Great article posted on Adelaide Now (Adelaide Now)

SO who is the most valuable person in a football club? It’s a discussion that polarises opinion. Is it the coach, captain, CEO, chairman, board of directors or fitness coach?

They all have merit to laying claim of being the person a club can ill afford to lose. But in tough times there is no-one more valuable than a trusted and well-respected chaplain.

“Chaplains?” I hear you say. Yes a chaplain, a man of religious faith.

If you are like I was in 1997 you will probably ask what a footy club needs one of them for. The answer is simple — everything, they are vitally important.

Over the last month, South Australian football has once again been rocked by the loss of one of their own, with the tragic passing of Phil Walsh.

In that time our club chaplains became the public faces who represented their clubs with great distinction at Phil Walsh’s private memorial.

Once again they proved to me that while they may not be the most high-profile representatives of their football clubs, when tragedy of the greatest magnitude strikes they’re the ones go to.

What separates Chaplains from the rest is that they often do their best work when emotions and stress is at its greatest — in love and loss.

Enter the Chaplain’s of our South Australian AFL clubs — Port Adelaide’s Brandon Chaplin and Adelaide’s Mark Purser.

If you haven’t had the privilege of meeting these two unsung heroes you’re missing out.

They’re loyal, loving and fun guys who only want what’s best for everyone around them and their football clubs.

I’m not a religious person, but over the past three weeks I’ve sat back in self pity dealing with the tragic loss of my former coach, while our two Chappies, as they’re affectionately known, have gone to work trying to help everyone else deal with their grief.

Mark’s hosting of Phil Walsh’s memorial had to be seen to be believed; he was composed, selfless and showed great respect for everyone dealing with the pain and loss in the room. He led a brilliant celebration of a great man.

Brandon’s eulogy was one of the most moving and impressive I have ever seen — his honest to-the-point loving tribute to his good mate would have made Phil proud.

Unfortunately Mark and Brandon have had to deal with too many tragic losses over the past three years. In September 2012 Brandon lead a public memorial service at Alberton Oval for the late John McCarthy, while in March last year Mark led Dean Bailey’s farewell memorial celebration at Adelaide Oval.

Both chaplains have played pivotal roles for their clubs in the most difficult of circumstances.

But their work isn’t only in times of tragedy, they also play a brilliant role when things are going well. And like great mates they are there through the good times as well as the bad.

I have known Brandon Chaplin — yes, Chaplin the chaplain — for more than 18 years. In that time not only has he become a great mate but also so much more.

I first took notice of Brandon in 1996, early on in Port’s first AFL pre-season.

It was during a triathlon that I realised not only was he our chaplain but he was also a fitness freak — so much so that he ended up winning the players’ first-ever triathlon.

Over the years he’s played the role as confidant, mentor, counsellor, spiritual guide, marriage preparation facilitator and has married numerous players and their wives, including my wife Rachael and me in 2004.

Our discussions over the years have ranged from open, frank and safe confidential discussions about my playing contract negotiations to unbiased advice with a non-judgemental ear.

And in the off-season he was my cycling training partner through his backyard bike track of Blackwood, Belair, Bellevue Heights and co.

What’s unique is that AFL chaplains volunteer their time to help their clubs for no pay, something of a rarity in professional sport where club spending seems to be out of control.

What’s great is that they’re often around to help out no matter the task — whether its to kick a few balls back during goal kicking practice, joining an injured player in a lonely rehab session or simply being around to talk and listen with a neutral ear.

From funerals, weddings and baptisms you name it they will help you with it. But its what goes unseen that makes their biggest impact.

Like anyone in society footballers have their issues — from marital issues to sickness and stress — they play an undercover role in an increasingly open in-your-face pressurised sporting landscape. And by being the trusted ear to listen and voice to guide, chaplains make their biggest impact away from the bright lights when the players need them most.

Almost all clubs in the AFL have a chaplain working quietly behind the scenes in the suffocating world of professional football.

There are a lot of roles that are vitally important in AFL football but none is as caring as the club chaplain.

Who would have thought that they would become some of the most valuable people working in the game?

Those who constantly say we need to do more to help our players are right — their health is paramount, but I bet you didn’t know about the important role our club chaplains are performing. It’s a role that is worth its weight in gold, performed for no monetary reward, just because these special characters love it.

And their clubs and players love them for doing it.

Thank you, Chappy.