Smith Medal and his resume will be alongside the all-time greats, but it’s his constant presence during the best of times across a couple of clubs that stands out.

That’s just a handful of this year’s crop and every club has its own icons that generate this sense of emotion upon retirement. Yearly, the group of retirees provide that small gut punch to different supporter bases, followed by joyful eulogising of wonderful careers that impact beyond sport.

And that’s really what it’s all about.

There’s an understanding between players, coaches, officials and supporters that this relationship is much stronger than just the colours we wear or the games we go to.

They mean so much to us and they’re as much a part of our lives as we are in helping make their careers.

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When they retire, it’s emotional for all and leaves us in a state of reflection, where we’ve tied moments in our lives to moments in theirs. That’s the beauty of sport.

As Jack said in his speech, “don’t be sad it’s over, be happy it happened”.

Now, it’s time to go listen to Mr Brightside a couple more times.

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