In two days, many will begin a professional journey into football that will change their lives forever.
In a sense, they will shed their skins and will no longer become ordinary people, and we must remember that this is a cold process. Regardless of their man-sized statures, they are ultimately children that have to be deprogrammed to become commodities on one giant meat market.
In the eyes of some they will be heroes, in the eyes of others they will live on to be villains. One thing many football fans forget about when stuck with this obsession of youth is that to supporters, they’re just another number in a wall of binary code.
Watch on draft night and put all personal punting to one side. A scared and nervous child is all you’ll see because that’s all they are in the end. Parents smile for the camera as they climb the stage, but their eyes say another thing entirely as they’re unsure of the journey’s destination. Highlight reels are one thing, but behind the scenes is another thing entirely.
Imagine the highly competitive environment of junior football nowadays, in which weight sessions now exist for the under-14s. It’s no longer about leisure; it’s about moulding the next generation of footballers. The pressures of maladjusted adolescence mixed with the added pressures of an athletic routine is too much for some, and consumes many that the public don’t get to see on draft night.
Some cracked under the pressure. Maybe one had an outburst at training one evening and was deemed to have ‘attitude issues’, maybe another decided to have one more drink on his first weekend off for eight months and it filtered through to his AIS coaches that he ‘wasn’t serious about football’. That’s the difference nowadays between making it or not.
Just because cash rewards and fame exist further down the line doesn’t mean all will make it there either. Another assumption on draft night is that when one dominates a junior competition, it means they are ready for AFL. While drafting has evolved to becoming a near but not exact science, once again, the human element is ignored. Recruiters don’t know how a player is going to act when caught in the spotlights of the MCG in front of 80,000 people, and they can only really attempt to simulate that environment.
Some fall to injury, some get consumed by the limelight. Ultimately, and most importantly, some just aren’t good enough. Just because you’re drafted doesn’t guarantee anything at all. Predictions and assumptions on what a player will turn out to be are just purely those – predictions and assumptions.
There’s an old Turkish proverb that goes ‘When the axe came into the woods, many of the trees said: “At least the handle is one of us.”’ Footballers rarely walk away bitter when they are defeated by a competitor for a list spot, because they are taught to understand the competitive nature of it all.