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Missionary Sheedy deserves to be judged by his actions

Open and passionate: Kevin Sheedy promotes AFL with a missionary's zeal.

Open and passionate: Kevin Sheedy promotes AFL with a missionary's zeal. Photo: Joe Armao

The joy of Kevin Sheedy is that he looks outside the AFL's small world. He seeks people and ideas and looks to include them. He is a missionary, but one who embraces and learns in new territory rather than forcefully imposing his ideology. He has a hunger for knowledge, knowing it is pointless asking people to understand his obscure sport unless he understands them.

Inevitably, they have even branded Sheedy "racist" - thus trivialising and disempowering a word that should be reserved for the most arch words and actions. 

If Sheedy had been a 17th century explorer, he would have brought back exotic fruits and spices and foreign tongues. Not heads on sticks.

On Sunday, after Greater Western Sydney was thrashed by 135 points before a paltry crowd of 5830, Sheedy said: "We don't have the recruiting officer called the immigration department recruiting fans for the West Sydney Wanderers. We don't have that on our side."

It is a line Sheedy has used many times before. One with a seemingly straightforward sentiment. Soccer is the world's game. Thus, western Sydney's large and increasingly prosperous migrant community - or their second, third and even fourth generation off-spring - are predisposed to that code.

At the Sydney derby this year, Wanderers' officials extolled the benefits of a supporter group that contained members of a wide variety of European, African, Anglo backgrounds. This supporter base was a triumph of a concept that, sadly, has become collateral damage in our cynical political battle - multiculturalism.

Yet, reflexively, some WSW supporters, and others in soccer circles, consider Sheedy's words inappropriate. They have, presumably, construed his observation about WSW's supporter base to be some sort of lament about immigration. Inevitably, they have even branded Sheedy "racist" - thus trivialising and disempowering a word that should be reserved for the most arch words and actions.

Those who were offended by Sheedy's remark - or who felt they ought to be - should consider carefully both the statement and the author. Surely, if what Sheedy said is open to different interpretations, the reputation of the coach standing trial-by-Twitter must be taken into account.

Sheedy is a man with fierce competitive instincts. The legendary "back pocket plumber" whose ability to inflict and withstand physical punishment was renowned, even in the ferocious Richmond team of the late 1960 and 70s. But, decades later, he is not some bitter, world-weary old man jealously regarding a successful rival and its "immigrant" fans.

The 65-year-old coach remains a feisty competitor. But also the open-minded soul who can walk into any bar or coffee shop - as he often does, to the frustration of his minders - and talk to anyone, of any background, for hours. Not merely talk, but also listen. Because Sheedy has a genuine interest in hearing, and learning from, those around him.

From limited engagement, and long-time observation, I can't think of a sporting identity less prone to "racism". Sheedy's record of not merely recruiting, but nurturing indigenous players, is renowned. He was equally proud to have names like Misiti, Alessio and Mercuri on his Essendon premiership team sheets. He knew what it meant for the big wide world to come to his little domestic game.

Thus, it is absurd to suggest Sheedy would bemoan immigration. Rather, he has accepted the AFL's challenge of convincing people from all backgrounds his sport is worth trying. A task that in western Sydney, with its baked-on NRL diehards, and now vibrant soccer community, is devilishly difficult.

Coincidentally, it was Sheedy who first pursued the idea of converting the new wave of African immigrants to AFL. He brought to Essendon, very briefly, a raw Somalian stringbean with little aptitude for the game, you suspect, to merely create the idea young Africans were an untapped source of talent.

Years later, no one would have been more pleased than Sheedy to see Sudanese-born Majak Daw kick six goals for North Melbourne. And no one more horrified that Daw was the subject of real racism - the taunts of two fans ejected from Etihad Stadium.

The worst you might say about Sheedy is that his engagement with people from all backgrounds, and all walks of life, is self-serving. He has a zealot's passion for his sport and wants everyone to share it. He is the antithesis of a racist. Someone who wants to include everyone. Even those who don't necessarily want to be included.


  • this is just your stereotypical "football bashing" that supporters of the World Game have suffered for decades. Some Australians can't understand that there is something far bigger out there than what they see in their backyard, hence AFL's lack of recognition on the world scale. That mindset does border or racism too- how often have football supporters been hit with the "wog ball" taunt? Will AFL go the same way as Holden Commodores?

    Date and time
    May 13, 2013, 12:01PM
    • "football bashing", chelseaf?

      Utter piffle. Read the article.

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 12:24PM
    • WHAT? Did you actually READ the article?

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 12:26PM
    • @chelseaf what makes you think Sheedy is "bashing" soccer? He is acknowledging that most immigrants are going to be drawn to it. Is "immigrants" a dirty word in your private universe? It's certainly not for Sheedy. You need to differentiate between a slur such as "wog ball" and a factual (and not uncomplimentary) statement such as "immigrants are drawn to soccer".

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 12:30PM
    • @chelseaf, you just can't go one day without Commodore bashing can you. Your Sir are a dullard.

      Enuff from you Nuff Nuff
      Please Shut Up
      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 12:34PM
    • What can I say? The wearisome battle between Labor and Liberal hacks on in the politics section of this website does not compare to the snobbery and raw ideological hatred in the battle of Australian soccer fans versus Australian rules football.

      If there is one type of article that would be better off with comments disabled, Soccer versus AFL is it.

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 12:36PM
    • Did you actually read the article or know who Kevin Sheedy is? It appears it is you who is "football bashing" my friend.

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 12:42PM
    • Oh boo hoo! We all know what Sheedy means and he is correct. Why always play the victim with the old trump "racist" card, not going to win any friends here. It's a crap game anyway, good for girls and actors!

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 12:49PM
    • should check out which sport has the 4th highest attendance at games in the world, that would be AFL, considering its played in only a couple of states in the back end of the world, I'd call that an achievement....The top 5 most attended sports in the world are
      1. NFL (300 odd million Americans)
      2. Bundesliga (80 odd million Germans)
      3. EPL (60 odd million in the UK)
      4. AFL (23 odd million aussies)
      5. Major League baseball (US again)

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 2:28PM
    • @Shemp: what you have there is the most attended LEAGUES in the world. This may shock you but in England alone there are 8 tiers of football compromising of 16 Leagues each with about 20 or more clubs.

      Over 10 million spectators watched a game in the SECOND tier of English football, The Championship in 2012/13. BTW all of these teams are subject to being relegated to lower leagues, unlike the AFL where the likes of GWS can be smashed week-in week out and still play at the highest level next season Can you imagine what relegation would do GWS crowds playing in the second tier AFL league in Sydney?

      And this just England: There still Germany, France Italy, plus all of Sth America and Asia.

      Agent Smith
      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 2:57PM

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