I swear, this is the last time I’ll write about the so called Essendon drugs saga. I’ve had enough of it to. But though it is officially resolved – for now – I’m sure we’ll come back to it again and again.
It’s the biggest story ever in AFL football, and one of the biggest in Australian sport. There will be books written on the subject, and I’m pretty sure a movie or mini-series will be made of it. Up to a couple of weeks ago I anticipated a production with an ultimately satisfying resolution. I didn’t necessarily expect redemption all neatly packaged up with a Hollywood bow, but at the very least thought there would be sufficient ambiguity to leave the viewer with an open mind at least. That may happen, but for now it seems overshadowed by the awful whack Essendon got. I should have known better.
It’s been a kind of sport casting this production. The central figure in the drama, for example, James Hird, has been suggested as a role variously for Brad Pitt, Matthew McConaughey, and Bradley Cooper. I sort of had the feature in mind in the weeks leading to the climax. In the terrible week that was last week I imagined in the Hollywood version the players taking to the field in the aftermath of that, roundly dismissed by the commentators, a laughing stock to the rank and file of opposition supporters. In the Hollywood version, as in life, the club would come up against its most bitter and despised opponent, Carlton.
You know what happens in the Hollywood version: against the odds and all expectation the underdog rallies, comes from behind, and wins a stirring victory, with the whiff of redemption in the air. Oh for Hollywood endings! In the film of course this would be the symbolic turning of the tide, the unexpected onfield victory heralding a come from behind win off of it.
Life aint Hollywood. Still, just per the script, half of that story was realised.
I wasn’t there to see it. I had to work and didn’t get home until after the game had started. We went into the back of four awful losses. We’d had a week when the club as a whole had been pilloried across the land. A siege mentality was in force. Up against us was Carlton, a team with whom we share a mutual hatred. How apt it was we were playing them.
Nothing would please Carlton more, both club and supporters, than the opportunity to kick us while we’re down. I actually had a Carlton friend relishing the game for that very reason – she wanted to be there to see it. It’s not particularly savoury, but I understand.
Adding piquancy to this particular match were two other facts. The Carlton coach, Mick Malthouse, had been quite vocal with the press basically saying that the AFL shouldn’t hold back in punishing us. Bit of a no-no I would have thought, but there was an ulterior motive perhaps – which brings us to the second of the facts.
All throughout this saga all manner of penalties have been mooted. Most persistent was the prospect of stripping points from the club. With Essendon set to play finals football, a penalty like that would directly benefit Carlton, sitting in 9th position. Again, a tad unsavoury, but if Essendon gets kicked out then Carlton (at this point), would take our place.
That was the situation going into the game. It was not a match that reached great heights, but Essendon scrapped hard throughout. Nonetheless Carlton were in a winning position three-quarters of the way through, which is what everyone expected.
Then came the Hollywood rally. Like so many times this year we came from well behind. We did it against Carlton the last time we played, and once more, to their disgrace, we were able to embarrass them.
Four last quarter goals to nothing as the crowd roared and the doubting Thomas’ in the commentary booth got excited. Withstanding and overcoming the accumulated pressure of so many months the team won a great and famous victory.
In the movie version that’s just about the happy ending. Not this time. The song was sung in rousing fashion. Supporters across the land allowed themselves to hope again. Perhaps we might get through this.
By Tuesday night this week the Hollywood ending was officially trashed. In hindsight its apparent what so many said was the case, that the verdict and the penalty had been determined even before the case was put. We got whacked. Yes, despite a brave win, out of the finals. A fine, draft picks, and suspensions, including James Hird – or Bradley Cooper if you prefer. It was bitterly fought, and went down badly, but seems now a battle we were never going to win.
I’m disappointed on so many levels, but think, in time, the truth will leak out, and some vindication will gradually become apparent. James will be back, as he must be – and what a day that will be. Till then we have to stay strong. We have a team, despite the penalties, that has shown it can be a contender. I think this will make them stronger.
We’ve survived the maelstrom, life goes on. Tomorrow I’ll be there to show my support, for Hirdy, for the brave players, for the club itself. I won’t forget what the AFL has done, and relationship is now broken. It is for many others too, I know. Perhaps, in time, we might get some small and quiet semblance of that Hollywood ending. A premiership next year would do me – success, after all, is the best revenge.