City star’s grim A-League hub reality
Melbourne City veteran Rostyn Griffiths has lifted the lid on the mental health toll players have endured in the A-League bubble, a burden compounded by the league's failure to address uncertainty cast on players' futures as he declared "potentially every player could be a free agent" in a fortnight.
Griffiths, who entered the A-League hub with his wife still reeling from a "terrifying" cancer scare, has opened up on the grim reality of life inside the bubble and the extraordinary financial and personal sacrifices players have had to make to ensure this season was completed.
The defensive midfielder admitted he'd been surprised by the high-quality play seen since the league's resumption last month, saying players had "given everything" to keep the competition alive but have been left in the dark on their status for next season.
The 32-year-old was a late arrival to the Sydney hub, as he stayed in Melbourne while wife Caris had a stage two cancer growth cut out of her face.
"It was terrifying to be honest with you, because as soon as you hear the word cancer I think it just throws you for a spin," Griffiths said.
"It was early stages, stage two, but there's always a chance it spreads further.
"She had to have lymph nodes removed and there's a pretty hefty scar that she has left on her face. It was scary times."
By the time the results came back all clear, and Griffiths was free to join his teammates in Sydney, he was more than a week behind - and was forced into a solo quarantine which he admits took an enormous toll.
"To be honest I found it really tough," explains Griffiths, who also missed the second birthday of daughter Ronny while in the hub.
"The middle days, six, seven, eight, were very tough because you just couldn't really see a light at the end of the tunnel.
"And the boys played a game on the Saturday, which was another kick in the teeth."
The uncertainty around the 2020-21 A-League season, and the likelihood of a greatly reduced salary cap, is creating a mood of general discontent among the playing ranks - with players arguing they've made enough sacrifices this season, with some playing on as little as 17 per cent of their original salaries.
In June this year, a FIFPro report on the mental health of footballers revealed three-quarters of Australian players were concerned about their future in the game as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic - while three in five reported symptoms of anxiety and nearly half demonstrated symptoms of depression.
Anxiety symptoms, according to the report, normally peak around eight per cent, highlighting the immense impact the COVID-19 salary cuts had on players.
"As soon as you reduce people's salaries, (the mental health strain) is the first thing, because people have ongoing costs that don't just stop," Griffiths added.
"And then you put them in an environment that's uncomfortable for an extended period of time, and throw in the pressure of having to play football and train at 100 per cent every day, without even know what's going on beyond the rest of this season, that's where it really starts to become a mental health concern."
Griffiths has a contract for next season, having re-signed with City right as the COVID-19 began to send the country into lockdown in March. But he admits he's not sure it's worth the paper it's signed on, declaring the entire league could effectively be off contract in three weeks.
"It could potentially be meaningless if the salary cap gets changed for next season and comes down," he said.
"Potentially every player could be a free agent at the moment.
"The powers that be have got to come together and work this out, because I don't think it's up to the players anymore. We can do nothing more now. I hope we get rewarded at the end of it."
Originally published as City star's grim A-League hub reality