Going West

by JoeFloh

 

In 2011 I moved to Sunshine, 5 K’s west of Footscray, the heart of Melbourne’s West. Around that time Stephen Dank came to Essendon. James Hird, our new pin-up boy coach, had hired him. As I was adjusting to life in the Western Suburbs, isolated from most of my friends, waiting for our second child to be born, Stephen was, at the behest of James, injecting healthy young footballers with unkown substances at various sites around Melbourne.

When I first heard the news in 2013, my heart sank. I couldn’t believe it was us, couldn’t believe it was Hirdy. But as the evidence leaked out, more disturbing every day, a strange thing happened. Most of my Essendon supporting friends started to go into denial. There were various versions of this; they’ve got no evidence, it’s a conspiracy between The Age and the AFL, it’s because it’s an election year, besides all the clubs are doing it, etc etc. I never bought this. It seemed like we’d been caught red handed doing something dodgy. I had a lot of friendly, but passionate arguments with mates, kept going to games, thrilled at the on-field exploits of the Bombers. I watched AFL360 most nights and listened to Gerard Whateley as a voice of reason and Robbo as the mouthpiece of the Hird camp. I was dismayed and confused but I was standing by the club.

Then one night a friend sent a text telling me to read the charge sheet the AFL had just released. I was stunned. It contained text messages from coaches telling Dank to remember to bring the “good stuff” to training that night, coaches who were at the front of a the queue to get some gear. It spoke about Hird injecting himself with Melatonin in his own bathroom and having a bad reaction. This was a drug he’d got from Dank, to improve libido and make him tan from the inside. It was sickening stuff.

Heads rolled. But not Hird’s. The fans went deeper into denial, started showing up at games with “Stand By Hird” signs. The club circled the wagons, brought in Liberal spin doctors and a hard right Liberal President. The players continued to play out of their skin. Then finally the AFL cobbled a deal together and all the players’ hard work came to nought,. They’d played their hearts out for a spot in the 8 but wouldn’t get the chance to play finals. Hird was suspended, surely finished at the club.

While all this was going on I’d chat to my neighbour Claire. In her 80?s and a lifelong Bulldog, we’d talk about their young team and how they were progressing. Occasionally I’d catch a few quarters of their games on Fox at one of the half empty stadiums. They didn’t seem to have a forward line, or much of a back line, but had plenty of guts in the midfield. I’d had a soft spot for them since their heartbreaking 09 prelim final loss. Walking the streets of Sunshine, I saw a lot of people in tatty old bulldogs hats and scarfs. A lot of them looked like they didn’t have much else going for them, but they had the Bulldogs, something to look forward to every week. My daughter went to a local festival and came back with a ball signed by Shaun Higgins. They were out in the community, truly bonded to this rough old part of Melbourne.

It must have been around Christmas when I heard that the AFL had cut another deal. James Hird was to get a million dollar lump sum from the club that week to pay him for the year he would have off suspended. I’d heard something about Hirdy attending executive courses in Paris and Singapore in his downtime. Surely he wouldn’t just pocket members’ money and piss off to Singapore, the guy was loaded. Then I heard from Bomber mates that the club was asking for donations from members to help cover the cost of the payment. The gall!

I couldn’t imagine the Bulldogs ever asking their cash strapped members to fork out for a multi millionaire former player who had brought the club to its knees through impatience, incompetence, vanity and pride. It was disgusting. Then I heard he would be welcomed back in the coaches box for finals. That was the last straw. If they were really keeping Hird on at the club, I was done. My second daughter had been born in Sunshine hospital, my neighbours were all Doggies, it wasn’t a hard choice to make. After a few glasses of red, watching the first Test in South Africa, I signed up for a Bulldogs membership.

This blog will chronicle my attempt to do one of the hardest things a lifelong Melbournian can ever do. CHANGE FOOTY TEAMS. As the season approaches I already feel the sting of those winter friendships I’ve treasured being lost. I look bleery-eyed at the sports pages, not recognising any of the Dogs players, and trying to avoid Joe Daniher stories. It’s gonna be bloody hard, but after 34 years, I’m going to try to quit Essendon

Comments

  1. Ripper read JohFloh. How are things up in Kingaroy?
    You laid out your case with passion, wit and clarity. A rare combination.
    First Steve Baker, now JF. Will the trickle become a flow??
    JF – I reckon that as a Dog you will be a regular Jack Russell. They are the ones that chase out the rats.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Well done Joh Floh love reading that the occasional Essendon supporter has a dose of reality I will never understand the support of Hird

  3. bD3i5_yBP4W9MnhCGeB6H8qUv5B4eRAFEjrP8m04Gl0. says:

    Go with the Floh Joh. Sunshine is a handy antiseptic, to butcher the phrase. It’s a rare case for integrity to trump loyalty, but it’s usually right.

  4. cowshedend says:

    Good on you Joh, keep running towards the light. I have turned my wife into a Scraggers fan as well after a lifetime of working at and following the Bombres.
    Will happily organise a ritual cleansing ceremony in the shallows of the Maribyrnong.

  5. Gutsy stuff. It’s easy from a distance to say you can’t change teams, but we rarely get subjected ourselves to what a mate called the tea-bag test: you only find out how strong you are, when placed in hot water.

    I can’t imagine how it must be if you love the club to see it ripped apart and treated with such a cavalier and unsafe attitude. No longer wanting to invest in them, emotionally and financially, seems a perfectly reasonable response. And, good on you for going to the other extreme, the Bullies.

    I still say Hird is one of the best players I have seen play the game. A pity that, like others, he turned out to have feet of clay.

  6. Neil Anderson says:

    Welcome to the Dogs! If you keep reading the Bulldog’s website you will soon feel welcome by the Club. If you read any speeches by the coach ( especially the one on draft- night ) you will definitely know you have made the right choice.
    For your induction homework I refer you to the following:
    ‘The Year Of The Dog’ documentary circa 1996 and….
    A book called ‘ Too Tough To Die ‘ by Almanacker Kerrie Soraghan which documents the fight-back by Footscray people including current President Peter Gordon when they read in the paper one day that the Club was to be no more.
    I hope you enjoy your new Club which has become stronger on and off the field in recent years.

  7. Cowshed, I need a clarification: By “ritual cleansing ceremony in the shallows of the Maribyrnong” You do, of course, mean getting nutted at the Angler’s Tavern? If so, I’m in.

    It’s not about me, but JohFlo – you have no idea how it feels to know that I’m not alone in feeling so ridiculously disenfranchised by the actions of club management and the whole ‘Stand by Hird’ ultimatum. Well played sir, well played!

  8. Great read JohFlo.

    At times I wondered what would be my reaction had it been Bucks and my club in question.

    I can’t imagine taking up with another, I’d just become a footy celibate I reckon. Or at least in terms of following the AFL.

    But good luck, you didn’t just take the easy way either and become a Hawk.

  9. I’ve been blogging for a year about why, against all reasonable judgement and sanity, I’m a bulldogs fan. So little success, so much heartbreak, but having been born and bred in those fancy Sunshine streets ( I admit we did move onto even trendier Deer Park), there’s never been a real alternative.

    Yesterday my mum, who saw that one and only Dogs premiership in her third ever match, went to the Dogs Hall of Fame dinner. She had her photo taken with 3 of the newly inducted Legends. Mum rarely misses a game in her 60 years of support since then and so has been a part of this club for even longer than the 1000 games that the Legends have clocked up.

    I’ve tried to imagine if my love for the club would have survived if it had been Chris Grant at the helm and we were exposed as drug cheats. I can’t help but feel I’d never get the chance to find out. Our unfashionable club would have felt the full weight of AFL wrath, not coddled along like the powerful Bombers.

    Welcome to our club and I look forward to hearing more about your experience of choosing rather than having chosen, the Mighty Bulldogs!

  10. Peter Schumacher says:

    It takes a lot to change allegiances. I can but imagine your pain. It was nothing like Essendon’s situation of course but I felt quite sick at the way that Voss dumped Daniel Bradshaw when he took over as coach. I did think then, “why am I barracking for this mob, Voss obviously has no principles perhaps except for one of greed”. Very disappointing from one who had previously been held in the highest esteem by myself and many others.

  11. Well done Joefloh. It’s called standing up to what you think is right and wrong. Bombers fans have got a bad case of waking up with blinkers on. Sooner or later these may be swapped with the rose coloured glasses with Hirds image on both lenses.
    As you say, when the club asks these supporters to again put their hand into their pockets to pay for this fiasco …… its time to move on??

  12. Rick Kane says:

    Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing for the known way is an impasse ? Heraclitus.

    Joe Floh, a tough, brave and very personal call.

    As an interested bystander the Essendon imbroglio seems like a shocking matter. I can barely imagine how a rusted on supporter would have to grapple with such a slippery, sticky and sad state of affairs. What a cruel twist of fate for a fans to even find themselves in this Solomon type deliberation.

    I don’t know what I would do in the same situation. I do know that change is a very primary part of our nature. And deciding (and then acting on the decision) to change, all things weighed up (what, in an organisation would be called a SWAT analysis) is actually a positive move.

    If this is what you have to do, then good luck. I think you are expressing a deep, deep feeling that other Essendon supporters would agree with, even those still stuck in denial. Your action gives others the strength, to act. Not necessarily to change clubs but maybe to demand more of the club they follow.

    Good luck with the Dogs, their story is one worth following.

  13. Ladder of Chill says:

    Welcome to the Doggies. Life long and only an Escort Cup flag to celebrate. Yes I know its the NAB something but I still call the Dogs Footscray.
    Its not about the flags its what you get and I reckon only once in 58 years I have seen one game where I did not think they gave it all. Honest team you will enjoy.

  14. Dazza the bomber tragic says:

    Harmsy would be wondrin’ if i’d pop my head up here! JoeFloh, i both envy and feel saddened by your decision. Everything you say is true … but some of us are born into a team, a family, and even at the hospital in my case – and there is no choice. I will endure the pain, as my mind is wired to only love red and black. If my brother had ended up in the gutter, would I forsake him? I’d choose to pick him up and get him going again. I remember an era when “chaining teams” was unheard of. So I will continue to watch them and check the news to see how they went, although maybe from slightly further afar now … and yes it might be best if Hirdy doesn’t come back. Cheers.

  15. Though I utterly disagree with the conclusion you’ve come to, I feel your pain. Worse than that – as a lifelong Essendon supporter who still sometimes catches my breath when ‘my boys’ run out in that beautiful, majestic black and red jumper – I feel your hurt and, yes I suspect, your shame. It is only deepened by the passion and pride you once felt for the club, for the jumper. For everything that the club stood for.
    Not only that, I recognised in your experience my own. Some parts were quite literally identical. On the day Essendon ‘self-reported’, I was angered to say the least, desperately hopeful that it was all a dreadful mistake. That ‘we’ had not let down the young men in our club, that we’d not betrayed the heritage of the club by taking “Whatever It Takes” too far. That the club had not besmirched its sense of honour; that honour which meant we had never been one of those clubs who stole weaker clubs’ players, who bent the rules to win. Who’d ruthlessly do anything and everything to win.
    But I too recall precisely how I felt when I read the AFL ‘charge sheet’. Almost physically ill as I read the details. Angry. Let down. Terribly.
    Unusually, perhaps, from the first, I believed the club deserved to be punished. That we could not immediately tell the young men in our care precisely what had been put into their bodies warranted severe penalties and I would not have objected had it been ruled we could not compete for points there and then. For starters. And ANY official who knowingly participated in, or facilitated, the scheme to be banned for life.
    Including players. Including James. I even agreed, with much sadness, that Jobe must lose his Brownlow if there was the slightest risk that he benefitted from the substances he was administered.
    And I continued to support the team – my boys, after all – with as much passion as I ever had. Even more so in some ways because so much was on the line and my boys were so brave as the whole stinking mess unravelled. I watched James display stoicism and class – and admired him for it – while avoiding the “Stand by Hird” campaign. To be honest, I was slightly contemptuous of the blind faith that represented; as a minimum, a number of people at the club had been negligent at best and it was such blind faith which had placed young men at risk and besmirched our honour. (I was similarly contemptuous of the blind hatred which saw so many revel in the plight of Essendon and the trusting young men at the centre of the mess but that’s another story.)
    But therein lies the rub.
    Negligence is not bad faith. Stupidity is not cheating.
    Nor are allegations necessarily proven. And it has been asserted that the ‘charge sheet’ contained allegations – against James in particular – which he denies and to which he was not given the opportunity to respond. If true, that is unjust.
    In making that point, it doesn’t diminish that what took place at Essendon in 2012 was wrong. That we, the club, still cannot say with certainty what was put into the bodies of our players is a disgrace. We deserved to be punished. We were punished. We must wear that.
    We must also wear whatever emerges from the completed investigation. Hopefully, there will be no long term repercussions for the young men in the midst of it all and, hopefully, that will be established soon.

    As I said at the outset, I feel your pain. I share it. I ‘get’ why you’ve made the decision you’ve made. I happen to have come to a different decision and will continue to support the club I chose as a small boy for reasons that no-one can recall.
    As I write this in the ‘aftermath’ of the latest “twist” in the saga and know there’ll yet be more hurt and more bitterness which the boys’ effort in Round 1 mitigated for a few hours, I know only one thing.
    The right path for me is to stay. To remain part of Essendon. To restore that unblemished pride in my club.
    I know I’ll feel that pride in the club’s sense of honour again one day but, first, we must get closure on this whole painful mess.
    I wish you luck for the path you’ve chosen. I hope the day comes soon when you can look again at the game without feeling betrayed, without that sense of loss.
    And I hope you wish me luck on mine.

  16. Heartfelt stuff everyone. Thanks for all the wise words. Good to know there’s so so many smart footy lovers in this town. Let’s hope the Doggies pull off a miraculous win this arvo, I think we can all agree on that!

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