Fans Players

I feel for guys like Jake Lever

The AFL off-season has become almost as big as the season proper.

There’s so much hype around free agency, the trade period and the draft that you’d be forgiven for thinking the AFL season goes until the end of November — which is when the majority of AFL clubs are beginning their pre-season campaigns.

The off-season is a massive period for fan engagement and players changing clubs becomes a big deal to those emotionally invested in their favourite club.

So when I see someone go through the stress and criticism of changing clubs, I can’t help but feel sympathetic to their situation. After all it’s something I went through at the end of 2015.

I’m obviously a Melbourne boy and at the end of that 2015 season, the opportunity came up to move home and I took it but not without understanding the seriousness of the situation.

There was speculation throughout the season but I was contracted to the Giants and nothing changed because I was coming out of contract at year’s end. I was just focusing on putting my best foot forward for the Giants and helping them become successful.

Contract talks between both parties had been put off until the end of the season and when we got there that’s when you really start to think about the future.

I knew I was leaving my new mates — the ones I had become a man with. We were part of the foundation side on the field together and I loved the Giants for everything they had provided me.

But at the end of the day, footy wasn’t, and still isn’t, my whole life. Yes, I was happy in Sydney but I was becoming too consumed in the game.

Footy was affecting my way of life and negatively impacting my mood week-to-week. So I decided to make the decision to be closer to my family back in Melbourne.

Only the player and those close to him know his reasons for seeking a trade elsewhere and I’d seriously doubt it’d ever be solely for more money.

No doubt the security of a longer term contract would come into play but being closer to your family and friends would be a motivating factor.

The way the AFL industry is, and we do player movement really well, but the media and public can turn on a player leaving to join another club so quickly without understanding the situation.

Regardless of what your reasons are, those externally can really make you feel bad about what you’re doing.

In the NBA, which is a cutthroat industry, players leave all the time so there seems to be less judgement from the media and public.

It’d be hard to for that to ever replicate that in the AFL, though, because everyone is so emotionally involved, which is great for the game, but there are negatives associated when a player decides his future is elsewhere.

I’m glad I decided to make the move when I did because it seems to be getting bigger every year.

A lot of rumours circulate and the general population listen to what the media says. There’s never a hesitation for someone to give their opinion, especially those in the media who haven’t been in the situation before — even former players who played their whole careers in the state they grew up in.

It can be really disappointing to hear the things said about you on the airwaves and in the papers.

I feel for guys like Jake Lever who has been put through the ringer by a lot of people. Who are we to judge why he decided to move back to Melbourne?

Since I returned to Victoria, I’ve seen a real improvement in my work/life balance.

I’ve been able to further myself away from footy and I’m enjoying my life a lot more. I’m really loving what I do at the moment.

I probably had a better year in 2016 than this year but I’m enjoying myself more than ever and I think that has a lot to do with being surrounded by loved ones.

Being part of Collingwood has provided a lot of opportunities to develop off field. There’s significant media exposure and a lot of links to the corporate world so I’ll be able to work out what my interests are in preparation for the next chapter.

And that lends itself to playing better football. If you’re better developed away from the field, it can positively affect the way you are on it and I think that’s been the case for me.