THE FRONT DORE: Does Harley Reid look like he needs your coddling?

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Christopher Dore
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Eagles star Harley Reid produced a superb individual effort to goal on the run after three bounces against the Demons.

Harley Reid is a 19-year-old from the Victorian gold rush town of Bendigo. Could be an apprentice tradie. Could be that kid in the drive-through at Red Rooster. Could do with a haircut. Definitely needs a shampoo.

Chances are you haven’t heard of him. He’s also a household name.

If you don’t know him. You will. And soon.

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If you do, you have an opinion. There are two camps. In awe, and excitement. In awe, but worried. And annoyed.

Harley Reid has played nine games of AFL football. Nine. Maybe three of them have been good. Two were very good. Already he’s the most divisive man in Australian sport.

He’s a prodigy. Precocious. And, according to those around him, and his club, precious, in a non-ironic way. He is a rare gem, uncut. Underpaid, for now. And, depending on who you listen to, either under pressure, needs to be protected, or absolutely unbridled, needs to be left to run free. Burdened by expectation or revelling in recognition.

Reid is, by some way, the most valuable commodity in AFL football, Australia’s biggest, most lucrative, sport. He’s bold and confident.

He has announced himself in just three months — those nine games — as the heir. And yet so many in the football industry, some corners of the media, former players, and club executives, are fretting over Harley Reid. In a panic, fearful, as if he’s the first teenager in world sport to come of age in a rush.

“It would be nice if you guys left him alone,” are the words of one football club executive, and the sentiment of all of them, directed at The West Australian, our Perth newspaper where Harley Reid has been embraced, lionised and promoted as the saviour of the underperforming West Coast Eagles franchise, where he was recruited as the top 18-year-old generational talent in Australia. The No.1 draft pick. The annual honour awarded to the worst performing team in the competition that year.

Unlike other bottom-of-the-ladder teams, the Eagles are not a deadbeat club. They are a powerhouse. Big. Wealthy. Connected. There is a rival team in town. But the West Coast Eagles own Perth.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - MAY 19: Harley Reid of the Eagles in action during the round 10 AFL match between Waalitj Marawar (the West Coast Eagles) and Narrm (the Melbourne Demons) at Optus Stadium, on May 19, 2024, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Harley Reid of the Eagles in action during the round 10 AFL match. Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

The coverage in The West Australian has come under intense scrutiny. If Harley Reid is the main topic in town, the West’s coverage is No. 2. It has been relentless, that’s true. Back page after back page dedicated to his football promise and prowess. Positive, self-deprecating, optimistic. This is a celebration of a young lad, who rather than cower from the attention, has, on field and from appearances off, flourished.

Yet inexplicably in football circles, on the streets, at the doctor’s, in parts of the media, it is being questioned. Suffocating, counter-productive, and dangerous. Dangerous.

As every current and ex-footballer in Melbourne media lost their collective minds in excitement this week — “phenomenal”, “different to anything we have ever seen before” — veteran Nine commentator and expert whinger, Caroline Wilson actually said days after a (literal) game-changing performance: “I just hope he survives all the scrutiny that’s on him. I think the scrutiny on him has been ridiculous from the West Australian media.” The West Coast Eagles agree. They brought him across from country Victoria, they played him Round 1, and they encouraged him to express himself on the field: run hard, hit hard, celebrate hard. Be yourself. He has also not been shy off-field, agreeing to candid interviews about football, feelings and his future.

Harley Reid is the only thing anyone in football wants to talk about, and yet, so many want everyone to stop talking about him. Pele was 17 when he became the best footballer in the world. Boris Becker. Ian Thorpe. All younger than Harley Reid. Thank God Caro and her mates weren’t telling us how not to hype them up.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 20: Harley Reid of the Eagles celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2024 AFL Round 06 match between the West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers at Optus Stadium on April 20, 2024 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Harley Reid of the Eagles celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2024 AFL Round 06 match. Credit: Will Russell/AFL Photos/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Harley Reid is not a child. This is a man. Young, yes. But a man, earning an adult wage, for doing a man’s job.

“You are putting him under extreme stress, you’re only going to heap pain on him as the time goes by,” former journeyman player Shaun McManus told the sports editor of The West Australian, Jakeb Waddell, in many ways himself a creative prodigy, in an FM radio ambush.

Waddell had revealed he had been subjected to endless abuse, trolling and death threats. For celebrating Harley Reid. The FM funny guys, not at all self-obsessed or ego-centric, thought the aggression and attacks on Waddell were all a bit of a joke, and that the editor was an arsehole for covering Reid with such abandon.

In opening up about the abuse, Waddell accepted the criticism, but also contextualised it: “I get messages from parents stating their six-year-old is asking why their favourite player, Harley, wasn’t on the back page today.”

Former Eagle, now podcaster and commentator, Will Schofield demands the “hysteria” of the coverage must stop. It’s beyond a joke, he says.

“I believe it’s building him up to fail,” he wrote in his Code Sports column, then in the next sentence actually said: “In all my time in footy, I’ve never felt a player inspire a level of crowd energy like Reid has … you can see it, you can hear it and feel it ... it’s amazing and warrants plenty of constructive coverage.”

Hmm. Maybe only Will and his mates get to say nice things about Harley. The rest of us will wait for your nod. How dare we!

Somewhere along the way, as a society, we have lost the plot. Too many of us are living in the past, completely unaware of the world millennials and Generation Z are living, enduring and thriving in. Mollycoddling is madness when teenagers and young adults are exposed to and actually reinventing and redefining the world we all live in.

This is not just Harley Reid’s world. Kids his age and younger, in the public eye and away from it, are grabbing it and shaping it in a way that is beyond our comprehension.

It’s always been this way. Generation after generation. It’s theirs now. Get on board or get out of the way. Your judgment, your cloying and claustrophobic “care” is holding them back.

But the jealousy, the negativity, the fear, it’s not really about Harley Reid, or the other teenage stars changing the world. It never is.

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