Back in the game

Real footy starts again tonight. It’s an eagerly anticipated moment every year. I’m hanging out for it.

This year there’s more reason than usual to be excited. For the first time in more than 2 years my team, Essendon, go into the season without a shadow hanging over them. On Monday they were cleared by the AFL Tribunal of taking illegal supplements. It’s a decision that may well be appealed by ASADA – you wouldn’t put anything past them, nor their zany head Ben McDevitt – but I suspect that would be fruitless even if they did. 

What this means is that the players, after two incredibly tough years, enter the season with the weight lifted from their shoulders. They have excelled throughout even with this burden. They’ve earned the admiration of all but the most bitter of football supporters. They’ve made finals both years even carrying this burden. The hope is that free of it they might just fly. It’s certainly a possibility, and they have the team for it, but football is a funny game.

 The weight has also been lifted from long-suffering Essendon supporters. It’s funny what a thing like this does. There’s a lot of talk about how challenges like this galvanise a group. That’s true of the team, the club to some degree, and certainly the supporting group. 

 Supporting my football team has always been a private, personal thing for me. I’m intent on the game. It’s very rare that I go to the footy with anyone else, and that’s fine by me. I post on a supporters forum, but even so that’s purely about the team function and dynamics. I’m not interested in gossip or social aspects. I suspect I come across as knowledgeable, but aloof. 

 Having said that let me say how much admiration I have for those thousands of Essendon supporters who have stuck so passionately by the club. I’m not given to displays of emotion, but I find myself feeling pride at the steadfast manner in which we supporters have stood by the team, and very publicly, by our coach, James Hird – #standbyHird.

 An experience like this creates a bond. Once we were just another group of football supporters, separated by our club allegiance and the colours we wore. In the last couple of years we have become separated from the rest of the competition by virtue of our commitment and support of our club. At a time when much of the football world, as well as the scurrilous hounds of the media have been against us, we have stood together, united by our belief in team and coach. It’s bred an us against them mentality, which is no bad thing in my book.

 I’m amazed, and heartened, by the defiant attitude of our supporters. A lesser club would have buckled under the pressure. Our club has been battered and bruised, yet it comes out of this saga with something more than it went into it with. 

 This has been a proofing experience. We’ve been through the fire, and survived. Supporters have been made to question the nature of their support. The majority have confirmed their support, and taken up arms in defence of it. What was once something that was taken for granted has been tested and made real by the experience. We’re different now, but better for it.

 This is what happens in life – there will be challenges, but the challenges make our life, and form the people we become. Life is meaningless without challenges, but much richer when we meet and overcome them. It happens at an individual level; it’s our experience now that we have done it at a communal level.

 I haven’t always been a supporter of club administration throughout this, but I’ve been behind the players all the way, and Hird. I think what has happened is a travesty of the judicial process, which says a lot about Australian society today. Like many, regardless of club allegiance, I view ASADA as a joke, and their head McDevitt as an erratic and dangerous fool. He does no credit to the organisation he heads. 

 In the eyes of many we’ll always be guilty, because they want to believe it so. Haters are gonna hate. So be it. I have no interest in them. They can choke on their bile for all I care. I’m confident in the fullness of time the truth will come out. And I hope there comes a time when we can even the score with some in the media, and outside it. 

 In the meantime the season proper begins. That’s our playing field now. Let’s show them what we’re made of. Fly, Bombers, fly…


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