A recent chain of events in the Western suburbs of Sydney raised numerous questions. Firstly, the NRL announced that the farcical nature of contract talks and mid-season signings needed to be altered and secondly, Israel Folau revealed that money and not the desire to be ridiculed by the sporting world was the reason behind the AFL’s sensational code swap coup. No big surprises there, but it raises the question of loyalty. Where has loyalty disappeared to in the sporting world?
Chris Gayle’s disdain for loyalty has resulted in him becoming the cricketing equivalent of a mercenary, a gun for hire. Most recently he was seen playing for the Sydney Thunder in the inaugural Big Bash League, yet a quick look at his Wikipedia page would also reveal that he has limited himself to playing for Worcestershire, the Western Warriors, the Kolkata Knight Riders, Barisal Burners and occasionally the West Indies. Chris Gayle is a whore. Yet what real “team” would want a maverick such as Gayle to charge in for a season, have a hit and giggle, and then move onto to his next appointment? Although it has to be said that the loss of loyalty is no fault of Gayle’s, loyalty in cricket effectively died with the birth of the India-backed IPL and there will be no revival. As my lovely girlfriend said when we were watching the 4th and hopefully last Pirates of the Caribean movie: it’s dead.
Lebron James should get a mention here; Chris Bosh as well. While we’re going, you could put all of the senior players on the Gold Coast and GWS list let by maestro Gary Ablett. Kurtly Beale is a flag bearer, along with Lote Tuquiri, Mat Rogers and Wendell Sailor to name but a few. Which brings us to Karmichal Hunt and Israel Folau. Folau last week publicly stated that he crossed over for the money so he could support his family: potentially one of the most honest statements made by a sportsman. Yet it does not change the problem that Greater Western Sydney, the Gold Coast Suns and the Melbourne Rebels have: all new teams in hostile states. They are not a team, they are a group of young men with a coach in charge. They have no passion. There is no love. There is no desperation. They are not spurred on by fanatical belief. This is not to say there won’t be. They may well develop a culture within their club, but this process takes years and years of heartbreak, generations of fans and a united passion.
This brings us to our anomoly, our outlier. In 2012 the power of loyalty was on full display. Geelong, that little town south of Melbourne, defeated Collingwood to take their third premiership in five years. When they emphatically won their first, in 2007, they had a burgeoning stable of young stars, players whose market value had sky rocketed over the victorious season. Rival clubs circled, ready to flash the big offers and entice these men with money and glory and status. Not one member of that grand final side in 2007 left that club. They all remained, some on reduced salaries, some receiving a pittance for what they could be worth. Their victories in 2009 and 2011 reinforced the power of their loyalty: to the club, to the supporters and more importantly to each other. When teams travelled down to Geelong, the locals were nigh unbeatable, succumbing to Sydney last year for their first home loss in 4 years. The supporters, the local supporters who would run into the their stars at the local café or pub, made that stadium into a fortress. When Geelong play GWS this year, with players who have lived in the same town their entire life, playing with their mates, with the unwavering support of the entire area, watch the difference, and see how far GWS has to go.
Watching GWS play last weekend at Manuka was like watching a new born foal stumble aimlessly around a paddock. When they kicked a goal, there was polite clapping from their new members. You can’t buy a team; however, you can buy Chris Gayle and you can most certainly enjoy Christ Gayle, but at the end of the day, there are no Chris Gayles in Geelong and 3 premierships will attest to that.