Social media has been instrumental in the growth of rugby league and the whole community. It isn’t rare at all to find players responding to fans, teams updating fans throughout the year and most importantly the fans themselves interacting with each other. There are thousands of rugby league faithfuls logged onto the little blue bird platform sending off streams of 280 character tweets about the game that they love so much. Social media has become a pivotal platform to share the amazing work on and off the field that the players and clubs are doing. However, your average NRL fan will only follow the accounts that relate to them. If they support the Sydney Roosters for example they may only follow the official Sydney Roosters account and don’t bother with the other 15 teams because it doesn’t necessarily appeal to them all the time. While they would like to still know positive work being done throughout the community, they don’t want to have to filter through ‘irrelevant’ updates for their rival teams. This is where Footy Smiles steps in.
In some ways the NRL is doing a fantastic job in informing fans of the work that players are doing off the field however, there’s still so much more work that they can do. What the fans needed, without even knowing they needed it, was a platform to see the positive stories throughout the NRL all together. No negativity, no opinion pieces, only positive stories. A one stop guide for stories that will put a smile on your face and remind you why this game is worth loving despite all the drama that may occur on the field or behind the scenes. Footy Smiles have given the fans the opportunity to see who the good guys of the NRL are without having to filter past signing speculations, injury reports or training updates. Having only joined Twitter this month and already receiving the backing of 1200 plus followers, it’s obvious this is what the fans want to see.
Behind the Footy Smiles logo, Jamie and Big T are dedicating so much of their time in order to send positivity through the NRL community. Big T credits Jamie (@Jamie__B) as the “brains” of the venture, shining a positive light on his friend as he rattles off the different accounts he has an affiliation with on top of Footy Smiles - @Fantasy_NRLCEO and @GreenMachinePod – proving his passion for the Canberra Raiders and NRL as a whole. Big T (@TheBiggestTiger) is very well known amongst not only the Wests Tigers fans, but NRL fans across due to his loving, fun and wholesome attitude…and that he refers to himself in the third person. The Batman and Robin of NRL fans making a difference wherever they can.
Both guys have always loved the positive stories throughout the NRL, especially those where players visit children in hospitals and that is exactly where the inspiration for Footy Smiles came from. They juggled the possibility of different names such as “Positive Footy” or “Golden Points” but when they thought of the smiles on faces of children who seriously needed a pick me up, they landed on Footy Smiles because they felt is represented what they are trying to do perfectly.
When Ryan James and Konrad Hurrell took Ethan to his school formal, they decided they needed to shine light on similar stories. It was such a heart-warming story that NRL fans of all teams needed to know about it. Ethan, an extremely passionate fan of the Titans who happens to have downs syndrome, was granted the opportunity to work with the team after joining the Titans Community Foundation. While it may seem like a small role to some – running water out to players – the opportunity moved Ethan, his family and the whole Titans staff and given the chance, could move so many other people however stories like these don’t make the mainstream media despite how much they deserve to be highlighted. Jamie and Big T couldn’t handle the ignorance anymore and had to do something about it. Footy Smiles was born and there’s no looking back. Already, so many fans have backed the account, one even explaining that “they're not the stars of the stories, but they are the telescope to make them shine.”
Many rugby league fans will carry one story with them, close to their heart, for many years. Whenever they find themselves arguing the good of the game, it’s the story that first pops into their mind.
For Big T, he turns to the story of Trent Hodkinson and Hannah Rye. A story that probably doesn’t require too much explaining because so many people know of it. This is one story that received the attention it deserved, even beyond the NRL community. Hannah was a beautiful, young fan of the Newcastle Knights who unfortunately fell terminally ill with cancer. She feared that she was never going to have the opportunity to celebrate high school milestones by dancing with her friends at her formal however, Trent and Kurri Kurri High School made sure of otherwise. The school brought the date of the formal forward for Hannah and Trent escorted her to the dance. Tragically, Hannah lost her battle with Ewing sarcoma, impacting Trent so much he attended the funeral and wore a jersey with her name embroidered on the front at the next game, then auctioning the jersey to raise money for Kick Sarcoma – a foundation funding research into the illness that claimed the young girl’s life last year. A beautiful story, one which Trent had not even known went viral. He just wanted to put a smile on the face of a young girl who didn’t have too much to smile about at the time.
As a Raiders fan, Jamie turns to Sia Soliola and all of the work that he has done. Acknowledging the amazing role models in green such as Alan Tongue and Sam Williams, Jamie can’t help but latch onto Soliola as so many Canberra fans would too. There isn’t even just one story from the footballer, there are countless. He met a young St Helen’s fan in the UK with Angelman Syndrome and in order to show his support he began writing her name on his wrist strapping. Now, he writes a different name every week. He helps the homeless, supports the Ricky Stuart Foundation, works as an ambassador for Menslink and recently raised $50,000 for Kulture Break by shaving his infamous luscious locks. He constantly goes out of his way to help people – like the story in which he helped a mother whose car has been broken in to recently. In Jamie’s words, “a hard man on the field but a more generous soul you will not meet.”
Stories such as these and so many more are constantly moving souls and putting smiles on faces and Big T and Jamie vow to continue sharing these stories with NRL fans. They have no idea where this account will grow from here but all they can do is keep up the good work. While there have been some initial talks about sharing stories in the future, right now they are focused on spreading the good word on Twitter and Facebook. If they dare to dream, there may be a stand-alone website in the future. There is such a bigger picture beyond the followers on Twitter however. They are not in this for praise; they genuinely just want to raise awareness. Where they can, they want to raise awareness for charities and foundations doing amazing work and utilise the power of the community.
There is so much to love about the game of rugby league. As a fan, it’s hard to resist the urge to want to help grow the game. The greatest way to talk the game up is to actually talk the game up and that is what accounts like Footy Smiles are doing. Big T explains what he loves about rugby league so perfectly.
“Being a part of a community. Every time you see people in the street, whether they are wearing our colours or not, if they are in league merchandise it always makes you smile.”
Football players are always going to score tries or tackle hard. These are the inevitable truths of the game but the hard work off the field, behind the scenes, is what continues to grow this game to new levels of special. With the power of social media and accounts such as Footy Smiles, we can continue to make this game even better because lives are being changed out there. Positivity is key and sometimes, positivity starts with a smile – a Footy Smile.