Hawthorn President Jeff Kennett penned the below article for the Herald Sun.
I have always believed Australian Rules Football (AFL) plays a significant social role in our country because it allows Australians at work and at play to talk about things other than work or family issues.
Not to mention the enjoyable experience it provides supporters to attend the games in which their team is competing for so many weeks every year.
In short AFL can be good for our mental health.
I have often been critical of the way the game is played today, the changes in the rules each year, the challenges that creates for the umpires to adjudicate consistently.
But let me give you three examples when the game has produced great moments recently.
While these examples involved my club, Hawthorn, I am sure every club delivers similar moments to their supporters during each year.
Friday 2 August
Shaun Burgoyne, an aboriginal player, who played with Port Adelaide before joining Hawthorn in 2010, recorded the most games played by an Indigenous player in AFL history having clocked up 373 games. A celebration of a great man’s extraordinary effort. Not just for the length of his playing career, but also his talent and his values as a strong, down to earth, family man raising four beautiful children with his wife, Amy.
Shaun continues to play for Hawthorn, but what was heart-warming was the wave of support that was extended to Shaun the week before and on the day, he achieved that record.
Not just by his fellow teammates but also by a number of Indigenous players from other clubs past and present who gathered to celebrate Shaun’s milestone on the day all captured in a wonderful video available at the Hawthorn website: news/video-watch champions celebrate a champion.
It was a good day, a wonderful and happy occasion. It was for me, the AFL code at its best.
Friday 10 August
Hawthorn travelled to Canberra to compete against Greater Western Sydney (GWS). It was GWS’s home game.
GWS was tipped to win and the weather predicted to be very cold.
The weather was more than just cold. It snowed for the first time during an AFL match!
But what made the occasion so memorable for me watching the match in the comfort of my warm lounge room here in Melbourne, was the players’ and coaches’ obvious enjoyment from the occasion and match.
They looked and were happy. They were having fun.
I often think football has become so serious, that too many involved in the sport get little pleasure from playing. This is evidenced by the number of players suffering stress and anxiety from performance pressures and the expectations and scrutiny placed upon them.
Yet there they were in freezing weather, snow falling on the ground around them, exuberant young men enjoying themselves. I have no doubt their relaxed manner, their enjoyment at playing in such unique circumstances played a major part in their success that night.
It was another good evening, a wonderful and happy occasion. Again, AFL football as it should be played. A sport to be enjoyed by all.
Sunday 18 August
Jarryd Roughead (Roughy) played his last game for Hawthorn in Melbourne.
At Marvel Stadium at 4.45pm on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon over 30,000 supporters, mainly Hawthorn members turned up to salute and thank Jarryd Roughead for his 15 year career at Hawthorn Football Club.
I have never witnessed a game like it.
The crowd stood up in their seats when Jarryd ran onto the ground. They cheered when he scored his first goal and again rose in their seats and repeated the cheers for his next 5 goals.
When the umpire failed to award Jarryd a free kick the Hawthorn supporters roared their displeasure as they did again when his teammate Jack Gunston intercepted a ball that was a certain Roughead mark and potentially his 7th goal for the night. It was pure entertainment, exuberant and enjoyable!
And when the game was over the supporters stayed in their seats until Jarryd had left the ground.
Again, another good evening, a wonderful happy occasion. Another illustration of what pleasure Aussie Rules football brings to large numbers of people. And how important ALF can be to its supporters.
As I said above, every Club will have these types of occasions, but to have witnessed three such events in just a short period of time is heart-warming, for all the good and right reasons.
We are so often confronted through the news of the day with horror stories, of chaos, violence and at times carnage and death. We do not see or hear as much coverage of the good things that happen in our community. Each of the three games I have referred to above are good stories, happy occasions, that for many of us help lift our spirits and bring perspective.