No cure for optimism

Football fans are tragic optimists and horrid pessimists.  Through every game footy, the fans are beset by hundreds of negative and positive thoughts.  There are too many variables to remain a steadfast optimist or a downright pessimist.


Optimism is an interesting emotion.  It is based on hope and hype.  The football optimist keeps paying for memberships, buys raffle tickets and gives support regardless of what happens on or off the field.


No matter how poor their team is, optimists always find hope for the future.  The pain of a loss is erased by victory the following week.  A poor season still offers hope for the future through intelligent drafting, natural player improvement and the implementation of a unique game plan.


The pessimist bases their negativity on reality.  They analyse history, dissect the list, the coach, the game plan and find nothing to be optimistic for.


A good pessimist, affected by years or mediocrity, can do this even when the team is winning.


After waiting six months for football, a loss in round one hardens the pessimist and deflates the optimist.  Despite both being affected, the reactions differ.  The pessimist is steadfast; I knew we would lose.  The optimist is bewildered; I can’t believe we lost like that.


When your club loses like North Melbourne did, 39-points against Essendon, pessimism becomes throttling.


In the build up to the game, North’s acting captain Drew Petrie said the players were ready to go after a tough pre-season.  Petrie was wrong.  He had three possessions for the game.  Along with his teammates, he didn’t look ready to play.


The attacking game plan from last year has been tinkered with.  Aside from Lindsay Thomas, North didn’t play with any flair.


If the new game plan is to keep the ball outside 50, then North executed it with aplomb.  The players didn’t seem to want to move the ball swiftly forward.  It went backwards a lot, which allowed Essendon to flood back.


A defensive mindset is contagious.  By the third quarter, the midfielders couldn’t find a target in traffic.  In the final term, the contagion had infected every player.  North had nothing.


The optimist would suggest it was an off night.  The pessimist says North has a lot of off nights.  The optimist might suggest it is situation normal.


It was North’s fifth consecutive round one defeat under Brad Scott.  The last time North won the opening round was in 2009, a 34-point win over Melbourne.  Dean Laidley was coach, and he was gone before the season ended.


Scott’s debut as North coach was round one, 2010.  Eleven players from that game played against Essendon at the weekend, and that doesn’t include Petrie or injured captain Andrew Swallow.


Scott has coached a core group of 13 players across five pre-seasons and through four full seasons.  The pessimist believes if Scott can’t teach them to play football in that time, then something is obviously wrong.


The optimist remains caught up in the hype of expectation.  2014 is supposed to be a great season, complete with finals.  The optimist sees a club embarrassed by last year determined to make amends.  The pre-season was torrid and the players weren’t quite ready for round one.


The pessimist regards the defeat with surety, observes North’s list and doesn’t find any bona fide stars.  No club can win a premiership without class.


North is supposed to have a blue-chip midfield, but it is more blue-collar.  The defence is adequate yet underrated.  In attack, if Petrie is held, Aaron Black can’t step up.


A lot of footy experts predicted a good year for North, with finals a certainty.  The betting agencies, so often the epitome of expert, had North hot favourites at the weekend.


The pessimist has been following North more than three decades, through glory and struggle.  Comparing eras is usually futile, but there is no Carey, McKernan, Stevens or Archer in this current team.


The optimist has also been following North more than three decades.  There is blind belief that the experts have to be right, and a bunch of players are about to forge their own reputations, like Carey, McKernan, Stevens and Archer did.


But if this year isn’t successful, the pessimist and optimist share bipartisan support that Scott has to be looked at, regardless of the contract extension.  Recruiting needs to be analysed.  The CEO has to quit.


This is what happens when the optimism and pessimism morph.  Grey areas fade.


This is Scott’s fifth year.  Recent history shows coaches like Mark Neeld and Scott Watters don’t get five years to implement a fanciful plan.  Coaches like Danny Frawley, Terry Wallace and Michael Voss all had five year plans without much success.  Then they were sacked.


Few coaches survive five years without winning a final.


And that’s the real trick of AFL footy, winning finals, to satisfy the optimist and shut up the pessimist.


Winning finals isn’t easy, not in recent history at Arden Street.  Since winning the premiership in 1999, North has played ten finals for eight losses.


The manner of those losses is staggering, as the table below shows.

North’s finals defeats since 2000


Year Club Margin
2000 Essendon 125
Melbourne 50
2002 Melbourne 38
2005 Port Adelaide 87
2007 Geelong 106
Port Adelaide 87
2008 Sydney 35
2012 West Coast 96



The average losing margin is 78-points.  Simply, North has mostly been belted when it mattered most.


Their last victory in a final was against Hawthorn by 33-points in the 2007 semi final.  Since then, Hawthorn has missed the finals just once, winning two premierships from three grand finals.


That difference between the Kangaroos and the Hawks since 2007 is stark.  It erodes the optimist’s cheek and causes anxious phone calls to mates across the country.  Analysis is thoughtful and constructive, but it becomes pessimistic and destructive.


The mood remains bad in the days afterward.


Still, the optimist looks to the future, to the Western Bulldogs.  The optimist wants success, to see Brad Scott lead the club into September.  The optimist doesn’t want embarrassing upheaval and another five year plan.


The pessimist can’t find anything positive to talk about, not until North defeats the Bulldogs.  If that doesn’t happen, the pessimist won’t want to talk at all.


But it remains certain that the optimist and the pessimist will be watching.  They existing inside one entity, the same football fan.  When the game is on, they are rapidly interchangeable, depending on the circumstances.


Winning is the only cure for the pessimist.  There is no cure for optimism…



About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Entertaining read and v true iron mike we all go thru conflicting emotions each game personally it is the eternal optimist with no dose of reality who gives me the shits as a football follower ( J Bushell saying Vickery is a gun and is lightning quick is a classic of a optimist with a more than a dose of stupidity ) is the perfect example .
    Norths finals results are a worry and may be.a sign that overall they aren’t quite good enough and I along with a lot of others may have ranked them to highly for this season time will tell . Thanks iron mike for expressing how we all feel at various times

  2. Neil Anderson says

    The optimism/ pessimism barometer is an interesting one. Especially when you’re talking to a Bulldog supporter.
    It’s more of a fluid syndrome than being one or the other. As a fairly hard-core pessimist (a family tradition ) I still picked the Bulldogs to win last Sunday. So the reports of the Dogs flying during the pre-season and the reminders of how well they finished towards the end of last year, had sent the mercury heading to hopeful- optimism at the top of the barometer.
    Post-match, the natural order has been restored and the mercury has plummeted to pessimistic fatalism.
    With predictions that North will redeem themselves to be on track for the finals and commentators saying that the Bulldogs are unlikely to win the next six matches, it’s a case of “hello pessimism my old friend.” I’ll tap the glass and do another reading after Sunday.

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