What do you get when you combine a 24 hour sports news cycle, a vociferous fan-base and a club with a sense of entitlement? A bloody great disaster is what – a modern-day Frankenstein.

At the time of Matthew Knights’ appointment as head coach of Essendon at the end of 2007, Peter Jackson and the Essendon board were effusive in their praise of Knights and his plans for the Essendon Football Club. Sheedy was stale, on the nose and not a little bit insane.

The appointment of Knights heralded a turn to youth, but not any old variety. What Knights bought to the interview process over contenders like Damien Hardwick and Dean Bailey was unbridled optimism and a promise of rapid redemption. It was a message the club desperately wanted to hear – of imminent victory over sober prognostications.

Mediocrity is a dangerous place to be when you are a club used to success. To hear that your club might have to make an arduous journey back to the top of the summit just sticks in the craw. Instead of taking one or two steps back before moving forward incrementally, you want to believe that ultimate success is a fine-tune or two away.

This same overweening optimism has disastrously impacted the Brisbane Lions. Finishing 6th on the ladder in 2009, Michael Voss felt the Lions were within striking distance of the big dance and recruited accordingly. By the close of round 4, Brisbane sat 2nd on the ladder and Voss’s approach seemed to be vindicated. Twelve rounds later, Brisbane sit 13th and Voss’s approach is in serious question.

Sure, Brisbane’s injury list tells a sorry tale, but such eventualities have to be factored into short and medium-term planning. The injury list includes recruits Matt Maguire and Andrew Raines whose injury history was a matter of public record. The consistency of Brendan Fevola and Raphael Clark were known quantities. Whether Amon Buchannon and Brent Staker would breach the gap between Brisbane and the top sides was always a doubtful proposition. Combined with an ageing list of champions, the opportunity cost of topping up was always going to be high risk and looks to have failed.

By way of contrast, Melbourne now sits above the Bombers and Lions, and Richmond’s young team is hitting good form in recent weeks, parked behind Essendon and Brisbane on percentage. That is a worrying reality, given Richmond was in the unenviable position at the close of 2009 of purging a list of players with little trade value and building deep in a compromised draft.

The weight of expectation is always demoralising, but much more so when those in charge build unrealistic hopes for the supporters. It’s easy to sheet the blame home to the coaches, but at the end of the day, the coaches are employees of a club, and a club’s board must take their share of culpability for broken dreams.

About Dave Latham

Dave Latham has recently finished a history thesis on class and Australian Rules football in Melbourne between the years 1870 and 1920.


  1. Dave Latham says

    Good article.

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