'I think I'm Done. I'm Going To Follow GWS'

23/10/2015 2:21 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
Ryan Pierse via Getty Images
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 21: Steve Johnson of the Giants speaks to the media during a Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL media opportunity at Tom Wills Oval on October 21, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

There's nothing quite like the joy on a child's face when he or she gets their first footy jumper with their favorite player's number sewn on the back.

Of course, sewing the number on the jumper is an old notion and iron-on is the modern way to go -- it's also the most practical way, given that number will more than likely not be there for very long.

Historically, Aussie Rules Football has grown its allegiances and fan base from a sense of community and geography: unwavering loyalties to a sport and a team that was a microcosm of your life, your family and the world in which you lived from childhood.

And while other sports such as the English Premier League started out with similar beginnings, they very quickly moved into the highly commercial and lucrative world of player movements driven by the value of both the player and the industry within which the ply their trade.

Sadly, this is now the path that the AFL seems to be taking.

The ongoing growth of the AFL, as a professional sporting organisation and very successful business, sees the annual movement of players between clubs now played out, as was the case this week, in the frenzy known as the AFL Trade Week.

In its own right, this process has become a feature at the end of each season and is promoted as the exciting link between seasons, building anticipation -- barely weeks from the conclusion of Grand Final festivities -- for the following season and who will make-up the new look of each team.

Gone are the days when a player moving to another club was not only seen as an anomaly but was somewhat frowned upon. Not that it never happened, but it was once viewed as a display of betrayal and disloyalty.

Those men could now be viewed as pioneers, ahead of their time, in the pursuit of a better payday and, in some cases, a better club culture.

But what of the kids?

How do you explain to a five-year-old that the player he has on his back, is a feature of his player cards collection, and is even prominently positioned on his wall in poster form, will be playing for a rival team next year?

This is surely the ongoing battle the AFL has in attempting to reconnect with its broader fan-base, particularly young families, and the reality of professionalism and business that is the modern day game.

In my own household, my daughter who has a great love of sport, both as a player and fan, has happily followed the bread crumb trail I have carefully laid from her earliest days and been an avid Carlton fan for all her 20 years.

She loves the story behind the player and has a bedside reading list that resembles the sports biography section of the local bookstore. She has a very loyal and positive nature and has weathered the trials and tribulations of recent years - coaching moves, inexplicable player selections and retirements -- all in the name of the Navy Blue.

Her passion is to follow the growth and progress of young players across the league, but she especially has a soft spot for the young talent emerging at Carlton.

So when the Carlton's draft activity this week resembled the stocktake sale at the local Cash 'n' Carry, even she walked into the room and declared:"Tom Bell's going to Brisbane and Troy Menzel is off to the Crows! I think I'm done. I'm going to follow GWS."

My chin hit the floor, as while this is my constant reaction to news out of Princes Park (Carlton HQ) these days, to hear her utter those words was almost, in my mind, against the laws of nature.

Of course, this was a knee-jerk reaction on her part (I think). But it signified to me just how far this player movement element of the game has gone and made me wonder how it must affect the young fans of the game who don't understand salary caps, player payments, free agency and notions of teams needing to rebuild. I mean, how much rebuilding can a team do until they get even the foundations right?

Given the way the professional aspect of the game is going, I think we need to accept this state of affairs is inevitable and the payoff is going to be raising kids to not witness, or perhaps believe in the concept of loyalty to a team and a player's place in it.

I have fond memories of the decades over which I grew up, knowing instantly the players in my Carlton teams according to their numbers -- but then I'm of an era that also remembers it being called the VFL.

And that is the reality of modern sport -- the advances which are perhaps positives for the game in the long run -- will come at a cost.

Even if it's just the cost of nostalgia.

More On This Topic