Go well James

When I left for work yesterday morning there was an ambulance idling in the driveway outside my next door neighbours. In the street was another MICA ambulance. I don’t know what had happened and I’m not about to knock on the door to ask, but I suspect it might be the next door neighbour’s father who is ill. She’s from England and her parents are out here visiting. I met them in the week off and discovered that her father had been ill on Christmas day and beyond. It may be coincidental, but regardless it’s a foreboding sight to walk out your front door and find an ambulance sitting there. You hope for the best.

Then, coming from work yesterday a little before 6 I got an SMS from a friend. “Have you heard about James Hird?” She wrote. “He’s been taken to hospital with an overdose.”

I hadn’t heard, and I was both shocked and reluctant to engage when I heard. When you’re an Essendon person you learn to be circumspect. I asked a couple of questions nonetheless, and then rushed home to get the lowdown. I still don’t know the full details, and outside of his

I still don’t know the full details, and outside of his family I don’t know if anyone does. We know he was rushed to hospital on Wednesday night with a medical condition. He was in overnight, released, but apparently is now in a private clinic. Rumour mill said drug overdose, the inference being that it was not an accident.

I don’t like to speculate in these circumstances. He’s been subject to innuendo and speculation for years on end, and it seems certain to continue for a while yet. As I write this the same journalists who stalked him mercilessly through the saga are once more camped out on his front lawn. The only difference this time is that most, quite hypocritically, are expressing sympathy.

The news floored me. I could understand completely, yet it numbed me, and I felt affected by it all night. Long before Forget about the saga, James Hird has always been an idol of mine – a fantastic footballer with extraordinary ability, articulate, intelligent, graceful and tremendously courageous – as well as one of the toughest you’ll ever see. I mourned for him as an idol; then I mourned him as a terrible victim of the saga. If a man like Hird can be so affected – and we still don’t know if that’s true – then it speaks volumes for the trials he has been subjected to. It’s

Long before the saga James Hird was an idol of mine. As a footballer, he combined exquisite skill with courage; grace with determination; imagination with leadership. There have been few better footballers than Hird in the history of the game, and less still with such a match-winning ability. That was on the field. Off the field, he was an articulate, intelligent, learned man, very much the antithesis of the stereotypical footballer. Both on the field and off it he was one of the mentally toughest dudes you’ll ever encounter.

Last night I mourned for him as an idol; then I mourned him as a terrible victim of the saga. If a man like Hird can be so affected – and we still don’t know the truth of it – then it speaks volumes for the trials he has been subjected to. But nor is it surprising really. Few public figures have been so vilified as James Hird has been in these last 5 years. Every man and his dog have had a go at him. Much of the abuse has been vile and personal, as if the very idea of James Hird roused in people latent rabid hostility. I’ve long believed, before any of this, that much of the vitriol cast his way was born of a kind of envy. James Hird was just too good to be true, and so had to be brought down a peg or two. Then the saga validated that.

The saga made it okay to be an absolute flog. The news broke and it was open season on James Hird, even though he was peripheral made, as even the court documents attest (not that people are much interested in facts. As we know, we now live in a post-fact world, and it’s been like that for longer than you think).

There’s no point in re-hashing the salient points of the saga, if only because no-one is much interested in the salient points – it’s the vibe that matters, and that’s what James and his players were convicted on. As the coach of the team Hird copped the brunt of that. He maintained innocence throughout (and I’m convinced nothing illicit was taken), but was never given the opportunity to prove it. He was outmanoeuvred by the Machiavellian politicking of the AFL, slandered by the brute disregard of the media, and ultimately betrayed by the corrupt finagling of ASADA and WADA. Hird was the fall guy, and his fall from grace was violent.

Once he was an idol, admired and respected. Now his once grand reputation is in tatters and he is held in disrepute. It’s awful, but very much a sign of the times we live in.

If these reports are to believed he’s a fragile state now, and who can blame him? As an Essendon man, I want him to know he’s not alone, and there are thousands more like me whose belief in his integrity and character has not wavered. The collective hearts of Essendon supporters – and many who are not – go out to him. I wish there was something I could do to show that; something to remind him that he is loved and respected still by those who know him best.

While I feel great sorrow and sympathy for him, I have nothing but contempt for the jackals responsible for this. That’s many in the media, opportunists in politics and bureaucracy, and key figures in the AFL hierarchy like Gill McLachlan who sold James down the river because they needed a victim.

It’s time for people to take responsibility for their actions. James Hird is a husband and father as well as public figure. When you so carelessly take aim at him you also target the pure and innocent. That can’t be forgiven, and never absolved. The hypocrisy now as they wring their hands is sickening, but they still hound his family. He is news, then and now, the only difference is how they report it. There has to be a reckoning, and no amount of hypocrisy will make it right.

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