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Stynes a living breach of the rules

  • 21 March 2012

For football followers, March is a month of beginnings and endings. The regular games of the soccer A-League season draw to a close. Both rugby codes and the AFL begin their premiershp seasons.

With the football season comes football news. Much of it is about transgressions: new dangerous tackles, failed expectations, bad behaviour, careless speech.

And in football, transgressions are followed by judgment and punishment: suspensions, sackings and retirements.  Each event is followed by reflection on such topics as footballers as role models, football as a business and racism in football.

This March there has brought sadder news. Just days after the feast of St Patrick, Irish born Jim Stynes died from the cancer with which he had lived courageously and publicly for some years.

The first time I saw Stynes was in a final at VFL Park. On that warm and sunny day he became a notorious transgressor. He ran across the mark and the subsequent penalty probably cost Melbourne the game. It was his first season of Australian Rules football. For a while it appeared that he might forever be remembered by that single transgression. 

But during his subsequent life in Australia he had different and better stories to tell about both football and transgression. In his football career he was a model of reliability and faithfulness in a club that was generally mediocre.

He played almost 250 games without interruption, carrying injuries in order to do so. In his public appearances he was generous, modest and assured. Because his world was manifestly wider than football, he was a good role model for young men and for footballers in particular.

After he finished football his activities addressed some of the questions raised by the everyday football stories: how to handle the relative wealth and celebrity that comes to gifted footballers, and how to deal in a human way with transgression.  

He used his status as a footballer and his energies to work with young people lacking in direction. Through the Reach Foundation that he began he showed a better way of dealing with transgression than by judgment and punishment. He commended the way of encouragement and awakening a sense of possibility. 

He recognised the importance of role models, or heroes as he preferred to call them, and became one himself. He did not treat his celebrity and freedom of access to the wealthy and powerful as bling to be displayed but as a resource for benefiting the