It’s not always all about the 120 minutes on the football field.
Former Western Bulldog player Brett Goodes would know, taking his 22-game AFL career as only the start of his passion for the AFL Community and the rights of the people involved.
Goodes’ journey of self-discovery helped him to realise that it wasn’t just about pulling on an AFL jumper and playing at the elite level.
It’s about so much more.
Growing up in Horsham, Goodes lived with his mother and two brothers, Adam and Jake in a strict household, where there was minimal television and religion was the centre of their home.
“We didn’t really play AFL as kids. We were Jehovah’s Witnesses growing up, so it was a bit of a challenge [to play sport] with church.”
However, when older brother Adam picked up the footy after moving away from soccer, he encouraged Brett to follow the same path.
But the path wasn’t as straightforward as he had hoped and it would take Goodes some time to mature and reach his full potential as a footballer and as a person.
“I played up a fair big, wagged school, got in trouble with the police for stealing, smoked marijuana as a young kid,” an honest Goodes said.
“The great change for me was moving from Horsham to a smaller town – Dimboola and being away from those bad influences. That’s what saved me.”
Goodes began his career in the TAC Cup (Under 18s) and played through his teenage years, with the main goal to be drafted to an AFL club.
However, his aversion to training and casual attitude held him back.
“I didn’t have the understanding of what was required from a training and fitness standard to get to that elite level,” Goodes said.
This lack of knowledge proved dire early on Goodes’ AFL path, costing him a chance to be drafted coming straight out of high school as he had originally planned.
“I missed out on the draft as an eighteen-year-old and I had a significant shin injury in the TAC Cup,” Goodes noted.
“When I didn’t get drafted it was a kick in the guts. But I don’t think I was ready, looking back.”
Goodes turned his focus to his studies, finishing Year 12 and working through a degree in Conservation Management.
He continued his football, playing one senior game for the Port Magpies in the SANFL (South Australian National Football League), before moving back to Ballarat to play for North Ballarat in the VFL.
It wasn’t easy to get back on his football feet after the rejection that felt like the ‘be all and end all’, but as he matured, something clicked in Goodes’ mind and his motivation to reach ultimate on-field success began.
“I was used to getting by on talent,” Goodes said.
“But when I turned 23, I did a pre-pre-season and got really fit. I discovered that I actually had running ability!”
This progress after a solid year had a few AFL Clubs talking.
“North Melbourne had a chat to me at the end of 2007 after a good season. They were close to putting me on their rookie list.”
But it wasn’t to be.
“They picked another player instead of me. I was on the radar, so that was the only good feeling,” said Goodes.
Goodes would continue in the VFL for North Ballarat (winning two premierships in 2008 and 2009), before coming to a realisation that he needed a change in his football life.
“I had two premierships at 26, thinking, ‘where to now?’” said Goodes.
“That’s when I decided to follow a career path in footy instead of trying to get on an AFL list.”
So, the decision was made to up and leave Victoria, searching for a new journey and a new challenge for Goodes to work towards.
“I moved to AFL Darwin and worked as an Indigenous Programs Manager. I supported the Indigenous players coming through, which was amazing.”
Goodes came to know and love the people involved in the game, not just playing the game itself.
After one year in Darwin, a multitude of AFL clubs began the search for Player Welfare Managers after identifying the vital needs of their players away from football.
These roles had Goodes’ name written all over them.
At 27, Goodes found himself back in Melbourne after receiving a new job at the Western Bulldogs as Player Welfare Manager, but he was still conflicted on his playing career.
“When I came back, I was at a crossroad; whether I should play VFL or play with friends locally,”
“I wanted to build that rapport with the players [because I was the Welfare Manager], so it made sense to play VFL footy with the young Doggies boys.”
Goodes decided that he would put his playing ambitions on the back burner, while working as the Dogs’ Welfare Manager, putting the players’ wellbeing first.
“It turned out to be a good choice, playing with the aligned Williamstown Seagulls,” said Goodes.
After two years in the VFL, it was a conversation on a Western Bulldogs pre-season training camp in England, that would change the path of Goodes football career.
“We were sitting at Heathrow Airport and Brendan McCarthy [Bulldogs Coach at the time] came up to me and said ‘we’d really like for you to train with the seniors’.
Goodes was 28.
“Because I was an employee [for the Doggies] not many people knew I was training, which worked in my favour,” he said.
Goodes fondly reminisces on the weekend that he was drafted as a rookie for the Western Bulldogs.
“I remember being called into the office. It was a Friday afternoon and we had the weekend off from training. Once I found out, I went down to the beach and stayed on my own.”
“I called Mum on Saturday and told her what was happening. It was a great feeling,” said Goodes.
“I get emotional about it [being drafted]. I always thought I was good enough, when I began to work hard at 23 and I always hoped to get an opportunity, but it never really came.”
Goodes then gave up his role as the Bulldogs Player Welfare Manager to focus on his chance to play senior football for the Dogs, tirelessly pushing himself in the off-season to be considered.
“I got upgraded to the Senior List at the start of the 2013 season and played Round 1.”
“When I ran out I felt like I totally belonged. I absolutely belonged here,” Goodes said.
After a solid debut season in the Dog’s senior side, playing 13 games, Goodes spent the 2014 year predominantly in the VFL side.
Goodes played in the Footscray VFL side, where he would star in their 2014 Premiership win, receiving the Norm Goss Medal for his best-on-ground Grand Final performance.
He was delisted by the Dogs at the end of the 2015 season after playing seven games that year.
He would accumulate 22 senior AFL games, four goals and two Brownlow votes for the Bulldogs in his AFL career.
But, playing AFL was only one puzzle piece of Goodes’ jigsaw and he knew, even at the end of his on-field stint, that he was still fully invested in being involved with the people of the game.
Goodes moved back into the Player Welfare Management Role at the Dogs, where he has spent the past three years developing his connections and assisting players through the strenuous expectations of AFL.
However, Goodes knew he had more to give, particularly to do with his Indigenous heritage.
In mid-2018, Goodes took on a new role at the Western Bulldogs as their Indigenous Programs Manager which has been a cause close to his heart.
Spearheaded by Goodes, the club launched their Reconciliation Plan in order to strengthen their respect and understanding of Indigenous culture.
“My role is to develop those relationships, building respect for Aboriginal communities,” he said.
“It involves Acknowledgement to Countries, Welcome to Countries, educating our workforce around Aboriginal people, culture, life and having more respect for them going forward.”
“A lot of people think it’s a taboo subject, so just giving them the general education around it has been great,” Goodes said.
By leading the way in creating a safe environment that encourages the conversation around Indigenous rights in the AFL community, Goodes has forged stronger bonds than ever before.
“I’ve had more meaningful conversations with staff and people in the club that want to get to know more about this area. It’s fantastic to break that barrier down.”
“People ask me questions about where I’m from and what’s my story and I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate that,” he said.
Goodes believes that his work to expand and deepen the respect and understanding of Indigenous rights and history at the Bulldogs has been much more impactful that his time on the field.
“A part of me is being left here if I was to leave tomorrow. I can really leave a lasting impression for the club and grow this area, to be a club where Aboriginal people want to come and work and play,” said Goodes.
“I feel even more connected to the club now.”
Brett Goodes is the 968thplayer to pull on the red, white and blue of the Western Bulldogs, but this isn’t the statistic that defines him.
What defines him is his passion for sharing his Indigenous culture and for helping the people involved in the game of Australian Rules.
When Brett Goodes set out on his AFL journey, like most players, he was driven by milestone games, goals and premierships.
But along the way, he realised that he was destined to make his mark through the people, connections and cultures that unified them.
“That’s the thing about Aussie Rules. It is a great equaliser. It brings a lot of people together.”
And for Goodes, maybe his destination wasn’t an accident after all.