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On humility

  • 21 March 2023
During the first week of the football season (at least in AFL states), hopes and expectations are high for all clubs. It’s a time that’s high on rhetoric in football circles, as clubs do their best to get their fans signed up as paid members for another year.

How all the rhetoric matches reality is sometimes hard to discern. What is it that really drives a football club? How does it define success? Is it premiership cups? A healthy bottom line? A large and passionate community of supporters? Most importantly – what will those who lead the club be willing to do in order to achieve any of these goals? (As one example, the human cost of success can sometimes be significant).

I was interested this week to read about the cultural change that Brian Cook is reportedly leading at the Carlton Football Club. Among the club’s new values are two words that many observers would have been reluctant to apply to the club over the years: integrity and humility.

It’s interesting to consider how those qualities can sit alongside the goals of a football club. Integrity, perhaps, is easy to envision. A club can pursue on-field and off-field success with integrity by displaying good sportsmanship and adhering to the rules. But humility is something different. How does a football club in pursuit of premiership cups, financial sustainability and supporter happiness do that with humility?

There doesn’t seem to be much information about what ‘humility’ means to Carlton. Under the heading of ‘humility’, it notes: ‘We are humble yet ambitious and inwardly confident’. It sounds a bit like the political slogan from the TV show Veep (also evoked by Malcolm Turnbull) ‘continuity with change’ – two opposing values coming together to create something essentially meaningless. But I think that’s doing the concept a disservice.

As readers would be aware, one of the major phenomenon of our time is the decline in trust in our public institutions. From churches, to governments and the judiciary, to corporations and even community organisations like football clubs – people today are at best ambivalent, and often even antagonistic, towards those in positions of authority.

'In a world where people are oriented towards mistrust, where even the most respected institutions have been revealed to be all too human and fallible, I think humility is in fact an even more important quality.'

We feel this most strongly when there’s a lack of transparency and