Almanac Book Review – Bomber the Whole Story: Hardworking and Rewards with Honesty

 

The Essendon premiership player including as a captain in 1993 and Geelong premiership coach Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson released his autobiography in 2016 written with the journalist, Martin Blake.

 

At first, he started the book telling readers he would tell his whole story with no apology as he was an independent person. I expected some controversies in his book.

 

But I was not offended with what he had to say. I only discovered his legacy in playing and coaching with hardworking and honesty. My respect for Bomber was established through reading the book.

 

Francis Leach would have helped me creating a better life path by giving me this wonderful book at the Sports Writers Festival in Melbourne. My life lessons were encouraging hardworking that Bomber demonstrated in his play and coaching career, confronting issues, and being patient to improvement processes. Sadly I also realised something can’t be changed even with hardworking.

 

Thompson was nicknamed as Bomber not by playing footy at Essendon, but from his childhood’s duty picking football from the neighbour when it went over the fence. He had to race like a bomber not to fight with dogs owned by her. He was a Bluebagger as a boy, by the way.

 

After playing junior footy in Airport West, he was picked by Essendon under their zone. Then VFL had no draft at the time.

 

Essendon were struggling with claiming the flag when his coach Kevin Sheedy arrived at the club. They stuck with old days and traditional. Sheedy changed the culture by Richmondnised – brought success and aggressive attitudes from Tigerland where he played.

 

Back then, he had to work as an electrician and trained in the evening. Bomber’s boss was not a football person, so it was hard for him to understand why Bomber had to leave early to another job.

 

Playing Essendon’s Under 19, he had a breaking year in 1984 and his club won the flag by winning against Hawthorn who beat them a year before at the Grand Final.

 

The VFL Grand Final was the replay of the previous two years’ matches. Essendon had strong and aggressive attitudes striving to win to make two-one. Involving in a big brawl but Essendon had a big win on the day.

 

His club and career was going up and down afterwards. The Grand Final loss in 1990 against Collingwood was regrettable and motivated the club well. Three years later, the Bombers won the premiership against their old enemy of Carlton.

 

Thompson retired at the end of 1996 and was about to back to his electrical business he and his brother Steve established in 1980s.

 

In the 1996 season, their reserves coach Mark ‘Choco’ Williams went to Port Adelaide as an assistant coach. Then Bomber was offered to take over the role and became an assistant coach to Sheedy.

 

After the season, Sheedy was undertaking a training course in Europe so Bomber was unbelievably in charge of training. It was remarkable but good experience for the rookie coach.

 

He intended to be a teacher-coach wanting to bring people along with him, to nurture them and draw the best out of them. Improving their delivery of the ball was what Bomber thought was needed at Essendon.

 

When his good friend and former teammate Tim Watson was heading to St Kilda to take a coaching job, Bomber was invited and had an interest, but ended up coaching North Melbourne’s reserves in 1999 alongside Denis Pagan.

 

Then at the end of the season, several senior coaching jobs were available and he became the head coach at Geelong.

 

Geelong had financial issues at the time and struggled with wins. Brian Cook, the chief executive and Gareth Andrews, a board member were good listeners and let Bomber talk. They wanted to develop players their own and Bomber wanted to improve team performances by it. He really liked how they talked.

 

They realised the club needed five years to rebuild as well as did Bomber. His coaching methods as teacher-coach and vision of developing players on their own contributed the club well. What he faced at Essendon in his early years helped rebuilding Geelong.

 

Like his play career at Essendon, Geelong had tough experiences and motivated players for striving to win the flag. The last minute loss to Sydney Swans in the 2005 semi final and the loss at the 2008 Grand Final against Hawthorn brought big motivation to win the flag afterwards.

 

His ball chasing kamikaze game plan was the key to claim the premiership cup in 2007 after the 44-year drought.

 

But following year, at the end of the first half, Cameron Mooney had footy in the close range but had his mins on other matters. Then he tried to kick the leather off the ball but kicked it off the inside of the foot and completely shanked it, Mooney admitted later.

 

Then and recent returned Hawthorn President Jeff Kennett might have observed Mooney’s performance well, and then he made an infamous comment on the day the Grand Final rematch was played in Round one, 2009.

 

“When they are coordinated together, they are most unbearable. But they don’t have, I don’t think, is the quality of some of our players; that they don’t have the psychological drive we have. We’ve beaten Geelong when it matters.”

 

I admit Mooney should have concentrated to provide his best footy in the biggest match, but Kennett went too far and as Bomber points it was the silly and idiotic comment and put more fuels on the fire that Geelong players vowed never to be defeated by Hawks.

 

Paul Chapman’s vow motivated his teammates and Geelong had 11 wins in a row until 2013.

 

Geelong had a successful year in 2009. They had been unbeaten until when they faced St Kilda in Round 14. But the opponent’s pressing game plan implemented by then coach Ross Lyon ended with loss for his side, following with the week after by Brisbane Lions.

 

As he observed St Kilda was not a big goal kickers, he used a flexible game plan on the Grand Final as they played St Kilda.

 

The warrior midfield Saint Lenny Hayes played the huge first quarter and then Bomber wondered if he switched Ling on to Hayes. But he didn’t as the Bulldogs had switched their opponent for Hayes and then Dal Santo got off the chain that he didn’t want to happen. Instead he sent Bartel on Hayes and then the Saints were  calmed down.

 

At the last quarter, unlikely to Geelong’s changed game plan, St Kilda’s full back Zac Dawson couldn’t stop Gary Ablett. His runs and Mooney’s uncontested mark and a handball led Chapman’s winning goal.

 

Later in the chapter, Bomber rates Lyon as a good coach, but he didn’t have good list management and points St Kilda’s inaccurate goal kicking. It is another message for my beloved Saints that we need to improve goalkicking, I sense.

 

His services at Geelong include implementing the loyalty to the club. One of his concerns about footy world is the free agent system. Developing young players for four years and then letting them go ruins clubs who invented the young players for their better performances.

 

I am not a fan of the free agent as it’s too much Americanised – individuals’ goals always value. Of course individuals should achieve their goals as humans, but could fulfil by getting awarded with their teammates, couldn’t they? Paul Roos wouldn’t be a fan of free agent either, I think.

 

And Mick Malthouse concerns the damage of losing developed players seeing them to move to their home state with free agency. The system should be revised, I think.

 

Bomber had been done coaching because of much time consuming and many responsibilities. Even he spent times on preparations before games and had no time to eat, so had salad roll in the coaches box. He left Kardina Park in 2011 and returned to Windy Hill in 2012.

 

His old club had hired James Hird as senior coach and asked Bomber to mentor him.

 

He encouraged his players to hardworking as they needed to be competitive.

 

But he went through very tough times at Essendon. He was at the job interview with Stephen Dank, but was not impressed with him. He suggested the club not to hire him but was powerless as an assistant coach.

 

Then Dank injected substances without approval by the club doctor Bruce Reid. And even it happened outside the club training ground. And Dank didn’t take club’s order.

 

The inner club investigation and handling by AFL were not proper processes, he admits. Even he made so many question marks on how the circumstances were handled. On the other hand, he regrets he was not able to protect his players much in the period.

 

He is honest and brave telling the whole Essendon saga in the book. His passions and love of the sport are alive, eve he is not willing to coach any more; however he is teaching coaching skills to all levels.

 

Bomber the Whole Story is another ripping book to read. I hope you enjoy reading his great story.

About Yoshihiro Imagawa

Love, passion and pride are seen on the footy that is the biggest part of my life. 1. St Kilda Club member: I am a passionate and crazy Sainter. Just hope we will win the second flag soon, especially after Dogs and Tigers having ended long premiership draughts. 2. The Osaka Dingoes Player and Public Relations Officer: Player number 44 that I chose to honour Stephen Milne with my wish being like a small forward like him. Lenny Hayes' hardworking attitudes are adopted on my trainings and practices. Nick Riewoldt's great plays are in my player audiobook too. 3. Writing: Here on the Almanac and also on the World Footy News. My skills utilise on great footy websites.

Comments

  1. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Fantastic review Yoshi. Bomber was an excellent half-back flanker for Essendon. Geelong stuck with him and Cats’ fans will always be grateful that he was at the helm when the 44 year drought was broken. Beautifully written and researched, mate.

  2. G’day Phil,

    Thanks for your comment with compliment as always.

    He played well even he is not tall much and was fearless on the footy field. It’s the reflection of his bravery.

    Being patient is what Paul Roos urges in his book ‘Here it is’ too. Bomber is happy Richmond stayed with Deman Hardwick and here they were.

    Cheers

    Yoshi

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