A footballer's lifeblood

Friday, April 19
Geelong Advertiser _ Dwayne Russell

LOOK beyond the fortune, fame, fast cars, determined words and pretty woman. Go beyond the premiership aspirations, spin doctored image and team spirited clichaacés.

Look at the basic mind of any footballer and you will simply find another man seeking self-justification - a sportsman who gains his personal fulfilment from a re-assurance of his own worth.

Career sportsmen create and live within a world where adrenaline, achievement and adulation is their oxygen.

From schoolyard days when sporting ability separated them from the crowd and won the worship of parents and peers, they have measured themselves against other men.

English cricket writer and controversial coach of boys and men, Peter Roebuck, believes self-justification is a basic need in life for all males. His sweeping statement over summer was made to encompass, among other things, Steve Waugh's refusal to retire, and Alan Donald and Lance Kleusener's determination to beat the ageing process.

But it also sheds some light on why Tony Lockett and Paul Salmon mounted comebacks.

Some career sportswomen may disagree, but the need to be regularly challenged physically and psychologically, shows itself more in sportsmen than any other.

There is something spiritual in the lone walk to the wicket, down a fairway or into the boxing ring, something almost primeval about the fear of failure which a footballer confronts when he stands alongside an opponent and prepares for a possible bone-breaking battle for the gratification of achievement and triumph.

Life in retirement was obviously not fulfilling enough for Salmon or Lockett. Something was missing, be it money, an adrenaline rush, the feeling of self-worth or the lack of winnable challenges within their realm of skills. Thus the lure of a comeback became too attractive.

It's a scenario even more understandable in Salmon's case since his admission in his autobiography that he considered suicide during his teenage years at Essendon when a knee injury threatened his career. The AFL Players' Association now employs counsellors who help footballers cope with retirement. But there is no hard and fast rule because personalities, careers, and retirement reasons differ.

In theory, a Lockett or Salmon who have had brilliant careers, should cope better than a teenage champion who may have been cut down by injury on the threshold of stardom.

Will Craig Bradley retire satisfied because he won premierships and squeezed every milligram out of himself by never drinking or smoking and playing until the age of 39?

Or will it be tougher for Bradley because football has been a successful measure of his superiority to other men, and because his avenue to earn more than $300,000 per year doing something he dearly loves, has ended?

Stimulation in life after a professional sporting career, appears the key.

Michael Jordan seemingly had everything.

The greatest, most athletic and recognisable sportsperson on the planet at his peak, and to most he is the most magnificent basketballer of all time.

He had more millions in the bank than many small countries. And yet Jordan made a comeback for simple self-fulfilment, even when his wife Juanita took their two children and left, saying she refused to play a secondary role to basketball again.

Lockett and Salmon look to have hit rock bottom in their careers right now. But they have not tossed in their comeback because they have a winnable challenge this year.

It's the old story, highlighted by Garry Hocking's refusal to retire.

For many, the worst day with football is better than the best day without it.