Now that James Brayshaw has hung up his two most prominent caps, at Channel 9 and as chairman of North Melbourne, he admits that having several of them jammed on his head at once took a toll that he hopes he can remediate.
The severest was on his family. Brayshaw, 49, is divorced with four sons, aged nine to 22. “I’ve got to get better at being a dad, and a partner, being around a bit more, not being stressed and knackered when I am,” he said. “That’s the part of my life I’ve got horribly wrong for too long. That’s priority No.1.”
There are also his parents, Ian and Joan, who he visited recently at their home in southern WA. “It was the first time I’d been to see them for two-and-a-half years,” he said. “That’s just appalling. I have no doubt I got the balance wrong.
“In our business, you do run the risk of becoming a bit lost in yourself. I have, anyway. I’ve been guilty of letting what I do dictate the life I lead. I have the chance to do better.”
Brayshaw needed time. This, he said, was the issue at Channel 9, not money. “I’ve never once argued with Nine about money in the whole time I was there,” he said. “None of this dispute had anything to do with money. The money was absolutely fine, right from the start.
“I wanted to have some flexibility to do other things. Nine were clear they weren’t comfortable with that. I understood their position. I don’t leave with any bitterness or resentment. I have enormous regard for the place, great friends and great memories. I wished them well on departure, as they did me.”
Brayshaw had 16 years in television, beginning at Channel 7, 11 years as co-host of Channel 9’s Footy Show, also calling cricket for the network, and nine years as Kangaroos chief. He still has his role as co-host of MMM’s Rush Hour, and a six-year contract to call footy for the station.
Brayshaw said the single highlight of his time at Nine was five years of calling live footy. Though he forged his name as an able first-class cricketer for a decade, this was his dream realised. “Live footy is a special thing,” he said. “It has its own rhythm, especially on TV.”
But sometimes, the broadcaster knew what only the footy club chairman should, and he slept uneasily. “There were definitely times when it was tough, especially when the brown stuff hit the fan,” he said. “You had to walk a fine line between doing what was right for the club and also being honest. There were times when that was very difficult.”
Brayshaw admits to having been an ingenue in the North job when it fell to him, having led the resistance to an AFL-engineered move to the Gold Coast. He is proud of what has ensued.
“We took over something that was in a pretty parlous state and it is now a very, very well-performed business,” he said. North didn’t win a flag in his time, but nor did 12 other clubs. “Otherwise, when you look at the health of the club now, I defy anyone to say it would have been a good option to leave,” he said.
Inescapably, Brayshaw has lived in, and enjoyed, a blokey world. At times, this has led to uncomfortable pinches, on the Footy Show and most recently in so-called Caro-gate.
Brayshaw said the football industry had only by degrees come to a realisation that women were not merely extras in the show. “When I started in the ’90s. there was no appropriate understanding of that,” he said. “There is now.”
His conscience was clear, he said. “I don’t think I have a misogynist bone in my body. I have great relationships with all the women in my life, including my ex-wife, my partner now, my mum, my sister when she was with us. I worship all those people for different reasons.
“But having said that, I continue to learn about the appropriate way to broadcast every day. I’m not arrogant enough to think I haven’t got lots to learn in lots of ways as a broadcaster.”
In the many-mirrored modern sports landscape, a broadcaster now is as much opined upon as he/she opines. “I can’t remember a time when there has been so much commentary on commentators,” Brayshaw said. Years ago, Ian Chappell said to him that he could only ever please half the people. Then, Brayshaw thought Chappell was exaggerating. Now he knows he was not, and accepts it.
“I will say that the one thing you can’t be in 2016 is vanilla,” he said. “You can’t sit on the fence. You’ve got to have an opinion. If people like it, great. If they don’t, great. But that’s so much better than not caring.”
A broadcaster also needed a thick skin, he said. Ten years of first-class cricket meant that he came to the job with the necessary hide. “I love Merv Hughes. I loved every minute of playing against him. He’s a great friend now,” Brayshaw said. “But if I took offence at everything he said to me on the cricket field, I’d still be sucking my thumb in the corner.”