Sometimes it was impossible for him to avoid a few pots at De Marco's pub in Essendon before heading for training. A layer of Vicks Vaporub on the tongue and not even our coach, Colin Kinnear, could detect any wrongdoing. Price belonged to a different time. When we won the 1979 VFA Premiership at the Junction Oval there was hardly a bloke in the side who earned his daily bread from manual labour. He was the exception. Overnight, dumbbells, medicine balls and relentless running replaced drink trucks, ditch digging and bricklaying as the source of one man's physical fitness. Soon the gyms were full of young men intent on bench-pressing their way to stardom.
It's kind of ironic that Justin Charles, the fall-guy in the AFL's steroid revelation, was once a plumber. I've never imagined a plumber on steroids. Plumbers work hard and always, especially the young ones, look pretty physical in a set of overalls. Charles of course is the epitome of the gym culture and the new football order, not the old world of manual labour and physical work. His is a football world where the demands often exceed the worldly knowledge and wisdom of the average young bloke. I've only met him once and then couldn't help but notice what a cheery, good-natured, intelligent sort of bloke he was. I'm not however surprised that he's resorted to steroids. He's an athlete. To see him described as `more a cretin than a cheat` is another matter.
The old game was fundamentally collectivist. Although most players wanted to be known as the best player and the star of the side, and there wasn't a soul who didn't secretly desire adulation, the individualism was essentially subsumed within the Club culture. Premierships, not medals and individual acclaim, were the source of a footballer's status. Now the individual has a life and identity independent and separate of the fortunes and parameters of the Club. Players now dream of becoming saleable commodities, fashioned and paraded by whiz-kid promoters in a glittering market. Now the pressure is well and truly on the individual player, for his achievements rather than those of his football club determine his identity and marketability.
Whether or not a player becomes a marketable commodity depends on success on the football field. It stands to reason therefore that if steroids can enhance the performance then the only reason, testicle shrinkage aside, for a player not using them is fear of detection. I find it surprising that Charles` detection has been met with such angst and breast-beating. The claim that the `Charles affair` marks Aussie Rules` loss of innocence tends to ignore the massive changes that have occurred over the past 15 years. The dissipation of territorialism, the dilution of Club culture in the interest of a national game, and the transformation of the game and its players into commodities for a predominantly TV audience has totally changed the game.
This is borne out by the suggestion that the Richmond Football Club is now under pressure to sack Justin Charles on the grounds that his testing positive to steroids might damage the Club's marketability and offend its sponsors. Given that footballers in recent times have been known to commit all types of misdemeanours - some of them violent, some of them demeaning of women, some of them racist - it's staggering that there should be any suggestion that a Club should disown an acknowledged good bloke for an indiscretion of this kind. Does it mean a Club has no responsibility for or obligation to its players? Are we seriously to believe that Charles is the first AFL footballer to use steroids?
The physical demand on players as a consequence of decreasing lists, extended travel, and reduced rehabilitation time, coupled with the intensity of the competition and the size of the stakes, will inevitably cause some players to consider the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Some, as was the case with Justin Charles, will succumb. Whether the use of steroids is as widespread as some people claim or is likely to intensify as Clubs become more akin to a collection of elite athletes than `a bunch of footballers`, who can be sure.
It's no secret that young, elite footballers are acutely aware of the need to achieve rapid muscle development if they're to make a successful transition from the under 18s to the world of AFL football. The gymnasium and the attendant culture is a far cry from the days of Trevor Price and, long before that, the sinewy bodies in the old black and white photographs.