Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

It’s Hard to Admit….But I Like Essendon

I know, I am an old softie. True, dyed in the wool Hawks supporters, reading this would be mortified. Even my own daughter, to whom I've passed on the Hawthorn gene, probably will not speak to me for a week or more – although, if that occurs, I'll remind her she once went out with an Essendon tragic, so she can't be too hard on me.

Hawks hate Bombers – that, these days, is a given – although, for me, hate is always too strong a word. There is much history, much bad blood between the two outfits, and my transition from 'severe dislike' to 'quite like' has only been since 2009 – and I'll explain why, if you care to read on. No matter where these two great teams find themselves on the ladder, when they meet there is great passion on the field, and even more so on the terraces between their respective armies. Conceivably, the rivalry was at its fiercest in the mid-eighties when these two teams met repeatedly in grand finals, but it is still more than palpable today. Who can forget Dermie's running through of the 'Dons’ three-quarter time huddle, incensed in 1988 that a free paid against him, for simply kissing Essendon hard nut Billy Duckworth, resulted in a Dunstall goal being disallowed. I was watching that day. I could not believe it! I was incredulous! Later came the 'line in the sand' match. For once, in '04, the Hawks were struggling and Dermie said, 'Enough is enough'. The melees that occurred saw many gallant Hawkies rubbed out, but the tribunal seemed to forget there was also another team involved. I was more than incredulous! Then came the worst black mark of all against Sheeds' men, and it was down to their big gorilla in the forward line, the loathsome Matthew Lloyd. Our brave ball handler, Brad Sewell, one of the fairest players ever to don the 'poo and piss' colours, was streaming away from the back of the centre bounce, ball in hand, when….THUMP, he was cruelly shirt-fronted, dealt with in a most unseemly manner, by said ape, charging out of full forward with only maximum damage on his mind. He managed that all right. Knocked the poor mid-fielder out cold, broken jaw to boot. At least the cowardly Lloyd had the decency to retire after that match. But I remained beyond incredulous!

Matthew Lloyd had been the team of the black guersey and red diagonal stripe's chief goal scorer for season after season, but, as well was, by far, their chief whinger. As soon as he was beaten in a contest, instead of battling on, he'd be wailing to the umpire about how unfairly he'd been treated, pleading for another free. Unbelievably, the men in white were sucked in time and time again. Mr Lloyd should have been in the Australian slips cordon so plaintive were his bellows to the umpire!

Now some misguided people tell me all this is no different to Buddy. I find that very hard to believe. Why don't I know for sure? It is because I am so blindly enamoured of my heroes in brown and gold that I find it impossible to watch a game, particularly live – I'd be afraid of a heart attack due to the stress, - but even on tele. Game day/night sees me doing anything to take my mind off the footy. At fifteen to twenty minute intervals I’d check the radio for a score update, and may listen a while if they seem in control. It is only when the Hawks are ten or so goals up in the last quarter that I will actually watch. Needless to say the '08/12 grand finals were nightmares, and they are being tipped, even at this early stage, to figure prominently again.

These days Geelong is considered our bogey team, but the real wrath of the brown and gold army is still reserved for the 'Dons. The Cats are feared, not hated. Ever since our underdog win in '08 there have been some classic matches between us and them, with Essendon generally not in the contest agin us from the get go – and I suppose that has moderated my anti black and red stance to a degree. Towards the end of the noughties I began to realise with Essendon that it was only the one player who'd get my bile surging, and after his thuggery in the Sewell incident, the lamentable Lloyd was gone – there was no one I could rail against any more. Sheedy also departed – but he had always seemed to me more of an advertisement for the game than a coach to inspire.

So here I am today. I can not only handle Essendon – I have been known to actually praise them, and I am about to again. I've always genuinely admired Hird. Even back in his playing days I felt he was an ornament to the game – everything Lloyd was not. And then there's the captain. There's only one man braver playing football today. He gave his all last year as others faltered, and then fell, around him. He was almost last man standing, and we are now, sadly, getting an inkling as to why that was. Perhaps, with the farrago that is now developing around the team, he could lose the more than deserved '12 Brownlow. It would be a travesty if Hird couldn't coach and Jobe Watson, the son of another out-and-out champion, couldn't lead. To me Hird and Watson have always been men of character, and I am upset, that their names, and that of AFL footy, have been sullied. To me it also seemed that, under these two, Essendon was on the brink of another golden era - that would appear somewhat unlikely now. At this point in time it seems the Club's only failure was some laxness in being aware of what a couple of employees were up to. That they had some self-seeking charlatans in their ranks should not endanger their whole season. There would be no joy whatsoever for me in a full strength Hawthorn thrashing a gutted Essendon in 2013.

As for Lloyd; yes, I have softened there too. He now writes for my newspaper, 'The Age', and his column, in a recent Sunday edition, showed just how much he was hurting for his old team, for his mates. Dare I say it – he is a far better scribe than footballer – his pieces are always well put together, articulate, thoughtful and balanced – everything his bump on Sewell was not. He also brings great illumination to match day commentary in the visual media.

My football world could cope with Buddy leaving the Hawks. What I couldn't cope with is an Essendon unable to fire a shot because of the actions of a few mavericks who placed ego before sense. And as well, a good mate, who loves her Bombers, is distressed at what has befallen her much adored team – and I think she knows me well enough to know that some of what has been scribbled afore is 'tongue in cheek'.

So in season 2013, GO HAWKS! But even more so, GO BOMBERS!