I WAS only weeks into the job when I first felt compelled to write to an administrator from the West Australian Football Commission, under who I had been a community junior football coach, and with who I had had an almighty argument some years earlier.
In the letter I said: “I just wanted to apologise for my behaviour throughout that month. I have since realised that the way I spoke to you and your staff was extremely out of line, and none of you deserved that. Football is emotional, particularly when children are involved, but there was no excuse for my behaviour and I really had no idea how I was coming across or the effect I might have had on you or your staff.”
It was 2017 and my Year 9 side were en-route to a finals series. We had been scheduled to play the top team in the school holidays.
With many kids away, a gentleman’s agreement between the two sides saw the game tentatively rescheduled. When no reschedule could be agreed upon, the league decided to award a draw and to split the points.
Later in the year, with the two teams equal on the ladder, the opposition team appealed the earlier decision to award a draw and were given maximum points for a win, on account of me not being able to find a suitable time for the reschedule.
I was livid and I let the competition administrators know in no uncertain terms.
I don’t have any kids, but I felt the disappointment of those children who would miss out on playing finals as much as they did and I remember the looks on their faces when they were told their season was effectively over on a technicality.
I witnessed a similar occurrence in my early days as a football administrator in Gippsland when I had to console a female staff member of mine over an altercation she had with a community coach. The dispute had arisen over the payment of a fee for the online coaching course.
The same staff member, who would bounce enthusiastically in to work every morning to work in football and contribute in the field of her passion, was left in tears and had to pull herself together before picking up her kids in the afternoon school run.
The sharing of my own story is a means of demonstrating that football can be emotional and that she ought not have taken it personally. It did little to curb her pain and unfortunately, it is an all-too-regular occurrence.
When the SFNL made its decision to play two weeks ago, I was supportive.
As the sport’s governing body in the region, it would be incongruous not to help facilitate a competition where it was deemed safe by the government to play.
I recognised the opportunity to be one of the only leagues in Victoria to play and the tremendous exposure that might bring to Sunraysia, but also respected the burden it placed on community volunteers and the financial constraints on clubs equally.
What was disappointing was to see the reactions, not only towards the SFNL, but of some towards their own committees, where they got personal when clubs were genuinely torn on whether or not to play.
My partner plays and coaches netball for one of the SFNL clubs and she attended their committee meeting where they debated whether they should go ahead with the season.
She came home exhausted, as she said her club had explored just about every option to play.
I believed her when she said her own club’s volunteers were genuinely distressed about making a decision that was both financially viable, but also appeased their members’ best interests.
What we can sometimes forget is that all our league and club representatives are volunteers, who often perform roles so that others don’t have to and many of who do it secondarily to their main source of employment.
The great paradox of community football is that we come to expect so much from the sport yet remain determined to charge so little for it. This means the crux of league and club level operations rely on good people committing so much of their time without reward.
It is imperative that we do not lose or discourage those great people.
So when the dust settles on COVID-19 restrictions and our junior and social competitions are in full swing, I encourage all to thank your volunteers and remind them of how appreciated they are for traversing through such unprecedented times, where there is no rulebook or how-to-guide and for continuing to make your league stronger or to keep your clubs healthy.