Put down the poison pen

Dozens of journalists must have been devastated with Melbourne’s performance last weekend.  With twelve goals in the last quarter against GWS, the Demons turned a 19-point deficit into a 41-point win.


Victory ruined every story those journalists plotted in their minds.  And there’s been plenty to write about.


For years the Demons have provided ample fodder for those paid to cover football.  The club has been inept on the field, under siege in the boardroom and fractured in the football department.


Season 2013 is no different.  Heavy losses forced president Don McLardy to sack CEO Cameron Schwab, ostensibly because McLardy had to be seen to be doing something.


The week after Schwab was sacked the Demons lost to West Coast by 94-points.  Media  attention, which was already turning against coach Mark Neeld, intensified.


With Schwab gone, Neeld became an obvious and easy target.


Journalists are obliged to cover football issues and if a coach is not performing, then comment must be offered.  That’s what journalists do.  They hold every public figure accountable for their responsibilities.


But the pressure ramping up on Neeld is getting out of control.


Following the loss to the Eagles, journalists began scrambling over each other like ants on a bone to be the first to speculate about Neeld being sacked.


His record was poor, four wins from 25 games.  In the past few weeks, without quoting anyone, journalists have written about Neeld’s intensity and brutal end of season assessments.  Players were reported to be upset and despondent.


His game plan has been ridiculed.


Last week there were allegations of an argument between Neeld and an assistant, Jade Rawlings.  The club responded to the allegations by suggesting it was a simple chat, a minor disagreement which happens all the time in football clubs.


At three-quarter-time on Sunday, most journalists at the MCG would’ve been quivering with delight.  The 19-point deficit was about to become first blood for 2013, the biggest story in football.


Neeld couldn’t coach Melbourne to beat a club in its second year of football.  He had to be sacked.


Those journalists, as Neeld walked onto the field to the three-quarter time huddle, had already written their stories.  They’d be based on testimony from an official who didn’t want to be named or someone close to the club.


Neeld about to be sacked the headline would scream.  Didn’t have support of players.


Instead, Melbourne ruined everything by winning.


Surely some journalists walked away from the MCG angry that their story needed to be rewritten.  The theme, though, that Neeld wasn’t safe, remained.


Jon Ralph, writing for the Herald Sun, gave away his intent.  His story was filled with disappointment.


For two agonising hours the pressure built on Mark Neeld and his Melbourne players, all well aware of the possible consequences of a loss yesterday to a Greater Western Sydney side that kept coming.

Only hindsight will tell us whether this was a stay of execution or a second chance that Neeld will grasp with both hands.

President Don McLardy would have faced decisions of enormous consequence this week if there had been a different result at the MCG.


Ralph ramped up the speculation, picking on a rookie senior coach brave enough to grasp the worst job in football.  He was guessing at the consequences and his sentence about hindsight was filled with clichés.


Mark Robinson, writing for the same organisation, asked a lot of questions then offered opinion as answers.


The win raised two questions.  What does it mean for the coach? And what does it mean for the players? 

Mark Neeld’s future still hangs in the balance.

No one likes seeing a football club torn apart on the field and off it, and for everyone involved with the Demons, not least for the fans, it was a day to savour.

Neeld needs more days like it. The accepted belief, at this stage of the season, is he will struggle to keep his job for 2014.

Those more earnest in their opinion believe Neeld won’t last the season.
A loss would have attracted heavy-duty headlines and opinion, so clearly victory is a godsend.


Robinson didn’t offer charity or the names of those earnest in their opinion.  He could’ve been talking about himself and he has plenty of experience to draw on, having written about dozens of sacked coaches.


And Melbourne doesn’t need to lose to attract heavy-duty headlines.  They’ve been creating them for years all by themselves.

The media is a moveable feast, it must be or it wouldn’t survive.  Journalists predominantly deal with immediacy and facts.  Anything else is either historical or speculation.  In football it is often both.


Ralph and Robinson, along with a gabble of journalists, are writing Neeld’s epitaph with scant use of facts and disregard for the mess Neeld is trying to clean.


Neeld, it must be remembered, wasn’t involved in tanking.  He didn’t foster the losing culture.  And though he recruited journeymen at the 2012 draft, he isn’t responsible for Melbourne’s woeful recruiting over the past five years.


He came from Collingwood, with an endorsement from Mick Malthouse.  He’s been a senior coach for 26 games and is rebuilding from dust.


He is coaching to win.  If that means brutality, he’s entitled to give it.  To find a coach who hasn’t delivered brutality is impossible.  If players aren’t good enough or they aren’t improving they must be told.


The speculative stories are unfair on Neeld.  It is doubtful any coach could do better at Melbourne right now.


2013 has been a horror season.  It might not get much better than the win over GWS.  It might not get much better for Neeld, but he’s got to be given a chance.


Those journalists wanting to dip their pen in blood should put those quills in their quiver.


No one needs to respect the mess Neeld was left with, but it is unfair to question his legacy or ability after 26 games.


Simply, Neeld needs to be left alone.  Those journalists craving the kill need to offer him respect for wanting the worst job in football.


Any man who takes on such a job is a man of vision and guts.  Unfortunately for Neeld, it’s a hell of a vision right now.


So let’s give him a chance to improve the view.

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. They tried a good news paper one Matt. The editor still lines his park bench withe the first & only edition

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