AFL Round 22 – Richmond v Essendon: Schadenfreude

The German term “schadenfreude” is beautifully efficient – a single word when in English we need seven (taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others).

Richmond was hardly efficient last night but the ease with which the Bombers were brushed aside was breathtaking. And enjoyable.  As Essendon’s abortive 2012 campaign played out its last dismal rites, the schadenfreude flowed freely.

A couple of years ago, I posted a rant about the sacking of Matthew Knights from the Essendon coaching position. I argued that his treatment had been lamentable and would never have been countenanced had the incumbent been one of the Bombers’ own. I think Knights might have been quietly smiling at last night’s result.

The loss to Richmond has completed a fall from grace which, even by Essendon’s recent (and pretty consistent) standards of boom and bust, has been nothing short of extraordinary. I am neither knowledgeable nor interested enough to comment on the myriad theories about why this has happened. All I can say is this: isn’t it remarkable how little finger-pointing there is towards the coach’s box now that it’s occupied by a couple of untouchable club legends.

As the 2012 season closes, for all the hoopla around the coaching dream team, in what measurable way has Essendon improved as a footy side? Their list is still ordinary. They’re still capable of scoring freely when on a roll, but they’re defensively fragile and their inability to run out a season is plain to all. Nothing seems to have been done to address any of this.

So who is wearing the criticism? Usually it’s the coach that cops the flak in these situations and you can certainly imagine the outcry if it had still been Knights presiding over this late season implosion. But now, with footy’s answer to Bambi and Thumper in the coach’s box, isn’t it funny how scapegoats – injuries, questionable fitness programs etc – are being unearthed anywhere else.

Criticism of another club’s management might sound a bit rich coming from a Richmond supporter. But I can only reflect on the contrast between Richmond’s current approach of fundamental, painstaking rebuilding and Essendon’s quick-fix of the coaching role. It starts with admitting you’ve got a problem – something I think the Bombers are still too proud to do.

Judging by last night, it might just be that the Tigers are for once taking the professional approach – and, gradually, reaping the rewards.

About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!


  1. Ken Richards says

    Well said Stainless. Though I think I’ll wait until Thumper & Bambi have completed the 3rd year Knighter never got before final judgement can be made. Nevertheless, the whole episode did not turn out all bad. After all, Knighter is now down at the Cattery, managing the next dynasty, the Cats got Chris Scott to cosh them to last years flag, and Bomber got the new lease of life he needed. And if what was sown has now been reaped, then so be it!

  2. Gleeful rant by a person who has forgotten that the Tigers are also coached by an Essendon legend. Where is the finger pointing at Hardwick? It won’t appear because yet another finals miss is perfectly acceptable by Richmond’s pathetic standards. Maybe they should think about a Knights/Wayne Campbell “Dream Team”.

  3. Andrew Else says

    I hate to spoil this passion with facts, but I’m going have to. In terms of measurable improvement, why don’t we start with games won? (good a place as any)

    Essendon wins in seasons coached by Knights: 8, 10.5, 7 (note 3 seasons Ken)

    Ditto by Hird: 11,11

    Every year our home games are split with 7 at Etihad and 4 at MCG. In Knights’ last year (ie his third, Ken), we averaged 34k at our Etihad games. That was a 17% drop from previous years. In Hird’s two years, it’s back to 38k last year and 40k this year. (G averages are all over the place)

    Any Essendon fan will tell you that they had had a gutful of Knights’ stubbornness and preference for one way football. He also managed to alienate himself through his treatment of Matthew Lloyd in his final years. Not once did he publicly back him and Lloyd later wrote in his book that he didn’t feel any love from his coach. Now whether Lloyd was right or wrong, Knights did himself no favours considering he was following a coach who was famous for treating his veterans with respect.

    And you couldn’t be more spot on with your ‘bit rich coming from a Tigers supporter’ comment. I got the same feeling that Bill Murray got when he heard ‘I got you babe’ when I read about Richmond’s strong finish to the year and how next season is ‘their year’. How satisfied were you with your ‘fundamental, painstaking rebuilding’ in Cairns a few weeks back? The Tigers have done well to eventually use their top 5 draft picks for good and not evil but gee it took a while.

    Given the feeling of the supporter group (and the on-field results) at the end of 2010, the board didn’t have much choice than to boot Knights. Could they have done much more than to hire someone who is clearly capable and to support him with a man who had just won two flags? Were any of the myriad Richmond coaching changes in the past 30 years as well thought out?

    I’m really enjoying your 1980 series Stainless, but maybe your continued reflection has meant you’ve conveniently forgotten the last 30 years. Just like the Bombers, you’re still a long way off the pace and if there was a better example of schadenfreude than the last 2 minutes at Cazaly Stadium and K Hunt’s final kick in the AFL this year, then I haven’t seen it.

  4. Tim and Andrew – you’ll be pleased to know that I enjoyed Carlton’s demise last night even more than Essendon’s on Friday and I guess we’ll all be in agreement on that score!

    I’m acutely aware of Richmond’s last three decades of ignominy and that any taunts about the failings of other clubs leaves me wide open. My point is that at Essendon and Carlton, it seems to be all about the coaching panel and not much about honest self-criticism. It reminds me a bit of Richmond during the 80s, which I assure you, I remember only too well.

    By contrast, at long last I see a Richmond administration prepared to admit that we’ve been absolutely shite at just about everything for years and to do the hard yards needed to rectify this. On any objective measure, Hardwick (yeah, thanks for him – he’s a beauty) and co have delivered steady improvement over three years.

    Results like the Cairns game are a setback and a reminder, yes you’re right, of how far we still have to go. I’m under no illusions that 2013 will be the acid test for our club and that another near miss will have me eating a fair slice of humble pie.

  5. N eil Anderson says

    Schadenfreude…Schadenfreude…Didn’t he play on the half-back flank for Germany in the international rules competition? Seriously though folks, what a beautiful word. I hereby claim it for use by the downtrodden bottom-of- the ladder fillers. I’m presently having a break from watching Geelong showing off to their fans and teaching the Bulldogs a lesson. It’s gut-wrenching but I still can’t work up enough schady to hope I can get pleasure out of Geelong’s misfortune that may occur some time. Schadenfreude however has been my dirty secret over the years. It rears it’s ugly head when I see the richest, most powerful clubs with the elite coaching squad, unexpectedly miss the finals or lose to a bottom side.

  6. Ken Richards says

    Fair points Andrew, I seem to have forgotten that Matty Knights had 3 years in the Bomber cockpit.
    You will remember however, I thought also that the Hird/Thompson experiment should not be judged on 2 years, even given the platform built by Knights. The new boss must be given time to succeed. Bomber had 4 years at the Cattery before the team played finals, and 3 further years before ultimate success ensued. And to think that the baby might very nearly have been thrown out with the bathwater after 2006. So for that reason, rushes to judgement may not be advisable. Particularly if the fitness and preparation issue can be sorted.

    You also mention the rift between Lloyd & Knights as a reason for the loss of support for the coach. Moving on a champion who is not part of the future of the club is always going to be difficult. I’d imaging Lloyd was not a man who would quietly accept a different and diminished role.

    And the crowd sizes – a serious concern, and perhaps more attributable to games won than anything else.

    I was also perhaps a bit taken Stainless’ labeling of the Dream Team ‘Bambi & Thumper’ . particularly as it applies to St James, who it seems is one of life’s teflon personages, one who it seems has a knack for being granted the credit, but never seems to be lumped with blame. Of course it could be that he is perfect….

    What you called ‘one way football’, I found exhilarating to watch. I would have liked to see how it panned out with more experienced and tougher bodies. Essendon sides still play with that sort of flair, so some of the legacy remains – the upset win against the Cats last year was great to watch, even as a supporter of the losers. So stick with the plan and be prepared for more bumps on the road. Winning flags is a task which is not getting easier, with expanded competition and the vagaries of the FIXture.

    Good luck in 2013, and against the Pies next week

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