How to rehabilitate Fev? Country air and less grog
Everyone has something to say about Brendan Fevola, even the ‘Fev’ himself. The former AFL star is releasing an autobiography, Fev: In My Own Words, and an extract from the book ran in News Limited papers on Sunday.
Judging by the extracts it appears it will certainly be in Fevola’s words, with references to him being sent to the ‘nuthouse’ and claiming police wanted a big scalp when he was arrested while drunk on New Year’s Day, 2011.
Of course, Sunday is the same day he appears with wife Alex Fevola on Dancing With The Stars so the timing is more than just a tad shrewd – and not unpredictable - by Fevola’s team.
Couple that appearance on the Channel 7 reality show with his recent exploits on the footy field with the Yarrawonga Pigeons and in a one-off appearance with New Norfolk in Tasmania on Saturday (he kicked 18 goals in the game), and the public relations campaign for his book is going swimmingly.
But as good as it all seems at the moment for Fevola, who is now back with his wife Alex after some turmoil relating to his past indiscretions, it’s what he isn’t doing that is helping his image the most – getting obliterated on grog and making an arse of himself.
While the full glare of the AFL spotlight may now be off him, Fevola’s high profile has ensured Melbourne’s news directors and journalists have closely followed his movements in 2012. Rest assured, had he played up and been involved in an incident, particularly one involving alcohol, it would be given the full treatment from the media and the story would have appeared in national newspapers, on TV, be heard on radio and discussed on social media – the latter a platform Fevola enjoys.
Yet, Fevola has had only positive media coverage this year and has won many over with his entertaining style on DWTS. Even my Vietnam Veteran father who generally only watches the ABC, despises reality TV and used to think Fevola was a ‘dickhead’ enjoyed watching Fev’s progress on the show.
So while it’s fair enough for people to treat Fevola’s recent good behavior, unless you count him tweeting for Yarrawonga fans to abuse a goal umpire who sent him off for calling him an idiot a fortnight ago as an err, with some cynicism, there is no doubt he is trying to do the right thing by his family and friends at the moment.
More importantly, this new attitude is helping him do the right thing for his own life.
When an AFL club didn’t pick him up at the end of last year, which had been a nightmare for Fevola that included stints in a lock-up, a mental health facility and saw him delisted by the Brisbane Lions, many assumed he could really go off the rails.
These fears were backed up by one the extracts from Fevola’s book, where he admitted to feeling suicidal at his lowest points.
However, with his AFL career over, Fevola genuinely appears to have treated the events of last year as the catalyst for a positive turning point rather than focus on being bitter with those who he may well feel have burned him in AFL ranks.
Other than following in his wife’s footsteps by making a commitment to appear on DWTS, Fevola signed a contract to play home games with the Yarrawonga Pigeons, in the Ovens and Murray Football League in the Riverina, this season.
Club President Glenn Brear told me the Pigeons certainly had reservations about signing Fevola given his age and his very public off-field issues. But the club took the punt, and the results have far exceeded anything the Pigeons expected.
The rise in attendance (Brear tells me an average home crowd for Yarrawonga was around 900 last season and is now somewhere between 5,000 and 5,500 in 2012) is only part of the story, however.
Those from afar have questioned what Fevola’s worth to country footy really is, with some accusing him of being a mercenary that gives nothing back to the community he plays in.
But speaking to Brear and other Yarrawonga locals, the zest for which Fevola shows when giving something back to the children in the area who idolise him has been impressive.
Brear said that prior to the recent Pigeons win over Wangaratta Magpies, where Fevola’s 10-goal haul proved the difference, ‘Fev’ made the effort to play some kick to kick with kids prior to the game and also spent five minutes on the ground with a young girl suffering polio, who was said to be ‘floating’ after meeting her hero.
After his Pigeons matches, children mob Fevola on the ground and he signs autographs for all of them.
One of Fevola’s more notable gestures this year was donating his match payment (believed to be around $5,000) to play an away game against Myrtleford to the Royal Women’s Hospital.
It should also be noted Fevola’s match-day routine often involved dancing for around four hours on a Saturday morning for DWTS then flying up to the bush to play.
Of course, Fevola is being paid to play and appear on DWTS, but he is not paid to give anything back to the youngsters who look up to him, or have such a good influence on Yarrawonga’s younger players, as Brear assures me he has.
And while there are financial incentives for ‘Fev’ to fulfill certain commitments, he is providing his backers with great return on their investment. By behaving and being a family man (Fevola’s father speaks to Brear regularly and says playing for the Pigeons has helped get his son’s life back on track) Fevola is helping tourism operators and local businesses in the Yarrawonga region.
Sure, ‘Fev’ flies back to Melbourne straight after most games but that has to be a good thing given his battleswith alcohol. Country pubs are not always the best places to be for high profile footy players; as evidenced by current Carlton player Heath Scotland facing charges arising from a violent incident at the Mulwala Ski Club (one of the most-frequented venues in the Yarrawonga area).
The growing number of people coming up from Melbourne to watch Fevola and stay in Yarrawonga hotels while also eating and drinking in the town’s pubs more than make up for Fevola heading home after the game.
One man who knows how much Fevola has turned his life around is Essentially Group’s Marty Pask, who took up the task many may have shirked away from - acting as Fevola’s manager - after ties had been cut with former manager Alistair Lynch.
Pask says Fevola still drinks, but it is in strict moderation.
“Fev no longer takes the deterrent medication that caused him to be ill when he drunk alcohol,” said Pask.
“Getting Fevola into that local footy environment was a must this year, and we made it clear that he was only there (in Yarrawonga) to play and promote the Ovens and Murray competition.”
Pask also says while there could be an element of skepticism from some that Fevola is only behaving to promote his book or advance his prospects for what could be a potential career in footy media, there are far bigger things at stake – Fevola’s family.
Alex now attends some of her husband’s games in Yarrawonga and Pask says Fevola is making a massive effort to be the best father and husband he can be.
When reminded that another former AFL star, Ben Cousins, cleaned up his act amidst selling a TV documentary and resurrecting his footy career only to again fall victim to drugs and his ongoing mental illness, Pask says he believes Fevola is doing everything he can to avoid a similar scenario.
So, what is next for Fevola?
While there is no secret Fev would still love to play AFL footy this just won’t happen and Pask says that now the DWTS commitment is completed the planning has begun for Fevola’s next career move.
The Pigeons have already expressed that they will certainly be negotiating to try and retain the services of Fevolanext season, but Pask says other options could be on the horizon – including getting back into the footy media he was unceremoniously dumped from after a controversial drunken appearance on The Footy Show a few years ago.
Only time will tell whether Fevola can sustain this run of being a good family man and great promoter of country footy and the region he plays in, but it’s almost certain the footy world will be watching him no matter what happens.
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