The off-season Rugby League has just endured left me speechless. If you know me, you know that is virtually impossible to do.
For a period of time it seemed that you could not check social media, turn on the television or listen to the radio without learning of yet another indiscretion from an NRL player.
Everyone was petrified that it was someone from their team.
All fans wanted was to be able to have their lunch break in peace, to be able to come back from Subway and not discover that a player from their beloved team had been embroiled in yet another unsavoury off field act.
How we got here, I am not sure. What I am sure about is the response to this horrid off season by the fans.
As a collective, they are done. While they do not all agree about the specifics of how incidents should be handled, they all agree that they should not be having these types of discussions in the first place.
Enough is enough.
The off-season got worse before it got better.
The ‘better’ part has happened recently with Todd Greenberg personally declaring and promising fans an end to the despicable behaviour we have seen in recent months.
I sat in a fan forum audience for a taping of League Life, hosted by Yvonne Sampson, and Todd Greenburg vowed that things would be better from here on it.
He encouraged me to stick with this sport and to not give up on it. I am going to keep my side of the bargain, and I believe that Todd is going to as well. I have to believe; the alternative is too sad.
In the blurry, wretched haze of the off season that was the hangover from hell, there was a beacon of light.
A shining star that stood in defiance of the bad stories that were being published faster than Bolt can run the 100 metres.
In the midst of it all, a social media page called Footy Smiles became my place of solitude, a safe place to go when all hope seemed lost.
Footy Smiles had endless reports, posts and photos of players who were actively out and about in the community putting smiles on fans’ faces. It was refreshing to say the least.
I also try to have a positive spin on Rugby League. It is easy to get bogged down in the negative narrative – but like Marina Go told me when responding to the question I posed on League Life, ‘Why should I stay involved in Rugby League’ -‘99.9% of the men who play Rugby League are wonderful human beings’.
Of course, Marina is right. Inside the walls of rugby league clubs all over the country, there are good men who turn up to training, who work hard for their club and their team mates and who give back to their community, in spades.
They represent their fans with pride and honour, they connect with the public on a regular basis and they genuinely enjoy doing so.
Footy Smiles gets this.
Their slogan is ‘Putting smiles on dials. A spotlight on the positive stories and role models in League.’
They have enough material for multiple posts every day. It really is quite incredible, you do not have to dig very hard to find the inspirational stories that the players are involved in.
They are everywhere and they are happening all the time.
I caught up with @Jamie_B and @TheBiggestTiger to find out a little bit more about who they are, and why they do what they do.
What exactly is Footy Smiles and how did it come about?
Footy Smiles is a social platform designed to tell the good news stories in rugby league.
I run a fantasy rugby league website and when I would share positive stories on our social media it would always have a really positive response, but the focus of that account is fantasy footy and I started to think that the positive stories deserved their own platform.
I approached the nicest guy in rugby league – the Biggest Tiger (he values his anonymity!) and we bounced some ideas around about what we would call ourselves and what sort of stories we would target.
We landed on Footy Smiles, which has really resonated with the Twitter community, within one week we already had over 1,000 supporters!
We couldn’t believe it! We’ve since expanded to Facebook and Instagram to amplify these stories even further.
Why do you think Footy Smiles is important for the rugby league community?
In a world of negativity, we need to remember that the majority of the rugby league community (players and fans) are in it for the right reasons. There are literally dozens of good stories.
Why are you so passionate about sharing this information?
Both Big T and I have dedicated our lives to rugby league, we live and breathe it.
We love the game, but more importantly we love the people and the culture that goes with it.
We want to share these stories to show the rest of the world just how great our game is.
Rugby league gets a terrible wrap from the negative stories that unfortunately occur in our great game, however, for every bad news story there are dozens of great stories!
These great stories get hidden amongst the news cycle and that is why we are passionate about sharing the good news.
A positive outcome is that big names like Buzz Rothfield and news outlets including Fox Sports and Sporting News have been publishing these good news stories, too.
I’m not sure whether we have influenced this or whether it’s just a coincidence. Either way, it doesn’t matter. They are out there!
What are your top three moments from Footy Smiles?
We love seeing the stories appear and then the excitement of being able to share them far and wide.
Each club does a great job promoting good stories, but fans only follow their own club.
We amplify it to the whole rugby league community.
My favourite stories so far have been; Ryan James and Konrad Hurrell supporting their water boy, Ethan to his Year 12 formal.
Bevan French going out of his way to meet a very sick lady, and Josh Aloiai supporting young boys who have lost their parents.
The next best thing so far has been the response from the rugby league community.
They have really rallied behind the account and our notifications, there are so many people supporting us.
We have also been very appreciative of the players and officials who have contacted us to show their support, people like Mario Fenech, Josh Dugan, Andrew Voss and even Todd Greenberg!
We don’t contact clubs directly. We follow all the clubs and the players on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The best source of information is shared directly from the clubs. They write fantastic content, create their own videos and retweet others.
Of course, the Footy Smiles community is also brilliant at notifying us when good stories arise on social media.
We get pinged on Twitter regularly and we always appreciate the heads up!
We have also been contacted by a number of players, club officials and clubs telling us to keep up the great work, they are all very supportive of what we are doing.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard helped to shave the head of a very brave young girl.
Sammy is mature beyond her years and recognised she can help others. In doing so she raised over $5,000. Well done Sammy! pic.twitter.com/3x1tvENC9e
— Footy Smiles ? (@FootySmiles) March 14, 2019
If you have not already followed Footy Smiles, do yourself a favour and hit follow and then share them with all of your footy friends.
Together along with Footy Smiles, we can tell the narrative about how we want our game shown to the public.
Their page saved me over the off season, many times.
Shining a light on the awesome individuals who are involved in the great game of rugby league is how we will keep current fans and how we will win over new ones.
The good news stories are endless.
Do not be fooled by the old narrative ‘Good news stories don’t sell papers’, they can – and they are just what we need to pull our game back from the brink.
Thank you, Footy Smiles from all of us in the rugby league community!