So the Bomber “faithful” have got their man, eh?  Well, good on you guys – love your style.

I heard about Matty Knights’ knifing half way through the third quarter at Etihad Stadium today.  The shabby decision came as no surprise. But its rapidity certainly did, considering the bungling ineptitude with which Essendon has handled this affair.

Let me be up front in my bias.  I loved Matthew Knights as a player.  He was a shining light amidst the 1980s and 1990s gloom at Tigerland.  He led our boys, fleetingly, in the September spotlight (is today an act of revenge for the way he outclassed the cocky Bombers in the 1995 Semi Final?), and was my sons’ first real footy hero.  I’m really feeling for him today.

I can also claim no informed view about his coaching ability as I don’t care enough about the fortunes of the Essendon Football Club to have paid close attention to his tactics.  However, it appears from a distance that he has somewhat naively endeavoured to develop a Geelong-style game with an Essendon list.  This has produced some spectacular wins when the team is up and running, but with the rash of injuries the Bombers have experienced, it has often looked clueless and lacking a damage control Plan B.

From a pure coaching perspective, time will tell whether this is a correct decision.  However, it’s the shameful manner of the way this has been handled by a once-professional footy club that has really upset me.

Ironically, Essendon’s behaviour reminds me of the hatchet men of Richmond in the 1980s whose ruthless and reactive behaviour almost killed our club.  Still resting on their laurels from a long and spectacularly successful era, Essendon and its fans have simply been unable to accept the fact that their current playing group is average at best and, with a bunch of key men injured, significantly below average.  Like those at Richmond back then, who still yearned for the glory days of Tom Hafey, there’s clearly a hard core of supporters and administrators who can’t accept that Kevin Sheedy’s time was up and that if he had only been given one more chance, he’d somehow have made yet another silk purse out this sow’s ear of a team.

After 27 years of Sheeds, any replacement at Essendon was on a hiding to nothing.  Knights’ challenge wasn’t made any easier when the Bomber hierarchy bizarrely chose him, a Richmond interloper, ahead of their own man, Damien Hardwick.  That Hardwick is now at Richmond and doing a great job, has obviously been too much to stomach.  Solution? The 1980s Richmond formula.  Sack the coach.

Falling over themselves with excitement at the end of 2009 when the plucky young team outmuscled reigning Premiers, Hawthorn, to grab a spot in the finals, the Essendon administration foolishly rushed in to extend Knights’ contract, no doubt convinced that another golden era was imminent.  That the Bombers lost their Elimination Final by the not inconsiderable margin of 16 goals the next week seems to have been overlooked in this process.

The 2010 season delivered some promising early results, including wins over the Bulldogs and Hawthorn, but, as a shocking injury toll mounted, Essendon’s form fell away.  Was this the coach’s fault?  Evidently so, if one is to believe the growing tide of supporter opposition.  Inevitably, the Board appears to have crumbled under this pressure, figuring that a reported $800,000 payout of a coach’s contract would be cheaper than keeping Knights on and risking a huge backlash in non-renewal of memberships.

What has particularly irked me in recent weeks is the malevolent sideline carping about Knights from a number of past Essendon greats.  Like their complacent fans, they are finding the team’s recent struggles hard to tolerate.  Their simplistic explanation seems to be that someone who played with a club they used to regularly thrash during the Sheedy era couldn’t possibly be any good as a coach.

At least James Hird, the fans’ choice to replace Knights, exhibited enough good grace to apologise for any role he has played in contributing to the turmoil caused by this sorry affair, and make it clear that he does not seek the coaching job.

At least not at the moment.  Fact is a club legend like Hird could have that job any time he wanted (lack of any coaching experience or ability notwithstanding).  So why take it now when there is actually some damned hard work ahead in building and moulding a moderately talented young playing group into a decent team?  Not to mention preserving his squeaky clean reputation by assuming a dignified distance from the unsavoury bloodletting that has occurred today.

I’ve actually found Essendon quite an enjoyable side to watch in the last couple of years.  However, after today’s events, I wish them no success until the club and their supporters learn the virtues of a bit of hard work, persistence and patience.  Not to mention, loyalty.  If nothing else, it’s a quality Richmond people have developed in abundance over the past three decades.

About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!


  1. While Hird is held in such high esteem at Windy Hill he would be unwise to take on the coaching role.

    He would risk going from hero to zero swiftly with the inner suburban urban yuppie hoodlams that march around town in red and black on game days.

  2. Sam. Great article, I think that the person who has got off very lightly is the the other caretaker coach. Sheedy’s list development over the past three years of his tenure resulted in a team of mossies who can only play one style of football and an over relience on Hille as their only genuine big bloke. Carlton have similar problem in that their team list are all lean and are knocked from the contest too easily. Knights had no choice but to play offensive footie which works fine in open games but gets slaughtered in tight ones. Anyway, I personally am deriving great pleasure in their spectacular fall from grace.

  3. Clearsighted says

    Essendon have experienced a HUGE number of injuries and no team can be expected to perform to its best under such circumstances. The sickening baying for the coach’s blood under such circumstances, is unfortunately all too familiar.
    Fickle supporters and personel are evident in every club – gutless types who give players a spray from the boundary, in much the same manner as those not very brave types who yell abuse from moving cars. These types love to glory in their team’s success but fail to be what they pretend to be – supporters of their club.
    A good article, Stainless. I find no pleasure though, Tony Robb, in Essendon’s ‘fall from grace’ as it speaks volumes of a condition of which all clubs and all people are vulnerable. Again, I suggest a read of Robert Bolt’s, “A Man for All Seasons”.

  4. Sorry Clearsighted but I have a genetic hatred of the bombers and make no apology for my pleasure at their present woes. However, the true spirt of a club ias how it responds. Then we might have a better idea of the true culture on Essendon which traditionally has been one of non inclusion. Have a read about their ethos in the 50s and 60s.

  5. Sorry Stainless et al, but Knights was “dead man walking” about 7 weeks ago when the CEO and Prez backed him to the hilt. I reckon in these times most clubs appoint a patsy when they know times are going to be tough. This guy takes it on pretty cheaply so is very easy to dump him when times start to look better. Some examples that come to mind P Rohde, Robert Shaw, Dean Laidley [but someone forgot to tell him], the guy who replaced Parkin at Carlton etc. The rub on this one is that theyve gone a tad early as “the list Hardwick rejected” is a bit away from ascending the ladder. And as one who suffered at the arrogance from Windy hill through the 80s and 90s I’m happy its there turn

  6. Clearsighted says

    There is no excuse for, and no satisfaction to be found, in the treatment served up to a decent man like Matthew Knights.

  7. Essendon has 2 female directors.

  8. Clearsighted says

    Crio: meaning?

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