1/4 time lead

Picture this: a middle-aged man sitting behind the reception desk of a massage shop in a busy street. It’s a cool day with sunshine breaking through the clouds. Inside the shop anodyne massage style music plays as if on a loop. No-one comes in. The phone rings twice, but one of the calls was from a recorded message. I sit here squinting at the screen of the shop laptop. As per everyday I am here I spend much of my time surfing the net looking for a diversion from the monotony of the day. Today though, is slightly different.

I’ve only posted occasionally about the ongoing drama about ASADA, the AFL, and my football club, Essendon. I have strong views on this, as do most loyal Essendon supporters. It’s fair to say this is a topic that has captivated the sporting, media and legal aficionado’s for Melbourne. For most it is a topic of fascination, and occasional ridicule. For the likes of me it’s just about life or death.

Though it’s not reflected in my posts here, or even in my social media utterances, I’m fully across this saga and follow it with rapt interest from day-to-day, minute to minute. If I were not a supporter I would still find it absolutely fascinating. As a supporter I’ve felt aggrieved for over a year now at what I felt to be a perversion of the process of justice. In essence that the club was rail-roaded by the AFL to protect its interests (and select arses), and that James Hird was made a scapegoat of.

For much of the wider sporting community this line of thinking has been treated with scorn. People like me have been called ‘Essendon ‘truthers’; and much worse. We’ve been seen as deluded, blinded by our love for the club and faith in our toppled coach. The funny thing is though that in the face of pretty damning accusations the faithful have rallied to the club. This episode has galvanised the support base and made them ask of themselves what they believe. For the majority they have felt their love for all things Essendon to be affirmed with a fervour perhaps not felt for some years. A situation like this divides the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. We have resoundingly found ourselves to be in the ‘us’ camp.

On Friday there was some vindication of that faith when documents were published revealing the level of corruption in the process. In short a (potentially illegal) joint investigation between ASADA and the AFL used powers they were not entitled to coerce testimony from players and club officials. They contrived a verdict and an outcome and doctored up the report to achieve that end – all this is revealed in direct quotes from the participants. They were at pains to leave out what did not suit their narrative, and to sex up some of the results – for example the scary concept of injections was beefed up when they found the actual number of supplement injections was disappointingly low. They decided to add in multi-vitamin injections to make it appear much more sinister. A level of political interference was also revealed.

It has to be said that the whole investigation has been farcical and seemingly incompetent virtually from the get go. Even the most critical of Essendon seem to have come to that view. It’s actually embarrassing that a federal agency would be so incompetent in pursuit of their essential purpose. Unfortunately the political angle on this clouded their way forward – joining with the AFL, whilst trying to serve their political masters. Somewhere along the line due process and basic justice was lost.

It’s now at the stage where what so many of us Essendon ‘truthers’ claimed now seems to be true. That will never be accepted by many, but the moderate, reasonable majority have been exposed to the flaws and manipulation within the investigation. Both the AFL and ASADA come out of this looking very bad; and there is now some level of understanding of our position.

Starting this morning was the case between the EFC and ASADA to rule whether the joint investigation with the AFL was legal or not. If it is ruled illegal then everything is off the table, and the investigation basically invalidated. If it is allowed then the show cause notices remain in place. My suspicion is that the judge will rule against ASADA, but allow them to pick up the pieces. I think that will be moot regardless. It seems that ASADA have no evidence of note and have been attempting to bully the players into making admissions. That hasn’t happened, and in the absence of real evidence, and in consideration of time spent and additional expense required, it’s my guess this whole thing will peter out.

That’s not yet the case, however, which brings me to this morning, sitting here behind the reception desk of a massage shop surfing the net. I went from site to site, hitting refresh every so often to get commentary on the court proceedings.

On one page I watched the live feed from the courtroom. QC’s in their formal regalia stood and presented their opening arguments. On the Essendon side there were three, one each for the club, the players, and the coach, James Hird. For ASADA there was just one.

I watched and listened as they made their statements, fascinated and bemused all at the same time. To make some sense of it I would check and refresh my twitter feed every few minutes. And for uneducated barracking I would visit the fan forum I am part of and occasional contributor to. As it could be expected that was rife with comment and speculation, both positive and doom and gloom. Truly, such sites are a fascinating insight into human nature.

You could call my morning unproductive, except even without this diversion there would have been nothing to do. More accurately my morning was precisely distracting. I was happy there was nothing else to do.

So where is it at? In the vernacular of the sport, I’d say we went into the quarter time break with a 2 goal lead. As always though, there’s a lot of game to go, and a lot can happen.

Royal blood

Many years ago it seems now, I used to go to the footy and watch a stellar collection of players represent the team I barrack for, Essendon. In the the eighties they were a great team that enjoyed much success. I was there every step of the way, from the outer at Windy Hill to the grandeur of the MCG. I roared and cheered and cursed and lived by the fortunes of the team. I had a lot of favourite players, but my favourite probably was Tim Watson.

In a team chock-full of legendary players Tim – or Timmy – Watson was probably the most popular of all. He made his debut in 1977 when he was just 15, the second youngest on record. He was a dynamic player even then, big and strong for his age, a mop of floppy air, with the dash and exuberance of a kid who doesn’t know any different. He captured the imagination of supporters of all clubs. Over time he developed into one of the best players in the competition. His was a rare, but prized combination of gifts. He was big, but he was also quick. Anyone quick enough to catch him – and there were few – weren’t strong enough to hold him; those strong enough to stop him had no chance of catching him. He was skilled and fearless and charismatic. He was exciting to watch, capable of breaking a game open within a few minutes of dynamic play, and features in many iconic moments of the club. He grew into a good looking man, articulate, and a natural leader who eventually became captain.

In a team of truly great players – some all-time greats – he was close to the best, if not the best: Simon Madden was pretty good too. Like a lot of great careers his had a narrative swoop – a knee injury took him off the ground for over a year, only to return even better. He retired after the disappointment of 1990, then made a comeback as in the fairy-tales, to play in the 1993 premiership. He won 4 B&F’s, an AFL players award for the best player in the comp (1989), a few media awards along the way, and played in three premierships. He even won a father of the year award back in 1993 – how apt that seems now. Now he is a media figure, affable, articulate, and the father of Jobe Watson.

It’s that last label which may now stick longest, for last night Jobe did was his father was never able to do: he won the Brownlow medal for the best player in the league.

Jobe is a very different player to his dad. He shares his size – about 190cm – but has none of his father’s raw power or speed. His gifts are much less obvious, and have been honed by hard work rather than being gifted to him. His success is the product of character, as much as it is of soft hands and a quick mind. He has been a very good player for a number of years now, and captain of the club for the last few. He is an outstanding man as well as player, a leader voted best in the comp by his peers, and steadfast in the face of the greatest challenges. This medal is just reward for that.

It was no surprise that he won last night. Watching the season unfold it looked like he had a grip on it from very early on. I think he has a lot more ahead of him, though I’m still not convinced that he is better than his dad. I might change my mind in a year or two.

It’s always strange to watch the offspring of great sportsmen take the field. Many fail, but a surprising amount become champions in their own right. As a supporter you feel a sense of kinship different from the other players in the team, as if you are watching club royalty. Jobe was born to it, the son of a club legend who spent many of his childhood years playing around the club. You watch a player like him come on the scene and you think, well I remember his dad. There is that automatic attachment.

While Jobe might play different from his dad, it’s clear that he is his father’s son. Jobe is very different from the stereotypical boofhead AFL footballer (eg last years winner, Dane Swan). He is articulate, thoughtful, intelligent, humble without being false, a thoroughly decent person. It’s a credit to his family, to whom he is openly grateful and affectionate. It’s almost inspiring to see that, simple as it might seem. I watched last night as Jobe responded in his calm and sincere way to the questions put to him, and the open and unaffected way that he answered, the big, kind eyes. In the audience Tim looked on, looking very proud, and his wife – Jobe’s mum – Suzie beside him, one of the great partnerships it seems.

What a loving and supportive family, I thought. What a great example. How lucky we are to have someone like this win the medal, and what a great role-model he is.

I have in my collection of football memorabilia a VHS tape with the highlights of Tim Watson’s career. There’s an interview with Tim that must be from the early nineties, with a very young Jobe by his side. Tim was affable and easygoing, Jobe cute and clearly adored his dad. Strange to think that 20 years on it’s now Jobe who has the spotlight, and a great win it is, not just for Essendon, or football, but for decent values.