Round 10 – Essendon v Geelong: Melbourne by foot, Part 2 – drinking the Kool-Aid

The evening’s burgery repast sorted in the hotel room, it’s now onto Etihad. By my dodgy calculations I reckon I will have covered 25km by foot today. I’m feeling every step of it too, as I hobble down La Trobe. The Bombers couple ahead, who I would have skipped by on the way to the ‘G, steadily put a gap on me. There are still plenty of Crows fans wandering the streets. Not many smiles or nods of acknowledgement to be had, though. The game clearly left the impression of little to be pleased with. I bet be-tigered Richmond fans have been greeting each other like old friends all day long.

 

Overture

The Docklands Stadium is a marvel of modern engineering. It seems well designed to admit, feed and water 40,000 people with a minimum of fuss. They spent more time thinking about that than how they might grow grass on the surface, though. To be fair, it looks in pretty good condition as I locate my seat on the level 3 wing. The days of green spray-painted dirt seem to be, thankfully, well in the past.

 

For all its amenity, however, I wonder if the Docklands lacks that most basic of expectations of a football venue – a feeling of home. In this whole AFL shindig, Fitzroy and South Melbourne aside, the Victorian teams haven’t had to give up much. Their league morphed into the national competition. Meanwhile the entrance of composite teams in Perth and Adelaide finished the job that Victorian money had started by reducing our competitions to feeder leagues.

 

We may be a factor of 10 lesser than an AFL club these days but for Norwood fans the Parade is home. I struggle to see how Essendon people could feel the same way here, particularly given the frequency with which they are the ‘away’ team. The Crows and Power, at least, can maintain the fiction (and awful puns) of the Crowval and the Portress because they are the away team only once per year.

 

Essendon tries very hard to convince you they are at home. Way too hard. The music from Top Gun (that’s right) blares out, to be replaced by the club song as the players hit the banner. Then there is the rather sickening sight and sound of an air raid siren being cranked. I know the club is called the Bombers but that is taking the imagery way too far. This isn’t London during the Blitz and if it was they sure as heck wouldn’t be cranking one of those things for a bit of a laugh.

 

Act 1

The first quarter progresses as you’d expect. Essendon trying to deny space and switch wide. Geelong moves it quickly and efficiently into space. The Cats do it better – the finishing anyway. Daniher kicks his fourth behind of the quarter and leaves the ground bleeding after having been smashed in the marking contest. The sense of frustration amongst the majority Bombers fans around me is building.

 

Despite a relatively clean start, skills take a decided turn towards Carlton v Adelaide. Geelong get another through taking their opportunities and it’s 3.1 to 0.5 at quarter time. Despite the scoreboard, it’s a close game. To this point Essendon’s endeavour cannot be faulted, just the kicking of players who should do better like Daniher and Goddard.

 

Act 2

Geelong get the first of the second quarter and Bombers fans have gone ‘Adelaide Oval when the Crows are losing’ quiet. Motlop kicks another – I can hear the morgue down the road. Goddard kicks across goal and turns it over just outside the 50 – terrible, terrible play. Blicavs goals and it’s getting ugly. Another dreadful midfield turnover leads to Johnson goal.

 

Well, at least it stops being quiet as the cluster Bombers go off around me:

That was the best option, wasn’t it Carlisle? For god’s sake

What are you doing BJ?

Goddard, bloody sack him

Let’s go Bendigo

 

Essendon’s complete and utter collapse has become so bad that I can’t help laughing with each new clanger (not appreciated by some). As the siren puts a pause on Essendon’s misery, boos ring out across the stadium… not for the umpires. 0.6 to 9.5.

 

Intermission – Drinking the Kool-Aid

I was transcribing an interview with a former Port Adelaide player for Matt Zurbo last week. A proper Port Magpies junior who became a Port Power senior. He was asked about what made Port Adelaide special. He had spent much of the interview describing exactly what makes football teams succeed – having leaders at all levels of the team that are socially laid back but with a hard edge when it matters. That and a consistent, competent administration.

 

He then went onto describe something much more mystical – that there is something inherently special about Port Adelaide over and above the individuals that make it up. I thought he was drinking the Kool-Aid. It’s why a slogan as jaw slackeningly obvious as ‘We are Port Adelaide’ fits. It works at Port Adelaide at the moment (the Footy Park tarps were only a few years ago) because they have leaders the calibre of Travis Boak and Robbie Gray and because they are able to convince fans and players alike that integrity of character of individuals is somehow inextricably linked to the character of the club. Success begets success, while Port Adelaide is special because it is special.

 

Essendon is more simple and more complicated at the same time. As a result of the events of the last few years its players seem to have become subservient to the club and its culture. Mere supplicants before the Colossus of Canberra in a permanently infantilised state. How else do you explain the way they dropped their heads that quarter. Even their otherwise impressive (and absent) captain’s position of authority is undermined by his father’s constant bleating of the club’s cause in the press. That his employers allow Tim Watson to talk about Essendon at all is a sign of the insularity of the AFL and its ludicrously conflicted media.

 

Port Adelaide’s Kool-Aid produces leaders that reflect the values of the club. Essendon’s produces followers where dissent is not tolerated because the organisation is under siege. It is toxic and I can see only one way for it to be cleansed. As for myself, I will not hitch my wagon to any club that demands loyalty, only those eager to earn it and wear criticism when it is warranted.

 

Acts 3 & 4

But back to the game. There had clearly been some half time re-education going on behind the scenes. The fans that booed their team off the ground (a small but vocal minority) enthusiastically greet their re-arrival onto the surface. It doesn’t last long though as the Bombers’ midfield enterprise drops off even more quickly than it did in the first half. Paul Chapman’s entry to the game as the sub makes them look better but their disposal lets them down. Goddard continues on his way to one of the worst 30 possession efforts I have seen in the flesh. Every disposal lace-out with regret.

 

Bombers fans, at least, are united in their dislike of Joel Selwood. Yes, he did drop his head and earn a free kick in the way the AFL said they were no longer going to pay. But he does the important things well and that is really the only difference between the two sides tonight. The game over by the first Geelong goal after half time half time. The remaining time merely provides an opportunity for Geelong fans to celebrate and Essendon fans to vent their frustrations in all directions.

 

Coda

Following the final siren on a day and night with so many ponderables, I am back to where I began that evening: is there an optimal way to use the stairs / ramps at the Docklands? To what extent do the gaps in the middle make the process of the stadium engorging and disgorging 40,000 mostly unhappy punters more efficient? I choose to walk the length of the ramps, figuring that fewer turns make for greater efficiency. As I limp back to my hotel my one take-away from this game is what exactly will they be teaching the sons of former players at the James Hird Academy? Will they be leaders or disciples?

 

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    How many goals did you miss this time?

  2. Dave Brown says

    Not a one – losing my touch. Let’s just say for the day that n = 6

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Gout?

  4. Why do opposition supporters boo Joel Selwood?

  5. Dave Brown says

    In the words of the slightly deranged Bomber fan sitting behind me, Dips, when Selwood got the high contact free in the third quarter: ‘he’s not a real man. We’re a team of men and they’re a team of wusses’. Her argument somewhat weakened by her team being down by 12 goals at the time. I neither agree with nor condone such an opinion but it is interesting, if slightly disturbing, to get in the head of a champion booer

  6. This is in the Almanac!

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