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Thread: STRESS, TEARS & A CLUB RUINED - Pek Cowan

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    STRESS, TEARS & A CLUB RUINED - Pek Cowan

    Came across this just now. Gutted all over again.

    STRESS, TEARS & A CLUB RUINED
    Pek Cowan - Contributor

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    This is a story about unemployment. Itís about kids crying at having to move states and leave their friends behind, and mothers delivering babies into a world of uncertainty.

    Itís about stress and anger and disrespect and mortgage payments. It might be about depression, but I wouldnít know for sure, because Iím not trained to diagnose it, and there are no professionals around to help.

    Itís the story of the Western Forceís destruction and it hasnít been told outside of the playing group until now.


    THE FLAME IS NOW A CANDLE
    Matt Hodgson and I are the only two guys who have been with the Force since the start. Thatís 12 seasons now. There have been so many people who contributed to the club during that time Ė the fans, the volunteers and tons of others. Weíre not even going to be able to say goodbye to them.

    Iím not sure what Iím going to do. Iím only 31 and could play for a couple of years. And Iím contracted until next year anyway. The hardest thing for me to deal with is the thought of moving states to represent a union that didnít want the club I bled for.

    My passion for rugby has always burned brightly. It is barely a candle now, just faintly flickering, and it could extinguish entirely unless I find a way to reconcile all the things that have happened over the past month.

    Part of me just wants to stay in Perth and make them pay me for next year. A big, ĎStuff youí for all the mistakes the ARU has made along the way that led to our demise. Part of me thinks about going overseas. And part of me is pretty excited about this new comp Twiggy Forrest is backing that could potentially be up and running next year.

    It still feels like a bad dream. Sometimes you think youíll wake up from it and go, ĎThat was terrible, but everythingís OKí. But itís not. Every day since the Forceís execution was confirmed has been worse than the one before.

    Guys are looking for contracts and trying to organise their lives. Thatís not easy. Super Rugby teams are pretty much full for next season and there is an argument going on between the ARU and franchises over who is liable to pay out existing contracts for Force players. Overseas markets are closed, too.

    Weíve pretty much been left high and dry at the worst time of the year.




    OUR LIVES UPSIDE DOWN
    The stress on families has been ridiculous. Two playersí partners have had children within this window. And then there are guys like me whose wives are pregnant. Some of them are becoming first time dads, which is hard enough to deal with, let alone when you donít know whether youíre going to have to move states and change professions.

    We sold our family home a couple of weeks before we found out the Force could be cut. The plan was to buy in Perth again, as we consider Perth home, so we rented until we were ready.

    When our lease was up and still no ARU decision had been made, we were forced to move into our investment property an hour from school and the Forceís training facilities.

    The future was uncertain so we needed to be somewhere we could up and leave should the time come. We thought this would be a short-term solution but we are still here 6 months later, no clearer about what weíre doing. My pregnant wife is in the car three-to-four hours a day.

    Iím lucky. Iíve got my wife and sheís pretty level headed. But there are younger guys in our Future Force squad and others not on full contracts who donít have anyone over here. They were calling teammates in tears, not knowing whether they were going to have to move back to Tonga or Brisbane or somewhere else in Australia or overseas.

    Itís the story of the Western Forceís destruction and it hasnít been told outside of the playing group until now.

    As one of the more senior players within the group, I knew players would reach out to me. You know theyíre nervous and vulnerable so you act like everything is going to be OK when, deep down, youíre scared yourself.

    Itís been hard enough keeping my own family intact, reassuring my wife and kids everything is going to be OK, and counselling and comforting teammates has been an extra layer of angst.

    Part of me thinks, ĎI want to bad mouth Australian rugby, look at what theyíve done to us.í But guys are in different parts of their career and that approach might not be helpful for them. Itís been a massive challenge.

    Iím surprised nothing bad has happened with individuals or when the group is together in a social gathering. If youíre not in the right frame of mind and youíre upset and angry, thatís really the perfect storm for bad decisions.

    That, in itself, is a credit to how tight the group is, how much we care for each other. Weíve all leant on each other at different times in this process and made sure nothing bad has happened.

    As rugby players, itís not the easiest or most natural thing to tell someone youíre really struggling emotionally. Hodgo actually works in the mental health space and is an ambassador for Liviní. Heís really concerned with what heís seeing.

    Not so much about what the players are doing now, but what could happen later. The unforeseen.

    When guys are told there are no contracts for them and theyíre shoved into the real world, thatís where a lot of the concern lies.


    ĎI HAVE NO VALUE TO AN EMPLOYERí
    Weíre a single income family and there are quite a few others in that category.

    ĎWhat do we do now?í Itís a thought that never leaves your mind. You might have set aside funds for a rainy day, and this is it. Itís pretty confronting.

    From the age of 18 Iíve been a fulltime professional rugby player. Iíve never had a real job outside of working for mates who own businesses before I moved from Sydney to Perth.

    Rugby is all Iíve done. Itís what Iíve been good at. Itís what Iíve always committed to.

    Itís been hard enough keeping my own family intact, reassuring my wife and kids everything is going to be OK, and counselling and comforting teammates has been an extra layer of angst.

    My wife is a nurse so she could go back to that when the time is right for her. But itís a pretty strange feeling to think, ĎHang on, Iíve been one of Australiaís best at doing what I do, and now I canít even get a job doing some labouring work because I donít have a white cardí.

    When I sit back and think about my value as an employee, thatís when it gets quite scary. For someone like me who has been doing this for so long, itís like, ĎI have no value to anyone other than a rugby clubí, which is pretty sad when you think about it.

    My boys are turning nine and eight and have spent their whole lives in Perth. Theyíre really good friends with some of my teammatesí children. Theyíre shocked and in tears. ĎWhat does this mean?í ĎDo we not get to go to the rugby anymore?í ĎDoes Dad not play rugby anymore?í

    One of my good mates had to sign with another franchise and his entire family will have to uproot and move interstate. His children were in tears because they didnít want to leave Perth. They love everyone here. ĎDoes that mean we donít get to see Pekís kids?í ĎDoes that mean we donít go to the same school anymore?í

    Itís not abnormal for families to have to move. In professional rugby, that happens. But they usually get plenty of warning. Thereís always prep time, time to tell the kids and get them ready for the inevitability of having to say goodbye.

    Not this time. Itís like, ĎYou have to go now.í Itís tough. The kids see their mates every day. Theyíre so close because the team is so close. Itís really heartbreaking for them and possibly more heartbreaking for the parents. Weíre powerless in all this. Itís out of our control. And our children are hurting.

    This is affecting more than just the playing group.




    THE ARU COMMUNICATION VACUUM
    One of the frustrating things for me is that we have had absolutely no support for player or family wellbeing and mental health. Nothing has been offered to the players. We still havenít spoken to a representative from the ARU since we were officially chopped. Not one.

    Instead of being treated like human beings, the ARU have approached us as if we were bad real estate deals. They needed to get rid of the asset, they werenít emotionally attached to it, gone.

    We found out the Force lost arbitration through one of the guys in the Wallabies set-up. He relayed that back to the rest of us in Perth and thatís how the team found out.

    We told the ARU how frustrated we were and they said, ĎWeíre really sorry.í They said all the right things. But then the same thing happened with the high court challenge.

    I looked online at a news site and read the outcome, then I texted our manager and asked, ĎDid you know this was out?í He didnít. He said, ĎThe ARU has done it to us again.í

    I asked him to ask the CEO if he knew and he didnít either. He got a call a few minutes later.

    The players feel unvalued. The ARU couldnít even talk to us. They already knew they were cutting our license and telling the media was more important than telling the people they were effectively making redundant.

    With all the hard work weíve done over the last 12 years, itís pretty disheartening. The decision to chop us was pre-determined.

    We thought it was a two-horse race and found out later it wasnít. It was always us. It was just a matter of how they were going to do it.


    MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS
    There has been no assistance provided to the playing group whatsoever. My Mum, Brenda, worked in the banking sector in New Zealand and sheís seen plenty of redundancy rounds. She canít believe that the ARU has provided nothing in the way of support.

    At the banks, Mum said, there were experts flooding in to deal with mental health and wellbeing issues of the redundant staff. If someone was in a dark place or, worse, acting upon it because their whole livelihood had stopped, the bank accepted a responsibility for that personís emotional wellbeing.

    And now that I think about it, I canít believe the ARU have not come to see us, much less put structures in place to help players in moments of hardship. I mightnít be able to see the signs of someone who is going to self-harm Ė itís not my area of specialty Ė but I would feel absolutely responsible if they did.

    I donít think the ARU realise how massively their decision could impact player wellbeing. Taking care of your mates is what we pride ourselves on on the field, but itís probably one of the things weíre least capable of doing off it because we are not trained in that area. We donít know the signs of depression, self-harming or worse.

    The guys arenít themselves. Theyíre dealing with all these emotions. Theyíre not acting like they usually do around the group.

    I put myself in that category. I normally love being around the team and having them around me. I was the guy who would organise to have everyone over to my house and weíd all have a great time. But I havenít felt like that for a while now. I hope it comes back.

    Instead of being treated like human beings, the ARU have approached us as if we were bad real estate deals. They needed to get rid of the asset, they werenít emotionally attached to it, gone.

    We get together a bit away from training to talk and understand what each of us is going through. When we first heard that weíd had our license revoked Ė and there were only a small number of us in Perth post-Super Rugby at the time Ė we organised to get together at The Wembley Hotel to be together. We didnít have anyone else.

    I remember the barman coming up to us and saying, ĎI heard you lost your jobs today, Iím really sorry.í

    Everyone deals with it differently. Some guys have processed everything on their own. Some guys have found the safety and protection of smaller circles within the group.

    Itís hard to explain. It still feels strange. Weíre still walking into training with the Perth Spirit and you find out another of the trainers has just been made redundant. He will stay until the end of NRC but then heís gone. People upstairs were there yesterday and arenít there today.




    THE LAST GOODBYE
    Something clicked at the end of this season. Itís amazing what you can do when youíre playing for your survival. A group of guys that didnít have a lot of support from the ARU Ė weíve had the least amount of ARU top-up money for almost our entire existence Ė sticking it to some of the biggest names in Super Rugby.

    The last two games this year were satisfying in an odd way. We had a chance to play the Melbourne Rebels and make a statement, ĎYou canít get rid of us.í We both had full teams and we won that game quite convincingly.

    The next week we played the premier team in Australian rugby, the Waratahs. They have the biggest budget, the most ARU top-up funds and some of the biggest names in world rugby. We put in probably the best 80-minute performance the club has ever played and won convincingly again.

    We didnít know then that would be the last time we would play as the Western Force.

    Thatís another thing thatís bothering me personally. Yes, Iíve hated this process. Yes, it has affected my family and the families of other guys. Yes, it has impacted on our chances of getting a contract somewhere else.

    But itís also the little things. I had played Super Rugby for 12 years, that was our last game and we never even got a chance to walk around the stadium. That wasnít for us. Itís for the people who have come out and supported us for 12 years and give back to them.

    Our support has grown. You saw it at the last Test match at nib Stadium. It shows the passion we have.

    The silence from the other Australian clubs was deafening. In my opinion, it felt like the playersí hands were tied because ultimately it came down to their employers telling them, ĎWeíre not chopping you, weíre chopping these guys, donít kick up too much of a stink and youíll get a bit more cash.í

    The players werenít like that, but it felt like the organisations were. The fact no club came out and made official statements in support of the Force hurt. It was just players doing press conferences and fielding occasional questions. Other than saying, ĎWe think weíre stronger as fiveí they wouldnít definitively support not cutting the Force.

    Chopping one team doesnít mean anything to the ARUís finances. Weíve looked at all the numbers and the ARU donít keep that money. They have to divvy it out to all the other teams. The players take up a percentage of revenue anyway. Whether that percentage is spread over four or five teams, itís the same figure.

    The ARU arenít keeping the money. Nothing really makes sense. Itís like they just made up their own reasoning for it and you could see straight through it.


    IN CLOSING
    I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our loyal, vocal, proud, committed, loving and supportive sea of blue supporters, from our 12-year members to our juniors who show up week in and week out.

    Rain hail or shine. Win lose or draw. You have been amazing and I am sure I speak on behalf of all our players and staff both past and present when I say you have always been the true force behind the Force.

    Nothing has ever made me prouder than to be able to represent you all.

    I would also like to say that this was never about one club versus another. It was about rugby as a national game and, more importantly, wanting rugby to thrive in WA.

    Pek Cowan - Contributor

    https://www.playersvoice.com.au/pek-...a-club-ruined/

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    The ARU may be trying to wipe us from the history books but we will never forget. We will never forget the sacrifices of our players. From the young fellas who took a chance on becoming a professional rugby player through the Future Force to our most senior and most revered players like Pek, Hodgo and Sharpie, we will always remember what a special club we had. Whether the playing field was level or not, the Force was us and we were the Force. I am one of the true believers as described by Tony Howarth during the Senate submissions. I believe in the Force. I believe in our players and i believe in every thing the Force stands and represents. We will never be able to put into words our gratitude towards those who have proudly worn our jersey and we will certainly never forget those players who held its values to the highest accord. Right now we share your pain but im reminded of a saying that i think is appropriate, "Do not be sad that it is over, be happy that we were lucky enough to have had it at all". Though the fire may fade, the embers represent the memories we hold dear, Shepherd kicking the touchline conversion for our first home win, Hodgos long range try vs the Crusaders, the 2014 season, the last home game thrashing the Waratahs are all sparks that ignite the fire all over again for myself and the supporters who believe.

    From the sea of blue, it was a privilege, it was an honor, it was our lives too and all we can say is Thank you, Thank you for being OUR WESTERN FORCE.

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    Legend Contributor blueandblack's Avatar
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    Kalahard, I hope you don't mind but I just posted that to an FB article (with a link back to it here) as a comment

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    My wife was with the start up operation of the Mighty Force for a few years and still thinks that Pek and Canno are the 2 nicest lads she has met. Please Pek stay strong and unified we can beat these bastards. Maybe its time to start rethinking our own the force funds. What if we as a collective helped out these boys and staff in some way to keep them here until the new competition starts?

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    Quote Originally Posted by blueandblack View Post
    Kalahard, I hope you don't mind but I just posted that to an FB article (with a link back to it here) as a comment
    Hopefully Pek and the boys get to read it as one of thousands of messages of support for all they have done for us.

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    Quote Originally Posted by boof1050 View Post
    My wife was with the start up operation of the Mighty Force for a few years and still thinks that Pek and Canno are the 2 nicest lads she has met. Please Pek stay strong and unified we can beat these bastards. Maybe its time to start rethinking our own the force funds. What if we as a collective helped out these boys and staff in some way to keep them here until the new competition starts?
    I think Twiggy has offered them all employment contracts, though i remember something about a cut off date. Six months of club footy then into the IPRC while still on Super Rugby money is not a bad offer, it may stall some careers of the guys with International ambition but can also be viewed as a minor speed bump along the journey.

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    Senior Player Macattack's Avatar
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    Great article Pek.

    The Sea of Blue will never forget the passion and commitment shown by players like yourself to our club - there is an enormous amount of love within the Sea of Blue for our players and huge sadness and anger at the way the club has been treated.

    We wish you and the other Force players nothing but the very best, thanks for everything and thanks so much for being so loyal to the club we have loved for 12 years.

    Finally, the Force may yet rise again in years to come and I hope the absolutely brilliant spirit and culture shown by the Force players will reappear with the club. Be assured of one thing, the Sea of Blue will be ready.

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    Champion Bakkies's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kalahard View Post
    I think Twiggy has offered them all employment contracts, though i remember something about a cut off date. Six months of club footy then into the IPRC while still on Super Rugby money is not a bad offer, it may stall some careers of the guys with International ambition but can also be viewed as a minor speed bump along the journey.
    Twiggy needs to provide a competition that has a three year plan to start off with as Super Rugby will have to last that long due to the current broadcast agreement. The NRC is also in that agreement.

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    Thank you Pek, and all I can offer is what has already been written from the bottom of my blue heart. The ARU is everything that we thought, lying, cheating, self serving greedy bastards who have no right to treat our players and staff the way they have. I opened up the paper today to see the bloody Sun Wolves has taken "our" place in the Australian conference. To say I am totally disgusted and upset is vast understatement. I hope we bankrupt the ARU and they do not go near the new competition. I have sent my Wallaby gear cut up to John Eales with pictures of our aspiring new stars playing rugby, showing him what he and the rest of the charlatans have done!! He can't put this down to naivety.. he for one should know better....

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    Quote Originally Posted by hertryk View Post
    I have sent my Wallaby gear cut up to John Eales with pictures of our aspiring new stars playing rugby, showing him what he and the rest of the charlatans have done!! He can't put this down to naivety.. he for one should know better....
    f**king hell! Go Hertryk!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bakkies View Post
    Twiggy needs to provide a competition that has a three year plan to start off with as Super Rugby will have to last that long due to the current broadcast agreement. The NRC is also in that agreement.
    Don't forget, though, that all those other teams have signed a Participation Agreement until 2025, so SR may last that long.

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    Quote Originally Posted by blueandblack View Post
    Don't forget, though, that all those other teams have signed a Participation Agreement until 2025, so SR may last that long.
    "participation agreement" sounds a lot like "alliance agreement" IE - may as well wipe your arse with it. they'll renegotiate and change it if it suits the immediate financial needs @ the end of 2020 with no heed to the long term.

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    This is a fantastic insight into the mindset of the people most directly affected, and well done to Pek for having the testicular fortitude to contribute such a raw article.

    I really hope everyone involved in rugby in Australia reads Pek's article. Especially (obviously) people at the ERU.

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    They can participate all they like. Doesn't mean the money will be there. Good luck to the slimy fox sports if IPRC goes free to air.

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    I'm in tears reading that.Please Pek send this as a submission to the Senate enquiry. They need to know and have in writing exactly how players are feeling and how they have been treated by the ARU

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