17 March 2016, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, Australia
I have long wondered if more books would have been written about Australian Rules Football if Mike Brady hadn’t penned the song ‘Up There Cazaly’.
In one succinct line he captured the whole damn thing, ‘there are days where you could give it up, and there are days where you could fly’
A love of football is not always an easy love – even as we gather here tonight basking in the optimistic new season and the glory it might bring, we all know that there will be a few potholes along the trail.
In the beginning though the love of the game is free, light and full of fun.
For me it started with kicking the ball with my dad and brother – and if they weren’t around kicking the ball to myself.
Reading the bounce of the ball as it hit the power lines overhead and fell back to the bitumen.
A child’s imagination is boundless but for me the magnetic pull of the crowd was too much to resist.
Like many of the men standing up there with me tonight the schoolyard is where the dreams of becoming a proper footballer came into a sharper focus.
My primary school didn’t have an oval, in fact we barely had any grass at all, what we had was a car park with loose gravel.
As was custom at my school, play wouldn’t start until teams were picked – each boy or girl that wanted to play would line up with their backs against the red brick wall.
Captains were nominated and the brutality of the schoolyard would bare its teeth.
One by one players were picked until no one was left, then, the ball would be hoisted in the air to commence play – that’s when I got the bug.
That moment will be different to the rest of the inductees but if you ask them, and you should, there would be some good stories to be told.
A love of the game is one thing, but what does it all mean.
The pull of the crowd, the desire to stand on the wall to be picked, the exhilaration of running out with a swarm of teammates just with the expression of wanting to win or it could be about something much bigger.
It might just be that we want to belong to something.
It is my great honour tonight to speak on behalf of this year’s group of AFL life members.
Like a grand oil painting these inductees have brought different shades to the game with their talent, character and service.
Doctors, administrators, umpires, superstars and lowly half back flankers.
As has been done in the past on this night I was tempted to single out each one and sketch a portrait of them with a paragraph or two of my own.
But, are a few words enough?
After musing about the vision of Bill Kelty, the integrity of Matt Stevic, the grace of Shaun Burgoyne or the chiseled cheekbones of Scott Thompson I’ve decided to keep this year’s inductees together as one – a beautiful mish-mash of colours and textures.
Paul Chapman, Shaun Burgoyne, Brendon Goddard, Scott Jeffery, Chris Judd, Justin Leppitsch, James Kelly, Stephen Milne, Sam Mitchell, Drew Petrie, Matt Stevic, Scott Thompson, Dr Hugh Seward, Geoff Walsh and Bill Kelty.
If this were to be a painting on the wall, perhaps a landscape of the Australian bush it would surely have a river running through it that represents our common thread – a deep love for the game, the spirit that it’s played in and the reverence we hold for those that have gone before us.
If I was the last inductee picked by the AFL this year that would make me the 250th AFL life member.
What an art gallery that would be to wander through and sit in front of for a while.
These last couple of months have provided an opportunity to ponder the enormity of the honour.
When it comes to matters of football and ceremony I often defer to my Bulldog hero John Schultz, he himself an AFL life member.
He took me aside in the change rooms just last week and told me in his gentle way that the honour will mean more and more to me the older I get.
It already means a lot.
A life in footy means that time and again we put our backs to the red brick wall, hoping to be picked to play, to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
Perhaps never for once thinking that the game might eventually pick us – it doesn’t get much bigger than that.
On behalf of this fine group of men I accept the game’s invitation to join the blessed group of life members.
Long may we serve the game that at times let us fly, or at least feel like we could.