“Because when some footy people hurt, we all hurt.”
I read that line on Friday morning, just hours after waking to the desperately tragic news that Adelaide Crows coach Phil Walsh had been murdered. Friends had already begun to send disbelieving text messages and it seemed almost inconceivable that this had occurred. I think shock was, and is, still the primary reaction of most people.
Walsh was much loved at my club Port Adelaide, where he spent 11 seasons as an assistant coach including the premiership winning 2004 season. His contribution to the short history of our AFL club was immense both as a person and an employee. When he left last year it was with the best wishes of everyone at the Power and the feeling he was ready to make his mark as an AFL coach. To read so many heart felt pieces from Port players past and present over the last couple of days highlights just how much we still felt like he was one of our own.
Was. The hardest word to say at a time like this.
Watching the Collingwood and Hawthorn players link arms in the centre of the MCG on Friday night was an incredibly powerful moment that lost none of its poignancy as it was repeated through the rest of the round’s games. It was led by Alastair Clarkson, a man who spent time coaching at Port Adelaide alongside Walsh. Then I saw Damien Hardwick following the Richmond game and was reminded he would have played under Walsh at the Power, as did his assistant coach Brendan Lade. Another assistant, Mark Williams was one of Walsh’s best mates and of course the Port coach in that premiership year. Their opponents, GWS, have two former Power players in Chad Cornes and Dean Brogan as assistant coaches. On and on it went; having played at three clubs and coached at four there is no doubt so many people felt like Walsh was in some way one of their own.
And clearly football fans have all felt the same way too. Tributes built up steadily through the day outside the Adelaide Football Club’s headquarters with the navy, yellow and red sitting alongside the teal, black and white in a unique mark of respect. People took to social media to post photographs of their club scarves tied outside homes and offices in a show of solidarity amongst the football community. #weflyasone has never seemed so apt.
I can’t begin to imagine what the Walsh family is going through now, compounded no doubt by the fact their family has been so shattered by the loss of not just a father and husband, but also a son and a brother. It’s just unthinkable and almost unbearably sad. I hope those who knew and loved Walsh best take some comfort from the fact that all footy people feel like they have lost someone special – because when some footy people hurt, we all hurt.
Rest easy, Phil Walsh. How precious and fragile this life is.