Can the GAA take lessons from Romelu Lukaku's column on The Players' Tribune?

Last Sunday, while we were all consumed by what was going on in the Munster SHC and Connacht SFC final, an article was posted on The Players’ Tribune website.

Entitled ‘I’ve got some things to say’, it was a piece that came to my attention via Twitter Monday morning.

It was written by, or ghost written on behalf of, Romelu Lukaku.

Now, bearing in mind Lukaku was due to lead Belgium’s attacking line in their World Cup opener the day after this piece was published, it was expected that the usual garbage current players spout ahead of a major match would be what Lukaku had to say.

You all know the ones about how much of a challenge the opposition will be and how extremely difficult the task at hand may prove to be against, in this case, lowly Panama.

Romelu Lukaku

Except, the article was far removed from what was anticipated.

Lukaku, in fact, produced a piece which reiterated the point that it is really okay for a player, in any code, ahead of any serious encounter, to reveal background about themselves that ensures we see who they are outside of what we witness when they are inside the white lines.

Lukaku opens with this: “I remember the exact moment I knew we were broke. I can still picture my mum at the refrigerator and the look on her face.

“I was six years old, and I came home for lunch during our break at school. My mum had the same thing on the menu every single day: Bread and milk. When you’re a kid, you don’t even think about it. But I guess that’s what we could afford.

“Then this one day I came home, and I walked into the kitchen, and I saw my mum at the refrigerator with the box of milk, like normal. But this time she was mixing something in with it. She was shaking it all up, you know? I didn’t understand what was going on. Then she brought my lunch over to me, and she was smiling like everything was cool. But I realized right away what was going on.

“She was mixing water in with the milk. We didn’t have enough money to make it last the whole week. We were broke. Not just poor, but broke.”

Yep, the sentences had me gripped as well.

The Man United striker goes on to explain how he promises his Grandfather that he would take care of his mother. Additionally, he swore that, as soon as he turned 16, that he would become a professional for Anderlecht.

“I told my mum that I would make it at 16. I was late by 11 days.

“May 24, 2009.

“The play-off final. Anderlecht versus Standard Liège,” Lukaku explained.

He goes on: “In the 63rd minute, the manager subbed me on.

“I ran out onto the field for Anderlecht at 16 years and 11 days old.

We lost the final that day, but I was already in heaven. I made good on my promise to my mother and to my grandad. That was the moment I knew we were gonna be okay.

Those are only snippets from a cracking read. But remember, it was published on the eve of Belgium’s clash with Panama. Parts of Lukaku’s life and his inner thoughts, laid bare, for all to see.

Did it detract from his performance last Monday? Not quite. He, of course, scored two second-half goals as his team won 3-0.

And so I couldn’t help but remind myself of the absolute pity that we do not know more of the characters that grace our football and hurling fields.

I have been fortunate enough to interview my fair share of past players over the last 10 years or so and learned a little bit about them on a human level, about what made them tick as players.

No fear of that happening with a current operator, particularly at inter-county level, which is such a shame.

Of course, in many ways, their business is absolutely none of ours. However, wouldn’t it be quite cool, in the week of the Munster SFC final for instance, to learn a bit more about the new kids on the block within the Cork and Kerry set-ups?

All these players are incredibly articulate and would, there is little doubt, offer up some intriguing anecdotes about their own interests and sporting thoughts.

A GAA version of The Players’ Tribune would be a massive addition to our GAA calendars.

And the beauty of it is, no player need divulge any thoughts whatsoever on any up-coming game they were involved in.

It would represent an opportunity for those who were interested in doing so, to connect a little more with the supporters of their respective team, their own people.

If you take a look at the quotes from present players ahead of the Cork-Kerry game, for example, next Saturday, all this week, you will probably learn nothing you do not already know yourself.

After all, the players’ hands are tied in terms of what they can and cannot say, even if they wanted to offer a tad more than is the norm these days.

Yet, a medium such as The Players’ Tribune offered Lukaku the chance to tell his story.

Obviously, nobody would expect any GAA player to reveal as much about himself or herself as Lukaku did, but it would be a welcome move if we knew more about the stars of today than we do currently.

After all, Lukaku’s worldwide fanbase seems to have grown exponentially since Sunday.

Funny, that.


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