How we won in 2016


The other big footy news last week, and news very close to my heart, was the revelation that Jobe Watson would be returning to Essendon next year.

Jobe was the captain of the club and one of the 12 unfairly banned from playing this year. He was the last to announce, and there was much speculation that he would not return. In my eyes that would have been disastrous. The news that he is coming back is the best possible news for Essendon supporters.

There’s another Essendon supporter at work I get together to discuss the comings and goings. We’ve kept a close eye on developments throughout. Each time another player confirms he’s coming back we go to the other with a big smile on our face and high 5. Each announcement is joyous, not only because it builds us a better team next year. For those of us who love the club. and have kept faith, each new commitment is a kind of validation of our faith and belief. The players are returning to us, and we become stronger as a whole because of it.

There were 12 banned from the club. Ten now have announced they will return. Another has retired from football, and just one has requested a trade. It surprises many people that so many have chosen to return. I find often that people on the outside miss the things that those of us on the inside – the passionate, committed fans who live the club – know intimately.

I expected most would return. None of them believe they are guilty of what they have been charged with. All of them stuck through it together, and with us, and return with unfinished business. They were banned, but before that they were a band, brought close by adversity – like we fans too. It is a pact not easily broken, and so ultimately most will take the field next year.

The most symbolic commitment was from Jobe Watson. Arguably there were more critical signings than his, and others more important structurally, but Jobe, the captain of the club, the son of a club legend and a Brownlow medallist in his own right, had become the face of the saga. He had borne the brunt of the adversity, had carried it through years on field until he seemed worn down by it, and disenchanted. No-one could blame him, and had he chosen not to go on then no-one would be surprised.

I look forward to a powerful team next year, but for me that’s secondary to re-uniting on field. This is the important aspect, and why Jobe’s return is so important. It’s a show of faith in the future. It gives further impetus to the renewal of the club, and a glimpse into a future beyond the supplements saga.

Had Jobe decided to give it away he would forever be seen as a victim of the saga, and likely condemned as a drug cheat (which he’ll be in some people’s eyes regardless). It would be a dark and historic reminder of the cost of this farce. That’s why it’s important for him as well. I so hoped he would come back. He’s had a storied career – that was not the way to end it. Play on, play with hope and defiance, and change the story. Whether he’s captain or not next year is besides the point. He will be a dangerous player in a potent team that may be on the cusp of making it’s own history.

I have to make mention of what an impressive man Jobe Watson is – articulate, intelligent, thoughtful, and, so I’m told, sexy as well. He comes from a great family. His father is one of my favourite Australians, and Jobe is a chip off that block. Just very decent people.

Jobe caused a minor stir in his press conference Friday. As sporting press conferences go it was honest and meaningful. Jobe opened up, a man content now explaining how he had found this peace of mind. He wore a cap with the words Feminist emblazoned on the underside of the peak. It bewildered journo’s and sent social media into a spin.

In a way it says a lot about Jobe wearing that. He had made a promise that he would, but it also encapsulates so much about him – a deeply considered and humane man with liberal sympathies. He wore it in support of something he believes in, unconcerned by the narrow football commentariat who might make something other of it. He comes back his own man, and a fine individual.

If I had a son I would like him to be like Jobe; but then I’d like a father like Tim, too.

Despite all indications, 2016 has been a fine year for the Essendon football club. Kudos to all.

 

A final for the people


So now we know – the Swans will take on the Bulldogs next Saturday to determine who becomes 2016 premiers.

Most of Victoria will be following the Bulldogs. They’re the perennial underachievers, downtrodden and disappointed. To make it this far, against the odds and battling injuries, bravely taking on one opponent after another, is the stuff of fairy-tale. They’ve captured the heart of every neutral supporter. It helps that they’re inoffensive, and that they’ll be playing against an interstate team. They’re easy to cheer for.

Last night they took on the looming might of the Giants. The Giants are a team contrived and manufactured by the AFL. While the raison d’être behind creating a new club in the western suburbs was fine, it was on the back of over-generous draft concessions and a basic corruption of the system. I remember scratching my head wondering why the AFL clubs had agreed to this – now the chicken has come home to roost. They’re out of it this year, but they’ll be a monumental competitor over the next 5 years.

I actually don’t mind GWS the team, but like most people feel as if they have been artificially elevated. The fact of the matter is that they’ve been given such a good hand that they can dictate draft strategies for years to come, and that’s unhealthy for the competition.

Last night was a classic finals match. Watching a game like that it’s hard not to think that AFL is the greatest sport in the world.

The Bulldogs held sway for most of the night, and were the better team, but GWS scrapped sufficiently well to hang in there. For much of the game there was a sense of inevitability. The Bulldogs had not done enough with their superiority. When GWS skipped out to an early lead in the last quarter it looked like it might be it – except this game had more twists.

In the   end the Bulldogs got up by a goal in a truly pulsating match. I think had the suspended Stevie J had played the result would have been reversed – that’s how close it was.

The Bulldogs will come up against the Swans, who were clinical in dismantling the Cats on Friday night.

It’s hard to tip against the Bulldogs. They’ve met every challenge. They’ve played rousing football and are brilliantly coached. If they play like they did against Hawthorn they’ll probably win.

The Swans are a hardened, professional unit though. They hunt teams down and dispatch them methodically. They’ve got a great midfield and an exciting forward line. And they know how to win a grand final.

On paper I think the Swans are a little ahead. Paper is deceiving though. Bulldogs are playing above themselves right now. They’ve hit a rich vein of form, and form counts big time, as does momentum and confidence. I’m leaning towards the Swans simply because they are clinical, but if the Bulldogs surge they’re a big chance. They have to be more efficient though – they can’t afford to be untidy against the Swans. They must convert opportunities.

One thing’s for sure, this’ll be one of the more anticipated grand finals of recent years. Everyone is up and about. I’m happy for either team to win – people forget, that for the Swans recent success they spent over half a century in the doldrums. Historically speaking, the Bulldogs rank with St Kilda as being the least successful clubs in the comp, but the Swans are only a little way ahead. This is a match for the people.

Quotidian


It’s a pretty typical Saturday morning. I slept later than I would during the week then read in bed with a latte on the side table and Rigby lounging by my side. We went down the beach for a run and gambol – Rigby that is, not me, I just watched on. It’s a bright, pleasant day, and a few brave souls out in shorts with the first sight of sunshine. We returned and then I set off to do my modest weekly shopping, the highlight today being a roast chicken I picked up I’ll use for the weekend’s sandwiches. Now I sit at my makeshift desk – the old, heavy wooden dining table – with Rigby sprawled at my feet. He’s never far away, God love him. I’ve been catching up on emails and browsing the net.

In a minute or two I must get up to commence the weekend’s chores. There’s a couple of loads of washing, and some vacuuming to do. If I feel energetic I might even mop the floors, but then I’m rarely that energetic. I’ll make my lunch at some point, the chicken in fresh turkish bread. This afternoon I’ll plant some tomatoes. Later I’ll watch the footy, and for dinner tonight I have a porterhouse defrosting I’ll cook up with a baked potato. In between I hope to do some writing.

I may as well preempt tomorrow too. As today, I’ll sleep later, and as today Rigby and I will go for a walk down by the beach. On Sundays I set myself to have a cooked breakfast. Since I can no longer afford to pay for it I’ve been making it myself. Mostly that’s poached eggs with a range of sides. Sometimes I’ll scramble them, and occasionally I’ll make an omelette or fry them. Tomorrow is a new recipe, scrambled with potato in a kind of hash.

I’ll eat that in front of the TV. Depending on how depressed I am about politics I’ll watch Insiders. Lately it’s so pissed me off that I hardly watch. I almost always watch Offsiders straight after that for a round-up of the weeks sport. I might briefly check-out one of the footy shows, but by now I’m getting restless. The rest of the day will pass doing a range of activities.

I’ll hope to write, but seem always to be delaying it. Once I start I’m fine, but it’s starting which is the hard part – but I always manage. I’ll take some time out for some recreational reading – at the moment I’m reading some William Styron stories I’d not come across before (pound for pound I reckon he’s just about the best pure writer of the last 50 years). I’ll do some cooking. In the winter months that’s generally a casserole to eat through the week, or something in the slow-cooker. Come the warmer months I eat lighter, with meals prepared as I need them.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been sorting through the boxes in the shed. There are a lot of them, and I want to turn them into a few. I’ll do more of that tomorrow. Then Monday I’m off to work again.

Boxes of memory


Over the last month I’ve sorted through the multitude of boxes out in the shed sorting stuff out between what I wanted to keep and what I could live without. There’s necessity in that. I’ve collected a lot of stuff over the years, more than I can conveniently transport. That situation wasn’t helped when mum died. Friends and family went through her house like locusts in the months after, but there still remained much that still useful or had sentimental value. Rather than tossing them out – this was left to me – I collected it all myself, not really wanting it, but unwilling to part with it.

Besides that there are a million books – possibly a dozen boxes worth. I’ve always had the dream of settling down in my dream home and putting together a library with all my books neatly arranged. That seems unlikely now, and so I went through those boxes as well with the notion that I would part with any book I didn’t think I would read again, or had no sentimental attachment to. I’ve not finished that process, but so far managed to separate about 20% of the books into a pile to dispose of.

These are books I’ve collected over more than 30 years. Some I haven’t read for that long. There’s a lot that have sentimental memories attached to them. As I sorted through the boxes I would add the occasional book to a third pile – those I wanted to re-read now.

For the most part these were books I’d liked greatly at the time, but was curious if I would like them as much now. I’ve read about 3-4 of them in the last 6 weeks, and so far none have had the same impact on me as they did at the time. It seems sad, but I’ve added them to the pile to sell or give away.

I started on another book yesterday I remember vividly from the time. I bought it when I was 17, and the protagonist was the same age. Summer Crossing is the story about a kid from the hard end of town falling for a mysterious and desperately alluring newcomer. It’s a clichéd story, but only inasmuch as classic stories are. I read it and went along for the ride as if it was my own. Understand, I was much like the kid in the story, though from more comfortable background. I yearned and hoped and wondered and felt myself erupt with irresistible desire.

I read the book again after that, years later. Picking it up I found an old business card for a bookmark that must have sat there since 1989. I remembered it. It was the card for a man my single mother briefly went out with. He was like a handsome used-car salesman, tall and with a head of hair turning silver, and an alluring turn of phrase. I didn’t trust him from the start, but all of that is another story.

I must have been looking for work at the time. I remember he set me up for an interview at the place where he worked in East St Kilda. His card reads ‘Retirement Adviser’ – in effect he sold superannuation and related products, and earned a good commission doing so. I had to do a bunch of tests, and as always my results were off the charts. I was brought in and this was explained to me, and I was offered a job there and then. I declined. I couldn’t see myself selling insurance. I didn’t want to do it. Most importantly, I didn’t believe in it. Even then I couldn’t do what I didn’t trust. They were nonplussed. Such considerations never entered their mind. I walked away relieved to be gone, and soon after he was gone too.

One of the boxes I opened contained about 20 years worth of writing. Mostly it’s in notebooks, but there are pages and scraps of paper too. A lot of it is embarrassing to read now, but even so, some ideas throughout, and perhaps some promise of what was to come. There’s more than just fictional stuff in there. There are the occasional observations and thoughts, but most particularly a pretty raw commentary on what I was feeling then. Much of this is on scraps of paper and the back of envelopes I’ve kept as mementoes of that time. Most poignant are the many scraps relating to B, with whom I had such a tumultuous relationship.

Memories come flooding back as I fingered the pieces of paper and read the words I’d penned so earnestly more than 20 years ago. I loved her. Had she been healthier it’s probable that we would have married, and my life would be different. We didn’t though and it scarred me for a long time. Then one day I found out she was dead and I’ve never really been able to get over that. It’s self-indulgent to say, but she’s the tragedy of my life.

I know, she has family who miss her every day and wonder what they could have done differently. I’m just the man who might have been. It might have been for me though, too. Anyway.

Among the stuff I found where desk diaries for 1911 and 1992. Among the notes about meetings and things to do I found that I had taken to briefly recording what happened with her on those days. The voice is so fresh. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He hopes still, and sometimes he despairs, and on days he is angry, but it is all current and real and unresolved.

It’s so sad to read now. It comes back to me. I feel regret, then sorrow. I wish it had been different. I wish I had done things differently. I was in love though. I’d do anything to make it different now. Why did she have to die? If I never saw her again and she was happy then that would be enough. But not even that. I wonder, as I must, how much I was a part of that.

Now it’s just history. Boxes of my life. One day it might be worth something when I’m famous and they’re writing books about me. Or to that person including me in their thesis. One day I’ll have to read it all again properly myself. Those were the days of my life.

Funeral for a friend

Whistle while you work


Strange as it might seem, there was a time when I would sing at work, or whistle. It seems odd to me now, these years later, but at the time it seemed a natural thing, and no-one ever complained. In fact I recall people smiling as I did so, and occasionally encouraging me.

Once, working after hours on a part-time cleaning job, the manager working alone in the office stopped to tell me how much it pleased him to hear me sing as I worked, to hear someone so expressively enjoying himself. That was at BMW Melbourne, where I worked 2 nights a week for a year to earn some extra cash. He was a lovely man, and I think saw in me someone a little different to what he expected.

I might be Clint Eastwood now, but back then I was someone different.  If I wasn’t singing I was wise-cracking. I reckon I spoke double what I do now, or more. It gave me pleasure. There were words in me, opinions, witticisms, and they just spilled out of me. In one job I had followers who would sit and listen and laugh and tell me I should be on radio, or have my own show. I modestly accepted that as my due.

That was the thing though: it was pleasure. I didn’t do it for the audience or to please other people, but because I had it and must let it out.

Over the years I matured and changed, as you do. I became more laconic, which was really my natural state. I might occasionally run-off my tongue, expounding on some notion, and I never stopped the witty asides, but they came from the side of my mouth.

As for the singing? Well I still sing around the house sometimes. As was revealed in that quiz last week my mum was a singer and I grew up listening to her. That was a pleasure for me. I learned all the old standards that way, and my love for music in general. When I sang aloud it was mostly the same old standards that mum had sung, word perfect after years of listening.

Cry Me a River was a favourite. The Julie London version primo. “Now you say you’re sorry…” I can hear mum singing it now. Then later I did to. It Had To Be You, What’ll I Do, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off, I’m a Fool to Want You… At one job I went through a Nat King Cole Stage – When I Fall in Love, Pretend, even Mona Lisa, a song I’m not particularly fond of. There was Sinatra too, always Sinatra – My Way and New York, New York. I mentioned Sam Cooke the other day – well I’d sing Cupid, and Wonderful World with relish. I sang Alfie after Dionne Warwick, It’s Not For Me To Say with an authentic Johnny Mathis quaver in my voice, and I would croon like Ray Charles singing Georgia, in the shower at home, and at work.

And I whistled. I couldn’t whistle a cab these days, but back then I had a strong and sure whistle, clear and melodic. I’d mop the floors or clean out the toilets whistling as I went.

These days I will sing occasionally, when I’m cooking or doing housework. Different times though too. I’m older, and besides there is so many more opportunities to listen to music now than there were then – no iPods, no iPhones back in the day. I don’t do Karaoke much, but if I do my go to songs are My Way and Solitary Man. I still love it all though.

The king is dead


Friday night and went over to the Cheese’s for a bottle of wine, some cheese, and the big match between the Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn.

Like everyone who’s not a Hawthorn supporter I was hoping for a Bulldogs win. They’re a bit of a fairytale story, perennial under-achievers and battling all sorts of injury problems throughout the year, they knocked off one of last years grand finalists last week, and were looking to knock the other – the premiers – last night.

No-one much likes Hawthorn. A good part of that comes from just being too successful. People are sick of them. They have some hard to love footballers too, and a perception that they have been favoured by the umpires in the close contests. I share much of that, but as an Essendon supporter I have some historical antipathy. We go back a long way our two teams, and a fierce rivalry in the eighties, reignited in the noughties. I hated the long before the Johnny come lately’s.

I wrote last week that I thought the Bulldogs matched up well against the Hawks. Hawthorn are an extremely professional, hardened unit with a brilliant coach. They’ll play to a consistently good level that will grind them to victory against most opposition. Their success is based on pressure, and an extremely efficient and systemised approach to the game. I don’t think I’ve seen a more efficient team in all my years of watching footy.

To beat Hawthorn I reckon you have to take them on. That means denying them space and time when they have ball in hand, and to be daring when in possession. That describes the Bulldogs to a t. They’re a great team to watch, with desperate pressure acts and an exciting game style. Their ability to run hard and quick and share the ball around was exactly the sort of game likely to disrupt Hawthorn’s efficiency.

There were a number of predictable scenarios going into the game. The most popular was that Hawthorn would turn in another professional performance and strangle the inspiration from the Bulldogs. They would prevail by habit and experience against a less battle-hardened opponent. It was what I feared too. What I hoped is that the Bulldogs would weather the early going – absolutely critical – to develop belief in the game and to blossom later their free-wheeling style. That’s pretty much what happened.

It’s interesting to know where Hawthorn sit in the pantheon of great teams. This is not the best Hawthorn team of this particular era, and in fact I’d probably rate the Hawthorn team of the late eighties above it in general. It’s hard to argue with success though. They’d played in the last 4 grand finals, and won the last 3. They were going for 4 this year. They’ve been a dominant side.

It’s too soon to make a true judgement, but my immediate take is they have been a team of great pragmatism. They’ve rarely been an exciting team to watch in terms of pure game style. It’s not often they’ve playing devastating football. They played like a machine with all the parts synchronised and in tune, turning out a level of reliable repeat performances year after year. They rarely faltered, unlike many of their opponents who might surge within a game, then fall away. They’ve been implacable and efficient, guided by a very clever coach who developed a style to accommodate the players he had. The Hawthorn of this era have always been greater than the sum of their parts.

In terms of football dynasties I’d rate the Brisbane team of the early 2000’s ahead of them – a bruising and dynamic team capable of both brutality and brilliance. Probably the best team I’ve ever seen was the 1985 Essendon team, which in hindsight shared attributes with the Brisbane teams – brilliant, brutal, and irresistible. Perhaps not coincidentally the Brisbane sides of the 2000’s was coached by Leigh Matthews, who was captain of the Hawthorn team beaten by Essendon in 1984, and demolished in 1985. He always said that the 1985 Essendon side was the best he’d ever seen.

Otherwise there’s only 2 other contenders – Essendon in 2000, who had the best single season record of any team in VFL/AFL history; and Geelong in 2007, who were brilliant to watch.

Last night Hawthorn were taking their crack at history – 3 more wins and they would equal the record for the most successive premierships – the fourpeat. Early the Bulldogs were surging, but untidy, while Hawthorn looked a little off, but supremely efficient. Midway through the second quarter Hawthorn had a shot at goal to take them nearly 5 goals up – and missed. The day after it feels like that was their chance to take it away from the Bullies – and they squandered it.

From that moment on the Bulldogs pretty well dominated. All their hard running and effort finally began to click and pay-off. They went into half-time down by a point. By 3/4 time they had a near match-winning lead. The last quarter played out uneventfully. The Bulldogs had won, and the Hawks were finally out of a finals series.

Hawthorn couldn’t keep up in the end. They were well beaten long before the final siren. They looked old and slow and a little bewildered. I suspect it is an end of an era, though Clarkson is as canny as they come. Hawthorn’s best players remain their senior players, close to retirement. They might fall quickly. That’s generally how it happens.

The Bulldogs take on GWS in Sydney. That will be an outstandingly entertaining match. These two teams are both big on the contested ball, and swift on the outside. It means that one of them will make the grand final – either one team for the first time ever, or the other for the first time since 1961.

 

September 16, 2016 at 08:37AM


Getting my coffee this morning the radio was playing and Sam Cooke came on. Hands up who knows Sam Cooke these days? He was a great, great singer, seemingly rarely heard, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear it.

The song was Bring It On Home To Me, one of his best. I walked away with latte in hand feeling swell, humming the tune under my breath and carrying it into the office with me.

And it’s Friday. All good.
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