The Return of The Ross


The Return of The Ross

David Downer


Weird shit happens at St Kilda v Fremantle games.


Two encounters have even been tagged with monikers more suited to lunchtime tele-movies, or perhaps Kevin Costner latter career stinkers.


The low budget 2006 Tasmanian thriller, Sirengate. And its prelude, the previous year’s cross-Nullabor production, Whispers In the Sky.


Friday’s clash of course promises to be the most emotionally charged yet. It’s been inked in St Kilda minds since the fixture release.


In accordance with underwhelming B-grade movie names, I’m giving it the working title of Crossfire (aha, see what I did there). Do note, Prosstate was also considered.


The return of Ross Lyon triggers all manner of internal conflict for Saints fans. The man who took a “one premiership club” to the absolute brink of glory twice, but departed in circumstances so covert and shrouded in secrecy, the Vatican and the FBI are re-writing their operation manuals.


Then again, Ross was the architect of the infamous “bubble”. Well versed in keeping things “under wraps”.


Understandably, the pre-match hullaballoo is focussed on his likely reception from the apparent “baying St Kilda mob” – as though Moorabbin’s animal cage is celebrating its modern-day resurrection at Etihad. A tweet of mine predicting the crowd reaction surfaced on Foxtel’s AFL360 last night:


“Maybe not booing, definitely not applause, but perhaps a droning energised hum. If the Saints get on top, the cheers will be deafening”


Any early reception might actually prove light-hearted, and any booing “put on”. After all, despite the “deceitful, duplicitous and distasteful” manner in which it occurred (according to G.Whateley), I’m confident in saying most Saints fans are now happy to see the back of Ross.


So given that, should we even be bothered venting anger?


Admittedly, on that September Thursday night in question, and as my few Twitter followers would know, I went “ape-shit”.  But the season is here. And life moves on.
Obviously Ross Lyon can coach. He can implement a stringent game-plan with the cut-throat precision of a Chinese gymnastics coach. But for that continual level of intensity and demand, the tumble off the monkey bars ultimately arrives – for both players and supporters. Never mind adding the most torturous of two grand final heartbreaks, and tabloid manna-from-heaven off-field calamities.


Despite eventually offering Ross a four year contract, St Kilda were clearly hedging their bets. “Umming and aahing” the whole time. Probably weighing up those same issues the fans themselves were.


Can we really support this draining method of game-style any longer? Is he thinking of our future development? How in god’s name are we football public enemy number one? Do we just need a change, symbolically or otherwise? Are we still St Kilda, the club, or the St Kilda of Ross Lyon’s dictatorial puppet strings?


My impression had been the Saints made Lyon the new contract offer reluctantly – fuelled more by outside interest from potential suitors, such as Melbourne. A feeling that they “had to do it”, or would incur yet more wrath and derision from the football world.


“Well, we’re not really sure if we want Ross, but we’ll be buggered if anyone else gets him …ehhh, so we better get him”.


Initially, with St Kilda’s not insignificant history of sacked coaches, I thought it also imperative for Ross to re-sign. But upon first hearing the four year contract offer, my guts twinged. My internal flux-capacitor took a momentary footy future snap-shot. And the universe there seemed “a bit off” .


While supporting the Saints will never be questioned, instinctively the coming year, or years, wouldn’t necessarily be met with excitement, or hope. As per Ross’ game plan, I figured it would have been more of the same. A grind.
Save for an errant bounce or two that would christen him as the club’s most successful coach, in the greater perspective of life, it’s a shame for all, at this stage at least, he will not be remembered fondly.


Time heals all wounds, but as other sage’s have noted, these wounds are still fresh.


Vision of Ross at that first press conference, in pseudo-silk purple tie, trumpeting: “Hey, I’m a career coach, and I sit here comfortable”, opened the flood-gates of Lyon’s negative legacies. Not the positives.


Such as, the treatment of Luke Ball that may have cost St Kilda two premierships. Injecting someone of Andrew Lovett’s background, while losing the former. The lack of development and communication with young players. The fractured VFL alignment and relationships at Sandringham. One of his last acts announcing “retirements” of players. Earlier, the fall-out with the much-loved Maxy Hudghton. And later, the undoubted contribution to Tommy Walsh’s departure.


There is also a reminder, for all the calculated, cool-blooded Ross Lyon stubbornness that took us so agonisingly close to those premierships, that he perhaps lacked that required ounce of compassion, or heart, or someone else’s opinion, to get us over the line.


The calculated, cool-blooded Ross Lyon that, as Saints fans, we felt compelled to defend against the naysayers assuring us he was destroying the spirit of the game.


That same calculated, cool-blooded Ross Lyon that, with barely a soul in the know, and after championing the values of commitment, loyalty and dedication, rode out of town in the cover of a Seaford night, and took the job at Fremantle.


Over-riding all this for me, however, was a feeling of being disconnected from St Kilda.


Under Ross, I generally felt the supporters were a constant nuisance to him. Limited open training sessions, stringent media access controls, monotone press conferences, a general lack of touch with the community. The infamous “bubble” kept out not only the opposition, but in a sense the supporters who have sustained the place with their laughter, tears and cash for over a century.


But it’s hard to find merit in those arguments at a time when your notoriously unsuccessful club suddenly finds themselves finishing in the top four regularly. Playing in Grand Finals. And the coach himself seems beloved by his senior players.


There is obviously a fine line between being the ultimate professional dedicated to your craft, suppressing the myriad distracting football externalities – against leaving the door ajar occasionally for the true believers, wanting their taste of the good times after riding out so much of the bad.


That balance, Ross never achieved. He may take that learning to Fremantle.


Despite the St Kilda game plan now remaining at its heart defensive oriented, with an undoubted more attacking flair revealing itself, the contrast to St Kilda post-Ross could not be more stark.


Scott Watters. All boyish features and charm, a surfer’s relaxed demeanour, and noted Colin Firth lookalike. Perhaps he’s an image more in-keeping with the “traditional” St Kilda, or that we can relate to, or want to relate to. On-field results will be determined in the fullness of time, but he and the club have made great strides in recent months.


The fans are welcome back at St Kilda. We are a part of it again.


That the Saints had a family day last Sunday, in-season, speaks volumes.


So for all the above meandering, possibly hypocritical, possibly circle-work venting, how will that contribute to the “mob” reacting as Friday night wears on?


As always, the scoreboard will probably dictate the night’s emotions. If St Kilda are sporting a six goal lead at three quarter time, Ross’s dash up the race might attract some “passionate advice”. His usual elegant sashay might “find a couple of yards”.


Luckily for him, the most rabid of us take residence in the Saints members wing, on the opposite side of the ground.


Admittedly Zac Dawson won’t have the privilege of hiding away. But generally he never required a change of jumper to invoke the ire of Saints fans. And Hayden Ballantyne might cop a bit extra. Just because.


The prospect of St Kilda losing is not worth contemplating. Then all bets are off!


A stirring Saints victory will ensure Crossfire wins rave reviews as a rollicking, feel-good, redemptive guilty pleasure flick.


To borrow a Lyon-ism, that would certainly be “pleasing”.


  1. Peter Flynn says

    Enjoyed reading your piece DD.

    On so many levels, you’re better off without him.

  2. I thought Costner was pretty good in 2010’s ‘The Company Men’…

  3. You got me excited. I thought this was about The Return of The Roos. I read til the end but not one mention of the stirring victory over the Cats…

  4. Welcome back DD and great review. I just want to win. I don’t really care about Ross Lyon and am over the hype. I just want to keep winning, and this week it’s against Fremantle and I want them dismantled. Yes Ross ALMOST got us there three times, but you are right, we didn’t feel we were with them as supporters and it’s been so much lighter and freer in spirit and in ball movement since he left. There’s hope again and fun again and exciting footy to watch and lots of new young players to dream of. It just feels more like HOME. I think Scotty Watters has already made the team his own, he’s got a good instinct and I like the shaking up he’s doing and the feeling that some of the returning players will really have to fight for their spots, which is what we’ve needed for awhile.

    Other than remembering fondly the winning of 1966 and promising myself we will watch that every year until we get another, the rest is in the past. Bring on the future. As we all were on the day on the beach, BE THE FUTURE.

    Even the slogan is better, and the idea behind it, the idea of all of us mad Sainters getting up at ridiculous hours just to be part of something again. It has rejuvenated us all.

    Go Saints.


  5. Forgot to say, I’ve already cuddled Scott Watters twice. Nada from Ross Lyon. Nothing is left to say.

  6. Skip of Skipton says

    No list of St.Kilda vs. Fremantle ‘weird shit’ is complete without mention of Umpire Carey marking the football at Subi in ’99. I’m looking forward to this game tonight.

  7. Goodness, i find the critique of Lyon intriguing. Correct me, is he not the second most succesful coach @ St KIlda, 3GF’s, only Yabbie did better; true ?


  8. We had better keep you at arms length from the Wynyard players Yvette.

    We don’t want them distracted with close encounters of the cuddling kind.

  9. David Downer says

    Thanks for the responses, punters.
    Yvette, you bleed red, white and black. I’ll allocate my S.Watters hugs to you also.
    Skip, Stk-Freo controversies have their own dedicated Wikipedia page!

    Glen, I did note that save for a dodgy bounce, Ross would be our most successful coach ever. However, when you’ve been emotionally invested in this as a Saints fan, and what we’ve experienced the last few years, it’s SO much more than a simple numbers game. You might enjoy reading Moneyball!

  10. What’s Moneyball, Dave ?


  11. Interesting page. Steven Baker is prominent. Is the match in Tassie the only time a result has been changed post match ? Off the top of my head I can’t recall any other times.


  12. Rick Willcock says

    Hi David

    Nice article / well balanced. You understand your Sainters.

    As a likeminded lifelong Sainter, I think it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise that Rossy has ridden off into the Western sunset. I don’t think Saints fans would have begrudged his departure if he had been open about it or even the big moolah on offer in the booming west. Most would have said good on him. After 5 years, he’d given it his best shot at St Kilda, only to come up so agonisingly short in 09 and 10.

    What upset a lot of St Kilda people (including yours truly) was the nature of his departure. I think Gerard Whately got it right, not to mention Andrew Demetriou and Leigh Matthews.

    To employ a management company to negotiate on your behalf in good faith out in the market place, only to be doing secret deals on the side that no-one knows about is both duplicitious and deceitful. Whether it’s sport or business or whatever, certain core values remain no matter what the justification may be. To crossover or flaunt those community values invites criticism.

    Rossy had made up his mind and he was gone the week before the Swans final – the cavalier way he coached that night was disgraceful and went against all his previous better judgements. At the end of last season St Kilda was left as the last man standing at the school dance without a partner.

    And so to tonight. Do I think he’ll cop a spray from the hard core faithful ? You betcha … and if the boys just happen to be giving them a flogging it will get louder as the night goes along !

  13. David Downer says

    It was a somewhat cheeky response to your comment Glen, but Moneyball is the story of the cash-strapped Oakland A’s baseball team who constructed a squad of lowly valued players based purely on their statistical measures.

    It’s actually a cracking read, and recently released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.


  14. Ripsnorter says

    How can you blame Ross Lyon for not getting you over the line in a Grand Final? – it is like suggesting if Collingwood had a better coach than Tom Hafey they would have won a premiership or two in his time with that team.

    Luke Ball was offered a contract and decided to look elsewhere and Max Hudghton would have made no difference to your side although he may be a nice bloke.

    Ross Lyon is not perfect and maybe hard to work with as a player or on his staff but he certainly gets results and thats his job.

    The fact is that every decent coach St Kilda have had in recent history has been burned anyway for reasons only they know.

  15. Stainless says

    I believe that St Kilda’s first ever win (which took them several seasons to achieve – it might have been around 1900) was originally scored as a draw. However, the Saints argued post-match with the League that a point by their opponent had been scored well after the half time siren and that this argument was upheld, giving the Saints a one point win.

    One of our resident statistical gurus could confirm this I think?

  16. David Downer says

    Snorter of Rip, the points you raise touch on some of the conflict and confusion we feel as Saints fans.

    As you allude, only the persons involved directly know the real story. We can only surmise and relate our own feelings and read of the situation from afar.

    Without Ross Lyon, we may not have even gone close to winning a flag or playing in a GF. But I do believe a few tweaks the other way may have delivered the booty.

    As I admitted in the piece, there is some circum-navigatory contradiction going on with all of this, undoubtedly brought on by the manner of the exit.

    It’s an emotional game!


    Thanks for the words. I think you are right. As a mate suggested to me today, “St Kilda is better without Ross, and Ross is better off without St Kilda.  In the end both parties knew it and Ross simply made the first move rather than the club” …but wow, what a move it was!

  17. Skip of Skipton says

    St.Kilda’s first win in the VFL was Round 1 1900 vs. Melbourne at the Junction Oval. It was by one point, so that story is probably accurate. It was their only win for the season. Interestingly, Melbourne won the flag that year after finishing the home and away rounds in 6th place on the ladder.

    The Sainters also had a solitary win the following year, went winless once more in 1902, before getting some shit together and winning six games in 1903.

  18. Stainless that score after the siren would not happen where I come from.

    We would have pulled the goal posts out. We have form.

  19. Ripsnorter says


    I don’t doubt it was time for the Saints to part ways and do think in the end it was the best for everyone.

    I think Ross just looked at it that any coach ( and the saints have history her ) can be sacked at any time the board feels and just acted in cold blood the same as many a board has many times before.

    The real loser was Mark Harvey but maybe Fremantle will be better off with Ross as coach as well – it is a brutal business and all involved get paid very well because of it.


  20. Andrew Starkie says

    Great piece, DD.

    Have just finished reading and the ball is about to be bounced at Etihad.

    You know the Saints well, but from a distance, it appeared they were never that keen to hang on to Ross. I agree, the late offer wasn’t overly heartfelt. A case of ‘we better do it…’ And crocodile tears followed from a few dented egos at board level.

    I also agree Ross’ reaction in his first presser was poor. I think much of his apparent lack of concern was front. He must have been churning up inside. And I also believe much of the media’s anger towards him came through their out of joint noses. They’re paid to see these things coming and they missed it. Ross’ attitude added fuel to the fire.

    Once the dust settled and preseason started under the new coach, I think the overwhelming emotion for all at St. Kilda would have been relief. Ross’ intensity must have been exhausting, so once the sun was shining on the players’ backs down at Seaford, I’m sure they were smiling. It’s no surprise, St. Kilda under Watters is a totally different place.

    I’ve picked the Saints tonight.

  21. Andrew Starkie says

    And yeah, why haven’t you mentioned North? We’re the footy story this week.

  22. Good to have you back DD (the other DD!).

    I will never forget the stony face of St Nick in the pre-GF press-conferences of 2010.
    It was almost laughable the way he and R Lyon sat there, in the biggest week
    of their football lives, giving off such negative vibes. I thought at the time “You blokes
    won’t win this game”.

    Couldn’t imagine N Reiwoldt having such a sour countenace sitting next to S Watters.

    D Smokie D

  23. Andrew Starkie says

    Ouch, I know how much that hurts, DD.

    Reminds me of the night The King returned to Docklands in a Crows jumper. I was there with assorted family and we sat in silence and watched as Carey dominated the second half and kicked the sealer. It hurt so much.

    Like your old man bringing his new girlfriend to a family gathering (my old man hasn’t done that, by the way).

  24. Great piece DD. Reading it in the light of last night’s result, I kept seeing Ross as Javier Bardem’s emotionless assassin in ‘No Country for Old Men’. He’s taken his nail gun and headed off to another well paid assignment on the other side of the country. Somewhere that a ‘nearly almost’ season is hailed with joyous rapture, rather than dull disappointment.
    I think he knew that another year or two with the Saints ageing list and the nail gun would be pointed at his own head. So he got out of dodge.
    My reflections on last night’s game are that Riewoldt proved again that he is a combination of has been and over rated. And that I dislike Milne more than Ballantyne – which takes some doing. I turned it on expecting to barrack for the Saints (I have a healthy distaste for both sides). But Milne gives me the vibe of a sewer rat, while Ballantyne seems more the ADD version of Eddie Munster who has been on the red cordial all day. After 10 minutes my inner fan had me barracking for the underdog Dockers. Go figure.

  25. John Harms says

    That’s a good topic: Milne or Ballantyne: discuss.

  26. Skip of Skipton says

    Pneumatic penetrating cattle bolt gun, Peter.

  27. David Downer says

    Thanks A.Starkie, agree with all you mention mate. And at the time trudging out last night, it was a bloody tough one to take! You understand what we’re going through. That Carey game of yesteryear would have been on a whole different level again to what we experienced last night.

    I’ve never been part of a more energised “emotionally driven” crowd for a 30k attendance. There was certainly something in the air. I presume Ch7 made a good fist of Saints fans purposefully lining the race pelting Ross with advice …as opposed to the 20+ bays of club members on the other side of the ground ?? We were certainly very vocal willing on our own side, but I nary heard Ross’ name even mentioned, or any booing, but we sure wanted to win it real bad!

    PeterB – I think Riewoldt is still rather “serviceable”. If I didn’t barrack for St Kilda, S.Milne would be high atop my “grate” list (to be kind). Ballantyne, McPhee and now Zac complete a handy tri for the purple haze I reckon.

    As nice as it would have been to win last night – and the “old” Freo probably wouldn’t have pinched it, just as Ross felt at his first Freo presser, “I sit here comfortable” with St Kilda’s current predicament.

    We have our club back, and that’s already a huge void that’s been filled.

    Ross will achieve good results in the West, but would have stagnated the Saints further back here.

    So he may have taken the first round …but one swallow* does not a Summer make


    *token Kangas reference for you there Stark & Smoke (felt compelled to squeeze something in)

  28. Andrew Starkie says

    thanks for the mention, DD

  29. Andrew Starkie says

    Harmsy, Milne is the Bon Scott of footy. Cheeky, rebellious, antagonistic, bloody good, tight shorts, potentially self-destructive.. Obviously, he’s lasted a lot longer. When he finally go, like Bon, his legend will grow among Sainters.

    Ballantyne is the little kid camping beside you in the caravan park over summer. He’s from from out of town, an only child and his dad won’t take him fishing. Good batsmen, can handle a taped tennis ball, but is such a smart arse, he’s the last picked every game. You and your cousins try to give him the slip on the way to the beach, but he always sees you and tags along.

    You give cousin Moose a wink, and he starts firing in a few short ones at Ballantyne’s head, which is a good effort on wet sand, but he’s nimble enough to get outside them and pull them to the sand dunes for runs. He’s gives Moose lip when he passes him at the bowler’s end.

    Eventually, inevitably, Moose thumps him, Ballantyne, to his credit, gives him one back, it all ends in tears, and you get the blame for being the oldest. Dad grabs the bat and stumps and marches everyone back to the caravan and the night out at the Royal is cancelled.

    Wouldn’t have happened if the little shit hadn’t tagged along. And if he didn’t have a good hook shot.

  30. Nice to have you back DD! I spent the weekend away, so was able to watch the replay last night for the first time. Nerves revealed by the tension released, (swear words) upon finding that the braodcaster had put the wrong time on the program, therefore missing the first quarter. This tension was not fully vented until the frustration of inaccurate kicking became borderline epidemic.

    Positives: Winning the important stats, for what that is worth…
    Negatives: Losing to the Crossfire. (I would have gone Glengarry Glen Ross, based purely on loungeroom language)

    Milne vs Ballintyne? Easy. When has Yapper ever driven an elbow into the guts of an opponent 100m off the ball? That being said, Ballintyne appears to have more strings to his bow, capable of playing anywhere on the ground. I’d take Milne though.

  31. How’s Cuba and the eye-mouth coordination develpoment program coming along?

  32. It’s Ballantyne. And he’s lovely. And some of his kicks to position on Friday night were incredible.

  33. Want conflicted? I appreciated Friday what a terrific coach Lyon is, harassing Fisher and Dal Santo and cutting off the supply of long clearances and kicks that fuel the new-look Saints offense. But I also saw newcomers Milera, Cripps, Newnes and Simpkin contribute; I saw welcomed development in Stanley and Armitage and Jack Steven. And Sam Gilbert has found his game again. I saw eight different goal kickers. In the end, I think it’s better he’s gone; all coaches wear out their welcome eventually. I’m too far away to know, but I sense Saints and Sainters alike are in a happier place.

    As for Milne and Ballantyne, I think Ballantyne has more complete potential; once he settles down a bit he could be a huge star. But sometimes lost in Milne’s style is just how good a player he’s been — nearly 500 goals, one of the best at scoring on the run (though not always on set shots), a strong tackler and a prototypical crumbing forward of his era. He’s gotten better as he’s gotten older, too. Sometimes spectacular, sometimes cringe-worthy. But he makes you pay attention to him, and every team needs someone like that. Happy to have him on our side.

  34. David Downer says

    Stark, with that sort of Ballantyne insight I’m definitely employing you as my casting director for the Crossfire tele-movie here!

    Good to hear from ya, Gus. Not so much mouth-to-eye co-ordination drills for Cuba now. Now in veteran class and sporting arthritic front legs, he’s on a permanent restricted program. Still has the spirit of a rookie though.

    Glenn, I agree re Milne. The focus on him being a pest (and popular notion he goes missing when it counts) detracts from how good he’s been. Not many forward pockets can churn out such a sustained career. 500 goals is a big achievement for anyone, let alone a player of his dimensions. Provided plenty of excitement over the years, and won games off his own boot

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