“For me, it was always those left-of-centre players that not only made a football club but – through their unpredictability, their X factor, their madness if you like – often helped achieve team success.”
– Wayne Carey, March 14, 2014.
Earlier this year, former North Melbourne champion Wayne Carey lamented the demise of footy’s great characters.
“For every Dane Swan, Dustin Martin or Jake King, there are dozens and dozens of more regular, less colourful personalities,” Carey wrote.
Carey forgot one: North Melbourne’s Nathan Grima. The 28-year-old Kangaroos defender describes himself as a “mediocre player”, but couldn’t be considered anything short of elite when it comes to media performances. His candidness and light-hearted humour have turned him into something of a cult figure and have made him hot property on the media circuit.
Grima won’t tell you the Kangaroos are ‘taking things one week at a time’, have been ‘training the house down’, or that their latest loss ‘is what it is’.
It all began when Grima appeared on Before the Game late last season.
— Rohan Connolly (@rohan_connolly) December 28, 2013
The Age‘s Rohan Connolly certainly wasn’t the only one amused by Grima’s antics; media personalities and footy followers from all clubs have praised his approach to handling media commitments. When asked earlier this year why he thinks he’s become so popular, Grima gave a response that provokes plenty of thought: “It’s probably the fact that I’m being who I am, and a lot of other players are probably being who they’re not.”
“It’s probably the fact that I’m being who I am, and a lot of other players are probably being who they’re not.” – Grima
It was a bold statement, but Grima insisted he wasn’t having a dig at other players.
“I just don’t think boys get enough opportunities to show their personalities for what they are. I’m not sure why that is,” he explained.
“I’ve played with guys who are the greatest people, and the funniest and have the best personality – but they never get an opportunity to show it. Maybe they don’t get exposed, or are nervous or are a bit too worried about what people might think, because everything you say can be taken out of context. Often guys are too scared to have a joke or be a bit light-hearted in case it’s reported or read the wrong way.”
In some ways, Grima’s ability to have a joke and be genuinely funny has made him a natural media performer but, perhaps surprisingly, it’s also something he’s had to work at.
“One thing I’ve always wanted to do in the game, other than play – I came in as an older player and always wanted to play as many games as I could possible play – but I didn’t want to lose the personality or the person that I was, within reason.”
“I believe in just being myself and I try to grow as big a network base as I can through footy. Most of that’s not just because I play footy but [it’s about] the light-hearted, relaxed be-a-character type person I try to be.”
Not that he puts it on – he just has to remind himself not to turn it off like some other players do.
“It’s not a show, it’s just how I am 24-7.”
His best mate, and former-teammate, Geelong ruckman Hamish McIntosh agreed.
“That’s how he is when I see him outside football, and all his other mates would say exactly the same. He’s a larrikin and doesn’t take life too seriously,” McIntosh said.
“He likes to have a laugh with the boys. He’s intense and professional when he needs to be but then he knows how to relax as well, and that’s how he comes across to the media. He likes to have a laugh, which is what people like about him in the media.”
But while Grima’s approach to media is loved by most, it’s one that’s liable to inciting detractors, who have a knack of voicing their opinions louder than everyone else. The Kangaroos’ number 17 says there is still an expectation for players to act a particular way when they lose – something he believes is both unfair and unhealthy.
“He’s intense and professional when he needs to be but then he knows how to relax as well.” – Former teammate Hamish McIntosh
“The reality is with footy, you’re going to win some weeks and you’re going to lose some,” Grima said.
“For people to draw a long bow between ‘oh they got beaten on the weekend and this bloke’s having a joke, or having a laugh, or smiling’… they’ve obviously never played at the elite level – or any level. You never get rid of the hurt of a loss or a bad performance but you can’t walk around for a week dragging your bottom lip along the ground and making everyone else’s life a misery.
“Suck it up, you lost the game, of course you’re hurting, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of humour in your life. As long as it’s done in good taste I don’t see what the big deal is.”
It’s hard to recall a player making a statement like the one above, which is odd given how much sense it makes. But when you consider the way life has changed for the average AFL player in recent years, it’s easy to see why it’s a message we haven’t heard before. The game is constantly becoming more professional, and is subsequently being taken more seriously as each year goes by.
“I’d love to play for another ten years – obviously that’s not going to happen – but I’m sort of glad that I started seven or eight years ago, because the game’s changed so much on and off the field in that short period,” Grima admitted.
“It’s gotten so much more professional and so much more driven by sports science and the likes. It’s still great, we still do what we love, but the enjoyment factor isn’t what it was at the start. I guess because you’re really excited by it at the start and then it becomes more like your job after that when you start to play a bit more.
“I wish the game could be more fun but at the end of the day you’ve got injuries, form, pressure for spots and it’s hard to have fun all the time, so you don’t really expect it.”
Grima admits though, that every now and then, moments of genuine fun come about when you least expect them. If there’s one on-field incident for which Grima is known, it’s the goal he kicked against the Bombers last year in his 71st game – the first goal of his career.
“People carry on about it. I know I carried on about it, but it’s funny how people find little things like that amusing,” Grima reflected.
“A lot of people said to me, ‘it’s just good to see players enjoying the game’ because to be honest, in a season of footy there aren’t many special moments – I’m not saying the goal was a special moment, by any means – where you can just get pure enjoyment on people’s faces, other than a win, obviously. But even then, as soon as you win you sort of move on to the next opponent.
“Just a moment within a game where you can laugh, like a player’s first goal or a player does something well in their first game or one of those moments where you think ‘how good’s this?’ You don’t care how much blokes are getting paid or how many people are watching or who’s on top of the ladder – it’s just a good moment. That goal was by no stretch one of those moments, but I just enjoyed it. It was just good camaraderie for the lads. I wish we could get a few more moments like that in footy.”
It’s a view almost all footy followers share. Since speaking with aflplayers.com.au in the lead-up to the season, Grima has become a regular on SEN 1116’s Morning Glory program – but that’s just been the start of it. Morning Glory host Andy Maher has referred to Grima as being on “media street” lately; AFL 360 hosts Gerard Whateley and Mark Robinson are claiming he’s part of the “360 family”, while Maher and co-host Andrew Gaze insist Grima is “SEN‘s own”.
— Morning Glory (@MorningGlorySEN) April 29, 2014
But as you’d expect, Grima isn’t too worried about how the possibility of a career in the media might turn out.
“If something comes of it, then great, but I haven’t tried hard to get where I am in that regard, so it’s no skin off my nose if nothing ever eventuates and I don’t get the chance to do some funny or light-hearted media,” he said.
“At times I’ve thought I don’t want to get a reputation where people think, ‘gee, this bloke’s a mediocre player and he’s carrying on like a clown in the media all the time’, but at the end of the day people are going to find a reason to dislike someone anyway.
“I just sort of thought, well if I rub a few people up the wrong way or they don’t think I’m taking the game seriously or they don’t want to hear what I’ve got to say, well, hopefully that’s the minority. For the majority, I’ll keep doing it.”