Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

“The festival was over and the boys were all planning for a fall
The cabaret was quiet except for the drilling in the wall
The curfew had been lifted and the gambling wheel shut down
Anyone with any sense had already left town
He was standing in the doorway looking like the Jack of Hearts.”*

I love footy because it is a morality play resolved within 3 hours.  It is often exciting and sometimes unexpected (witness both Collingwood and my Eagles last weekend).  It is complex enough to keep me engaged and guessing, but not so impenetrable that I have no idea what is unfolding.

My pessimistic younger self used to say that golf was like life.  You swing left to make it go right; you hit down to make it go up.  I used to tell people I was counter-intuitive.  When things were easy I could never focus and would waste endless time.  When there was pressure and stress I was strangely serene and productive.  Until a good friend dismissed my ceaseless introspection with “you’re just a perverse wanker.”

Even a bad sporting contest can have me enthralled.  Ryan Harris in the Fourth Test held me as spellbound as Ashton Agar in the First (can we please have him back as a batting all rounder – sans Watto?)  Watching Harris with the new ball was like a Warne lunch break master class in real time; without the commentary.  Working a batsman over.  Setting him up with brutal artistry.

We lost – but so what.  Someone always does in sporting contests.  Only politicians and conjurers pretend there are actions without consequences; where flowers grow magically in thin air.  That is why they are strangely captivating – but we don’t believe either.

For my sins I recently spent a week doing jury duty.  In the breaks we spent less time considering the evidence than lamenting the legal process, and the seemingly incompetent lawyers who failed to ask the questions we wanted.  It was a shadow play that left us grasping in the dark for answers and justice.

Which of course brings me to the current cause celebre’ of the chattering classes – the Essendon Football Club and its cast of miscreant managers.   Now I admit that I have been first among many in my calls for heads to roll to preserve some sense of fair play and an even playing field in sport.  I find poking sticks at bears one of the most engaging parts of contributing to the Almanac community.

But a couple of things have given me cause for pause in recent days.  The first was the endless trawl for the dirt on the Age website that I now contribute $25 toward monthly.  I used to devour this ‘investigative journalism’ until it became apparent they had become like A.J. Weberman picking through Bob Dylan’s garbage cans in search of ‘the truth’ about his life and lyrics.

This culminated in the sight of Caro doing her Madam Defarge on Footy Classified on Monday night.  Knitting at the foot of the guillotine, while relying on the juicy entrails that dripped from whatever ‘reliable sources’ (victim or executioner) presented an opportunity.   Her sharpened needles weaving the names of her victims into the cloth.  I found myself agreeing with much of what she said, but repelled by the bloodlust desire that seemed to motivate it.

The final act in my descent was spending most of yesterday checking websites or the radio for signs of the AFL/ASADA hanging judge.  Only to be eventually rewarded by a statement of impenetrable legalese that had me searching through Fleming’s “Law of Torts” (LLB failed circa 1979) for meaning.

“The hanging judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined
The drilling in the wall kept up but no one seemed to pay it any mind
It was known all around that Lily had Jim’s ring
And nothing would ever come between Lily and the king
No nothing ever would except maybe the Jack of Hearts.”*

What was I expecting?  What had I hoped to learn that I didn’t already suspect?  Hadn’t Litza, Sean and Sir Frank Downright been telling me this was the only possible outcome?  Why did I think there might be justice and clarity instead of process and delay?

Above all why was I wasting time and energy on this charade when there were good friends; good sport and good books being evaded as a consequence?  Our minds have an endless appetite for distraction at the expense of the life well lived.

So my resolution from today is to avoid the ceaseless speculation about which of the 10,000 legal, evidentiary, political and commercial permutations will befall Essendon FC and AFL Inc.  I have come to believe that history and justice is on the side of good intentions, so things will unfold in time.  But I have also learned that justice borrows its timetable from the Italian Railways.  So there is little point in gazing down the tracks hoping to catch the first glimpse of the Vatican Express.

There are little bliss bombs of joy to be created and experienced when I focus on the possible, rather than expecting power and self-interest to suddenly bend to the wind of justice.  There are friends and music and sport to be nurtured and enjoyed.  The sorry Essendon saga has little to do with sport except for the business occupation of its protagonists.  It is about greed, ambition and folly.   Timeless themes that have long been the stuff of theology and literature, but can never be resolved by sport as Monty Python showed us in the Wrestling Epilogue:

“On the program this evening we have Monsignor Edward Gay, visiting Pastoral Emissary of the Somerset Theological College and author of a number of books about belief, the most recent of which is the best seller ‘My God’. And opposite him we have Dr Tom Jack: humanist, broadcaster, lecturer and author of the book ‘Hello Sailor’. Tonight, instead of discussing the existence or non-existence of God, they have decided to fight for it. The existence, or non-existence, to be determined by two falls, two submissions, or a knockout. All right boys, let’s get to it. Your master of ceremonies for this evening – Mr Arthur Waring.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to a three-round contest of the Epilogue. Introducing on my right in the blue corner, appearing for Jehovah – the ever popular Monsignor Eddie Gay. (there are boos from the crowd) And on my left in the red corner – author of the books ‘The Problems of Kierkegaard’ and ‘Hello Sailor’ and visiting Professor of Modern Theological Philosophy at the University of East Anglia – from Wigan – Dr Tom Jack! (cheers; gong goes for the start)  

“Now Dr Jack’s got a flying mare there. A flying mare there, and this is going to be a full body slam. A full body slam, and he’s laying it in there, and he’s standing back. Well .. there we are leaving the Epilogue for the moment; we’ll be bringing you the result of this discussion later on in the program.”

And here is the result of the Epilogue: God exists by two falls to a submission.

*There are no more authoritative sources on matters of theology, politics and philosophy than Bob Dylan and Monty Python.


  1. PB – very sound logic here. The Essendon saga does indeed have zero to do with football or sport. It is a saga about people who have missed the point.

    Caro as Madam DeFarge – brilliant.

  2. Lord Bogan says

    Terrific article PB. The games and players have plenty of stories. I’m learning to switch off from all the bullshit because I allowed it to create too much negativity in my view of the game.

    As fans we have to take some responsibility because we tend feed the commentariat. No subscriptions from me. If they want me to engage they have to earn my readership because I can also waste my energy elsewhere.

  3. You’re so right Mr B. And so poetically put. So right about so much. And they said the Wise Men came from the East! (To get to The West, you have to come from The East – Ed) Sure Caro has her blood fairly up, but why not? The Bears in this circus need to be poked. Need to be provoked. Otherwise the bearskin rug at Jellymont House would be bulging with everything they’ve tried to sweep under it. Caro wouldn’t be the only one getting teed off at having the season hijacked by a stage managed charade constructed so everyone gets off the hook and Essendon cop a slap on the draft picks.

    Without The Tigress’ relentless pursuit of ‘the truth’ in this swamp of ‘greed, ambition and folly’ there’d be no bliss bombs of joy while waiting for the Vatican Express to sway down the track.

    My take on it is that ASADA have released the Interim Report so the AFL can get back in the driver’s seat. That’s what the charges are about. Both parties are compromised here. The EFC are holding ‘that phone call’ over AD’s head, and goodness knows what else. ASADA will deal with the more damaging issue of whether the Essendon & Cronulla players have been given substances that either did not comply with, or were banned outright by WADA rulings, when we’re seeking our schadenfreude hit in the stupor of The Long Dark Summer. Sitting in the beer garden down at Cottesloe waiting for the next Big White sighting say.

    And you’re so right when you say that this ‘sorry Essendon saga has little to do with sport except for the business occupation of its protagonists’. You just left out what is euphemistically called the X factor – Ego. And while ego is not necessarily a dirty word, when it overrides sound judgement it can become decidedly grubby.

  4. daniel flesch says

    Most entertaining and erudite , Peter. My guess is EFC will injunct and delay as long as possible then hop through a legal technicality of a loophole to be “punished” with a fine for which the loyal punters will cough up $5 , $10, $20 , $50 , $100 each and it all gets buried. Litza said a while back WADA will step in. The head of WADA is John Fahey ,Liberal ex-Premier of NSW. Golden Boy has a Liberal spin doctor as his P.R. flack. Just sayin’…. I take a little exception to your shot at the Italian Railways ; i reckon they’re pretty good. Especially like the Italian word for a train connection – “coincidenza.” Obvious chuckle aside , it shows how the word has changed its meaning since coming to English from the Latin.

  5. PB

    And so it came to pass that what everybody thought was going to happen, happened.

    Excellent piece of writing. As BT would say, you’d be a champion if you were a Victorian!

    Send lawyers, guns and money, the (sugar, honey, ice tea) has hit the fan.

    Sad in a year the Tigers and Port have shone brightly, the Cats maintained their form with another crop of Wells inspired picks, Cameron, Ablett etc have had us standing up and applauding, so much paper has been wasted on this.

    I don’t back away from the fact that this is vitally important, a major issue and far, far from over.

    But your piece gives reason for pause, and a desire to go back to the game.

    Well played


  6. Peter, you’ve got to stick with me on this…

    The journo who is bang on the money on this is oddly enough Roy Masters.

    Bookmark this: “WADA will use the AFL and NRL cases to toughen its sanctions against ”support” staff. It will hold a world conference in Johannesburg in November, part of a six-year cycle of updating its code. The role of Essendon and Cronulla staff will be tabled to demonstrate the need for wider powers against those with a duty of care.”

    New WADA President, Sir Craig Reedie takes the chair in November. He wants a head on a stick to parade before Sochi. This is it. They are clamping down on the role of support staff (ref: and this is perfect!

    Most of the journos are playing checkers on this, not chess.

    We’re not watching an episode of Law & Order here, this is The Wire.

    It’s just going to get better. Case it point, Mexican drugs!

    Most clubs have coteries, but Essendon has cartels.

    It’s brilliant!

  7. So from the top – we have

    Dips – The Essendon saga does indeed have zero to do with football or sport.

    Lord Bogan – I’m learning to switch off from all the bullshit because I allowed it to create too much negativity in my view of the game.

    Daniel F – My guess is EFC will injunct and delay as long as possible then hop through a legal technicality of a loophole to be “punished” with a fine for which the loyal punters will cough up $5 , $10, $20 , $50 , $100 each and it all gets buried. Loved the italian for connexion BTW.

    Sean – Sad in a year the Tigers and Port have shone brightly, the Cats maintained their form with another crop of Wells inspired picks, Cameron, Ablett etc have had us standing up and applauding, so much paper has been wasted on this.

    Litza – Most clubs have coteries, but Essendon has cartels. The checkers v chess analogy was a beauty Litza.

    I’ll put my hand up. So we have a jury of six empanelled. Gentlemen of the jury, to the charge of bringing Our Great Game into disrepute; how say ye?

  8. I’m with you all the way on the head on a pike speculation Liza. If it’s going to be an Aussie head – and with our holier than thou attitude going back to the Thorpedo & beyond – there’s good reason the believe they’d choose someone from The Fatal Shore, are you suggesting we get on the front foot and put forward a head that will do our country proud? A cross between a choir boy and a boy scout, and with the unblemished marsupial good looks of a chosen one, are you saying Essendon’s James Hird would make a worthy nomination to serve his nation in this capacity?

  9. Wrap – guilty, guilty, 1000 times guilty. Litza is spot on; Essendon is a cartel. Their lawyers are going to challenge the extent of their misbehaviour, not the fact that they behaved appallingly. (Watch closely in 3 years time when a disgruntled recruit who has been delisted sues the Bombers for providing an unsafe work environment).

    However, it is a great conundrum as to whether something that is disreputable can be brought into disrepute.

  10. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Litza, looking forward to gratuitous ‘dirty sanchez’ references. The fact that Demetriou once had a moustache makes it decidedly unsettling.

  11. Dips, once the players work out that a future lawsuit will be weak until it is determined who was given what, they’ll start to sing like canaries – particularly if James Hird gets removed from the picture.

    So, so much more to play out on this. Interesting revelation around the use of a drug normally used for muscular-dystrophy patients. Sounds like they’re experimenting with myostatin manipulation, which brings this article from NPR a few days ago to mind –

  12. The first song I heard after reading your piece Mr PB was Dwight Yoakam singing the Patsy Cline song, Stop The World And Let Me Off. And I guess that how we all feel in relation to this saga.

    I am, however, with Mr People’s Elbow on this. This is very much about football. The basis of games translated into sport is fairness and integrity. That is what is being questioned. EFC (and Hird in particular) haven’t done themselves any favours by letting this sorry tale drag on and on. They have had ample time to demonstrate what they were doing was legitimate and reasonable. They are the reason this is absorbing so much time.

    Their own internal report (the Ziggy Report) found that “The arrival of confident, opinionated staff was not accompanied by a simultaneous strengthening of the processes within Football Operations, or by extra vigilance by senior management.”

    It also states, “the rapid diversification into exotic supplements, sharp increase in frequency of injections, the shift to treatment offsite in alternative medicine clinics, emergence of unfamiliar suppliers, marginalization of traditional medical staff etc combine to create a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the Club in the period under review.”

    So, from their own internal report we know that they were doing something questionable. We also now understand that the EFC don’t have or won’t produce the paper trail for the investigation to demonstrably conclude the extent (if any) of wrong doing in this case.

    It is incumbent on the EFC to produce evidence that demonstrates the legitimacy of its practices. The EFC has had 6 months to do so.

    While I can understand your ennui, thank yourself lucky you don’t have SEN to provide commentary and analysis. If I hear one more time what a top bloke Hird is or that Reid has been our family doctor since Jesus was a schoolboy I’ll …

    Caro is one of the three best sports journalists covering this dreary saga. If not for her and a couple of others the bulk of the monolithic media would have brushed this aside as if it didn’t matter. But it does. It matters so much.

  13. Good call Rick. On at least two scores. It does matter so much. And even though our British justice system calls for the prosecution to prove their case, and a vociferous pre-hearing defence is often construed as too much protesting in the Shakespearian sense, it would have helped thier cause to bring what they’d been doing out into the open; for pier review if nothing else.

    In the absence of transparency, of course rumour, leak & innuendo take over the course of events and frame the public psyche. This denial of reality has damaged the EFC & James Hird more than anything else. Taking the Football Public for fools is driving the mounting opprobrium. It might even be fair to say that the clouded role of the AFL in this ever more squalid saga, when scrutinised, will only add to the repugnance of what has stolen Season 2013.

    At the risk of sounding like Shoeless Jim, bring it on.

  14. At what point does the concerned citizen become the lynch mob?
    I know AFL Inc’s history on looking after its own, but does anyone really think that this can in any way be swept under the bearskin carpet now?
    Can’t people tell the difference between delay due to boring, tedious due process and delay due to a cover up?
    If we rush to judgement isn’t there are much risk that the ‘guilty’ will get off lightly before the new compulsory powers to force unwilling witnesses to testify have been fully used to gather evidence?
    Litza as always makes a compelling case for how the future may well unfold. But I spent half a lifetime trying to foretell the future and there are many bookies and stockbrokers driving BMW’s who are grateful for my hubris. There are just too many unknown unkowns (thanks Donald).
    I am all for crusading newspapers that uncover power and corruption, but not those that use it as a pretence to feed the public’s prurient lust for simplistic goodies and baddies.
    I threw away the Weekend Australian 2 weeks ago when I couldn’t find one story in the first 2 sections that was anti-Coalition or pro-Labor. Is that how we really want to see the world in devils and angels, not flawed humans doing difficult jobs in nuanced shades of grey?
    Murdoch can sell papers by campaigning against Labor, and the Age by campaigning against Essendon. I am sure there will be fair judgements entered against both of them, but I want my media to largely report YESTERDAY’S news – not be creating and predicting TOMORROW’S.
    If you think you know the past and can predict the future ask Bruce:
    “We stood at the altar
    The gypsy swore our future was bright
    But come the wee wee hours
    Well maybe baby the gypsy lied.”
    If you want to know where a lynch mob mentality takes you ask Mandela:
    “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

  15. DBalassone says

    Like Lord Bogan “I’m learning to switch off from all the bullshit” as well (it is mind numbing), but as a rule I respond to every post on Footy Almanac that quotes Dylan. One of his great songs PB, a delightful narrative, unfolds like a card game, my favourite lines are:

    As the leading actor hurried by in the costume of a monk
    There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts

    Hmmm, who could that apply to? PB also like the AJ Weberman analogy. Brilliant stuff, so true. You don’t need a Weberman to know which way the wind blows.

  16. At what point does the concerned citizen become the lynch mob? Holy Peptides Mr B!!! The Sun must have topped the yard arm a bit early over there in Cockburn Sound. No one’s being lynched. Although it would be fair to suggest that there’s more than a few in this scandal who will find themselves hoisted with their own petard?

  17. Barkly St End says

    Any article quoting lyrics from the might Blood on the Tracks album is ok by me.

    Speaking of the concerned citizen becoming part of the lynch mob, another Dylan song comes to mind:

    Who killed Davey Moore
    Why an’ what’s the reason for?

    “Not I,” says the referee
    “Don’t point your finger at me
    I could’ve stopped it in the eighth
    An’ maybe kept him from his fate
    But the crowd would’ve booed, I’m sure
    At not gettin’ their money’s worth
    It’s too bad he had to go
    But there was a pressure on me too, you know
    It wasn’t me that made him fall
    No, you can’t blame me at all”

    Who killed Davey Moore
    Why an’ what’s the reason for?

    “Not us,” says the angry crowd
    Whose screams filled the arena loud
    “It’s too bad he died that night
    But we just like to see a fight
    We didn’t mean for him t’ meet his death
    We just meant to see some sweat
    There ain’t nothing wrong in that
    It wasn’t us that made him fall
    No, you can’t blame us at all”

    Who killed Davey Moore
    Why an’ what’s the reason for?

    “Not me,” says his manager
    Puffing on a big cigar
    “It’s hard to say, it’s hard to tell
    I always thought that he was well
    It’s too bad for his wife an’ kids he’s dead
    But if he was sick, he should’ve said
    It wasn’t me that made him fall
    No, you can’t blame me at all”

    Who killed Davey Moore
    Why an’ what’s the reason for?

    “Not me,” says the gambling man
    With his ticket stub still in his hand
    “It wasn’t me that knocked him down
    My hands never touched him none
    I didn’t commit no ugly sin
    Anyway, I put money on him to win
    It wasn’t me that made him fall
    No, you can’t blame me at all”

    Who killed Davey Moore
    Why an’ what’s the reason for?

    “Not me,” says the boxing writer
    Pounding print on his old typewriter
    Sayin’, “Boxing ain’t to blame
    There’s just as much danger in a football game”
    Sayin’, “Fistfighting is here to stay
    It’s just the old American way
    It wasn’t me that made him fall
    No, you can’t blame me at all”

    Who killed Davey Moore
    Why an’ what’s the reason for?

    “Not me,” says the man whose fists
    Laid him low in a cloud of mist
    Who came here from Cuba’s door
    Where boxing ain’t allowed no more
    “I hit him, yes, it’s true
    But that’s what I am paid to do
    Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill’
    It was destiny, it was God’s will”

    Who killed Davey Moore
    Why an’ what’s the reason for?

    Copyright © 1964, 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992, 1993 by Special Rider Music

    Read more:

Leave a Comment