We are used to seeing AFL footballers make a seamless transition from the playing arena to the media. One day they are kicking leather, the next it’s a former teammate. No, not really, but you can see the temptation to use such a turn of phrase.
It’s not an easy transition and unless you can write like Tim Boyle, a significant playing CV is usually required to gain qualification. Yet at Visy Park there’s a former blue without a premiership medallion, a Brownlow Medal or even a single AFL game, but it hasn’t stopped him from kicking some serious goals in the media.
Matthew Lodge’s stint in the AFL didn’t last as long as he had hoped, one year to be precise, but as the club told him his injured body was too risky an investment, it offered the aspiring sports journalist a position in its media department.
So instead of making the headlines, Lodge is writing them for carltonfc.com.au, covering the progress of his former teammates. He should know what a good story looks like, because his own is a ripper.
Born in Melbourne, Lodge lived in Fitzroy until he was eight before his doctor parents, inspired by the ABC TV-series SeaChange, “packed up the house, one kid and a dog” on Australia Day 2002 and shifted to Possum Creek, near Byron Bay in New South Wales.
Hardly a football heartland, Lodge didn’t play football until secondary school, primarily because Possum Creek didn’t have a football team and he didn’t know that nearby Byron Bay did.
At 14 years old, Lodge began making the two and a half hour trip to the Gold Coast three times per week in the hunt of stronger competition. He would play three games most weekends and while the competition might have been a little tougher, his dominance was no less.
But the sacrifice was worth it. In the 2007 season Lodge won two premierships and all three best and fairest awards. While it might come as a surprise an AFL recruiter would be looking for talent in Possum Creek, its no surprise when Carlton recruiter Wayne Hughes stumbled across Lodge, he signed him.
Lodge recieved a three-year deal with Carlton on an NSW-Scholarship at the beginning of 2008. He used the money allocated as part of the scholarship to shift to a private boarding school in Sydney, St Ignatius College to complete year 11 and 12.
“It made it easier the school had an AFL team playing in the Sydney competition, instead of travelling two and a half hours up to Brisbane three times per week I had a 50m walk up the hill to training,” he says.
Lodge travelled to Victoria in the school holidays a couple of times per year to train with Carlton and familiarise himself in the AFL lifestyle and when he reached draft age, he had “done enough” to be added to Carlton’s rookie list with its final pick in the 2011 Rookie Draft.
“For me it was the culmination of hours of kicking the ball up to myself in the backyard in Fitzroy and then in Byron. Obviously it was only half the process. It was a major achievement and something I am really proud of.”
“I didn’t have a great year on the field, but from an on field perspective I loved it. Being an only child, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that I went from having no one to having 45 older brothers” – Lodge
He lodged at Carlton on day one of pre-season, where he couldn’t believe he was sitting in the same locker room as Chris Judd and completed the first session of what would be a flawless pre-season, but this is where the fairytale ends and the nightmare begins.
In Round 1 while playing for the Northern Blues he hurt his left knee. Hamstring, shoulder and concussion injuries followed. He would play only four games in season 2012 and less than 12 months after he completed his first session as a Carlton player, he was gone.
You get the impression Lodge is the type of guy who moves on pretty quickly. He holds no resentment towards anyone at Carlton, despite the fact he never really got to show what he could do.
He describes his one season as a “thoroughly enjoyable experience”, the other thing obvious about Lodge is he is able to look beyond the initial layer, disappointment in this case, to determine what matters – a vital skill for all writers.
“I didn’t have a great year on the field, but from an on field perspective I loved it. Being an only child, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that I went from having no one to having 45 older brothers,” he says.
“I was the youngest or the second youngest on the list and they treated me as the cheeky little fella. But I loved just being around the fellas and staying fit.
“It was eventually taken away as quick as it came, I am very grateful for the opportunity I was provided with. It was just a thoroughly enjoyable year.”
So at the end of the 2012 season Lodge traded his footy boots for a dictaphone and began work in the Carlton media department. Sports journalism was something he was always interested in and a key pillar in the “back up plan” laid out in his meetings with the AFL Players’ Association
Lodge had deferred an Arts degree in 2012 and gained entry to the RMIT journalism program this year. He is combining his studies with a full time role at Carlton where his portfolio includes the media responsibilities and coverage of Carlton’s VFL affiliate, the Northern Blues.
He believes it has been an easy transition because despite feeling “bullet proof” in his confidence he would be in the game for longer than just one year, he was prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“The AFLPA were important to help me set up a future plan and achieve the goal to get into sports journalism. She (Player Development Manager, Marissa Fillipou) laid out a whole lot of courses that may be available to me and when the bad news came though that I wasn’t going to be on the list next year, she was fantastic in making sure I was prepared for Uni.”
The AFL Players’ Association provides education and training grants and financial assistance to current and past players. As a rookie listed player who didn’t play a game, Lodge is still eligible for these services for one year following his delisting.
In 2012, 347 AFL players accessed education and training grants to assist with their studies, with more than half of those committing money to the completion of Bachelor or Masters degrees.
Lodge didn’t play any football this year, the knee injury that was the catalyst for his disastrous year on the field, required surgery. Lodge had a tibial osteotomy on his left knee – “an operation they do on 45-year-olds who have severe arthritis”.
He was given only a five per cent chance of playing top-flight football again, but he plans to take those odds in a bid to prove a few doubters wrong. He will ease back into football with St Kevins in the VAFA in a bid to re-discover his passion from the game and beyond that, who knows?
“If the opportunity comes up for me to go and play VFL and further from that if there’s an opportunity that comes up, if I’m playing good enough VFL footy, that an AFL club might be taking a look at me as a 25 or 26 year old mature-aged recruit, I would be ecstatic about that.”
Should he get the opportunity to have another go in the AFL, what a story that would be, should he not, it won’t be the last you hear from this 20-year-old. If it’s not his boots doing the talking, his pen will.