As St Kilda steps up its preparation for the start of the AFL season, former player Jason Gram is stepping up his training with North Albury.

In the mind of Gram, he should be playing with the Saints. He is in the best shape of his life and in his eyes is in the best 18. But it isn’t the case and his former coach Scott Watters says he has no regrets about the sacking of Gram at the end of last year.

Watters and his team of coaches made the difficult decision to sack Gram after a personal matter ended up involving police. Whilst the whole story and what exactly happened isn’t known, the Saints decided it was enough to end Gram’s playing career at the club.

The sacking was the final straw in a difficult two years for Gram at the club. It wasn’t the first time Gram had been warned about his behaviour and he had been suspended indefinitely before, ending up spending the night in a jail cell. Watters says the club had spent 16 months trying to work through Gram’s problems before they made the decision to sack him.

In the end it came down to doing what was best for the culture and reputation of the club.

Gone are the days of talent being enough to keep you on the list; if your off-field problems and/or activities are hurting the club’s reputation, you will suffer the consequences.

The Saints know the damage off-field drama can cause a club first hand and have been trying to rebuild the reputation of the club. Most of this happened before Watters came to the club but the names of Andrew Lovett and the St Kilda school girl still haunt St Kilda’s hierarchy.

In trying to move past those issues, the Saints have had to learn to take a no nonsense approach as they couldn’t keep going down the same track.

Gram’s actions were not to the same level as Lovett’s but his arrest was still damaging to the reputation of the club which was what it came down to in the end.

While a club is successful, many people overlook the off-field issues. For the Saints, the highs of 2009 and 2010 are over and many of the playing list is also gone. A new coach in Watters also meant new approaches and having to play by his rules. Watters came from Collingwood, a club that employs a no nonsense approach, focusing on professionalism on and off the field.

As well as looking at the culture of the players and what they represent, the club also needs to take into consideration how it looks to the public and sponsors.

If a club looks bad in public, it’s less likely to attract sponsors and struggle to keep the ones they have. Clubs and the AFL also want to put out the image of being a family environment, which isn’t possible when players are in trouble with the law.

Whilst Gram thinks he is hard done by, most clubs are taking the same approach. Brendan Fevola is one person that comes to mind when a player’s off-field dramas affect a club. Firstly at Carlton and then at Brisbane, he couldn’t keep out of the headlines for the wrong reasons which had become public.

Another who knows that club culture comes before that of the individual is Gram’s new coach at North Albury, Jason Akermanis.

Akermanis’s behaviour never once saw him in trouble with the law or caught doing the wrong thing. Instead, it was his mouth which got him in trouble at both the Lions and Western Bulldogs. His words were harmful to the reputations of both clubs and damaged the culture they were trying to build.

Both of those players were in the best 22 of their sides but it wasn’t enough; the same goes for Gram. Whilst what Gram got sacked for may have been minor on the scale of things, it was having a lasting impact of the club’s culture and brand which is above any player.