This story, sadly, is true.
A couple of years ago, a first grade NRL coach sat down over a coffee with a player manager to discuss the future of one of his emerging young stars.
The coach hadn’t encountered this particular player manager before, and was initially taken aback by his interpretation of “appropriate dress” – shorts, grubby runners and a tatty polo. But he thought he’d give him the benefit of the doubt – who, after all, was he to judge?
However, the longer the meeting went on, the faster the red flags were shooting up the flagpole.
For a start it was clear from the flow of the conversation, the bloke simply didn’t have a clue. About anything.
And then there was his brand new brief case – perched on the table, but remaining unopened. The coach couldn’t help but wonder what was in it. A Vegemite sandwich? A pencil case? Nothing?
He was dying to ask but thought the better of it. Instead, as they were wrapping up, a more generic question: “Out of interest, how many other players do you have on your books?” he asked.
“Oh. I’ve just got the one. I only do this part time,” briefcase boy revealed.
‘And where do you work the rest of the time?” the coach asked.
“At the airport … I’m a baggage handler.”
Aah…of course. What better qualification could there be to guide the fortunes of a young professional football aspirant – on and off the field? A bloke who lugs bags onto trolleys.
What’s even sadder – he’d be far from the worst going around. At least his heart was probably in the right place, unlike some of the other “colourful characters” in the game.
In the soap opera that is Rugby League, they are omnipresent, the supporting cast, lurking behind the real stars, wielding enormous power, with little or not accountability.
The game lunges from one salary cap to the next, amid suspicion that rorting is rife, and yet it’s always the club officials who single handedly shoulder the blame. Are they culpable? Heck yeah – they’re up to their eye balls. But don’t tell me there are not other parties – namely the managers (and for that matter the players) – who aren’t often complicit.
One thing about living inside the bubble of professional sport – everybody knows everybody else’s business. And if they don’t they can quickly find out – all it takes is a couple of quick phone calls.
To date, the player agents have remained a largely protected species. Bar the odd slap on the wrist, there’s been no punitive action taken. The footy journos are never going to “out” them – they are far too reliant upon their “intel”. Cut off a major source of information for the sake of one lousy story? I don’t think so.
The sad thing is, everybody gets tarred with the same brush. In the “agent ranks” there are some very good operators, good people representing their clients in an honorable and professional fashion. But crikey, you’ve got to dig through a lot of dirt to find the diamonds.
The NRL, we’re told, have finally committed to a review of player accountability, including a tightening up of the accreditation process. Well halle-bloody-lujah.
We’re yet to see how far reaching that will be, or what it will involve, but anything is better than nothing.
I suggest they start with some character referencing – put a line through the name of any agent with say … a serious criminal record.
After that, the NRL could do worse than genuinely explore agent credentials and qualifications. Even ask them to open up their brief case.
Third Half Athlete of the Month:
Let’s go all the way over to the Old Dart, to the East Midlands, and give a huge shout out to the entire Leicester Football Club for reminding us that in sport, as in life, fairy tales do occasionally come true. If like me, you’re not familiar with the intricacies of the EPL, and what drives success, it’s probably hard to fully appreciate just what an amazing achievement it was to win it. At the start of the season they were 5000-1 to win. 5000? Those odds mightn’t sound that huge, but as my mate Crash points out, finding Elvis alive is still only paying 4000-1. Go the Foxes.
Archie Thompson, bowing out of the Melbourne Victory after 11 seasons. One of the sport’s good guys, passionate and proud. You suspect he would have played for nothing, but nobody asked him.