The arrest of former player and coach Dean Laidley has highlighted a growing concern within the AFL community.
The former North Melbourne coach Laidley was arrested outside a home in St Kilda on Saturday night, photographed wearing a long blonde wig and a dress.
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Two senior constables have been suspended so far over leaked pictures of Laidley inside the police station.
Laidley is facing stalking and other charges, and remains in custody until May 11 after not applying for bail.
The 53-year-old has reportedly struggled in his time away from the AFL - battling illness, legal dramas, drug use and mental health problems - among other issues.
Footy great Mick Malthouse, who coached Laidley at West Coast in 1990 and hired him as an assistant coach at Collingwood and Carlton, revealed that Laidley had been "quite ill" in the past.
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) May 3, 2020
Like many others in the AFL community, Malthouse is concerned by the fact that Laidley is the latest in a list of former coaches who've struggled with life after footy.
“They (coaches) just absorb it, the family absorbs it and then something cracks, something gives way,” Malthouse told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.
“I can categorically tell you the number of coaches that I know who have come in and gone out of the game, and I look at them and they age very, very quickly. They become old men quickly.”
Laidley's case has shone a bright light on how the AFL can and should be providing better support networks for its former employees, with former Western Bulldogs and Richmond coach Terry Wallace saying he's "seriously disturbed" by what he describes as an "alarming trend".
“I’m really seriously disturbed by the fallout and trend of major issues surrounding our past senior AFL Coaches in the last decade,” Wallace tweeted.
I’m really seriously disturbed by the fallout & trend of major issues surrounding our past senior AFL Coaches in the last decade. There are only 18 coaching at one time yet they are outweighing player issues. As a matter of urgency we need to ask why this has occurred ?
— Terry Wallace (@thelistmanager) May 4, 2020
“There are only 18 coaching at one time yet they are outweighing player issues. As a matter of urgency we need to ask why this has occurred?”
Wallace elaborated on his comments when speaking to SEN Drive on Tuesday, insisting that more can be done within the AFL to address the issue.
Calls for better support framework for ex-coaches
“People inside the industry would’ve known if these things were going on,” Wallace said on SEN Drive.
“What pressures have led to the build up and then that build up becoming so big that then these really, really bad decisions are being made? Had anyone identified them along the line, and were they addressed? I would just love to know the answers myself to how deep the Coaches’ Association had delved into these areas.
“The welfare arm used to worry me about when players left the club, because that’s the time when they needed the help more so than ever.
“They felt alone, their careers had ended. How closely did we follow them and how much responsibility do we have to follow up once they’ve left the system?
“Now I think we do better with the players but I know for a fact once upon a time we didn’t. I certainly know we didn’t with the coaches for a long, long time and I just wonder where that sits with all that at the moment.
“When you’re an extremely high achiever within your industry and then all of a sudden someone says you failed and you’re sacked … it’s a bitter pill for people to take and I’ve heard coaches once they’ve been in that position a bit. It’s a dark place they never want to go back to.”
Port Adelaide great Kane Cornes was another to echo the sentiments of Wallace and Malthouse, saying Laidley’s situation highlight the need for the game to provide better care for its former coaches.
"It's going to be magnified with more coaches across the industry losing their job," Cornes told Channel Nine’s Footy Classified.
"I spoke to a coach today that had been sacked and he heard from the AFL Coaches' Association once in the time that he was sacked.
"The AFL needs to take some responsibility (as well as) the Coaches' Association to make sure we are supporting these coaches who do lose their job in the industry, and there's going to be more of them, to make sure that they are okay."