Monday 20 May 2013

An orderly retreat

Given the situation we're in it seems rude not to embrace a 34 point loss against a team inside the top eight (temporarily at least) like an old friend. Yes, losing by less than 10 goals is a major achievement for us at the moment but I'm not buying it until we see more of the same next week, and the week after that. I've been fooled by this team before, and I'm not getting roped in again until they can prove that it's more than a flash in the pan.

One relatively 'honourable' loss (and 'honourable' losses can get stuffed) to an at best fringe top eight side playing at about 75% does not instantly equal a revival, and while I don't think anybody thinks that this suddenly makes everything alright I don't think we should accept it unquestioningly as a great step forward either. There's nothing to celebrate in players doing what anybody getting paid to play sport professionally should be doing and put their heart and soul into it. It's one thing to be show up, tackle everything and be lively after pilloried by everyone to the point where even ex-Fitzroy people are complaining about being talked about in the same breath, but let's see what happens next week in Perth against a quality side who are going to slap a headlock on us 20 seconds in and squeeze until we turn purple. We might kick 5.5.35 and lose by 50 but if they show the same sort of fierce attack on the opposition again I'll accept that maybe we've gotten effort right and can move on to structure and skills.

Admittedly we're 50% more shithouse anywhere that's not on AEST, and insert some bollocks about Subiaco and wide open spaces here, but if they can't tackle, bump, scrag and pressure to the same level they're a lost cause. If we kick five goals but concede twenty after letting Freo waltz around unmolested for four quarters then they can cram it, I won't be getting sucked in by talk of effort again for the rest of the year, and I shudder to think what Hawthorn and Collingwood will do to us if we followed one step forward with five back like the Gold Coast game.

At least for the sake of stability this 'improved performance' will take the heat off the coach briefly. Not from many of the fans, and probably not some sections of the media we're not waking up Monday morning and checking to see if he's been abducted in the night, wrapped up in a Persian rug and thrown into Port Phillip Bay. Whether you like it or not (and to be entirely frank I was one bad performance away from going totally feral) he's bought himself some time based on the efforts of his players today. If they really are 'playing for him' they picked a good time to do it.

Yes, not for the first or last time I was completely wrong on here in last week's post, and the assumption that the board wouldn't be able to help themselves was countered by said board hiding out in a bunker like a bunch of mid-western American survivalists for the whole week. Which is fair enough too, we might have achieved types of rock bottom scraping last Sunday that would cause Clive Palmer to crack one through the covers, but I'm sure having just had a league appointed CEO announcing that we're about to drop 1.5mil for the year - including paying off the last CEO - probably ensured that we'd wait and at least see what happened in the next couple of games.

Dead man walking he may be, but I'm glad if we're heading off the cliff at a million miles an hour that we held our nerve and didn't just do what the media expected us to and shoot him. That's one explanation, the other is that we're too skint to pay him off and/or nobody has faith in any of the assistants to do a better job. Has a club ever rolled a complete outsider in as caretaker? If not we might be setting another record before the year is out.

Whether or not it's the right decision for the future congratulations to the board, the new CEO and all other relevant parties for holding their nerve in the face of unbelievable pressure to 'do something'. They weren't even stupid enough to be seen trudging grimly into a board meeting to "decide the coach's fate", which the media would absolutely love. But doing nothing is hardly a ringing endorsement is it? He's not backed, he's not sacked, then what is he? Still strapped into the chair waiting for somebody to pay the electricity bill so they can fry him alive? What an environment to work in.

What an environment full stop. It's gotten so bad that even the Herald Sun has reversed their position on us being filthy, match fixing cheats and started suggesting that we don't just need flavour of the century Paul Roos but deserve a priority pick too. Well yes please bring it on if you're offering, but it would be the biggest scandal ever if that happened. Rewarding us for the chronic mismanagement of our list would be like sending a multi-billion dollar bailout package to the Zimbabwean Stock Exchange. We've had draft picks out the yin yang, will get another high one this year (whether it's one or two is yet to be decided, either way there are some highly rated teenagers quaking in their boots right now) and get Hogan with a year's development at Casey into him. We should get absolutely nothing other than what's naturally coming to us.

How about instead of trying to prop us up by throwing another kid into football's equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle they just agree to waive the $500k and call it even on the whole tanking/not tanking thing? We'll change our profit projection to simply minus one million, try to get picks 1, 2 or 3 plus 19, 20 or 21 right and attempt to introduce a structure to develop the other top picks who are left behind while those who have done their time clamber aboard the lifeboats and head to safety.

That's about as far as I'd like to go with league intervention now. They can have the CEO and they can waive the non-tanking tax but if they can't deliver Roos as coach then I'd rather not let them have any say in Plan B, because I have this horrible feeling that once they've spent months on their knees begging for Roos to take the poison chalice he'll get a restraining order on them, they'll turn to Experienced and Available Premiership Coach Option B and we'll end up having to put up with Sheedy as coach.

I suppose if it means they keep the cash flowing like the United States to a tinpot South American dictatorship then whatever, and if he somehow manages to pull back from the brink of senility to turn out as the best thing that has happened to us in 40 years I'll send him flowers and bake him a cake, but for now the idea fills me deeply with horror. Maybe things can't get any worse, but even if there's a "senior assistant" doing the real work behind the scenes a'la Leon Cameron while Sheeds makes bizarre public statements and stands on the sidelines yelling into thin air I can't stand having to hear all about how we'd never be in this situation in the first place if he'd been picked in 2007 and been able to bring back Chris Heffernan and Gary Moorcroft as co-captains. Having said that I've reached such a low point in my faith in this club that I'd almost go along with it just as some sort of death or glory last roll of the dice before we shut down.

For now Roos is the target, and while I'd suggest there's more chance of Checker Hughes agreeing to come back from the dead and take over, who knows Roos he's even got it in him to rebuild us from where we sit right now. Sydney might have been 'not very good' when he took over but they did have proven performers out the yin yang (as well as the admirably named Jared Sundqvist) so that was a fair base to build on. Having said that, on paper we've got a fair base too so maybe it's not a completely unattractive proposition, but I say no way he's got the balls to risk his legacy trying to turn this wreck around. Not sure how many times he'll have to say no before we take his word for it and move on, but if we go with Neeld until the last gasp of season 2013 there's going to be a point where Roos will eventually say "For the last time no, and get out of my house" and we'll have to decide whether to keep going with 'the plan' as written or switch to somebody who wasn't our first preference - and is most likely another assistant.

My coaching conspiracy highlight of the week was the guy who told me with a straight face that we should sack Neeld immediately and bring Dean Bailey back. Well that's fine, except that thanks to involving himself in our 2009 shenanigans he's suspended until Round 17, so that's hardly going to work. Though it would be so very Melbourne to do something wacky like that.

On the other hand the lowlight of my week was briefly landing on The Footy Show (I was flicking channels, honest guv'nor) on Thursday night just in time for a breathless promo proclaiming how Damien Barrett had 'big news' about our coaching job. "Oh yes" I thought "let's see if he's about to announce Scott Burns as coach again". Turns out (approximately 3.15 in) that he had 'sat down' with Neeld during the day (not clear as whose request) to 'go through his time at the club'. Why are we appeasing clowns like this? If you're going to appeal to bottom of the barrel journalists to stop being mean to us you might as well get Caro and Cam Schwab into the same room and invite them to hug it out. Did we give him a Powerpoint presentation about how Energy Watch and Liam Jurrah's late night shenanigans somehow contributed to us being shithouse now?

The suggestion that we were climbing into bed with this goose sent my blood pressure to astronomic levels, and I spent the rest of the segment being refrained from throwing a remote through the screen so I'm glad it's on their website to view in a non-homicidal mood. He clearly said Neeld 'didn't want to go on camera' and (allegedly) stated that he said that he was perfectly happy with the way things are going, he wouldn't change a thing, we're in exactly the position he expected when taking over and that the board know we're in the position he expected us to be. Surely that was taken out of context or something was left out, because unless the coach is completely delusional there must have been some sort of caveat or explanation added to what appears to the naked eye to be an insane assessment of where we're at - but we'll never know, because by doing all this and not being filmed saying it (even by our own people) he's left his words to be interpreted and reported by a journalist who absolutely thrives on the tension and drama of having a coach on death row. Mission accomplished.

Somebody tell me why we involved ourselves in this. If you're going to go out of your way to self-consciously try and defend yourself and your almost indefensible record at least don't leave how your message will be portrayed for a few hundred thousand viewers to the number one member of the Sheeds to Melbourne fan club.

My point is that if you want your story told sympathetically you pick who you tell it to. After the Round 1 debacle we 'opened up' to Mark Robinson in the Herald Sun and got as fair and balanced a two pages as you're possibly going to get under the circumstances before totally ruining any goodwill from that by rolling over and dying against Essendon. If you're going to play the dangerous game of trying to explain the inexplicable through the press you don't pick up the phone and talk to one of the key cheerleaders calling for you to be replaced, and if he calls you don't answer. You certainly don't give him an hour of explanation expecting it to be reported exactly as you meant it.

I'd be fuming if it turned out that he/we approached Barrett and not the other way around - it's like Julia Gillard calling Andrew Bolt to 'clear things up' and expecting him to be fair and balanced.

And where is this article? Was it published the next day? No. And at 2am on Monday morning it still hadn't. You can check for yourself when you read this if it's been uploaded yet. No doubt it hasn't, because the "everything's just fine, I know what I'm doing" story will have much more impact when we put in our next stinker. Right now Barrett is kicking things and cursing that we put in a 'respectable' performance today and that after a whole weekend talking about this mysterious interview on both Footy Shows and radio he won't be able to contribute to the general witch-hunt atmosphere by dropping the "is this man insane, they just lost by 120!" article tomorrow.

Don't worry, it's still there ready to come out just when it can make Neeld, and the club, look as bad as possible and that serves him (and us as a whole) right for participating. If he was trying to calm the frayed nerves of the fans (perhaps by extension the board) and win respect in the football community by getting chummy with the media then I'm not sure it worked. Forgive the formatting of the following, either the 'embed code' on Twitter or Blogger is an arsehole

etc.. etc.. And don't come to me claiming you've been taken out of context either. What did you expect from that [SNIP - legal department]? Whether or not it comes back to bite us in the arse or whether one 'positive' performance has killed it for now it's another cock up which we'll be lucky to get out of without looking like an even more shambolic organisation than always. Maybe we're lucky that (at least this week) there's no more shambolic that we can look without making our players raise money towards the 1.5m debt by doing a Year Of The Dogs style Elephant.

Of course being the archaic waste of space TFS is they didn't even bother to touch on, or even mention, the interview Moloney had done on AFL 360 earlier in the night where he'd rolled a hand grenade straight into The Coach's Office by throwing one of the worst kept secrets in footy out into the open by admitting neither of them liked each other. If it was mentioned it certainly wasn't in the few minutes I was watching where it seemed the most pressing footy issue was how Billy Brownless was about to be dipped into an ice bath for.. some reason.

There's definitely a story to be told about their relationship, both sides of which will hopefully come out in their full glory before we're old and grey. What exactly caused Neeld to nearly trade him straight away when simultaneously holding fire on a list full of plodders? Did this lead to the alleged total disinterest by Beamer in following 'the program' and subsequent trouble through last season? Surely this will all be covered in a tell-all book where Neeld tips the bucket on everyone once he gets the boot. It might only sell 50 copies but I'd be first in the queue to buy it. In fact Mark I'll write it with you, let's put together a manuscript so explosive that it can't even be published until several people die.

So for a quiet week there was quite a lot going on. Easy to forget there was a footy game at the end of it, except that the whole week was spent dreading how badly molested we'd be and how much we'd have to hear from every Richmond fan alive about how badly we'd overplayed yanking it furiously at beating them in 2010/11 when we were, improbably in retrospect, their superiors. You win Richmond, even if you don't make the finals you still beat us to respectability and you deserve that.

Fancy a team stacking their side with top draft picks who actually perform, what a novelty. Not stunting the development of every kid who comes through the door and bringing in credible players from other clubs. It's hard to watch teams fly past us a million miles an hour but we've only got ourselves to blame. Remember Dunn kicking five against them in 2010? Petterd having 14 tackles in 2011 and Watts being one of the best on ground? I do. Now Dunn's playing anywhere but forward, Petterd is at Richmond and Watts is.. god knows where. Other good players from those games include Jurrah, Green and Moloney, these were truly glorious days. We even nearly beat them three weeks after 186, with confidence completely buggered and Green as the sub. Now we're mince and the idea of losing by six goals is worth holding a street parade for.

The one thing we had going for us this year is that this Richmond side never, ever thrash teams. You think we don't, and at the moment we certainly don't, but their biggest win under Hardwick has 'only' been 70 points. Even we've won three games by more than that since he took over and we're completely shithouse. One of them was even against a proper team, albeit not under this coach. It didn't mean that this wasn't a good time for them to start though, and if we played like we did against pretty much anybody this year other than GWS or Brisbane they'd have stormed through that mark and kept going in triple digit territory.

I might have been left unconvinced at the end of four quarters, but compared to what we've been dished up for the last few weeks the first quarter was positively glorious. Firstly we weren't five goals behind at any point, secondly we kicked more than one goal and thirdly we managed to avoid conceding plenty. Not that it was all our doing, when Richmond had their first rebound from our 50 and there was a player running a mile free of his opponent 12 seconds in I thought "oh god, here we go", but they stuffed that up and continued to have an admirable commitment to rubbish kicking on goal.

That combined with us actually managing to stick tackles and put pressure on ball carriers allowed us to hold them back long enough to set up what passed for some decent attacks of our own. Strange that tackles which wouldn't stick last week because Gold Coast 'had stronger bodies' (who didn't want to punch on when that was floated as a theory?) did against Richmond, who are a much bigger and stronger team. Funny what happens when the pressure comes and effort follows closely behind.

Sadly effort only gets you so far in the end, adding some skill would be nice too. Tapscott, Terlich and Jetta are the ultimate expression of a side which occasionally shows effort and enthusiasm but lacks the skills to match. They're all putting in, and can generally be relied upon to provide a decent defensive contest but when given the chance to launch an attack they kill us far too often by making shite decisions or poorly executing basic skills. Tappy shouldn't be a forward, and he misses too many targets by foot but gets a pass mark purely for being an angry bastard, Terlich was far better today than he has been recently in not delivering too many absolute howlers (though I was disappointed at his lack of interest in joining in the half-time melee, unlike Tyrone Vickery who waded in like he was entering the Royal Rumble) but Jetta is just not there after 40 games. He has his moments but not enough to consistently impact the game. He was worth another go this year but would be amazingly lucky to survive into 2014.

Still, in our current situation you'd take effort first and hope that skill comes later. Ironically it was lack of effort which got us our first goal when Dunn blatantly didn't bother trying to catch a ball thrown back at him after a free-kick and won a 50. Good, it's about time that we got into the sort of dubious antics that other clubs have mastered. After he did that I was all ready to demand he gets a new contract to continue working on being our version of the King/Milne/Ballantyne style monster heel that everyone hates - but then he spent most of the second quarter involving himself in comedy capers kicking out of the backline and I became noticeably less enthusiastic about watching him for years to come. Also his technique for standing the mark is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life, he goes limp, sways from side to side and waves the arm left to right a bit as if he's been in a nightclub for five hours. It's got nothing on the North players against Nic Nat on Friday night, but for regulation middle of the game mark standing it's amazingly over the top. For want of any other 100 game players next year, and assuming we'll be no good again I'll have him next year just for comedy value but not entirely sure I'm comfortable with him playing as a defender.

Apart from being traditionally loose on the opposition when we didn't have the ball you couldn't fault the first few minutes, but that's been the same every week this year until we relax for five seconds and give them the opportunity to chop us to shreds. At least going forward we looked half decent, which is the first step towards respectability but it would help if we could avoid the ball then going straight back down the other end it's in a pinball machine 25 times a game. There were some advances on this front, but there's plenty more to do.

After becoming 'maligned' quicker than almost any player ever last week Dawes played a big part of the improved first quarter performance. I can forgive his first kick when he tried to change direction and got smothered, because unlike anybody in the last two years other than Mitch Clark in the few minutes he wasn't injured he provided a proper target up front - and lead exactly like a forward should.

We even - gasp - kicked it to his advantage a couple of times. He should have had more touches if we'd backed ourselves to hit him as a target leading up outside 50 more instead of dinking around from side-to-side until it went horribly wrong, and he could stand to attack the ball more but just like when Clark was kicking goals from limited opportunities in shite teams last year it convinces me that finding a way to get the ball down there more often will not only help us score more (obviously) but the better set-up will help it stay down there longer when we're not scoring - and the longer it's away from their goal the better. We even bothered with forward pressure today, which is nice considering it seemed to have been eradicated from the face of the planet in the last fortnight.

As well as the Tigers being shit kicks for goal and winning the inside 50 count comfortably it helped that we were kicking goals all over the place when we got it forward. If you're going to have limited opportunities at least make the best of them. Putting the brakes on their midfield a bit and even SHOCK HORROR winning some clearances out of the middle also helped. At the very least we weren't letting them storm out of the centre every five seconds. They got us in the end (45-29 total clearances), but they were always going to, we haven't got it in us to go four quarters with any team not at our end of the ladder unless some sort of unexplained phenomenon keeps their score under 70.

Our midfield is still probably the worst in the competition, but at least we were playing to their strengths for once. Jamar winning the hitouts convincingly helped, and Nathan Jones managing to do what he does best despite being tagged to buggery didn't hurt either but at least we finally used McKenzie to advantage as a tagger again instead of pretending he's a silky smooth user of the ball. Also Magner's long awaited return from the black hole added plenty of ball-winning ability in the middle. He's never going to win the Brownlow, but at least he gets possessions, which is more than you can say for most of our players. How he didn't get elevated from the Rookie List and picked to play last week will always be a mystery to me but it's best not to try and work out a lot of what we do or you'll go insane.

Of course recent history has shown that stern defensive efforts are only for the first half of the first quarter, and in traditional fashion we conceded the last goal and the first of the second after just 1.30. Cue floodgates? Perhaps not, we were clearly putting them off their game with the pressure and tackling, and even though you knew class would win out over industrial slog eventually it was a huge step forward to hold them back and go in just over a goal behind despite having seven less scoring shots. Of course they still only lost the tackle count by three despite having a hundred more possessions, so it wasn't like we were doing anything that other clubs don't do every single week but it's a start.

Our relatively decent performance in the second quarter was largely in part to Davey who relished the opportunity to play early in the game instead of sitting on the bench in a green vest and turned on his best quarter in years. He's still tremendously suspect running back into defence, but he's still such a reliable field kick it's a shame we can't get the ball to him more. Three goals for the term (though one was stolen off Dawes who was about to take a free from the square), and he could have had another if he had been selfish instead of trying to pass to Jetta who dropped a mark right in front of goal - which allowed Richmond to go straight down the other end and kick a goal and all but stuff his career in the eyes of most of our fans. The two goal turnaround (CLICHE!) wasn't Davey's fault though, at least he tried to do the team thing. This surprise form surge might not last, but he's bought himself a start for the next few weeks instead of becoming our professional sub.

At least there was no standing ovations when they left the field narrowly behind this time. It did feel right at the time against West Coast considering what had happened the week before, but the third quarter of that game showed exactly what 'near enough is good enough' gets you. From now on they've got to be held to a standard where they should be walking off the ground at half-time within range every week.

'Improved' performance aside I still sat there finding it hard to feel emotion about what was happening. About the only time I felt any proper emotion all day was when Davey tried to roll the goal in off the ground and hit the post. Hooray for whatever bullshit decision got him another kick, I totally missed it attacking the seat in front. Other than that it was a ho-hum trudge through another four quarters of being not good enough to match it with any team ranked 1-14 on the ladder for more than a few seconds at a time. And we still had the third quarter to come.

Despite the undoubted upside to the first half (apart from Toumpas briefly looking like he'd snapped his leg off) and the good old fashioned Pier 6 brawl as the players walked off at half-time we still do some tremendously dumb things. Leaving Dunn to kick in a third time after stuffing up the first two was one of them, as it the insistence on always switching to a player who then doesn't have anybody running for him and has to kick to a contest anyway. Is somebody supposed to be running there? You would hope so. Unless we're just trying to get a boundary throw-in eventually, because god knows we're unbeatable at clearances so we should encourage as many of them as possible. Then there's playing on and handballing to players standing still, that's another winning move that haunts all Melbourne fans in their sleep.

It's not just in-play moments that baffle me either, how come when Toumpas is obviously not coming back Bail doesn't participate in the same drills as the rest of the team when they come out after half-time? While they're all bumping bodies, handballing in close and all that other rubbish we do shortly before folding like a house of cards in the third quarter every week he's playing kick-to-kick with a trainer 20m away. I'd like to say he needs all the kicking practice he can get, but casual drop punts under no pressure aren't achieving anything. Even I could hit the target in that situation, but put a player within five metres and I'd be kicking like The Spencil.

To nobody's surprise we proceeded to be completely shit in the opening minutes of the third. This is the most frustrating phenomenon in football, and it was only lucky that Richmond stuffed up almost every chance they had to really put us away. More than one goal in a row at the start and they'd have completely wrecked any hope we had of clinging onto their coat-tails until the last quarter. Really good teams aren't going to give us this sort of latitude, and our next three games are against really good teams. Be very afraid of what's going to happen in third quarters against them. Not to mention all the other quarters.

For all Richmond's dominance we could admittedly have been almost level at three-quarter time. If Dawes kicked his third from a relatively simple angle then they don't end up down the other end with Riewoldt kicking a goal right on the siren to make it 22 points the difference and all but killing us. Still, what good would it have done? I have to confess I wasn't all that concerned when he kicked the goal, that's how desensitised I've become to fate being against us. We were going to lose anyway and as long as we could avoid copping 10 goals to one in the last quarter all the 'respect' we were likely to earn was in the bank. Sure we might have pulled out some miracle in the last and won, and that goal totally stuffed any chance of that but it would have taken something even more farcical than Dunn's standing the mark or kicking in techniques to do it. My belief in us winning was so small that it was almost like I was watching another team play, disconnected from feeling rage about how we were going to yet another loss over five goals.

Ok, we were better I'll admit that - and the famous tackle count was a positive - but how are we ever going to win when we're 100 disposals behind the opposition every week? Why do we see unheralded players racking up a million touches against us every week while our best struggle to just over 20 if we're lucky? We can't go on like that and expect to get anywhere other than to the top of the hill of the worst teams in the league if we're lucky. We might beat Footscray if we're lucky, and maybe GWS once more before they turn it on next year like Gold Coast are starting to now, but we're never going to get out of the bottom bracket by allowing other teams to run free in numbers all day but at the same time bottling us up so we can't do anything when we do get it. There were some steps forward but they're not significant in the grand scheme of things, it's more paper over the cracks which will be stripped back by the good teams to the point where any feelgood factor from this game will be totally gone by Saturday 22 June when we play our next remotely winnable game (and even then a colossal long shot) against St Kilda.

No doubt the coach is safe for now pending any 186 style disasters over the next few weeks, but it's the week after that St Kilda game - The Lifeline Cup against Footscray - that could sink him. They're almost as putrid as we are at the moment, so if we contrive to get beaten by 10 goals that night then it could get ugly for all involved. The good news is that speaking of 186-esque fiascos we've got to go to Kardinia Park a fortnight later. If we've turned the corner this week good, but you will forgive me for holding judgement until I see real, sustained improvement.

Thank god we're (allegedly) exactly where we're supposed to be and the five year plan is in full swing. Roll on 2018.

2013 Allen Jakovich Medal Votes
5 - James Magner
4 - Dean Terlich
3 - Aaron Davey
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Colin Garland

Varying degrees of apology to Dawes, Evans, Jamar, McKenzie, M. Jones, Frawley, Sellar and Tapscott just for creating a menacing atmosphere

19 - Nathan Jones
12 - Matt Jones (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award), Colin Sylvia
11 - Jack Viney
9 - Shannon Byrnes, Jeremy Howe
6 - Michael Evans, Colin Garland (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Aaron Davey, Lynden Dunn, Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Grimes, James Magner
4 - Dean Terlich
2 - Rohan Bail, Mark Jamar
1 - Mitch Clark, James Frawley, Jordie McKenzie, Luke Tapscott

Crowd Watch
Were I ever to get into an honest to goodness fist fight at the footy it would have been today, so I took myself back to the spot where I saw great moments like Essendon 2012 and Sam Blease dominating junktime like no man since Russell Robertson against St Kilda and enjoyed the serenity of there being nobody within 30 rows.

Somewhere elsewhere in the MCG I'm sure you and the other fast diminishing band of red and blue loyalists were copping exactly what I was avoiding, newly 'successful' (of sorts) fans looking down their noses at us for daring to show up knowing we were going to get thrashed. I might cop that from most clubs, but you'd think Tigers fans would know as well as anybody about turning up week in, week out to watch your club deliver shithouse performances.

Feel free to submit your own crowd watch moments in the comments, but I was enjoying the same sort of surrounds as last week - albeit in the only non-birdshit stained seat in Q32, row LL. All I could hear was bleating about free kicks (of which Richmond received more for the day), the likes of which teams always do when either a) they've got the overwhelming majority of supporters in the stands and can say whatever they like without being challenged or b) are scared shitless of losing to a rubbish team. Add a) to b) and it's an audio visual extravaganza to match no other. If a) is off the agenda for any games not involving interstate clubs god I want to feel b) again.

A question about the MCG, have the signs showing the numbers of the anti-social behaviour hotline been removed from around the ground? I couldn't see one from my seat, which had a clear view of all the advertising hoardings in the Olympic and 90% of the Southern Stand, and while there was a plug of the number on the scoreboard at the 24.30 minute mark of the last quarter that seemed like a token effort so they can say they 'reacted' but the offenders were already on their way out of the ground.

Not that anybody was bothering me other than dragged along kids who clearly had no interest running up and down the stairs, but it would be interesting if they are downplaying the hotline in light of the number of recent reports of filth in the stands racially abusing players. You'd think they'd be plastering the number everywhere.

Media Watch
Forget politicians, radio footy callers should be voted the most untrustworthy characters in society. There's is absolutely no doubt that when you're listening to a game on the radio you're being lied to about what's going half the time. Every station does it, treating their call as if nobody at the game is watching and can tell that they're making it up.

It's one thing to get player names wrong in the heat of the action (and some callers are adept at just shouting out the name of the most well-known indigenous player on a team if any of 'them' go near it) but how in open play do you call Matt Jones as Nathan Jones when they don't look alike or have a number even remotely similar. Then there's calling that a ruckman got the tap when it's clear that he never even got near it and claiming that a kick is from 'right in front' when they're halfway to the boundary.

It's not quite the days when Rex Hunt used to claim that the ball bounced out in front the [company name] sign when the actual sign was for a totally different company but it's nearly just as bad. Today during the first quarter when Sellar accidentally booted the ball out on the full when chasing it near the boundary old mate on the radio said, as if it was the absolute truth "free against Sellar for holding onto the jumper". Liars one and all. They're providing a valuable service, but don't treat the people at the game like idiots. There's no point changing the channel, they're all the same. If you're lucky you'll even get some fuckwit boundary rider from Triple M doing a snow gag.

MFC Facebook Comment of the Week

Most comments this week are people saying it was a good performance and somebody else abusing them for it, but this piece of good old fashioned casual prejudice stood out. Welcome to the Melbourne FC Facebook page, where an indigenous player from Western Australia is told to go 'back to a Park in Alice springs' and five people click like. Yay tolerance.

Next Week

Now that the easy part of our draw is out of the way we can go to Perth with all the confidence in the world of storming home to a much deserved finals berth. By the looks of it we'll have to settle for missing out on the double chance but that's ok. Alternatively I'd take actually kicking one goal against Fremantle. It was bad enough in the final round last year when they were flirting with playing dead for their own benefit and we still had to grimly slog our way to 5.10.40. This year we'll be lucky to have 10 scoring shots in total.

From the bits I saw of the Casey game nobody's exactly banging the door down to get a call-up so we may as well back most of the same team to see if they can replicate the effort. No doubt we'll pick Pedersen at some point in the near future to justify the fact that we've apparently got him on a three year contract (pardon?), and he did have 27 touches but were any of them any good? No interest at the moment. If we don't want to pay our salary cap on players next year can we sack some of these contracted players and have that count towards our minimum payments?

Apparently whatever Viney did to his toe he's out for the proverbial '4 to 6', which is just magnificent. I'm just assuming Byrnes' mystery wrist injury doesn't involve a double surprise amputation, but if it did then we may as well leave Bail in to see if he can do something worthwhile to justify being on our list until the end of 2014. If the King of Sizzle is fit again (injury lists show him as 1-2) he can replace Sellar, and god knows what Watts is going to do but I really fancy him going forward with Dawes to see what they can do. Good luck with that, he'll be straight into the backline and straight off to another club next season.

IN: Blease, Byrnes, Watts
OUT: Sellar, Bail (omit), Toumpas (inj)

LUCKY: Nicholson, who I'm still not interested in this year. Also rapidly losing interest in Jetta who can have a go until the cows come home but aren't getting any actually better at playing football.

UNLUCKY: Sellar, who has been ok in defence the last couple of weeks but is clearly not going to be there next season. Tapscott goes back to defence to hit people, Watts forward to hopefully dance around opponents like a Gazelle.

Next Season
More great media coverage during the week, this time surrounding Neeld supposedly suggesting we're five years away. Well that's sunk any chance of keeping Sylvia, Watts and Frawley in the next couple of years (but don't worry, we've got Bail, Nicholson and Pedo). Why would any of them stay around for that? And I'm sure Clark and Dawes will be thrilled to hear they've signed up for an organisation with such a positive future. To be fair nowhere in the article does it actually say five years, and they might be guessing based on his 100 game comment but at the moment you could write anything about us and people would believe it.

Apart from re-signing uncontracted players and trying desperately to land some decent, useful recruits one of the key things we've got to do for next year is get Trengove right. He can barely run, he can't kick distance. He's stuffed, and if he needs to go have surgery now then do it and bring him back next year repaired and free of the burden of trying to captain this slopfest.

Whoever the coach is, I want them to spill all positions and throw this 'leadership group' bullshit out the window. Instead of appointing nine (9!) people, calling them 'leaders' and expecting them to float angelically above all others to take all the players, line them up against a wall (there's no shooting involved here), point out who he wants as captain, point out who he wants as vice-captain, pick a deputy vice-captain if he really wants and then walk down the line poking a finger in every chest saying "you're a leader, you're a leader, you're a leader, and you're all bloody leaders". From whoever comes fourth to the lowliest rookie on the list they're all capable of leading in their own way without a title. Let's strip the 21st century psychology bullshit away a bit and go back to basics, leadership groups are a tremendous wank and we don't need one to get 22 players a week to play their hearts out.

There shall be no voting (down with democracy), and no 'consultation' to keep people happy. Stop 'empowering' groups who are so incapable of looking after themselves that they should get a Centrelink benefit and make hard decisions. It could be said that's what they did in appointing GRIMGOVE in the first place, but there's a fine line between clever and stupid. Scuttlebutt suggests players are crying about the Full Metal Jacket style atmosphere (though quoth an actual player from both Bailey and Neeld eras pre-season "Now it's like what I thought a footy club would be like") but taking control of the team leadership in a full scale military coup doesn't have to be a negative. I doubt Trengove would throw himself out a window if he were freed, and I similarly doubt that Byrnes and Dawes would run out the door crying if their 'group' is dissolved.

Was it worth it?
That's my last game in person until St Kilda after the bye, so in case there are players or coaches who aren't around by then it was. Almost straight after the Freo game finishes I'm off to WA for two weeks and will try to locate any wreckage of our season that I might fine strewn across their fine state. Thanks for those who have volunteered to step in and indulge their inner Margaret Pomeranz for the Hawthorn and Collingwood games.

Shameless self promotion
If you need some cheering up here's the first instalment of our top 100 wins from 1965 to today. Next part to follow at some point during the remainder of my life.

Final thoughts
Sorry to rain on the positivity parade, because I know you read this blog to be lifted up and inspired about our club, but even though we managed to avoid being murdered for one week our overall situation still seems so bleak to me. It doesn't really matter because it's an away game but we had so few fans there today. I don't blame people for not going out of their way to see us at the moment, especially if they only have the home membership, but we can't go on like this - apathy has taken hold.

Not being thrashed by Richmond changes nothing. We're not crashing back into poverty again, but it will get that way in a couple of years if we can't turn it around. The league can keep giving us easy draws but if we're not going to eventually take them up on it and start winning then the support is going to keep ebbing away to the point where we do start dying death by a thousand cuts like Fitzroy. We're in no immediate threat but I don't want to look back in a decade as we shut up shop and say that the mid 2000's were the beginning of the end - don't forget that there might be some untapped latent support and people who will probably come to the party if we're about to cark it but you don't follow Carlton or Collingwood here, it's a very limited amount. I suspect the Pies would gladly pull the Queen's Birthday rug under us if they could, so watch out for that move if we don't draw a top shelf crowd this year (says the person who won't even be in the state).

When the club is having to get players to ring junior members to convince them not to jump off you know whoever's in charge of long term planning has looked at the age demographic of our members/supporters and seen that we're approaching doomsday in the next few years without some sort of spectacular on-field turnaround. We can't afford to lose kids 5-10 years old now, because unless we somehow do a Hawthorn and become the 'in thing' in the next few seasons and the bandwagon refills then that age bracket will be lost forever, and as the older members go nobody will replace them. That's when you end up shedding members, selling assets and eventually playing in front of 5000 people at the Western Oval.

Obviously we're in the grimmest territory in living memory (voting ourselves out of existence in a rigged ballot aside) but it breaks my heart to see people writing that their kids are 'now' going to keep following Melbourne because A. Player rang them. It's good that it worked, and I think it's a great initiative to do it but how long's that going to last if we lose the next three games by 150 points? I was fortunate enough to jump on board after the '88 season so I don't know what it's like to be the kid whose team gets thumped every single week but I'll tell you I never met a single Lions fan in my days at school because they were already on the terminal slide by the early 90's and nobody wanted to risk their reputation in the playground by following them.

I wish I could sit down and tell these kids about what makes following this club through Death Valley worth it, but at the moment they're all intangibles. Kids don't understand the nobility of adopting what used to be referred to as a North Melbourne style siege mentality against the world (a concept which we've now laid claim to), they want to identify with star players and go to school talking about their team winning. We have no stars, we never win. Good luck selling that to your kids.

I'd like to tell them about all the laughs I've had following this club through the bad times thanks to all the random fellow sufferers I've never even met in real life but am in contact with online only like some weird support group. But they wouldn't get it, the kids couldn't give a shit. One of their best mates is coming to school wearing a 23 Hawthorn jumper, the next loves Dane Swan because he doesn't know what happened to the cleaner, one other kid has decided he's a Gold Coast fan because he knows Ablett is a star and even the lone North supporter is beaming because he's got a new hero in Majak Daw. Our kid is sat in the corner with the Footscray fan crying while Richmond fans who have obviously been born just at the right time point and laugh.

We've got a limited amount of time to turn this rudderless wreck around and do something that will ensure our long-term future as Melbourne, in Melbourne and playing at the MCG. The idea that the league "couldn't" have a club called Melbourne is laughable. When Collingwood will have 80,000 members this year do you think the league would give a rats about saving a totally broken down club, millions of dollars in unpayable debt just because of its name in five years when the big clubs will all have 80k and the Pies will probably have 100k? No, they might need us now for broadcast rights and for all the piss I've ripped out of them over the years I'm sure they will do their best to help us over the next few years, but if we sink to the point where no recovery is possible that they'll throw their hands up and say "oh well, we tried" and either merge us off or turf us out.

See also the MCC, I've said it before they might like to play up the connection with our club and how X amount of their members follow us, but do you think they haven't done the sums on what they could be making by not having to put on Melbourne vs Gold Coast at 4.40pm Sunday? The first step will be when the famous boutique stadium comes along and they try to shift our games against interstate teams there. That's the beginning of the end. Unless the financial benefits for shifting games from the MCG are massive along the lines of the interstate matches then the boutique stadium can get stuffed, I don't want us to leave the MCG without leaving a trail of blood from here to Timbuktu.

If it means playing more games interstate to stay afloat then that's what we've got to do, but it pains me to see everyone else doing the bit-part relocation better than us. Before Schwab got executed we were talking about two games a year in Darwin, which might have been a nice earner but is surely the worst place in the region (possibly other than Cairns, which Gold Coast have claimed anyway) to be doing this. Watching Hobart and New Zealand being swallowed up by other clubs while we left them open while doing deals to play at a ground where players have to ride exercise bikes in meat lockers is a massive farce, but it's what we're left with now.

So yeah, an 'honourable' loss didn't make me feel all that much better. I've become one of those "those the sky is falling" people. Shoot me now. Is it Round 23 next week?

Tuesday 21 May @ 6.32pm - Had Davey in the Jakovich leaderboard under both 3 and 2. Corrected.


  1. I don't know what's worse, the comment, or the fact 5 people liked it...

  2. Tempting to name and shame the likers as well, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they were just caught up in the generally spiteful atmosphere of the MFC Facebook page and didn't registed the racial nature of the offending comment.

    Dale Miller, on the other hand, should take a good hard look at himself.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Jetta, Pederson, Rodan & Gillies can all file out at the end of the year. No doubt Sylvia will leave via free agency, too.

    Given that Dale Thomas is a bit of a train wreck and potentially will never be back to his best maybe if we throw large enough bags of money at him we can snare him for next season as a replacement?

    All things considered, things look considerably better today than they did after the round 3 game. Now at least there are some good signs despite our ever expanding injury list. If we can just get a star midfielder via whatever method and get Trengove right... Hell, we could be challenging for 12th on the ladder as early as 2014.

  5. Good luck getting rid of Pedo and his three year contract!

  6. Lyall St Kilda21 May 2013 at 16:47

    At last somebody devised a plan. At last somebody countered the opposition's plays. Suddenly there was method and purpose. Things worked and the playing squad realised it and lifted. It was positive. The two best were the forward line preventing the opposition switch from going anywhere and the back line confident enough to take a decent kickout and clear the ball from the back line. I am not saying they did it every time but the thought was there. That's the positive. The negative: the last 15 minutes of the game where the squad, coaches and players, lacked the mental stamina to try to win it. Richmond had shut up shop with the extra player on their back line. Now I'm told that the Melbourne players are great on the training track which I confidently translate into the fact that they are fit. What were the coaching panel doing watching this? Did they go to another plan to break the Richmond lines? This is where we part ways Adam. If you now accept that the problem is the coach you've really got to accept that the list is not too bad. Any new coach has to come and use that list and devise the best game plan to exploit their skills and talent. Neeld from day one has never done this and that's why he needs another five years to rebuild the list to his design. Reality check! And my beef. Just like you, where every player is a leader, can we get rid of the three huddles, one for the forwards, one for centres and one for the backs. It's one team out there!

  7. Lyall, I don't necessarily think the problem is the coach - because if you give him long enough he will be able to weed out all the people who aren't going to follow him and replace them with loyalists.

    I just wonder if hitting the reset button and wheeling in somebody else would give us a 'fresh' start. Happy to see out the rest of the season given all the disasters, and I won't atop a roof with a sniper's rifle if we keep Neeld next year (unlike, say, the Facebook crowd) but it feels like he's just setting it all up for somebody else to come in and reap the benefits.

  8. Alternatively the reset button may as well cast us back to the start again with another untried coach.

    I'm prepared to get on the Roos bandwagon in the hope that he can polish a turd but there's more chance of the Israelis and Palestinians merging and becoming the AFL 19th team than him coaching us next year.

    Now watch him end up somewhere else and dominate.


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