The footballing pilgrimage of Richmond Football Club star Bachar Houli comes to an end
In her first week at Essendon, Houli found herself addressing a school assembly. It wasn’t because of his knowledge of Kevin Sheedy’s game plan.
Houli had four intermittent years with the Bombers, but found his feet immediately in Richmond. There, he established himself as the link in what became a famous bottom line and distinctive presence in the game. Along the way, in 2012, he convinced Andrew Demetriou to reserve prayer rooms on all AFL grounds. The following year, he launched the now flourishing Bachar Houli Foundation.
Still, at least one of his beliefs was severely tested. The 2016 season was tumultuous for the Tigers and frustrating for Houli. He contemplated retirement and on a pilgrimage to Mecca prayed for guidance. He realized that by giving up his pedestal, which he didn’t care, he would also be giving up his platform, which he did.
Back on Punt Road, he found a club famous for its own cleanliness. Houli didn’t drive it, but CEO Brendon Gale says he played it. “As a club, we are characterized by our shared sense of purpose,” he said. “Bachar became a very proud example of that. He was so motivated by his faith. ”The driver was Captain Trent Cotchin, and the two remain close.
Then everything came rushing in: prime minister positions, accolades, three children, community prominence. In 2019, he visited and comforted the victims of the Christchurch massacre. Last year, when his beloved mother Yamama was hospitalized with COVID-19, he used the diagnosis to impress his followers about the urgency of the crisis. His post on social media attracted 25 million views.
Houli could never have been a stereotype. Before Richmond’s flag streak began, he told reporter Konrad Marshall that one would suffice. He did not play for the love of the game. “When I was a little kid, yeah, you craved it,” he said. “It becomes a job and it is super competitive, and I am not a competitive person. I don’t long for battle. I’m just this peacemaker, buddy. Let me play and come home and enjoy life. “
But last year, COVID-19 pinched and this year it was injuries, and while Houli felt he had more football on him, he accepted that his time had come. The club may have to find the same grace.
It would be easy and wrong to regard Houli as a man of contradictions. Rather, he is a man of opposites reconciled in faith. He himself admits that he is not combative, but he always played well in the important games. He was meticulous in his rigorous Islamic observations, fasting, for example, but he starred during Ramadan.
He was a gentle man in a sometimes brutal game, and yet he dominated it. He was suspended only once, for hitting Carlton’s Jed Lamb while shrugging off a tackle, and he did not object to the report or the ban, instead classifying his hit as deliberate. It was not him.
When he was abused as a “jihadist” over the fence one day in 2016, he went after the game to speak with the Collingwood cheer squad. Speak, don’t confront, note. He chose not to go ahead.
He was and is a man of supernatural devotions and earthly joys: fishing, hunting, camping. He didn’t park his faith outside the football club, but one day of training last year he parked his fishing boat on Punt Road Oval hill.
He thrived on the big stage, but was confident last year that he didn’t mind football without crowds, when the game was just a game.
Houli discovered, as others have, that football is like war, drawing disparate characters in close ties. He said he was more nervous addressing the Richmond players on Thursday than before any grand finale. “I have to admit that not going out for a drink with you was a challenge at times,” he said. “I thought, how can I fit in if I can’t get my teammates involved and have a drink?
“But I did prove, and you guys let me prove, that there are many ways to integrate. I really love you guys. “
Also, it was Cotchin who said the morning after the 2019 flag that he wished he was in Houli’s teetotaler shoes.
When Houli walked into Essendon, he remembered Thursday, he was clean-shaven and had spiky hair. Fifteen years later, he has hair on his chin and baldness on his head. Other than that, he leaves as he came, dedicated to two callings and absolutely faithful to both.