Blockbuster Fatigue

When I was growing up, I used to really hate Essendon fans. I still do hate them, but when I was growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, they were unbearable.

They stood head and shoulders above all other clubs supporters on my most hated hit parade. Smug as bugs in rugs they were; with their perpetual arrogance and unending sense of entitlement. Those back to back flags in 84/85 spoiled a generation of Essendon supporters.
The Bomber fans thought a black and red sun shined out of their arseholes. You would have thought Essendon hadn’t lost a game for a decade, and if they did, it was because they “didn’t want to win anyway”.

Surprisingly, Hawthorn supporters (back then) I really quite liked. They seemed to greet their success with a classy air of humility and level headedness. Although maybe it was that I just didn’t really know any Hawthorn supporters. And actually, I still don’t know that many – not human ones anyway (though there’s plenty of domestic pets in the eastern suburbs with Hawthorn memberships to their name apparently). But that’s another matter.

What I do know is that I really, really don’t like Hawthorn supporters now. That probably has a lot to do with ’89 and ’08. But also because over the past decade they seem to have morphed into a white collar Collingwood; chock full of uber aggressive, ultra confident, Ralf Lauren polo shirt wearing, alpha middle class wankers. The ‘unsociable football’ that ‘Short Man Syndrome’ Clarkson brought with him seemed to rub off on the supporter group too. But that’s also another matter.

Back in the 80’s every second person barracked for Essendon, I shit you not. And they all thought they were soooo damn good.

Here was me and a couple of my downtrodden backwater Geelong supporter mates, meekly clambering onto any semblance of success we could possibly find (to reach the 1988 Escort Cup final was a great effort you know?) whilst a veritable army of red and black jumpers with 32 on the back ruled the schoolyard and rubbed our face in every damn final they played.

And they played in lots.

They would complain about the indignity of even having to play a South Melbourne or a Footscray or ummm… a Geelong. “Oh its soo boring, just bring on the finals” they would moan with a look of disdain I could barely comprehend. I would get myself so terribly riled up: “You cocky bastards! I tell you, if we ever start winning games, I’ll never be like that.”

Up until Geelong won the 2002 VFL Grand final; it was the ’89 Prelim at Waverley (where the Cats trounced the Dons by 80 odd points after having been pantsed by them by a similar margin just two weeks earlier) that was probably my favourite all time football memory (*special mentions to the 1994 Prelim – where Andrew Wills was last seen brilliantly giving advice to Gary Ablett Snr prior to his after the siren kick; the 1994 QF – “the monkey’s off the back Billy!”; and the Round 10, 1989 MCG win over Collingwood – “here is the magician at work, he shoots toward goal, what more can you say!”.)
It was not just because we made our first Grand Final of my lifetime, but more so because we did it at the expense of those dastardly Bombers and their smug and cocksure fans.

Yet, in one of footballs never ending cruel and heartless twists (and despite the Cats being one of the competitions better teams for a good few years after that) Essendon still managed to beat us to a premiership, winning again in 93. (I still contend the Cats would have won that premiership had they just made the finals – storming home in the second half of the year, by round 22 clearly the competition’s’ best side; only then to be knocked out of the Six on percentage on the final game on the final day of the final round of the season. Amazingly the were just one game behind top-placed Essendon, who led by Michael Long went on to win that very famous premiership. Ugh.)

Well, if there was a healthy sense of self worth in Essendon people prior to that; ’93 blew the proverbial. Another flag, the third in 10 years; this one by a team of kids from out of nowhere. Now they were simply unbearable.
And of course to make matters worse, the following two years brought two more Geelong grand final losses.

Ho Hum. Carry on. Life is normal.

The Cats fell towards the bottom of the ladder again after the mid 90’s (damn you, ‘Satan’ Ayres). And then, inconceivably, the entire club almost completely went under. Meanwhile around this time at Essendon – yep, you guessed it – they won another flag.

Amongst everything that was happening at that time, and my growing realizations that life itself was generally going to end in disappointment; I simply relented and supposed that some things were as they were. They were as they were, and as they would always be, as they were meant to be. The way the universe had determined. Que Sera Sera.

And then, from nowhere, strange things started happening.

Brian Cook and Frank Costa and a guy actually from Essendon – named Bomber no less! – came along to try and help our ailing club. I had a good feeling about this triumvirate. So much so that I placed a $200 bet with a certain Essendon supporter friend of mine around that time that the Cats would win a premiership before her Dons. I think I was quite drunk at the time, and deep down it was probably wishful thinking more than anything, but it’s indicative of the blind hope and optimism that I had.

These three magnificent bastards set to work; drafting and developing players, wiping out the debt, putting the best coaches in place; changing the culture and the general course of things. They gave a funny looking guy named Steven Wells carte blanche and open encouragement to work his recruiting magic. He responded, and duly pulled an Enright and a Ling and a Max out of his top hat.

All of a sudden we began to rise. We won that aforementioned VFL flag in ’02 with a group of kids I had not seen the likes of ever before at Geelong. Teenagers Ablett, Kelly, Johnson, Bartel, Rooke, Chapman, Hunt all played on that glorious spring day at Princess Park against Port Melbourne.

Following the VFL side that year was a true delight for a troubled and desperate Geelong person. Mind you, the AFL side wasn’t demanding much attention just yet, so this young, plucky VFL team was a fairly attractive option. Riding my pushbike down from North Fitzroy to Port Melbourne to watch those (now very famous) names playing in VFL finals for a gold coin; a sense of excitement building amongst the success starved Cats fans. It was a truly brilliant, sunny, and magical time for a lot of long tortured Geelong people, who duly bathed in the glow of optimism.

But it didn’t happen in the big league overnight. Despite those names from that VFL team coming up and joining the likes of like Enright, Scarlett, Corey, Ottens, Harley and Ling in the big time in 03/04; after a promising couple of years, by 2006 we had somehow still slipped back to mediocrity and missed the finals. They started calling for Bombers’ head.

It was all too hard. We’d never be like Essendon. We just weren’t meant for success. I had to just enjoy the little victories, like the VFL flag, or many-a-final-but-never-the-big-one. Just embrace those smaller moments, and treasure them when they come around.

So it was that 2007 started much the same way. Bomber had kept his job (just) after a much discussed ‘internal review’, and we hobbled to 2-3 after a particularly horrifying loss at Kardinia Park to North in Round Five. ‘They’ were sure to be out after such an insipid loss, calling for Bombers’ head again, this time on a silver platter.

And then a nuggety little bald guy we called Chappy conducted a post match interview that would go down with the ages, and completely alter the natural order of the footballing universe.

Here is how the Addy recalled it some years later: “WITH doors locked for close to an hour after an embarrassing, spiritless performance against the Kangaroos in round five of 2007, Paul Chapman emerged as the only player to front the media post-match. What he said would be forever remembered as a turning point in Geelong’s history.”We’re picking and choosing when we want to play and there’s no excuses. We need 22 blokes who are going to live your values and die for your team. It’s not just this year and it’s not just last year, it’s been around for a while and it’s something that we’re going to have to change as a side. You can’t just be happy playing, getting your money and having a good lifestyle or whatever it is, you’ve got to go out there and do everything you can to win, and that’s what it’s about”.

With those words, everything was forever changed.

The Cats came out the following week and kicked 20 odd goals in the first half against Richmond before going on to win by almost 30 goals. They lost just once more for the year (on the last kick of the day against Port Adelaide), then won their first premiership in 44 years in a record breaking canter. And if that wasn’t enough, they won the VFL flag again to boot. As convincingly as a bad actor could muster, I smugly collected that $200 from my Essendon friend.

They then went on to break just about every other record in the book over the succeeding few years. Another 2 flags, about 15 All Australians, 2 Brownlow medalists, 100 wins from 115 games.

It was astonishing.

We savored every last second of it; me and my downtrodden backwater mates from the bad old days. We drank and smiled and hugged and laughed and marvelled and wore our colours more proudly than ever before.

But then one day we woke up and without even realizing, we were them. Now we are them?
We looked in the mirror one day, and what we saw was a parody of what we once were.

WE HAD BECOME LIKE ESSENDON SUPPORTERS!

I’d catch myself drifting off during games against Freo, or the Dees at KP. Like a drug addict, I needed more than just an honest win to get my fix. I’d find myself opting to watch a game on TV rather than brave the cold and head down; reasoning that “it was only round 7, nothing to get too excited about”. Yes friends, without any shadow of doubt – I had blockbuster fatigue. We had played in so many big games over such a long period, that I had become a little bored with it all. Bored of winning? Surely it’s impossible. That was something only an Essendon supporter would say.

Sure enough, when the big games came around – like Collingwood or Hawthorn at the G – I’d find that fire in the belly again. But a narrow loss to Fremantle in Perth, or being upset by a plucky North Melbourne, or a struggle to get across a spirited Bulldogs, left me unmoved. Emotionless. Untouched. Good God; I think one day recently I even caught myself saying to my old buddies “meh, we didn’t really want to win anyway.”

And it seems the players are in a similar frame of mind. So used to the high stakes of pressure cooker games, they now seem to struggle to get up for the bread and butter games. The go through the motions. Where they would once gleefully beat up on a hapless opposition, they’ve started finding other ways of trying to amuse themselves – like punching Hayden Ballantyne, or giving away ridiculous 50’s, or seeing how far behind they can get before trying to catch up.

Only time will tell if the players, and indeed me, can awake from this blockbuster fatigue that we solemnly share. Maybe once the weeks count down and the September sun starts getting a little closer, we’ll all rediscover that spark and start yelling and screaming again (my case) or winning a contested possession count again (their case).

Or maybe not. Maybe that’s it. Maybe blockbuster fatigue claims everyone. Maybe eventually it turns everyone into smug and complacent caricatures, then rips them back down and starts the whole process again.

Shit, maybe Essendon will win the flag this year (god help us) or next and I’ll go back to getting my rare jollies off beating Melbourne at Kardinia Park or Brisbane in a gritty win at the Gabba. It’s hard to think about.

What I do know is that it will happen. Sometime, at some stage, I’ll be looking at those smug Essendon supporters again, thinking “you arrogant bastards, how can you be so blasé?” Looking back to myself and these glory years, thinking “You foolish, foolish man. We had it so damn good.”

About Tim McBain

A long tortured but now proud Geelong man. Product of the 70's. Likes late nights, country music, Test Cricket, red wine, Woody Allen films, airports and mushroom risotto. Lives in Melbourne.

Comments

  1. The Wrap says:

    Don’t worry Tim, you haven’t got it in you down at Catland to be arrogant. Proud, yes. And why not. But never arrogant. Not in the Essendon way. It’s a very special arrogance, that comes from generations of self delusion. Did you cop the cold suppressed fury of their coach at the post match last Saturday night. The nerve of Lowly Melbourne- beating Lofty Essendon. And you’re in good company – everybody feels the same way about them. Captain Blood called them ‘Collingwood supporters who could read’.

    Good luck for tonight too. Carlton would have to be up there with Essendon for delusional euphoria.

  2. Dennis Gedling says:

    I love the fact that ‘cocky’ is a tag. Once again great stuff. At the supporters club over this way a few people have been acting a little spoilt from our success and I didn’t like it. During the Adelaide loss it was ‘We should have kept Sando’, ‘we play too many kids’ and the like, bit uncalled for.

  3. Phantom says:

    In “A Picture of Dorian Gray” Oscar Wilde sent a succinct message. But we Cats are not of that arrogant ilk. We are just greatful for what we have received, perhaps just a little bit greedy and would like some more but still have our feet firmly planted on the ground.

    Decades of being bashed around the suburbs of Melbourne and beyond by arrogant supporters bearing handbags certainly does have that effect on you.

    Fear not Tim.

  4. Andrew Fithall says:

    Tim,

    I spent last weekend in the company of a number (far too many) of Geelong supporters. They were a bunch of arrogant pricks. One of them even had the temerity to declare Geelong as premiers for 2012.

    I much preferred Geelong supporters before their team won premierships (this last statement excludes my wife – in case you are reading this Helen – I love you more).

    AF

  5. Phantom says:

    If I had known that Tullamore Dew had that effect on you Andrew I would have given you more.

  6. Phantom says:

    Meanwhile,

    safely cradled in the arms of the Black Prince AF soothed himself with the sweet caress of twenty Collingwood membership caps.

    The wicked cats disappeared into the Prince’s crayfish hole and were never seen again; but if you carefully place the crayfish thorax shells on the Prince’s mantle to your ears you will hear the roar of the 2011 grand final crowd late in the last quarter.

  7. Andrew Else says:

    Up until last week’s minor speed-bump, I had been asked by numerous people whether the Essendon ‘lid’ was off.

    I explained every time that the ‘lid’ was for fans of teams that had constantly let them down, that had delivered numerous GF appearances for rarely a yelp. The ‘lid’ was for fans that couldn’t believe that their team might actually be good!

    As far as I’m concerned, having the Bombers near the top of the ladder is just the way it should be. Order has been restored. The AFL got what they wanted there for a while with the Cats, Dogs and Saints all up the pointy end, but now we’re getting back to where it should be.

    2000 was a glorious year. I don’t think I got out of my seat all season. I didn’t have any friends though. I was horrible to be around. Can’t wait to be back there again.

  8. Jamie Simmons says:

    It doesn’t sound too serious Tim. Admitting your problem is half the battle won. Do a little penance (ie. Help a Melbourne supporter across the street or mow a Gold Coast supporter’s lawn) and all will be forgiven.

  9. pamela sherpa says:

    I’m bemused by the arrogant tag. I’ve been a lifelong Essendon supporter and of course know many wonderful people who also follow the Bombers. I’ve never thought of us as being arrogant. Essendon supporters (as well as any other club) have every right to celebrate their marvellous achievements. I feel particularly lucky to have been an Essendon supporter but have never considered myself to be arrogant simply because my club has won several premierships. I’ve appreciated every single one of them and will treasure the memories of the brilliant players who proudly wore our jumper and have given me so much football enjoyment.

  10. Tim – its a fascinating ride isn’t it? How winning grand finals does in fact change your view of the world.

    I don’t think Cats’ supporters are arrogant. But there is an inner glow. The knowledge of experience. It will end one day (until the next time) but my cousin made a great comment after we won in 2007.

    “They can’t hurt me anymore.”

  11. Skip of Skipton says:

    Geelong supporters generally are not cocky, arrogant etc. Historically they haven’t had reason to be, but after the ’07 flag and during the dominant ’08 season my brother-in-law liked telling supporters of other clubs that “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves, we’re just taking it one premiership at a time”. A good deal of the wrath meted out by the Footy Gods in the ’08 GF can be traced back to him.

  12. Stephen Cooke says:

    Smug. Cats fans are smug. This term was used to describe me a lot. I had to agree.

  13. Good summation. Not a long enough regime near the top to be arrogant but definitely smug. Though this website certainly has Cat fans showing tendancies towards being arrogant. Then again, having waited so long for success good luck to them for enjoying it . Don’t think they will be nice to be around when they inevitably go on the downslide! About time for the Dogs/Saints/Dees? supporters to get a taste of what arrogance/smugness/SUCCESS is about.
    Other than Collingwood supporters, who generally think the whole competition (universe?) revolves around them, you can really only be arrogant as the ultimate winner. Somehow they remain arrogant when success (2 premierships in over 50 years) continually eludes them .

  14. David Downer says:

    Great read Tim,

    You sound about my vintage. As a child of the ’80’s myself, you nailed the general observations those of us supporting the “less popular” clubs had of Bombers kids – which incorporated plenty who switched allegiance to jump on board said red and black bandwagon.

    I’m a Sainter and they are top of the perch in terms of teams I have “particular satisfaction” in beating. Unfortunately doesn’t happen often – Essendon have had the wood on us something shocking for over 30 years. Bloody Sheeds. And in terms of supporters, we are poles apart, entirely different supporter mindsets, as you touch on.

    Re the Cats, as an outsider looking in, reckon you nailed your own mob correctly too! If St Kilda had Geelong’s recent success, I’d probably be singing from that smug hymn book also.

    Wish I had the chance to discover the answer!

    DD

  15. Stephanie Holt says:

    Indeed Budge, this Saints supporter would certainly enjoy a chance to find out what that smugness feels like. Somehow two seasons of almost invincible footy never got us there – still trotted off every week with a ‘pinch me, is this really happening’ optimism and a sense of typical Sainter foreboding that it might all be about to go pear-shaped. As of course it did. When it mattered.

  16. Stephanie and David,
    Back in the 90s – an era of so close and yet so far – a Swan supporting friend of mine said, “Don’t worry Jen. It will be made all the sweeter when the Cats DO win one.” I could barely comprehend his comment as a result of decades of disappointment; of dealing with the slings and arrows of those Essendon, Hawthorn and Carlton supporters, who always made me think of the Third Reich.
    My friend’s words blessedly came true. And it was, all the sweeter for the pain endured.
    It will be for you too.
    Great piece, Tim.

  17. There’s always a spectrum of any team’s supporters’ attitudes, some crass ,some humble.Most are in between, not knowing what the season will bring or indeed what each game will provide. Success leads to greater hope and struggle ,sadly, in the main, just to greater perseverance. I remember fondly 92 and 94 , the strains of 05 and 06 and felt that 2007 was cruelled by injury and an unjust finals fixture. 2012 is another story altogether.Finals footy is a reality for the Eagles even more than for .Geelong( in the days of the AFL)..
    Who would a Cat’s fan like to see as opponents in this year’s day of days?

  18. Tim McBain says:

    Greg – after beating Collingwood in a Grand Final last year it would be hard to imagine a much sweeter day. That said, beating Essendon on the biggest stage would probably just pip it, for reasons outlined in the piece. Mind you, we have long memories and I remember 92 and 94 well…a win on that final Saturday against your mob would be pretty satisfying also..!

  19. The last words

    If you were starving down on the ground with nothing between your skin and your bones and all of a sudden someone arrived and gave you a nice big bowl of seafood chowder you would take it and smile.

    If, after that had time to digest you were given a tender rare Filet Mignon with fresh green peas, asparagus, roast parsnips and Kifler potatose you would eat that and smile.

    Then after a while when that had settled someone gave you a beautiful desert with just enough Frangelico in the ice cream surely you would eat that as well and you could well be expected to discuss the feast with others and even desire a nice taste of good cheese a port and maybe one of those special smokes.

    You know that the time of plenty will not last forever and you need to fatten up for when the others walk past you again and drive the boots into your poor skinny ribs.

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