The indelible and permanent stain of failure at Melbourne

It is a much quoted definition that insanity is repeating the same task but expecting a different result.

On that basis, the circumstances of the Melbourne Football Club’s performances should come as no surprise to anyone.

The same Melbourne fans who actively wanted their team to lose games in recent years in return for draft picks, and applauded the club for failing to win enough games, now want on field success from many of the same players they willed to fail.

Whilst not all Melbourne people liked to see or encouraged the events of 2009 and in other years transpire, there are equally many who will own up to being pleased with the club’s failures at the time and subsequent rewards in the form of high picks.

These fans and administrators, who oversaw and tacitly or formally approved and encouraged defeat, now want success and are staggered by the result of their actions.

Melbourne tolerated a losing culture, one where continued failure was permissible and actions to rectify minimal.

The AFL, whilst performing dismally in the outcomes of their investigations into tanking, including not being able to define what it actually was, did we must remember fine the club and suspend individuals, thereby confirming guilt, for aspects of tanking.

Therefore, the AFL in some way admitted what so many people in and around football knew:  that Melbourne did not do what they could to win, as the results of losing were so attractive.

For the players, who in my view cannot have actively played to lose back then, to now be criticised by the fans for not winning, screams of hypocrisy.

Melbourne, through its actions, and with a nod and a wink from many followers, instilled a losing and negative culture into a club that permeated all facets of the organisation. Losing was OK; in fact it became the objective and the norm.

One can only imagine what post-game match reviews were like in 2009, when there was no incentive to correct on-field deficiencies and errors and plan for a turnaround in performance the following week.

The players felt this and the stench of loss has stayed around longer than those in power or following the team would have expected or wanted.

Football teams will have bad years and be unsuccessful, whilst trying their hearts out with poor resources or skills. However, their pride as well as a coordinated effort to succeed will sometimes see them improve and return to success. However, if there’s no incentive to succeed, or worse, there are impediments to being successful, e.g., that losing is a better result than wining, then how can anyone doubt that a culture of poor performance will become inbred.

And once that culture becomes inbred, removing it is an extremely difficult and long task that is not achieved by merely changing certain people.

The culture of permissible, tolerated and encouraged poor performance and loss that Melbourne had in those recent years, sustained with media attention and commentary through the AFL’s investigation over the recent months, has remained, I imagine to the shock of those who were instrumental in creating it in the first place.

Neeld has been criticised for saying, in his recorded team address before the Essendon game,  that mistakes don’t matter. He is only saying what a rational coach would say, that errors will occur and that risks still need to be taken. No club goes through undefeated anymore, so losses will happen.

However, it is what clubs do to rectify losses that stand them apart from the rest.

Melbourne is not the only club to have tanked, however they are the only ones who systematically did it for a sustained period, did it (unfortunately) a little too obviously and who expected instant improvement and results when the benefits of their failure to perform arrived.

There is a losing culture at Melbourne, created and encouraged by administrators and supporters alike, that remains in place and will for the foreseeable future.

That those same people would now be surprised or angered that players aren’t talented, motivated or enthused enough to perform simply beggars belief.


About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Sean, some interesting thoughts well expressed.

    I think what you say must have a certain influence on the mindset of the players however surely there is an overarching problem of both pride of performance and basic skill level.

    No AFL team should ever be flogged like Melbourne was last weekend. It just should not happen. IT was an embarrassment to the club and the game, and I daresay even made the odd Essendon fan feel uncomfortable and robbed them of some of the glow of victory, such was the hollowness.

    I’m not a Melbourne supporter, I can’t afford it, but this is the Melbourne Football Club. The club of Barassi, Flower, Mann and Stynes and if the players are not prepared to show some pride in the strip and show enough respect for the fans to put in and show that they are fair dinkum AFL players – previous tanking orders notwithstanding – then they do not deserve to wear the colours.

  2. I didn’t see Melbourne play Essendon, I saw a team calling itself Melbourne but running around in an insipid white jumper with a few red splashes on it. Horrible stuff. There can be no pride in a jumper and in the colours if they change all the time.

    Wear the bloody team guernsey!

  3. Andrew Starkie says

    Sean, great piece. We are what we do. If a club does bad things it creates a bad culture which is very difficult to turn around. Melbourne’s plight is very sad but as you said it’s difficult to feel sympathy. But I feel sad for their fans. More specifically, those who want them to win each week. I sat with Melbourne friends, OLD Melbourne people, the day the forwards were switched to defence and vice versa against Richmond and on another day when Jurrah kicked his fourth to get Melbourne within a few goals of St Kilda during the third quarter only to watch the remainder of the game from the pine. These people, nor those around them, weren’t happy at all. They felt betrayed. My friend’s gran has been sitting on the MCG Members’ wing since the ’30s. She can recall the American troops camping in the stands during WW2. What must she think of the Dees these days? The world’s oldest football club is barely that anymore. But do they help themselves by sending the boys to the Sorrento Hotel for a ‘bonding session’ or by including naps for the players into the training schedule? Maybe what has happened to Melbourne is partly symptomatic of what’s wrong with footy nowadays. It has become so complicated and over done and over analysed. Footy has grown too big. It’s a sport, nothing more, when all is said and done. Keep it simple and get out there and play. Grab a man and don’t let him get a kick. Do you think Watts is enjoying his footy? I bet Jared Rivers is. That’s if it’s not too late for him to get rid of his bad habits.

  4. Pamela Sherpa says

    Andrew , when I read that the Melb players went to Sorrento for a think tank /bonding session I shook my head. I must say I had just read John Kingsmill’s Footy Town story about yabbying and rabbiting and couldn’t help but think – that would be better for them . A bit of old fashioned fresh air and adventure, running round in a paddock somewhere like youthful boys again.

  5. Ripsnorter says


    I am sure there are issues with players attitudes and also the expecatations of what is expected by those players from the hierachy at Melbourne but I went to the MCG on the 25th July 2010 and saw Melbourne smash Sydney – this is after they had tanked for 2 or 3 years and looked like me to be a real team on the up for 2011.

    Have a read of the teams below and it is had to believe that not even 3 years ago Melbourne handed out a football lesson to the swans.

    By my count including emergencies 16 players from Sydney”s 22 played in last years premiership. By my count 6 player that took the field that day for the dees make the 22 tomorrow with a couple out injured.

    B: Colin Garland, Jared Rivers, Clint Bartram
    HB: Jordie McKenzie, James Frawley, Joel Macdonald
    C: Jamie Bennell, Cameron Bruce, Brad Green
    HF: Lynden Dunn, Cale Morton, Tom Scully
    F: Colin Sylvia, Jack Watts, Liam Jurrah
    Foll: Mark Jamar, Brent Moloney, Aaron Davey
    I/C: Nathan Jones, Paul Johnson, Rohan Bail, Addam Maric,
    Emg: Matthew Warnock, Matthew Bate, Austin Wonaeamirri

    B Rhyce Shaw, Ted Richards, Martin Mattner
    HB Paul Bevan, Heath Grundy, Tadhg Kennelly
    C Nick Malceski, Brett Kirk, Kieren Jack
    HF Ryan O’Keefe, Miky Pyke, Josh Kennedy
    F Ben McGlynn, Adam Goodes, Jarred Moore
    R Shane Mumford, Jude Bolton, Jarrad McVeigh
    I/C : Daniel Hannebery, Lewis Jetta, Brett Meredith, Jesse White
    Emg: Trent Dennis-Lane, Gary Rohan, Sam Reid

    I do not have the answer to them being how they are today but their list management to my mind has been terrible and with such a high turnover of personal no wonder the have no idea what each other is doing.

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