Nearly 20,000 people gathered at the Adelaide Oval on Sunday afternoon to pay tribute to Phil Walsh, epitomizing the hurt that the entire football family is feeling after losing one of our own.
By now everyone knows what happened. Adelaide Crows senior coach, Phil Walsh was murdered in the early hours of last Friday morning.
Just re-stating that nightmarish fact brings a hollow feeling.
It is this feeling that leads AFL Chief Executive, Gillon McLachlan to believe that the game is in mourning.
“The sorrow and distress felt today touches many in our industry, because Phil Walsh gave such a lot to our game,” he says.
“He was a man of boundless energy, enthusiasm and great intelligence. He was part of the AFL family for 32 years.
“And there are not many words of comfort today for those who feel this terrible loss in these most difficult of circumstances.”
The football family did not just lose a beloved member, rather had him ripped away in cold blood without the slightest warning.
It is these chilling circumstances that has not only left the Adelaide faithful reeling, but united the entire football fraternity under one banner of mourning.
Adelaide stands as the symbolic epicentre of a tragedy that continues to send shock-waves all over the nation.
But if we cast our eye over the rest of the intricate web that is the AFL, then the entirety of the suitably beautiful tributes to Walsh can be seen.
For localities sake let’s start in Adelaide, where we just need to look at the thousands of flowers scattered across Footy Park and Adelaide Oval to see the pain.
Fittingly, Adelaide is also where Walsh’s most hauntingly powerful tribute has taken place.
On Sunday at 2:50pm when Walsh was set to lead the Adelaide Crows for the 13th time, a congregation 20,000 strong stood together at the Adelaide Oval in a moment’s silence.
Then, the siren that would have brought the game to life sounded, instigating a glorious ovation for a man that will be greatly missed.
Those in attendance were of course grief stricken Adelaide Crows supports, but also Port Adelaide fans who remember the great work he achieved as one of the clubs finest assistants, even members of the football family who belong to other clubs stood tall to remember a man who brought so much to the game.
After all, whether it was as a player, assistant or senior coach, or just as a football person, Walsh’s exuberantly unique persona helped breathe life into our game.
Walsh’s tributes were not only restrained to Adelaide, with reflection of his loss spreading across the entire round of footy.
To begin with, the AFL asked all clubs to wear black arm-bands and refrain from running through banners or singing team songs in respect to Walsh’s passing.
More than that, on Friday night, only hours after the celebrated coach’s death, Hawthorn and Collingwood would do something that was nothing short of extraordinary.
Only moments after the Hawks had narrowly defeated the Magpies in a fiery contest, players from both clubs linked together in alternating order to form a circle within the centre-circle, falling silent for a moment.
The heartfelt gesture signified the unification of the football family in mourning of one of their own.
Hawthorn Senior Coach, Alistair Clarkson who knew Walsh intimately from their time together at Port Adelaide, said it was important that the two teams come together post-match and acknowledge their fallen brother.
“[We wanted to] Show the footy world we’re going to mourn together and support the family and the Adelaide footy club as much as we can over the next few days, because it’s going to be really tough for the Adelaide players in particular,” he said.
This symbolic action was emulated after all of the other matches in the round.
Adelaide supporters coined a slogan in the wake of losing their much loved coach: “We Fly as One”.
A simple, elegant and beautiful tribute to their fallen Crow, however it has been increasingly clear that this encompasses the entire football loving public.
The united football family can hold its head high with the way that Walsh has been mourned, being not only heartfelt, but exceptional in so many ways.
Walsh’s indelible mark on our game will never disappear, living on through the players, the clubs and the memories.
RIP Phil Walsh 1960 – 2015.
Written by Juan Estepa (@EstepaJ)