Footy used to be fun

Footy used to be fun. It was just a game. It was a time when coaches fired up their troops with inspirational speeches, pleading with their players to take the field and just ‘do something.’  Training was on a Tuesday and Thursday night and game day was Saturday. Every game was played close enough to 2.00pm when one team would line up against another and give nothing more or less than their best for 100 minutes of footy. After the game players used to join their opponents, coaches, supporters and even umpires for more than a few beers.  Some players would get home late. Others would get home really late. A few may not have made it home at all. But very little of that was in the paper the next day – most times it was not in the papers at all.

Now footy is serious stuff. I’m sure it’s still fun for some, but I’m an Essendon supporter, so for me, it hasn’t been much fun at all. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for the players these days. Footy training is every day. There’s meetings every day too. Coaches are not so much into fire and brimstone speeches, they’re more concerned with tactics, structures, analysis of the opposition and who’s running where.  Sadly, some are also concerned with supplements. No longer is it simply good enough for the players to train well and play hard. No, now they have to prepare well – every single day of the week.  Their bodies are not just arms, legs and heart. They are assets.  They are the assets who are going to help win matches and premierships and help the club make money. This money can then be spent on the football department to ensure the team can gain a competitive advantage. They can send their players to Arizona, or even get them in the hyperbaric chambers. Better still, they can get the sports scientists in and get the players on the supplements.  Surely then we’ll win, won’t we?

And then if they do have a drink, for God’s sake, make sure the media don’t see them. Because you know where that story’s going to end up, don’t you.  Sadly, the media has become the news as much as the news itself. Robbo and Caro and Patrick are no longer just print journalists writing what they know to be true. They are radio commentators and television stars and they’re expected to provide opinions. How can someone have so many opinions?  Do they really believe what they say, or do they feel pressure to climb above their counterparts with opinions that will be heard?  Whatever the case, you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll find out what they think because if you missed what they wrote in the paper you’ll probably hear them on the radio or see them on TV. I’m told there was a time, not that long ago, when the football media mostly reported on the footy.  Seems hard to believe.

I don’t want to be one of those fans who yearns for years gone by and who’s blind to what’s great about the game in 2013. The dilemma I’m facing is that if someone asked me last year what was great about football, I’d answer with two simple words – James Hird.  I wrote once that if you can only remember one thing about football then remember James Hird, because if you remember him, you’ll be remembering everything good about the game.  As a player, James Hird just played. Some players are restricted by the role they are asked to play or the tactics they are expected to execute. They are asked to play within the confines of their team’s structure and game plan, so much so, that at stoppages, some are not even able to go and win the footy. Instead they are asked to block someone or run to space to create a path for someone else. But not Hird. Hird just played.  He played with instinct, flair, creativity and spontaneity. It was pure. It was magical. It was play as play should be. And every time I see him, even today, my mind goes racing back to going to the footy with my family wearing the number 5 on my back.  Most times I’d leave the game mesmerised. That’s why I love him.

And now I want to hear from him. Along with most other Essendon fans I’m not blind to the mistakes made at Essendon in 2012, but the fans have suffered.  Footy is about hope and optimism.  It’s about dreaming about what might be. It’s about hoping for the best, even when you expect the worse.  You go to the footy with hope – no matter who you’re playing.  You barrack, no matter how far behind your team might be. You add up the wins until you have enough to play finals. If you don’t win, it’s not the end of the world, but when you do, the feeling can be simply exhilarating. We won enough games to make the finals this year, but we won’t be there. We’re not allowed to play.

So, I need to hear from the club. I need to hear from Hird.  You might look at Hird and see a man so obsessed with winning that he was willing to act outside the spirit of the game. But I still see my favourite player of all time – the one with the long sleeves and graceful moves.  I still see my hero.  But I need him to convince me that I’m right.  I need him and the club I love to get me excited about football the way I used to.

And then I’m sure footy will be fun again.

About Sam Duncan

My name is Sam Duncan, a very passionte, slightly one eyed and mostly optimistic Essendon supporter. Originally from Yarrawonga, the home of the mighty Pigeons, I moved to Melbourne to go to Swinburne Universtiy in 2002. Feeling right at home as a uni student, I stayed for a long, long time, completing an undergraduate degree in media and communications, an Honours and Masters degree in the same field, and finally, a PhD in sport, media and cultural studies. I'm the author of 'Rolling with the Punches: Tales of an Aussie Traveller', lecturer in the Bachelor of Sports Media at Holmesglen and boundary rider for AFL Live. I love footy. I love Essendon. Go Bombers!


  1. Nice one Sam.

    Some might say hyperbaric chambers and altitude training is already OTT.

    Whatever the multitude of conflicting evidence and versions of events, ultimately once a club coach green lights injecting shit (illegal or otherwise) on a regular basis, then unfortunately it’s a cue to The Fonz to strap on the waterskis.

    My advice is to take a break from the game or get down to the local footy or VFL. Because at the highest level the game is in a parlous state for a number of reasons. And as you say, there’s no room for fun or characters anymore.

  2. Well said Sam.

    As a fellow Essendon supporter – I well and truly feel your pain.

    One reason that I have always loved James Hird is because of his undying love for the club. He is first and foremost a fan of the game and a pssionate Essendon supporter. That shone through as a player, and was clearly evident in his decision to come back and coach the club when we needed him most.

    He is not a “career coach” like many of his contemporaries. He would never coach another club. He was only interested in coaching Essendon. And in helping Essendon achieve success.

    Sadly in his desire to achieve greatness for the club – he has been involved in contributing to its lowest ebb.

    But like you – I still want to hear from him. Because I know that surley like me he is hurting. And I know that he is sorry – I saw that in his eyes and his words on Saturday night at the post match press conference. I look forward to hearing his side of the story. And I look forward to his return as coach in 12 months… but mostly I look forward to the footy hopefully being fun again next year, and the club rebuilding from this sorry affair.

    In the meantime I will continue to follow and support the players and the club through this period, and maybe get to a couple of VFL games as well to remind me of the days gone by and why I love the game!

  3. Dunc (Dad) says

    Sam – I agree with you that James Hird was a fantastic player and insperational. As a coach he is ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of his players, so there had to be some penalty delivered to him. The Bomber Board have shown faith in Hird by appointing him coach in 2015 and i think he will come back more determined than ever. I’m more pissed off with the media who beat up the story and won’t let it go until there is no more blood to spill.
    I think that overall the penalties are not that severe and the Bombers have negotiated fairly well.
    Good supporters stick. Weak supporter can barrack for Carlton.

  4. Little Man says

    Well put Sam.

    I particularly liked the line “Sadly, the media has become the news as much as the news itself”, of which I couldn’t agree more.

    On the other hand, “I can’t even imagine what it must be like for the players these days”, really? Those poor AFL players who have to train, attend meetings on a daily basis and behave themselves in public. What most of us wouldn’t do to be in there position? Clearly the benefits to players of football being big business far outweigh the demands of professionalism.

    Good read though, and my heart does go out to you.

    Perhaps now that this mess has been dealt with, you – like the rest of us – can focus on the upcoming finals series, which promises to be a memorable one. Seeing the positive elements of our great game without sharing the room with this elephant may just put some fun back into football for you and remind you of all that is great about our game.

    All the best for 2014.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great Article Sam I think the Top Level has become just too much of a business and Win at any Cost I as Crows supporter am disappointed with there behaviour last season and now Essendon have committed the worst thing ever in my opinion in Australian Sporting History and it is far from over .There I much to admire about the fun and honesty at the Local Level Go the Blacks The Mighty Adelaide University Football Club .

  6. Great read Sam,
    I’m sure sums up the pain of footy fans everywhere. Lets get back to the footy FFS!

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