As was his way, veteran Saint Nathan Brown slipped out of Noosa quietly, as part of a low-key exit strategy designed to avoid the emotional goodbyes.
However, the much-loved Saint wasn’t leaving without letting his teammates know how much they meant to him, or how much belief he had in the future of the Saints.
With Brown on the way back Victoria, player welfare manager and confidant Tony Brown gathered the Saints in an emotional meeting to read Brown’s incredible written tribute.
With Brown’s permission, saints.com.au has published a full version below detailing his decision to return home, his love for his teammates and his advice for tackling the rollercoaster ride that is life and AFL football.
First of all, I want to apologise for not saying goodbye in person.
I tossed and turned all night thinking about it but I love this group way too much and it breaks my heart even writing this as I feel like I’ve deserted my brothers in the heat of the battle.
So to look you all in the eye, it would have absolutely destroyed me.
In November 2016 I became a Saint, and shit I was nervous.
I didn’t want to be a champion or a match winner, I wanted something much simpler – the unconditional love and respect of my teammates.
I hope I have earned that even in the eyes of just one guy. You will all learn one day that having the respect of your teammates is the only thing that matters.
You get that, and you will be fulfilled.
2020, for f@*k sake, you prick of a thing. You completely ruined my farewell tour.
Lethas and Gil had statues and fanfare ready to unveil at every ground.
That was the plan anyway, but you know what – they say you never get to choose the way you go – it just happens.
And strangely, if I truly had to pick a time to go it would be exactly like this: To be a part of a new beginning for the St Kilda Football Club – a new identity, player-made and player-owned.
It’s one of brotherhood, blood sweat and tears, freedom and love – pure footy at its essence.
That is the team I’m proud to be a part of and that is a team I’m proud to leave because I know the great people within it will taste the success they deserve.
To my boys, the players.
I’ve had so much fun with you. As Blake (Acres) use to remind me daily, I came to the club as an old vet and you all embraced me like a young fella.
Whilst giving absolutely everything on field for me, you embraced me off it.
The love you all showed for my girls means the world to me, and the acceptance and mostly patience you showed to put up with the ‘old dog’ winding back the clock several times on nights out, I will never forget it.
That is connection right there Rathy haha!
I love you all!
I know you feel it too that we are destined for something special down the track.
We have been through way to much together to not find it. However, as hard as it may get up here or into the future, please don’t give up and stay together.
It’s worth it. When the crowds are gone, and the lights are off, and it’s just you guys left standing in the middle of the ground arm in arm, looking each other in the eye with the cup in the middle, it will be worth everything.
That’s the moment you are after.
To the staff, you are as much a part of this team as the players. I thank you with all my heart for understanding me and guiding me to be better. The love and friendship I have for you guys is a credit to you all, not only as professionals but as people.
Footy is a bloody tough, and to have you guys in my corner, I am forever grateful.
It’s been a tough 12 months, and to be able to talk to you guys with an open heart, well, words can’t describe what that has meant to me. Go the phys-edders you mad bastards you.
I will leave you with this:
I believe life and footy go hand in hand; life is ultimately about a journey towards happiness. The beauty about happiness is that it comes in many forms and is completely tailored to you and only you.
The most important part of this is the journey itself, most people strive for happiness but become disheartened or frustrated when they don’t achieve things, feel like crap, things don’t go their way, or have no clue where they’re meant to be or where they’re meant to be going.
But when these same people get to the end of their lives, they nearly always say they are so proud of who they are because of what they overcame in their life. They look back on all the hard things they went through and say I love those moments, I cherish those moments, those were the times I felt most alive, I had to fight for what I believed in and what I loved.
They made me who I am.
If there was the single most important piece advice, I can give to you, its this: Embrace everything you do, good or bad, don’t get disheartened. Experiences are what shape you and what make you grow as a person. Learn from them, learn from people who have had a lot of them, and use them to guide you in your next decision.
Find your values and use them to keep you grounded and on task when you lose your way, but keep growing and adapting to whatever life throws at you and I guarantee you at the end, you will be proud.
A long-time friend and mentor of mine, Howard Clarke, who was there at the beginning of my journey taught me this.
He taught me how to be resilient, to pick myself up from the setbacks and to never give up.
Embrace your journey no matter what it looks like. He taught me about love, love and respect your opportunities, be grateful for the little things and never forget your family and friends because when things get tough, they will be the ones to have your back unconditionally.
And lastly, he taught me to be passionate. Don’t be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve when you truly believe in something, be authentic and don’t be afraid to show your raw emotions. Be proud of who you are.
It’s the right time for me now to give what I have given football for the past 14 years to my other team – my girls. They need their Daddy and Husband more than ever and there’s nothing that can be bigger than that. I thank you for understanding.
That’s all I have boys, I’ve corrupted you enough. I look forward to seeing you guys live out your dreams whatever they may look like and after this is all said and done, let’s have a couple of cold beers, or maybe one last footy trip.