At the age of 37, unfit, a bit short of pace, somewhat overweight, I’ve come to grips with the reality that I won’t grow up to play for the West Coast Eagles. But then there are moments like Friday night, when 22 blokes in blue and gold jumpers did their utmost to show that I would fit right in after all.
After last week’s insipid shmozzle against Geelong, I headed along to our last Melbourne game with no expectation. This has been a horribly disappointing year, and it just needs to be over. Indeed, I felt a bit like I was going along to make sure it was over – that I needed to see it end with my own eyes, to be certain.
Knowing that I was essentially going along to a convention of 40,000 muggers and burglars, I’d taken the appropriate precautions to make myself less of a target for the evening, changing out of my suit-and-tie and into more casual garb. And the Collingwood masses lived up to reputation, saving their biggest roars of the night for Alan Didak, one in their own image if ever there was one (although the massive sook they had when Cloke was correctly penalised for taking Mackenzie in a head-lock was up there too).
10 minutes in, we’d pretty much seen enough. I pondered writing the Footy Almanac a detailed analysis of the first quarter, on the basis of not bothering to stick around for the rest. As it was, I wouldn’t have done that justice anyway, given I was sub-consciously trying to block out what was unfolding in front of us.
We’re so pathetically slow. We can’t hit targets. Most of the time, we can’t mark the ball in one touch.
Then there’s the decision-making (actually there is where I start to think I would be out of place in the current Eagles side, humbly submitting that I think I’m actually ok in this respect). Whether it’s kicking to a 1-on-3 (or straight to a 0-on-2), hand-balling 1 metre to someone under more pressure than yourself, or running to the right space, we are just devoid of all game-sense.
At 8:32pm, 5 minutes into the 2nd quarter and already 42 points down, my BlackBerry beeped with a new email – from the West Coast Eagles Football Club, offering me a $50 discount with SGIO. I presume this was a pre-planned initiative as part of the sponsor’s latest marketing campaign, but the timing just made it feel like a compensation offer to victims that the club had wronged.
52 points down at half-time, Ryan and Emily decided to head home. They have form in this regard, and if anything, I was surprised they held out as long as they did – but to be fair to Emily, she was at the home game in Perth last week, and it’s a phenomenal effort to have sat through 6 quarters of this rubbish. Cam and I reflected that we would spend the next 6 months craving some footy, and our analytical minds would always relish the chance to watch our team for an hour to assess who can play, who had a future, who had a role to play… so we opted to stick it out to the end.
Our conversation quickly turned to the coach. We all love Woosha, and he has proved our doubts wrong before. But this game has pushed me off the fence and into the “Woosha’s gotta go” camp.
Cam related the declaration that “the Eagles side has lost its soul” from the previous night’s Footy Show – not the best source of accurate football analysis these days, but bang on the mark here. Woosha might still very popular with the playing group (as we believe), but they are doing nothing to suggest that they are playing for him.
In some ways, it feels a bit like 3 year ago. But whilst Woosha did a terrific job in turning the joint around then, much of this was due to the renaissance of Embley, Cox, Kerr and Nicoski. Now those players are all 3 years older, and at least 2 of them won’t be going on next year. The situation calls for a different solution.
So who then?
Everyone starts with Roos. Cam and I agree, but we’re not holding our breaths. We both like Eade’s tactical nous (which is generally cited as Worsfold’s weaker element), and Mark Williams has a proud and proven record. And Cam wonders aloud what Dean Laidley’s doing these days.
Or do go to a new guy, an assistant from somewhere, like maybe Adam Simpson? We each can’t help but feel that Scott Burns (the oft-suggested heir apparent) has had his stocks drift, given he oversees our midfield, and that has emerged this year as our major weakness.
But most interestingly, Cam and I each simultaneously (and somewhat sheepishly, each wondering if we’re going a bit too left-field) threw out the same name: Michael Voss. We signed him as an assistant 5 years ago, and he’s had 5 years of senior coaching experience since then. Apart from his Fevola debacle, his record has actually been pretty good, and he would walk in and command immediate respect from all and sundry on Day 1.
Discussions with other Eagles mates over the following 24 hours would give the same consensus: a unanimous view that Woosha needs to go (though a preference for a dignified exit at the expiry of his contract, and relief that we’re not one of those clubs that sacks people mid-season), and something like 1-Roos, 2-Voss, 3-Williams as our wishlist.
But that’s for next year. Right now, we are woeful, pathetic, disgraceful, embarrassing, listless. Lone hand Scott Selwood would run the game out extremely well, topping the contested possession stats for both sides by a comfortable margin – but it was hardly Collingwood’s fault that most of their touches were uncontested.
The main thing we’ve currently got going for us is that we do actually deserve to have a place in the competition for the next decade, as opposed to a certain club that ran a systematic doping programme that I could care to mention.
The siren mercifully sounded, and Cam and I had made it to the end. We’d seen the crime (which turned out to be 22 counts of impersonating a footballer), but didn’t stick around to take in the aftermath. On the way home, I got the opposite experience.
As the 57 tram got to Elizabeth & LaTrobe, there was a commotion outside with a bunch of blokes yelling aggressively. A badly bloodied man in his 30’s scrambled aboard the tram, and started checking his teeth as the tram moved off. I can’t pretend to know the full circumstances, but the impression was that it was a random attack by a group of mid-teens on a solitary victim. As the assailants ran off, I sighted only one identifier feature: one of them wore a Richmond jumper, with no.4 on his back.
I had been unfair to Collingwood fans (on one count; they do still need to each be issued with a copy of the AFL rule book as compulsory reading when they receive their membership cards). Whilst I had joked about a bloke in a suit being a potential target for the Collingwood mob, my night finished with the reminder that anyone can be a target for young hoodlums, or at least for one member of the Dustin Martin fan club.
I got home safely, though a little shaken from what I’d encountered, and cuddled my wife and toddler. The debacle of my footy club was suddenly back in a bit of perspective.
COLLINGWOOD 8.3 11.8 14.10 15.11 (101)
WEST COAST 2.2 3.4 3.6 5.9 (39)
Collingwood: Reid 4, Cloke 3, Lynch 2, Swan 2, Seedsman, Thomas, Kennedy, Didak
West Coast: Masten 2, Lycett, Darling, Dalziell
Collingwood: Reid, Swan, J.Thomas, Pendelbury, Seedsman
West Coast: S.Selwood