Craig Godfrey probably had something different in mind for his first day on the job. One minute, with a seniors game taking place in the background, the newly minted chair of Te Atatū Roosters Rugby League Club was chatting to someone about alcohol licensing. The next he was wading into a liquor-fuelled 20-man brawl.
“Someone threw a can on the field, there was a whole lot of abuse from the sideline, then one of the players from another club jumped the fence and it was all on,” Craig recalls. “That was my introduction to alcohol at the club.”
Craig’s response was swift.
“I got all the senior men together. I said, ‘I’ll sell only soft drinks at the bar if I have to. I have a mandate to make this club successful and give kids experiences that aren’t traumatic.’”
Craig didn’t stop selling alcohol. In a way what he did was even more radical: he passed a motion that saw Te Atatū Roosters stop receiving sponsorship or other financial assistance from alcohol companies. For a grassroots club like the Roosters, that’s a big deal. Craig says that organisations like his can receive as much as $100,000 in grants from alcohol companies for specific projects; the Roosters got $30,000 for floor coverings not long before Craig became club chair.
Plugging the Financial Gap
Making up for that loss of revenue isn’t easy but Craig had plenty of business know-how – and he had a plan.
“First,” he says, “you have to understand what it costs to run a club. Then you need to understand how reliant you are on alcohol sales. I realised it was only alcoholics telling me the bar was important.”
Learning those two things mattered, because Craig now knew that if people’s behaviour when under the influence of alcohol was unacceptable, he could afford to close the bar – his threat wasn’t empty.
Winning Hearts and Minds
Next, Craig determined that the Roosters would become a more positive member of the Te Atatū community.
“We had to change the perception that we were a rugby league club that would either pinch your car or tag your shops, so I built a relationship with the Te Atatū Peninsula Business Association.”
Volunteers from the club delivered the local quarterly newsletter to 10,000 addresses, and before Covid melted the Christmas parade, Craig was most of the way through building a float. Because Te Atatū rugby league has the largest percentage of Māori members in Auckland, Craig also set up a cultural strategy group with the aim of affecting positive change. The first thing the group did was impose a four-week alcohol ban on the premier men’s team.
Rugby League and Alcohol
The connection between rugby league and alcohol runs deep – Craig recalls falling asleep under the club’s pool tables as a kid while his uncles drank into the night. Unsurprisingly, there was some pushback to the booze ban.
“There was a bit of rebellion,” Craig admits, “but before I started I had a deep think about what all those things would look like: what the reaction would look like, and what the behaviour might look like. Was I prepared to hold the line?”
He was. Craig says it meant kicking men out of the changing rooms and walking some people off the property, and allowing others who had long associations with Te Atatū Roosters to leave.
“None of it was pleasant,” Craig says. “But generally, when people understand your intentions are pure, they’ll either go and you won’t see them again, or they’ll come back with the right behaviour.”
The Benefits of Doing the Right Thing
Craig’s initiatives began to be noticed outside of rugby league circles, which paid dividends when it came to fundraising.
“When people realise you’re proactive and positive, they start to pay a bit more attention,” he says. “Once we’ve done those things, we become an attractive model to sponsor.”
Craig sent emails and letters to local businesses about sponsorship possibilities. He was picky about who he approached.
“[I sent the letters] not to who I thought would sponsor [the Roosters], but rather to the types of organisations we’d like to be aligned with because of their history and values. Anyone can get a sponsor once; I wanted to attract sponsors that might feel invested to stay with us if we could show value to them too.”
Among them was a local real estate group, which recently announced a sponsorship deal. That came about, says Craig, by “doing the right things and doing the things you say you are going to do.”
Teaching – and Learning – by Example
Doing the right thing is important to Craig. It was the realisation that he was setting a bad example for his kids that saw Craig break his own addiction to alcohol.
“I was in rehab for my second stint,” Craig recalls. “I met one trainee counsellor who sat down with me and we had a meal. He was clearing our dishes and just off the cuff he said, ‘If you don’t sort this out, bro, one day another man’s going to tell your boys you’re a weak ****.’ That was a relatable message. That night I went back to my room, took out my books and charted a course to learn everything I could [about beating addiction]. I suppose that was the surrender point I needed to go through.”
While he was in rehab, Craig trained an under-12s rugby league team.
“My wife picked me up, took me to the field, then dropped me back. Once I got out, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do this but not in an unhealthy way, not as an addict.’ I understood that they were helping me as much as I was helping them; for me it was an anchor.”
A Sense of Place
Another anchor was Te Atatū. Craig and other locals affectionately call it Tat North; it’s the place where he grew up, and where he feels most at home. The things Craig’s achieved at the Roosters – are they for the rugby league club or are they for Te Atatū?
“I’d say it’s for Te Atatū. Playing rugby league should only be a vehicle. There are a lot of things you can learn about life from rugby league, because it’s so hard. The face of Tat North is changing but I know this community, I fit here. That’s why what we’ve done [with the Roosters] has worked. I achieved a lot in my first 40 years. What I’ve achieved from there to 44 has been a lot more fulfilling.”
If you would like to help advocate for changes to our alcohol laws, please tell your local decision makers, including MPs, councillors and local boards. Let them know how alcohol is affecting your community and what they can do to change it.
For more information about how you can get involved, please contact Community Action on Youth and Drugs at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook @cayadauckland.