Contributed by: Wesley Hull
On face value, the answer to this question will be a resounding yes. When framed against the eventual return of the game at all levels, a large majority of people will proudly boast their love of the game, their sadness over its brief disappearance, impatience for its return and excitement in anticipation of that day.
Most people are counting the days, even if they don’t yet know how many days to count.
However, lurking beneath the surface of this emotion is another realisation. Many people at all levels of society have stated that the world will not be the same in the wake of COVID-19. Aspects of life which we had previously taken for granted have changed already and may never return – at least never return exactly as we remembered them.
An example would be the accepted concept that Australia’s freedom would never see state borders closed. Already that myth is dispelled and could happen again should any other disease threaten.
If there are examples of societal change in travel, money, health, education, the arts and countless other areas, it cannot be assumed that footy will not see lasting impacts – change that we never expected and will learn to change with.
Before citing examples of conversations I have had over recent weeks, I will put forward my own case. The break from footy is fast approaching a year. Those seven months to date have seen me re-evaluate my own life. Commitment to new interests, health, family and work have all overtaken footy. The garden has taken over my weekends along with music and writing. I never thought I could let go of footy, yet now it sits well down the pecking order of my life priorities.
That will almost certainly change the day footy is back on television and local footy fields return to the sounds of sirens and smell of liniment. But, will it ever fully return? In my case, I doubt it. Already I have stood down or retired from many roles and won’t go back…it’s called retirement, not disinterest.
But, that’s me, and those who know me understand I’m a little different.
Four recent conversations with people across Australia, however, have cast some very real reasons for why the landscape we once accepted may be changed into the future.
I have kept these anonymous quotes, but they are real and they do suggest that what was once will be again, but different.
1. Victoria (Ringwood) – “When the local club stopped training, our boy was devastated. He wanted to go back. But since then he has made other friends who play soccer and [he] wants to play [soccer] for [club named] when things are over”.
2. Queensland (Cairns) – “The hardest part for us when we start again is not so much the kids, but we might also lose some parents who have changed or lost their jobs. Without the parents we can’t run things on match days and even at training. I know some aren’t working and just can’t afford now to let their kids play. It’s sad. I hope things go back to how they were but it might take a bit of work”.
3. South Australia (Prospect) – “I mean, look at Port Adelaide [SANFL]. They might not even make it. If a greater club like that can be brought down, how are smaller clubs going to make it? Even over in Victoria, Carlton’s VFL team [Northern Blues] are in strife. Clubs that used to be there might not be there at the end of this”.
4. Queensland (Brisbane) – “You know, I just don’t love it anymore. I have time with my kids now and wife. I used to watch every minute, but now I have found other things that I enjoy or all of us enjoy.”
These are just four comments made by people I called or spoke with since the postponement of footy. They are four people of a footy population worldwide of millions. But I am also sure they are not the only four people harbouring different views about the game.
Their comments were all driven by sadness about the game going missing, and could all evaporate the minute a ball is once again kicked. However, they are four slightly different points of view and all are feasible. They ask questions about other codes, volunteers, struggling clubs and other life pursuits.
Time will tell, but I believe that like all other aspects of life, footy won’t come back exactly the same. Maybe it will superficially, but deeper down there may be damage done.
The best way to fix that is to get back on the park. However, human lives are more important than a footy season and our game still needs to take a back seat to life and we can assess and address any damage later.
It is also true that for all of those that may not come back, there are millions who will and the game will survive - just not completely unscathed. Footy will still matter and I can already hear the roar at the MCG or the whistles at the suburban parks.
I know myself that I had been looking for ways to reduce my involvement in the game and just become a spectator again.
Somehow, I doubt that I’m alone.
World Footy News