And now to prosper

This weekend is the the last of the AFL home and away season, and the finals begin in 2 weeks time.

For many supporters that means the season is over for their team. I’m one of them, though I never expected any different. I couldn’t be prouder.

My team, Essendon, came into the season with 12 players suspended for the whole year. Top up players, mostly players formerly retired or delisted from their previous club, were brought in to fill the ranks. On paper it was a team of inexperienced youngsters and has-beens, with a couple in the middle of ‘regular’ players. It was a devastating blow on the eve of the season, and many were tipping that we would not win a game for the season.

I was more optimistic than that, but even if we hadn’t I’d have stuck fast by the team and the club. I’ve followed the team all my life. I’ve been there for the great moments, sitting in the crowd for 3 flags and watching another on the TV. I reckon I’ve attended about 400 games live, and maybe more – years and years of turning up to 16-18 games a season, starting from when I was about 8.

It was easy to be a supporter then. Normal. You turned up and cheered on the red and the black. The seasons came and went. So to did aspirations, hope, renewed annually. I was lucky: Essendon was a good club to be part of.

That changed a few years back for reasons that are well documented. It was not so easy being a supporter then, not because you loved them less, but because it became so much more complicated. It became more than a game. The reputation and livelihood of men you had come to idolise was threatened by the swirling uncertainties of what had happened behind the scenes. The club and its leaders became pariahs, and even the supporters such as myself were subject to ridicule and contempt. It was a dark time.

I have my opinions on what happened, which I’ve expressed previously. I believe still that what happened was a travesty of process, but regardless it was something that had to be dealt with. We were punished, severely, kicked out of a finals series we had fought to be part of, fined and stripped of draft picks, our coach banished, and ultimately 12 players banned from playing.

As a supporter of the club wins and losses became secondary to survival. As supporter I found my love for the club increase as it was threatened. All my life I had taken for granted that love, because there was never a reason to question it. Then that day came and I realised I loved the very fabric of the club and those who went through it. On-field success is the epitome of that, but it is built upon the character of the place, the history, the personalities, the culture and philosophy.

The club was challenged by the events of the last 4 years, but so have we, the supporters. I think many have had an experience like mine whereby a passive support has been galvanised by events into a robust and defiant espousal of what the club means for us. We’ve copped years of snide talk from the supporters of other clubs, and the media in general. We’ve experienced the schadenfreude personally. So be it. It’s now at the point that I draw strength from the vitriol. I’m inspired by being different. The more they hate us the more motivated I become. We have been set apart – fine, then let us choose to be set apart. Let us dare to be singular.

It’s a meaty philosophy, and easier written now near the end of it all than at the beginning. We have survived; soon we will prosper; but it was not always so certain.

We played the last game of our season yesterday against the club we despise the most, Carlton. We came into the game bottom of the ladder and set to ‘win’ only the second wooden spoon in our history – and the first since 1933. The bonus that came with that is the number one pick in the national draft, but if there was ever a game we wanted to win it was this one. And we did.

The events of the last few years would have killed many clubs. Many suggested it would do us. We survived though, through many a long day, and with the club came the supporters. We had the team gutted earlier in the year, and had an excuse to fail. With it though came opportunity. With just the right man as coach we took to the season with a positive mindset. We have played bravely and with spirit, and earned the grudging respect of the supporters who formerly hated us. And by necessity we’ve been forced to play the young players who would otherwise been forced to develop in the reserves. It’s meant for a losing season, but their development has been fast-tracked in the meantime.

And so yesterday with the number 1 pick on the line and against our rival, we played our last game before the banned players returned. And we played with gusto and spirit and excitement. Our young team carved up the plodders on the other side and won a famous victory. It was one of the great days at the footy. The sun was shining and the crowd roared and stayed long after to cheer a grateful band of players. We had won, and damned the number 1 pick.

It may be hyperbole, but I think it was one of the great days in the history of this club. It was both celebration and re-birth. The club is becoming great again, and next year looks very good.

I don’t think the club could have survived without us, the supporters. I’m so proud of my fellow Essendon supporters. We’ve shown faith throughout. We’ve given our unconditional support. We’ve continued to believe, and had our belief repaid.

I expect great things from the team next year. The next time we take the field it will be with a full squad of established and budding champions. More than that is the narrative arc which gives momentum to the future. We’ve been forced to become resilient, but resilience is much more than just a defensive skill. It brings with it maturity and perspective and self-belief. It makes for a steely determination. And you know the value of things; you learn how to fight for something bigger than a contested ball; and know that the pain can be endured, and will be.

It’s been a torrid time in the club’s history, but that’s what make greatness. Be great. Our time is coming.

Red rags and bulls

I think anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I’m a broad-minded character open and accepting of different cultures, races, and religions. I’m proud to be an Aussie, but I’m also welcoming of people of different race or colour. I’m broadly sympathetic to mainstream feminist ideals, and a strong supporter of the LGBTI community. I’m agnostic verging on the atheist, but I couldn’t care less if you believe in god, much less which one. Most of my opinions are based on logic and common-sense (as I see it) – it just doesn’t make sense to be discriminatory, or to profile people on random attributes. That’s just dumb.

I’m not perfect, but I am without fear – which makes a big difference – and tolerant of difference. I enjoy the variety of perspectives and backgrounds the world offers. It’s probably the thing that makes life most interesting.

All of that is by way of preamble to what I’m about to say. Call it context.

Last night scrolling through Twitter I came by a a re-tweet of something Nic Natanui had tweeted earlier in the day. For those who don’t know, Nic Nat is a high-profile, charismatic AFL footballer. He’s a huge lump of a guy, a game changer on the field and salt of the earth off of it. He also happens to be of Fijian heritage, and dark-skinned.

The tweet made no sense to me at that time. He made reference to black-face and education, and how it was only recently that he knew better. He makes reference to a woman I’ve never heard of before. Without context I didn’t know what to make of it, but it soon became clear.

A few tweets on I come across commentary, and a picture of a young boy in a West Coast Eagles guernsey, his face blacked up, and his hair in some contrivance of dreadlocks, just like Nic Nat. It seems that Nic Nat is this kids favourite footballer, and in some kind of tribute his mother did him up like Nic Nat and posted it on social media. That’s where the trouble started.

It came as absolutely no surprise to me to learn that this woman had been pilloried for her act of black-face. It was deemed as insensitive and racist. This is where Nic Nat came in. He’s a gentle soul, and tread gently. He wouldn’t judge her, instead, as his tweet retrospectively made clear, saw it as an issue of education. As he inferred, once upon a time he’d have seen it as a bit of fun, but now he knew better. Now he was educated.

I felt sad. What has the world come to when we need ‘education’, when a boy dresses up to be just like his hero? Who hasn’t done that? Who hasn’t raced around the back-yard or basketball court pretending to be James Hird or Michael Jordan or Gilly? How many people will you see today wearing jerseys with famous numbers and names on them? A kid of 8 or 9 should be immune of the controversy this has sparked. He has love in his heart. He wants just to express that, and be part of what that means – instead he is the subject of controversy, and his poor, devoted mum shouted down.

Some years ago I wrote a post about blackface at a time of great controversy. Like most Australians at that time I was ignorant of the racial background of blackface. I was ‘educated’ by American friends on the subject, and in the time since have come to realise that I was naive. I defended people who had done something without racial motivation, unaware that they would offend. They were innocent (I believed) in their hearts, but I accept that racism is in the receiving, not the giving. It’s not for me to judge what is racist if the subject of it feels it so. I have modified my perspective.

I feel now that it’s gone too far. Much of what is deemed discriminatory has virtually been codified in recent years. I think we need to reclaim some middle ground and defuse the innocuous acts that cause offence now, when they never did before. Most of all, a boy should be allowed to be a boy.

We live in an era of polarised views. In Oz, and much of the world I think, there are the ratbags who see anyone different as a threat, and demonise them. It’s one of the forces driving Donald Trump, one of the great factors behind Brexit, and a reason why in Australia we have poor refugees rotting away in detention.

Opposed to them are the ‘noble’ liberals who decry racism and discrimination in general. Ostensibly I belong to that group, except I don’t want to, and I don’t feel it. Why?

I think I belong to a smaller group of people who think for themselves. One side is riven by irrational fear and anger, but the other controlled by noble platitudes and dogma. It’s as if we are being educated to beliefs without really knowing what or why they are. It’s like religion, where you learn the catechism and know the commandments and instructed this is how you must live and this is what you must believe and to question any of it is a betrayal of faith.

This is played out every day in our social media. There is reflex outrage to anything considered remotely inappropriate. These are mostly conditioned responses however, not reasoned objections. A trigger event – such as a kid in blackface – will unleash a torrent of abuse regardless of context. Context only matters when the perspective is reasoned, but reason has no more place in this dichotomy than it has in religion. Bull sees red rag, bull charges…

I can’t support that. I’m more sympathetic to the racist who can actually explain to me intelligently his racist reasoning than I am to the person opposing him who does so only because they know no better.  As it happens I think any intelligent person understands the folly of being racist, but being a non-racist doesn’t make you intelligent if you don’t know why.

There is widespread cynicism towards so-called political correctness. I share some of that. I think we have gone nanny state in some ways, and often that there’s a lack of authenticity in what is considered appropriate behaviour. It’s no wonder there’s a reaction when so much of it is hectoring and superior. Dumb as it might be, it drives some into the other camp.

Somewhere in the middle is me. I happy to think and assess. I want my opinions to be my opinions, and not those handed to me by others. I’m passionate about critical thinking, dying art that it is.

Most that is wrong in the world today is because of unthinking conformity. It makes kids strap bombs to their bodies and in others swear unthinking fealty to the words of a prophet, or of Jesus, or a Donald Trump. It turns racism into a mob event, just because, and opposition to it into a crusade, just because.

To make it clear: racism (etc) should be opposed, but understand why it must be opposed. Because it’s wrong is not good enough a reason. Why is it wrong? What makes it so? Just knowing it is makes it a vacuous belief. This is true of anything. Believe with intelligence, reason, and discretion.

To return to the kid dressing up as Nic Nat. It’s sad that Nic Nat himself has been ‘educated’ to believe he shouldn’t approve of a little boy doing this. It’s like he’s been told what to feel and think – when the truth is to just and feel and think for yourself. Too much ‘education’ can be a bad thing.

Forget the cant and politics. In the end it’s just a boy paying tribute to his hero – and that’s how it should be viewed. That’s the context – a loving mum, a loving kid, and a tribute to the man he adores. What’s wrong with that?


My brilliant career

What happened this week is that I sent an email to HR on Wednesday enquiring after my job application. They responded by saying that they had never received it. A telephone conversation ensued in which I made clear that I had submitted my application about 3 weeks ago, and confirmed it by sending them a dated document. They said sorry, didn’t get it, there’ll be another job listed soon but you’re out of the running for this one.

I made clear my displeasure. The application process is clicking a link and uploading the relevant docs. Look, I know these things can fail. I’m not happy about it, but shit happens. What I was particularly unimpressed about was the intractable attitude HR took. Applications closed 2 weeks ago and regardless of circumstances if mine wasn’t received by then, then I wouldn’t be considered. End of story.

I grumbled about it, but didn’t make too big a deal on the basis that I didn’t want queer future applications. Like it or not, politics plays a big part, and you don’t want to put offside the people making the decision on you. I left work feeling bitter though, and not a little trapped, and on the way home beat up an old lady. I felt better after that and came to work Thursday feeling almost carefree.

Then yesterday the HR lady contacts me again out of the blue. Can you send us your CV please? And your application again? Soon?

No explanation, and I wasn’t about to tempt fate by asking for one, and so sent off the docs she was after.

What I reckon has happened is that my manager spoke to her manager who spoke to someone in HR and hey presto, applications are open again, just for me. I don’t hold high hopes of it. I figure it’s probably tokenistic and that I’ll be at the bottom of the list of candidates, even assuming they haven’t yet short-listed.

Then as I’m leaving work last night I notice a SMS had come through from a friend. He had been speaking to an IT manager at one of the iconic Australian brands who was looking for a BA. My friend mentioned me, and upon request sent me the phone number of the IT guy to speak to. I called and it went through to voicemail, and left a message. I think it inappropriate and rude to call people on work matters in their own time, so I’ll try again Monday.

From the job description I’m not a perfect fit for the role, but a personal recommendation counts for a lot.

Conform & comply

I nearly chucked a sickie yesterday. It was Monday morning and I dreaded going into work. I lay in bed a long while considering it. It’s not really my thing, but it could be argued that I was justified in taking a ‘mental health day’. Mondays I’m depressed.

I went into work and did my shift. It was worse than usual in some ways as they re-organised desks on Friday so that now I’m isolated and away from my work buddies. It was quiet and solemn. They really have no idea about group dynamics, as my buddies were equally effective. The one solace in doing such a dreary job are the people you work with – take that away…

I know I have to last, but I don’t see how. I hope for something more to develop, as has been promised, but I’m sceptical also. That’s what keeps me going, but if it doesn’t happen I don’t know what happens to me.

It’s not just the dull nature of the work, it’s the fact that everything is so regulated. There’s no room for independent thought. At every stage of the day you’re directed to do this and do that, and get in trouble if you stray from it. That’s foreign to me. I’m initiative personified (though it might be called other things). I’m still stubbornly independent in personality and behaviour – I push back – but am forced to conform.

How do people make a career of this? I was speaking to the big manager a few weeks ago at some function. We spoke about the industry. He was candid enough to admit that industry attracts  certain type, who are happy to conform and comply. They don’t want to have to do more, and don’t want to think more than they have to. It was depressing, though it confirmed what I already believed.

I’m not like that, but here I work.

It will change, but when?


Subcontinent woes

During the week Australia lost the Sri Lanka test series in a clean sweep to the hosts 3-0. We were outclassed and often out of our depth, and that can happen, but there was much inexcusable. Any way you look at it it was a debacle, and I have to comment.

There are serious questions about technique against spin bowlers and playing on slow tracks, and it will take some time, and perhaps a shift in perspective, to rectify that. What can be fixed now, and should never have been allowed in the first place, is the selection policies.

To start with I thought it was a strange test squad selected. All the incumbents got picked, and fair enough, but then the protracted NSW bias saw O’Keefe and Henriques added to the squad. O’Keefe was actually reasonable before he got injured, but the argument for Henriques eludes me altogether.

Henriques is a handy cricketer capable of special moments at domestic level. He’s played for a Australia a few times previously, but without distinction. He’s been around a while and in fact finished the summer badly injured. On the back of that he gets selected ahead of better credentialed options, and in a role – of all-rounder – where we don’t need back-up with Mitch Marsh a better player.

I’ve got nothing against Henriques, I just don’t think he deserved to be in the squad. I’d have had someone like Maxwell – an excellent and aggressive player of spin, and handy part-time spinner himself – ahead of him. Or half a dozen others, depending on whether you wanted to go batting or bowling (and if it had to be an all-rounder then why not an up and comer like Stoinis?).

So we lost the first test playing most of the regulars, but with two spinners, one of whom, O’Keefe, got injured halfway through. Without a back-up option in the squad they had to fly one in from Oz. Much conjecture over who that might be, but in the end they opted for John Holland, an experienced, but journeyman leg-spinner.

This was another opportunity missed. Again, nothing against Holland, but he’s not a long-term prospect and he’s never been more than a capable bowler. He’ll never play for Australia again, but he got his opportunity when the selectors might have made a bolder choice.

Me, I’d have selected Adam Zampa. He’s young, he’s aggressive and confident, and he has an excellent temperament. His Sheffield Shield record is modest, but he’s shown a lot in the short form domestically, and for Australia, and that he is very clever and an occasional match-winner. He’ll almost certainly play for Australia at some point, and this would have been a great opportunity to blood him. But not to be.

Incidentally, regarding spinners, I just have to say this after bottling it up for so long – is Nathan Lyon must be one of the most overrated players ever to pull on a baggy green. I hear people describe him as Australia’s best ever offie (statistically, he has the most wickets), but in my time he wouldn’t get within a bull’s roar of someone like Tim May, and Ashley Mallett was a far superior bowler. When it counts Lyon has been shown up again and again, and it’s telling that while his Sri Lankan counterparts were breaking records Lyon was barely threatening.

So we lose the second test too, and now there are rumbles about changing the team, which they do. Joe Burns is dropped. It’s a reasonable call because he was all over the shop. Marsh is brought in to replace him, which is reasonable too. Marsh was unlucky to lose his place in the first place, and had scored a century against Sri Lanka previously – and did again this match. That’s a tick.

Then they drop Usman Khawaja. He’d been better than Burns, but not great, but few had been. So okay, drop him if there’s a better option you can bring in. Except there isn’t a better option in the squad, and so they bring in Henriques, an all-rounder. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Really, what we need is another specialist batsman, but there isn’t one in the squad (selection…), and they won’t bring one in from outside. So Henriques it is.

If it was me I’d have re-shuffled the batting order. Drop Khawaja to 4 or 5 – he still has about 5 times the class of Henriques, and capable of winning a match off his own bat. Or else fuck it, fly someone in – why not Handscombe, another protegé, and excellent player of spin? But again, not to be.

The pace attack is led by Starc and Hazlewood. Starc was monumental. He must be close to the best bowler in the world right now, and almost single-handedly took it up to the Lankans. Hazlewood had been disappointing, economical, but ineffectual. On flat tracks he lacks penetration, and in his short career shown a propensity to trail off as a series progresses – and a tour to Sri Lanka is one of the toughest going around. He’d been reduced to a plodder, and I’d have replaced him with the other quick in the squad, Bird. That didn’t happen either.

In the last test Oz put up a fight before ultimately folding. Marsh got a hundred, but Henriques didn’t score 10 runs for the match, and hardly bowled. Hazlewood did nothing, and Holland, as in the previous test, picked up a couple of wickets for persistence and not guile. Australia outclassed.

So that’s the selectors. Now to the captaincy.

I should preface this by admitting I’ve never warmed to Steve Smith. He’s a prodigious talent, but there’s something about him that unsettles me. And his alleged leadership and captaincy skills are way overrated.

He scored a hundred in the third test too, and was the best of our batsmen over the series, but poor by his standards. There’s no shame in that necessarily, but some of the decisions he made batting showed very poor leadership. As an on field tactician I see little evidence of the astute cricketing brain he was lauded for. Some of that is cricketing philosophy – we think differently about the game. But otherwise I find some decisions baffling.

Probably the thing that surprised me most over the series is the under-use of Mitch Marsh as a bowler. He can be hit and miss, but can also be very handy, and has a habit of picking up wickets.  With a flat deck and exhausting days in the field I’d have thought that Marsh would be an integral member of the bowling attack. Except he wasn’t. Then in the last test, and despite this, we double on the all-rounders with Henriques coming in, and he too barely gets a bowl.

Look, I hope this result shakes things up. I’m of the view that Australian batting has drifted away from the attacking principles of yesteryear when it comes to facing spin bowling. We used to be known for using our feet, but seemingly that’s gone out of fashion, with rare exceptions. I think that should be a focus of training the young batsmen coming through – dance down the pitch and get to the pitch of the ball. Not many spin bowlers enjoy that.

I think selection should be on a horses for courses approach. The fact is that some batsmen are hopeless playing spin. Why play them against spin bowlers then? Until you get better at it you’re out.

Which is the last point really. Many of our problems in recent years have stemmed from the homogenous, flat pitches prepared around the country. They lack personality and they favour the batsmen. Unfortunately our domestic batsmen don’t get the chance to play on genuinely seam friendly pitches, or spin, or seam. They’re not really challenged and they don’t really learn, and score cheap runs that is shown up when they’re forced to play in authentically tough conditions. They haven’t had the practice.

Anyway, that’s my rant.

Stick it up ’em

All I want to say is that yesterday brought the best news for a long time. I don’t write about it a lot these days, but I’m still a passionate supporter of the Essendon Football Club. Like so many I remain steadfast and determined that we should rise again. Like so many the events of recent years have left me bitter and cynical, but I’m inspired to overcome that. Stick it up ’em, sums up my attitude.

It’s an apt sentiment after Michael Hurley re-signed yesterday for a 5 year extension of his contract, after being widely (and happily) reported that he would walk. I was always pretty confident he would stay – everyone else so far, and he’s a very loyal, heart and soul kind of player. The news yesterday is a huge poke in the eye to the rabble who represent the AFL media, and a great fillip for the club.

This year could have been completely disastrous. It hasn’t been what you would have hoped, but after the events of February better than it could have been. In fact it’s been a reasonably positive year.

We’ve only won 2 games, but we’ve played with spirit and passion. More importantly the young players on the list have been exposed to top level competition and come along in leaps and bounds. The blended team next year – the current and the returning – will be a formidable unit, and there’s good reason to expect meaningful success in the next few years.

I don’t forget what’s happened. I still yearn for justice, or even truth, but I’m sceptical we’ll ever have it. The ban on the players was the result of a manipulated decision. It was contrived to set a precedent, regardless of the merits of the case. We were set-up from day one, and the players in particular, and the club more generally – and us, the supporters – have been made to feel the consequences.

Well the best revenge is to stay strong, and to achieve success. We’re well on the way to that, and the signing of Hurley is an indication of things to come. Despite all, we’re on the way up. Let the haters hate. It’s a small man’s pleasure. And then lets rub their noses in it.

Doubting H

It seems appropriate to be listening to Latin music while the Rio Olympics are on. It’s an eclectic mix, and much of it is Bossa Nova and Brazilian jazz. Great stuff, and a favourite playlist for intimate encounters.There’s nothing intimate about what I’m doing now. I’m at work, driving through the pile of jobs, one earbud in, the other free to listen for anyone calling my name.

I used to be disdainful of listening to music at work. I was much more a purist then. To me it indicated a lack of commitment, and a form of cheating. I was right, which is why I’m now listening to music while I’m working. The work is not challenging enough for the distraction to be an issue.

I was informed yesterday that processing of my application for the role here would be delayed because the HR person responsible has taken leave. It seemed hardly surprising somehow. Applications closed Friday. She’s gone for the next two weeks. Frustrating, but deal with it.

The other part of that conversation was about sourcing other opportunities here because they ‘know what you’re capable of’. In other words, they’re willing to actively advocate for me – in theory anyway. The first part of that is with meeting with the manager here to discuss. That’s fine, but until it happens I’m a sceptic.

I’m sorry if I sound like a doubting Thomas, but I’ve learnt not to expect or hope too much. I dislike it, but it’s prudent. I get a lot of phone calls and emails and seemingly great opportunities presented to me, only for every single one of them to come up zilch. More often than not they just peter out, disappear. One day they’re as keen as mustard, a day later they’re not answering calls.

It’s the nature of the market these days – lots of maybe jobs that don’t eventuate, or which get filled internally, or transmogrify into something different, or are put on perpetual hold. It’s the nature of the industry too, which is essentially insincere and opportunistic.

It may turn out different here, but this time I have to deal with plain old human apathy and incompetence. That’s why I doubt, and sadly it’s the only sensible way to be.