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.


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