Rarely has the brutal reality of pro sport been more evident than in August when the Brisbane Lions sacked their coach, club legend Michael Voss. Right now, Voss might be hurting and it may be no consolation to him to be listed among Australian sport’s greatest captains. But dammit, it should be, because that’s exactly what he was. Consider…
If there were ever a blueprint for the perfect AFL captain, Voss would be hard to top. Some coaches like their leader to be the selfless, courageous type – one who might not dominate on the stats sheet, but will gladly sacrifice his own game for the good of the team. Others, increasingly, prefer to put the “c” beside the name of the best player at the club, even if he’s a downhill skiing outside midfielder who doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. Well, when leading the Lions to four consecutive grand finals and winning the flag in 2001, 2002 and 2003, Voss, who won the Brownlow Medal in 1996 and his club’s best and fairest award five times, somehow straddled both archetypes. With coach Leigh Matthews, Voss took a club that was a rabble when he arrived in 1992 to be one of the most feared in the land. And that his style of captaincy worked is evidenced by his selection as All Australian team skipper in 2002 and 2003.
That his greatest triumphs came after he broke a leg so badly during a game in Perth in 1998 that he missed 10 months of football is testament to his attention to detail and courage.
Voss was another who did not let the responsibilities of captaining his team affect his form. Blessed with sublime skills and an 88kg frame that he fearlessly used as a battering ram whenever the need or opportunity arose in his 289 games, he thrived on responsibility, and on the big occasion. Fans still talk of his mighty performance in the 2002 grand final against Collingwood when he turned on a mix of skill, grace under pressure and inspiring leadership and was, to many, mystifyingly pipped by Magpies’ captain Nathan Buckley for the Norm Smith Medal.
When Voss retired, Matthews – one of the most fearsome and skilled competitors of the 1970s and 80s – wrote in Brisbane’s Courier Mail that he “would be flattered if people thought I played like Michael. When Vossy attacked the ball, it was like a missile. He always prepared himself thoroughly and mentally… he was always prepared to play. He is the most valuable player I’ve coached and he’s the most valuable footballer I’ve seen.”
Voss, a modest man, preferred to confine his coaching philosophy to the dressing room, but an interview he gave to Russell Evans of the Gravitas group, which counsels companies on leadership and success, is enlightening: “Although I… didn’t lack football skills, I do believe that I was given the captaincy based on my personal character and ability to influence positively… Ultimately I began to understand it was about leading by my actions and behaviours on and off the field… Leadership to me is being able to bring a group of people together [to achieve] a common purpose… There are plenty of people who want to be called leaders, but not enough who want to show leadership. A lot want to wear the hat but not make the tough decisions or take on the hard work that comes with leadership.”
No. 9: Thursday
No. 10: Johnny Warren
No. 11: Lauren Jackson
No. 12: Michael Voss