Sit Down Next to Me

Now I’ve swung back down again/It’s worse than it was before/If I hadn’t seen such riches/I could live with being poor

– Sit Down, James.


James are an horrendously underrated band everywhere but the UK, for reasons I have never really fathomed. The instant I heard their signature tune, I was hooked: ‘Sit Down’ is filled with such beautiful melancholy. An anthem for the downtrodden, a hymn to those at their lowest. And yet it somehow fills you with joy at the same time. It appears to wallow it its own self-pity but in reality it demands that you acknowledge that life is hard for everyone and that the easiest way to get through the worst of it is to share your experiences.


Incidentally, James’ lead singer, Tim Booth, knows all about sporting hardship too. He’s a Leeds United supporter. I may support bitter Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday but even I can feel for the Leeds faithful. Basically if it can go wrong it has for Leeds. Worst of all though, just when they think they’ve finally reached rockbottom, more pain arrives. A once proud club has been in a tailspin for so long it’s hard to see how they can recover.


That refrain from ‘Sit Down’ doesn’t come to me constantly because of my sadness for Leeds’ plight though. Rather, I see my once mighty Saints struggling and wistfully think of how agonisingly close we came. Five years ago we were so close to glory we could touch it.


At least I know St.Kilda have reached rockbottom I guess. Thank heavens for small mercies then.



Five years. In football terms that’s about one premiership window. Empires rise and empires fall but only St.Kilda can crash so spectacularly. We simply flew too close to the sun. Ross Lyon saw a chance and threw everything at it. He mortgaged the farm on the here and now and everything he did was focused on a premiership at any cost. And who can really argue with that philosophy? Would I be complaining about how far down we are now if we had a premiership cup? Christ no, I wouldn’t care if we were dead-last for a decade if it meant just one shining moment in the blaze of glory. So is it churlish of me to be saddened by our present plight? Damn right it is but as Matthew Scarlett so bluntly put it – “they don’t have reunions for losing Grand Final teams”.


More to the point though, aren’t St.Kilda the posterchild for the AFL? Haven’t we done everything that the league wants and expects? Think about it for a moment. This new review into the ‘stagnation’ of lower placed sides cycling through the Preliminary Final is really an admission that not enough sides are falling after their rise.


Back in 2000 we were wooden spooners. We reloaded with Riewoldt and Koschitzke at the top of the draft, traded in Gehrig and Hamill and hired Malcolm Blight. Sure it went belly up for Blighty’s reign in a wonderfully self-destructive St.Kilda moment halfway through the next season but even when Grant Thomas abruptly took over, we were in the premiership window and rifling through the drawers looking for the key to winning one. In the period from 2004-2006 we perhaps should have won a premiership. Lost in the midst of our collective forward-momentum-footballing-minds, is that the Saints had Sydney seemingly at their mercy at ¾ time in the ’05 Prelim, only to be blitzed in the last quarter.


Seven unanswered goals.


From a Sydney side that ground out two excruciatingly tight defence-dominated arm-wrestles in consecutive Grand Finals.


You would have to suggest our gung-ho attacking approach was naive after that obliteration. Eventually we agreed and hired Paul Roos’ righthand man. Ross Lyon gave us defensive intensity and placed us inside the bubble. During the last Saints run under Lyon between 2007-2010 the ten best player on our list were a match for anyone; but in a wonderful sense of irony it was Roos who famously said that you win premierships with your bottom ten players. We never had that depth and it is hard to blame Lyon for it. The fall was always coming and we all knew it. So here we are again, drafting in the number one spot and picking a gun key forward. How times change.


That’s how the league is supposed to work though isn’t it? Get access to the best talent in the draft, build around it and have a tilt at the big prize? Everyone should get their turn. Its sides like Hawthorn, Sydney and Geelong that are ruining it for everyone!


Really? Are we actually now blaming sides for being well run? Are they putting the future of the league in jeopardy because they pick up the best available free agents by tempting them with success?


Recently the question was seriously posed – who would you rather support right now – Carlton or St.Kilda? Regardless of the fact that it was answered pretty swiftly by the Blues hierarchy (when they announced that the rebuild was on in earnest) isn’t the question itself faulty? We, the faithful, don’t have that luxury. I’m sitting through ten goal thrashings simply hoping to see the new kids show something.


Having said that, mea culpas don’t come much bigger for the Carlton board than using the ‘rebuild’ word. I am going to defend them though (no seriously). The Carlton list fooled everyone. Jason Dunstall pointed out, quite rightly, that if you simply look at the numbers, this Blues team is right in contention. They have the right breakdown of players in the perfect games-to-age brackets to be legitimately challenging for the top four spots. They were so enticingly placed when Malthouse was offered the job that he probably didn’t have a pause for thought, which given Mick’s pressers is actually stunning. Carlton should be in the premiership window but they’re not. Something went awry. It really doesn’t take much to go wrong before you find yourselves sliding down a snake rather than climbing the ladder. It could happen to any of us.


Collingwood, for example, might be in the same territory. The re-match of the 2010 Grand Final(s) was far more complicated than it looked. Yes the Pies blitzed St.Kilda and were clearly the better side but is that really the truth? There are only a handful of players from those Grand Final sides left on our list. Collingwood, meanwhile, relies on a much bigger number of premiership heroes.


Now yes, that 2010 premiership side was the youngest team to win one and the Saints were a list loaded with experience (read older) players but Buckley’s list renovations have been remarkably focused on removing creative players from the mix. Dale Thomas, Heath Shaw, Alan Didak and Dane Beams have all been shifted. Admittedly there are good reasons for all of them to be moved on but it does take a sense of unpredictability from the Pies doesn’t it?


My point being, St.Kilda are rebuilding again, utilizing a pressure based game style that is high-intensity and based on doing the fundamentals well. It is a game-style loved by both Malthouse and Buckley. Ross Lyon will go to his coaching grave playing it as well. Football is now all about predictability. Coaches like to have a structure where everyone knows what is required and the work ethic of your players will win the day. But does it win premierships?


Alistair Clarkson’s Hawthorn seems to confirm that it does but what’s the difference between St.Kilda under Lyon, Collingwood under Buckley, Carlton under Malthouse and Hawthorn under Clarko?


For mine, it’s the ability of Clarkson to build a system that utilises unpredictable players. Everyone at Hawthorn does a job and knows the team rules off by heart. But when Cyril Rioli or Bradley Hill gets the footy they appear to have license to take the game on. Buddy had that same freedom at Hawthorn (and still does at Sydney) and it excites you every time he gets the pill.


Remember how excited we all were when Jetta and Cyril faced off in the Grannie? Why? Because the future wasn’t written on a whiteboard. In that moment anything, literally anything, could have happened.


Luke Hodge is Hawthorn. He knows all the fundamental rules of the Hawks system and will follow them to the hilt. But if there’s a key moment in the game, where momentum needs to be wrestled back for his side, he doesn’t hesitate to break the structure and take a risk. In short, great sides risk losing because they know winning requires boldness.


Watching St.Kilda grind out a defensive shift that lasted an entire Grand Final made we wish we had just some of the creative, attacking flair we played with under Grant Thomas. I never expected to think that. Now I’ve swung back down again I realize that winning a premiership requires more than just defensive pressure. It also requires blokes with the courage to take the game on and the skill to back it up. Looking at Carlton and Collingwood I wonder – who does that for them now? I look to the Saints and hope that one of these new kids has that magic flair to their game as well. In an age where every facet of the game is broken down and analyzed and every side works to the percentages and relies on their structures, you still have to win the game. It gets lost in the mix sometimes but you can’t hope to beat teams like Hawthorn unless you can match their bravado. Oh, if I hadn’t seen such riches…..




  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Clever use of a great song Tom. (Did you intend the reference to The Farm?)

    I see that AdeLAIDe are coming on top right now.

  2. Tom Greenaway says

    Ha! Nice call on The Farm reference Swish- No I didn’t mean that one.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good read Tom but at least the saints recognised where there list was at and there is planning going on for a crack at the holy grail , finally some honesty from the blues about there list now it needs the tigers to be honest . It’s a fine line between pleasure and pain ( John Griffen Ad Uni FC 1986 )

  4. Yvette wroby says

    Lovely thoughtful piece tom. Carn the flair! Carn the saints


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