Saturday, 1 March 2008

The Night the Lights Went Out In Bendigo

... and on our 2008 campaign if you ask me.

A hysterical reaction to an otherwise meaningless game in rural and regional Victoria? Perhaps, but to appreciate the full horror of our second half performance tonight you just had to be there. Maybe it was the strain of already having been to Geelong, attempting in vain to get any decent reports from the Cairns game, driving two hours to Bendigo and the prospect of a game in Cranbourne next Saturday that sent me a bit over the edge.

Anyway, this is how it all progressed;

We welcomed back a host of stars who hadn't been seen yet this season. Amongst them Neitz, Brock and Nathan Carroll who I half expected to make his entrance to "I Fought The Law" by The Clash and jump on the bonnet of the police car doing a pre-match lap of the oval before punching a German tourist in the face. Instead he opted to express himself through another ludicrous haircut. Which is, I suppose, the sensible thing to do. Speaking of haircuts I didn't even recognise Jamar at first. I thought he was ZOMGer or somebody else. Pre-season and I'm already losing the plot.

From the first bounce the opening minutes were an arm-wrestle. The Dogs had better chances, but they kept botching them. Key offender was Will Mince-on who had a couple of abysmal shots early on and then opted for a sideways pass when 50m out on a decent angle. This will not happen every week. Lloyd would have had 4 in the first five minutes tonight. Quentin Lynch would have had 1.8. Either way it's not good to play teams with decent forward lines, but get used to it kids.

Then, all of a sudden and against all odds, the Sexy Football Machine went into overdrive and we started slaughtering the dogs all over the ground. Nathan Jones was running riot in the centre, doing what he liked, and no matter what combination of ruckmen we tried (yes! even Mark "50 games and less than 5 average possessions" Jamar!" it worked a treat. Goals from Robbo, Neitz, Bate and Davey had us rocking. Weetra was showing a bit in the centre and between them Miller and Carroll were turning back anything that went inside the Footscray attacking 50. Bate added his second and we were 34-9 up and cruising.

Then the Dogs remembered what they were paid to be doing and decided to put some pressure on. Sexy football machine OFF, slop machine ON. There was one last bit of beauty with Jones finishing off a move started to by Davey to extend the margin to over thirty points but that was pretty much it. Suddenly balls started coming inside the defensive 50 again, and we started giving away free kicks and ludicrous 50m penalties to get the Dogs back into the game. Bode was particuarly stupid to give one away, and it did his game no favours because he was pretty bad in all aspects on the day.

After Jamar cleaned some peanut up the resulting free-kick down the ground put another goal on the board and before you knew it they were winning. Suddenly it was our side who were shitting themselves. Even Jones, who had been so dominant at first, was throwing handballs around to nobody. We were getting rorted in the centre of the ground by the umpires, but the ones that caused us to concede goals were generally there.

Pretty much the last highlight we had was Davey taking a handball with his back to goal and turning around 45m out and slotting it at the sleazy motel end of the ground. Neitz got one from a free inside 50 but the horse had already bolted. We lacked an absolute superstar to stand up in the middle and just grab the game by the throat. On the other hand the Dogs had Akermanis going nuts.

Paul Johnson did very little, but he did manage the most impressive dummy that I've ever seen a big man achieve. Running down the wing right in front of us he ran at his opponent, quickly switched the ball from one hand to another and back again and ran straight past. Awesome. Robbo goaled from a tricky kick but it was pretty much wasted. By this point Neitz had gone off - apparently rested not injured - and our forward line was left looking bereft of any inspiration. After the first quarter both Bate and Sylvia moved away from the forward line, and none of Jamar, White or Meesen could make a serious impact up front. Too much left to Davey.

Come the 4th quarter we turned the Slop-O-Meter up to eleven. Not only did we fail to do anything of any note with the ball but Robbo got himself reported for charging. Now, I'm not tribunal expert but I'd say he'll get away with a high points reprimand. This probably means he will get a life sentence on Devil's Island.

Then, as the fourth quarter wound to an end and the only interest was just how many goals the Dogs would pile on the lights went fizz and we were thrust into darkness. Did a shadowy Asian betting syndicate have money on Melbourne +40? Or didn't they put enough coins in the meter to cover four entire (albeit shortened) quarters? Whatever it was we were sadly denied scenes to rival the great Waverley Park fiasco when the lights went out and everyone burnt the goalposts down. I was hanging for it.

Incidentally this makes the second time that I've seen a match played for the Tynan Eyre Cup, and the second time that it has been abandoned. Is this a record? At least this time there was no old man in the announcers booth telling people to go home and think about what they'd done. Just an old man presenting the best on ground award to Jason Akermanis.

Then, err, I went home. What do you want me to do? Go out and enjoy the thriving nightlife? Catch the nightrider Bendigo tram to a throbbing gin palace and drinking myself into a coma? Bollocks to that. 154km of hot two-lane blacktop action was all that stood between me and civilisation. I was out of there ASAP. Goodbye Bendigo, see you next year.

Now, the reason I'm so depressed about this whole thing is not just because we lost and our last three quarters pre-blackout were utter trash. It's not because our paper-thin backline only looked because they were against an equally paper-thin forward line. It's not because I'm convinced we'll be the lowest scoring team in the competition. It's because when everything was going backwards barely anyone put their hand up to try and stem the tide. Davey was the only one who ran himself into the ground trying to get something going. Miller did well down back more out of necessity than inspiration, and the likes of Valenti, Jamar, Bate tried hard but there wasn't anyone there to do the job. Akermanis and Eagleton did for Footscray exactly what we needed somebody to do, and when their youngsters (especially the #20 who was gifted but nervous) started believing in themselves they cut us right up.

I don't rate the Dogs at all this year - especially in a season where there are only about four contenders for the spoon - and they're as much of one as we are. But on the strength of tonight's performance they're better than us. Maybe 15th instead of 16th, but that's a fair difference in the grand scheme of things. Apparently the #1 prospect for the draft next year is a gun. I don't care. I want some pride in my football club.

Morton was ok for us. He was getting it even if he wasn't using it particuarly well. He went hard, that's all you can ask for.

Goals
Bate 2, Robertson 2, Neitz 2, Davey 2, Jones

Notes from a scandal
* Footscray were listed on the scoreboard as "Western Bulldogs". We were "t Melbourne" because they'd just covered up the "Por" and used the card for the Borough instead. Why does the Queen Elizabeth Oval have a Western Bulldogs card and not a Melbourne one? Is that how far we've fallen? May as well shut the bloody club down now.

* Speaking of Queen Elizabeth how do we know which one it's named after. I know the country is generally a few years behind, but are they actually celebrating the reign of Queen Elizabeth I from 1558 to 1603? Let's hope so, football is in desperate need of some culture.

* The ground was neatly spit-roasted between a sleazy motel (not surprisingly entitled "The Oval") and a corker of a waterslide. It was not an unpleasant place to watch a game, even if the elevation anywhere other than the 20 seat grandstand was a maximum of about five feet meaning that you had no idea what was going on across the other side of the ground.

* Fans of the D-Generation's Late Show, and in particular the Commercial Crimestoppers segment, will be pleased to know that All Tools (who's ad it was decided featured 'all tools') is not only kicking on but also advertising at the ground. Sadly there was no time to go searching for the holy grail of all Commercial Crimestoppers stores, Sandhurst Machinery.

Crowd Watch
* I wasn't intending to stray into any tired cliches about country people wearing wifebeater singlets and/or flannel. Then I showed up and 2500 people were wearing either wifebeaters or flannel. I will say no more. Terrifyingly, from some angles Cale Morton appeared to be sporting a rats tail which one can only assume was some sort of twisted tribute to local fashion.

* For some reason there were a bunch of kids dressed in yellow who spent all pre-match cheering for "yellow" and then sat there in silence for four quarters when the game started. Idiots.

* Speaking of kids I don't think there was a child under the age of 18 in Bendigo tonight who wasn't there. 95% of them unsupervised and running around making idiots of themselves. Justice was served when one of them fell off his skateboard and on his arse. Skateboards at footy games. Just fuck right off now. I tell you what there were a lot of parents who shipped the kids off to the footy so they could stay in and have a dirty night. For one night only QEO rivalled The Neverland Ranch for unsupervised child behaviour.

* The contrast between the "wet" and "dry" areas was remarkable. The pissheads may have been lovely people, but they looked like the Bradley John Murdoch Apprecation Society. During the fourth quarter a fight started behind the goals we were (not very well) defending. This led to a massive charge by the aforementioned children, as well as the fattest security guard ever employed. He not so much charged as ambled in ten minutes later once the rest of the ground had beaten him to the action.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre Season Performance Votes

The best thing is that because most of the newspapers will never actually write a legitimate report I can pretty much put anything in here and you'll believe it. Let's just say I struggled after the first three.

5 - Davey
4 - Miller
3 - Jones
2 - Valenti
1 - Bate (struggling...)

Leaderboard

11 - Jones
8 - Davey
5 - Buckley
5 - Newton
5 - Valenti
4 - Miller
3 - Sylvia
2 - Garland
1 - Johnson
1 - Bate

Next Week
North Melbourne in Cranbourne on Saturday. I might have a scotch beforehand. This season is depressing me already. Let's compare and contrast the performance of the backline with tonight when Thompson and Edwards are thrown into the mix. In my humble opinion a decent season by the backline is all that stands between us finishing 10th or bottom. We are going to struggle to kick goals, and by the looks of it our 'superstar' midfield is going the same way as our 'much vaunted' forward line of the 90's which looked good on paper but rarely ever did any freaking thing.

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