Default Fans

Why the Saints always follow the leader

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Leadership in football. It’s one of the most talked about and analysed parts of our game.

The captain of the club is often watched more closely and judged more harshly than his teammates. His body language, personal performance, even the media appearances he does are examined by the media and fans.

‘There are egos and different personalities and someone has to harness all of those to have everyone rowing in the same direction.”

When my name was called out at the 2003 draft I had plenty of people calling to congratulate me and wish me well. It was an exciting time but I was pretty nervous as well.

Not only was I starting this life in the AFL, I was heading across the other side of the country to do it.

I was a boy who grew up on 90 acres in the bush in North Dandalup in Western Australia. We didn’t have a farm, just all this land. It’s strange, I know.

I grew up barracking for the Eagles, playing soccer until I was 14, and lived out in the bush.

That’s the great thing about a footy club. There are 45 different people from all over Australia – and sometimes the world – thrown into a room and expected to work together to achieve a common goal.

There are egos and different personalities and someone has to harness all of those to have everyone rowing in the same direction.

Bringing people together is one of the main roles of a captain at a footy club.

One of the first people to call when I was drafted was Brad Johnson. Then Rohan Smith called me. Then Chris Grant, Scott West, Luke Darcy. All these great players were great leaders because they wanted the new players coming into the club to feel like they belonged.

AFL 2008 Rd 12 - Western Bulldogs v Brisbane Lions

It makes you feel part of it straight away and it’s something I really appreciated and have carried with me through my footy career.

When I got to Melbourne I lived next door to Granty. He would drive me everywhere and answer all the questions I had. And there was plenty of questions. I must have been so annoying.

‘I was really proud of Roo on Sunday. It’s impossible to understand what he’s been through over the summer.’

But he’s a fantastic bloke and I learned so much about footy and life in the car with Granty.

Johnno was a great captain at the Bulldogs. He would often have Adam Cooney, Tom Williams, Ryan Griffen and myself over for dinner and really cared about how we were going on and off the field.

We had some great times and I think we had a great balance between working really hard at training and enjoying each other’s company off the ground. Johnno and the leaders at the club really drove that. Even though Johnno was a fair bit older than some of the boys he would always go on the footy trip and be part of the fun.

When I got to St Kilda in 2009 I got to know another great captain of the game in Nick Riewoldt.

I always knew Roo was a champion of the game and a star player but I probably didn’t understand how hard he worked, how much he cared about the footy club, and the style he led the team.

Roo trains as hard as anyone, demands excellence, and challenges players to do all they can to play well.

He has always been of the view that “I’m going to lead, get behind me”.

Our footy club is in a transition period at the moment. I am not in the leadership group – maybe because I don’t like meetings that much – but I feel a responsibility to set the standards and example for the next wave of leaders.

I wasn’t at St Kilda when the likes of Robert Harvey and Stewart Loewe handed the leadership of the Saints to Lenny Hayes, Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna and Roo, but I know it was crucial in the evolution of the club.

It was the same when Johnno, Granty, Rohan Smith and the older guys at the Dogs passed on their knowledge and wisdom.

Jack Newnes, Maverick Weller, Seb Ross and Jack Billings are some of the younger players who are getting set to lead the club into the next phase.

They are lucky enough to have one of the game’s great captains to learn from and ask plenty of questions of just like I did.

Farren Ray is an AFL Players’ Association club delegate