Monday 21 April 2014

Love in the Time of Ineptitude

At times it might be hard to imagine, especially to outsiders, but there are significant benefits to being a Melbourne fan. We've traded respect, success and at some points our integrity for shorter bathroom lines, a 75% empty carpark and quicker access to floppy, overpriced hot-dogs. Which is not a lot to hang your hat on when you've been battered by all and sundry for years, but imagine the horror of going through all that AND having to put up crowds. I went to the Grand Final once and missed half the second quarter waiting to take a whizz, people are overrated.

Supporting a desperately unpopular side also comes in handy when somebody's got a corporate box to fill and nobody else wants to go. Bless your heart anonymous benefactor - you know who you are - for inviting me to live the dream in the only place in the MCG other than the MCC Members Dining Room where you're served non-poisonous food without having to first wait for some idiot to pay by credit card and fumble with the mustard packets.

Not that I'd have been there if it wasn't Gold Coast, I'm a Row ZZ-Grade internet identity not a corporate high-flyer so it's clear that had any Victorian team been the opposition corporate fat-cats would have snapped up the tickets long before I was able to get an invitation. As it was there seemed to be plenty of room for everyone in the world of corporate hospitality yesterday:

At least there was a reasonable (relatively speaking) crowd by the time the game started. We had to get there 90 minutes before the bounce and there were more people in the box than outside it until the last 15 minutes. If we hadn't won last week they might as well have relocated the match to Toorak Park for the 1200 likely to show up. Still, I did my bit - the corporate freebie allowed me to rort the attendance figure by scanning in on both that and my membership card. What a wonderful world.

It was a welcome flashback to my late teens when mum's then boss - another true believer from the era when there more than a couple of hundred left - would book the company box whenever they didn't have anyone else of substance to invite, then stack it with Melbourne fans and/or people who just wanted to drink themselves to a standstill. Who could forget the afternoon in 1998 when we beat Collingwood in 1998 and I achieved both criteria, getting blind on about three beers (well I was 17, and thank god for the lax attitude to liquor licensing laws) then climbed into the windowsill to sing the song after we won.

The gravy train ended after the 2000 season - as it did in so many ways - but not before another drunken escapade after which I tried to offer Brad Green my girlfriend and correctly informed Shane Woewodin that he was about to win the Brownlow. It was a great era for mixing prescription medication with alcohol and I look back fondly on it. The football wasn't bad either.

The only time I'd managed to worm my way into a box during the Demonblog era we won. Looking back on the post from that day I'm not one to blow my own horn but *toot toot* on this bit "We need to get over this obsession we have with recruiting all youth and nothing else." How true. Of course this was said in the context of trying to recruit Barry Hall, BUT he did kick 80 goals the next season. Anyway, there'll be plenty more room for Alan Partridge style "needless to say I had the last laugh" anecdotes in my book, so let's get back to the unpleasant reality of 2014.

Much like last week I honestly felt that we would win this game. Admittedly there was less science to the prediction this time compared to playing Carlton fresh from the psych ward with key players dropped for no apparent reason, but I still duped myself into believing that when the China Southern Airlines rock rolled away from the door of the tomb (as foreseen in Roos 24:2-8) it would reveal a resurrected Melbourne Football Club poised to equal the achievements of 2013 in the space of a fortnight and move into a nice apartment in the 12th to 16th neighbourhood.

Maybe it was better for my health if we didn't win. Last week I managed to ride the highs of victory through to about midday Sunday when I went down with a blockbuster migraines which kept me in bed for most of the next two days. In a nod to that Seinfeld episode where George thinks he's going to get cancer because NBC are making the pilot the next thing you know I was being rolled into an MRI machine to make sure that the headaches weren't being caused by a brain tumour. That would certainly have taken the shine off a rare winning week, but I'm happy to report that the results are in and my only serious illness is an almost obsessive attachment to the Melbourne Football Club.

On the other hand, health be damned. Legitimate fatal illnesses aside if the price I had to pay for a premiership was to spend two days in a darkened room 25 weeks in a row then I'd sign up in an irregular heartbeat. The only problem was that the worst of it hit right in the middle of test driving some bloke's car and I temporarily forgot how to drive around a roundabout so I was probably lucky to even make it to the MCG to watch the latest instalment our shite footballing journey.

It's refreshing to see that increased expectations have led to people losing the plot over this result, but let's first remove all the expansion era prejudices from the discussion - Gold Coast are a far better team than we are so don't lob yourself out a window just yet. Sure they got flogged by Fremantle and Hawthorn but wait until you see what sort of X-rated acts those two are going to commit on us.

Compare to the inquest of epic proportions when they thrashed us last year and Neeld should have been given the golden electric chair instead of sputtering along for a few more weeks. With reasonably similar sides we conceded 10.9 to 1.5 at one end of the ground, lost by 10 goals and appeared to be a club run by and for the benefit of complete buffoons. Yesterday there were outbreaks of buffoonery, but at the moment we're so far in front of 2013 it's not funny. The real test is how this 'form' holds up when we trade matches against fringe dwellers and downhill skiers for games against confirmed contenders.

In all fairness even though I'd convinced myself we were going to win we have got a patchy record against Gold Coast. Yesterday may have levelled the all-time series at 3-3 after we won the first three but those came from malicious assault of kids, uninspired back and forth struggle and one great quarter followed by three of slop. You never turn back a win in our situation, but since our first meeting they've shuffled off the garbage, hid Karmichael Hunt in the sick bay and wheeled in solid gold guns like Jaeger O'Meara while we've sacked two coaches, burnt our list to the ground for insurance purposes and generally been a burden on the competition. Don't confuse the fact that they had 89 fans in the stadium with them not being any good, it's the New World Order, and whether you like it or not get used to it because it's probably going to become the best thing around by next year.

Given the obvious gulf in class and workrate between the two teams it's simultaneously outrageous that we were as close as we were in the last quarter and tragic that we didn't go closer to winning. There's no doubt in the world that Gold Coast played better football, they might have helped keep us in the game in the second quarter with absurd kicking on goal, but we did our bit to repay the favour and could very well have snatched it at the end. It wouldn't have been fair, but every one of us would have gleefully taken it.

Surely nobody expected a footballing classic, but it became obvious soon after the start that it was going to be another fumble heavy, shamblesfest where any targets hit bit foot would receive a round of applause. The difference was that eventually Gold Coast players started to run hard to get free for their teammates while we continued to try and thread the eye of the needle with kicks or just ram the ball onto the boot and hope for the best.

Despite it being clear that they were a much better run and carry side (ENORMOUS CLICHE), and were going to run us off our feet all day it didn't mean we couldn't combat it with pressure. Obviously if somebody's roaming free the best thing to do is have one of your players go near them, then wait until the get the ball and force them vigorously into the turf. Shame then we were both as loose as a goose all over the ground AND committed the cardinal sin of losing the disposal count and the tackles.

The manic intensity of last week was replaced with tepid tackling, half-hearted running and far too many needless free kicks given away. In other areas we were ok, Nathan Jones carried half the team on his back again, Jack Viney was a beast at the centre clearances even if his kicking is still a bit wonky, and when we could work the ball to Dawes, Frawley or Howe (in the second half) our forward line looked half reasonable even if their conversion was almost as bad as Gold Coast's.

The problem with the way we were playing was two-fold, for one we couldn't get the damn ball from the back line past halfway without going through 25 stoppages and secondly whenever Gold Coast got their hands on it they sliced us up and down the ground in ginsu knife fashion. Which wouldn't have been so bad if we'd restricted how often they got it instead of participating in a race to turn the ball over at the earliest available opportunity. Further from the land of the furious cliche they 'wanted it more than we did'.

Neither of these problems was so bad in the first quarter. It helped that they were botching shots all over the place and that we got given that Frawley goal despite everyone on the planet knowing it had been touched except the nutbag operating the review system. Looking at the scoreboard across the ground from the Olympic Stand to my beloved Ponsford I could see the deviation off the Gold Coast player's hand even though the screen was split into the four views - three of which were useless. Last week I was celebrating a dodgy decision finally going our way but this was absolutely criminal. If only we'd won by under a goal Gold Coast fans would have trashed AFL House like when Fitzroy got rorted in Adelaide that time.

Despite Dawes' snap (I express my love for this man) and Pedo running back with the flight of the ball then converting (I express my admiration for the way he has been more than adequate for the last three weeks) the biggest problem for me was the ridiculous amount of space we were giving their forwards. Not only was the King of Sizzle getting flogged to death in every one-on-one contest but they were finding spare players everywhere. At one point the marks inside 50 count was about 12-1, which is telling considering that's one of the aspects we stitched Carlton up on last week despite losing most statistical categories.

Issues which would come back to haunt us later aside we still played a reasonable first quarter, and had a lead of over a goal until the last few minutes when they finally took one of our five consecutive hints and finally took advantage of a another failed kick-in/shithouse attempt at short passing inside defensive 50 to kick a goal.

The significant differences - and when it came to the scoreboard the only difference - came in the second quarter where MFC 2012/13 reappeared with a vengeance.  If it wasn't our inability to clear the ball out of defence or stop them roaming free in numbers, it was the difference in contested marks or marks inside 50. If the Suns had converted half their chances it would have been completely over by half time (but as always must be pointed out if they kicked the first one they would never have had the rest so we might have gone on to win by 300) but instead they left the door ever so slightly ajar. Shame that Dawes missed an absolute sitter, but at least he won the free kick by slapping a strong tackle on. The guy might be getting paid out of proportion to what he's done so far but at least he cares. He missed another easy set shot and stuffed up a snap later by being too hasty but it was hard to fault him otherwise.

Frawley was good again two. Like last week he kicked two goals in the first half then dropped out of the game a bit but is doing an excellent job in an unfamiliar position. Unfortunately with McDonald getting massacred, Georgiou looking shaky and Pedersen often on duties elsewhere we could really have done with Chip in defence at times today. Does anybody know if Jesse Hogan is still alive? If he can free up Frawley to go back and hang out with Garland then with all respect to his enjoyable forward cameos we'll be much better off.

Whatever good moments there were they were rarely seen in the second quarter. As players stuck out an arm and allowed an opponent to jog past it looked like Mark Neeld's famous "attempted tackles" were back in fashion, but there were also brief periods of reasonable football. Too brief. It made me want more, but usually five seconds later somebody was either hoofing the ball out of bounds on the full (OOF) or handballing it to a team-mate at a standstill who would then be mobbed.

Speaking out OOF, congratulations to Dean Terlich on completing one of the worst kicks I've ever seen during the first quarter. Has a ball ever taken such an angle to go out of bounds under no pressure? The last time anything even remotely as bad happened was during one of my very rare attempts at playing the sport when I was foolishly entrusted with a kick-in and managed a kick so bad that it went OOF but only narrowly missed going back through for a point from the top of the square. I challenge anybody from the MFC to top that.

In a continuing reversal of 2012/13 we were good in the third quarter again, but now it was our chance to start stuffing up shots on goal. Gold Coast were still moving the ball far better, and they looked significantly more dangerous whenever they went forward but I guess everyone thinks the other side are more likely to score.

When they got the first goal it was almost time to check the drop height from the box window (answer: not far enough) but we did well from there and if any of the three behinds late in the quarter had gone through I'd have been convinced we were a big chance. As it was I still felt like we were close enough if the Suns fell into a ditch, but that having reverted to the MFC who make scoring goals look more difficult than climbing Mt Everest what chance were we of a) scoring enough to overhaul a 20 point deficit, b) defending well enough to stop them from scoring. As it turns out the answer to both questions was 'nil'.

Still, teams sometimes win games when they've been second best all day - and what better time to do it than against a team just as inexperienced as we are. When Nathan Jones, grand human and the Robbie Flower of his generation, dragged the margin back to 13 points with a long, LONG time to play we were very much a theoretical chance but in all honesty I've never felt so far behind from a 13 point margin in my life.

Had it been the other way around I'd have been 100% convinced that we were going to get overhauled and rolled on the last kick of the day, but when it's us chasing the idea of a grandstand comeback seems stupid. Yet with five minutes to go they were pretty much out on their feet, and after Jack Viney got his goal we could very well have steamrolled them - if we hadn't then conceded a goal straight out of the centre bounce like complete dickheads.

Other than a couple of late consolations that was it, we'd left ourselves too much to do and didn't have enough good players to do it with. It didn't help that Gary Ablett was gifted one of the worst free kicks of all time (presumably his whinging about McKenzie's tag last year and the recent Trent Cotchin scragging debacle were front of mind for the umpires) but then again we did get what was officially the worst ever video review goal earlier so it's hard to point the finger too vigorously, even if we were shafted in several other uncomfortable ways by the umpires throughout the afternoon.

That we got so close was even more amazing considering how many bad players we had. Not necessarily 'bad' full stop, but well under their best. Vince and Tyson played like Byrnes and Rodan, Watts had one of those days where he's not all that concerned, Bail tried hard but was Bail, the King of Sizzle shaved his head and got thrashed accordingly, Spencer barely went near it, Terlich and Georgiou looked more like SANFL players than ever before, McKenzie couldn't get into it offensively or defensively and both Kennedy-Harris and Jetta were horrible in the first half before recovering to be at least reasonable in the second. One of them has the excuse of youth, the other is due to be inducted in the Juice Newton Society of VFL stars who just can't get over the line in the seniors.

Most of the players ran into the brick-wall of their own limitations, but if you accept that Tyson is still young the two without excuses are Vince and Watts. A'la Pedersen vs Gysberts we're still in front on Vince vs Sylvia, but let's be fair even though he had a few touches yesterday he's hardly fired a shot since Round 2. I'm certainly not saying he's in danger of getting dropped, because it's not like we've got enough quality in teh 2nds to put the pressure on, but he can add more. Given that we can't take the ball from centre half-back to centre-forward to save ourselves maybe he can play some role in that?

As for Watts I find it quite ironic than in the weekend where somebody finally admitted than Nic Nat is ridiculously overrated (though it was Tony Shaw so you've got to suspend your disbelief to believe that he's right) that Jack's approval rating has hit levels not seen since he got dropped post-148. Which is a shame because just when you think he's going alright he puts in a stinker where he looks like he's got absolutely no interest and has as much chance of winning a one-on-one contest as I do. Dropping him seems like the easy way out and I'm not into it, but god I'd love to see this again:

There was a hint of it last week, but I just want him to get made. I love the videos of him flipping pancakes for the homeless and visiting sick kids but for god's sake it's time for him to get angry. There's no pressure left to become the best player in the world but surely at some point the desire to ram a fork into the eyeball of your detractors kicks in? Perhaps not.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Chris Dawes
2 - Cameron Pedersen
1 - Jeremy Howe

Apologies to Cross, Dunn and Frawley who were in the lottery for the last two spots.

The medal is already at the engraving shop. Make room on your mantelpiece Nathan Jones, a world record fourth Jakovich is almost certainly coming your way. His current total would already be good for fifth in any of the last three years.

19 - Nathan Jones
9 - Lynden Dunn (Leader: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
8 - Daniel Cross, James Frawley
6 - Dom Tyson, Jack Viney
4 - Jack Watts
3 - Chris Dawes, Tom McDonald, Dean Terlich
2 - Jeremy Howe, Cameron Pedersen
1 - Jack Grimes, Jake Spencer (Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
No change. Pedo from the boundary in Round 4 reigns supreme. Chris Dawes wins the weekly prize of a night out at the Dromana Drive-In with Tom McNamara for his snap around the corner in the first quarter.

Small in size their creation may be, the Suns cheersquad goes closer than anyone else yet this season to toppling us. Considering they can't have more than a handful of people who scabbed on their team to change sides in 2011 they had a decent crack, and to their credit it was a proper run-through with no Carlton style gigantic slit (insert Bryce Gibbs jokes in the space provided) so players could go through the motions without having to touch crepe paper.

So, just like the Demons they lose narrowly but were always second best on the day. The introduction of a new font and some comedy flames to the non-sponsor side of the banner seal our fifth straight victory and that makes it 5-0 Melbourne.

The Name Game (+ more pissing about the with rules)
The great names on jumpers experiment went off without any total fiascos (unlike, say, the great decision review system experiment) so it's inevitable that they'll bring it in next year. It was a bit rich of the AFL to claim that they were waiting for fan opinion before deciding because it's not like they give half a shit about what the people think at any other time, but at the same time nobody believes that they care if we care so it all balances out.

The concept doesn't exactly enthuse me, and five years ago if I had nothing else to complain about I'd probably be vocally against it but let's be fair about three weeks after they're permanently introduced (i.e by Round 3 2015) nobody will give a second thought to any player who doesn't have a silly or extremely long surname. On that note it seems rude that they went out of their way to give Lewis Roberts-Thompson "LRT" (I'm sorry, is Lewis part of his surname?) but Jay Kennedy-Harris ends up paying tribute to his name with the exceedingly dull "K-Harris". Why doesn't he get JKH? Why doesn't LRT get R-Thompson? Does anyone except me actually care?

Other than the K-Harris fiasco the only change I noticed is that we had to move the MCC logo to the very bottom of the jumper so it was practically sitting above a player's ringpiece. That can't be beneficial for our relationship with them. Not sure how we can't fit it up the top when GWS/Sydney/Brisbane/Footscray can jam CANBERRA/SMFC/BBFFC/FFC and god knows what else above their names.

Either way, it's coming in 2015 and will neatly coincide with my retirement from half-kit wankerdom. Having ruined so many careers just by sporting player numbers (and Sam Blease is getting the treatment as we speak) I'm not adding names to the mix as well. This retirement will last until I'm about 40, have a mid-life crisis and decide that wearing the name of a 20-year-old on my back is a sensible idea.

I'm not sure whose benefit it's for, but in a world where people speak in one breath about limiting interchanges to make players even more fatigued then in another bemoan the fact that there's five thrashings every week (and what do you think is going to happen to shit teams when they're badly overmatched AND crawling along the turf for most of the last quarter?) it's far from the worst thing that's happened to the game in recent years.

On the other hand this could just about put me away. I'm there for the MFC until the shutters come down, but soon you're going to need to carry a guidebook around to understand what's going on in an AFL match. What is this state of footballing nirvana that we're trying to achieve by stuffing the rules around constantly? Can somebody please draw me a diagram of the perfect world that we're striving to journey to? When was football 'good' and how many people were complaining then that it used to be better? Perhaps time to admit that we've got a good game but it's not the greatest thing that's ever been invented and stop waffling on about 'rolling mauls' every five seconds.

No doubt Channel 7 and Fox Footy are on the phone 24/7 begging the AFL to do anything they can to help them boost television ratings, but who doesn't think that whatever brainwaves the boffins in the AFL's Footy Engineering division come up with will backfire 10 seconds later and we'll be left in exactly the same position in two or three years time. And the players want to make free agency even easier to achieve - how about we just pay them half instead (rookies and other minimum wage cases exempted) and if they can find another league to play in then good luck to them.

Crowd Watch
Never before have I heard an MCG crowd of any size flatter than when the 3/4 time siren went. At least last year there was people booing and shouting "off with his head!" This time despite there being 4000 more people in the ground nobody knew what to do.

Meanwhile, as nice as my accommodation for the day was I did find myself looking longingly over at the empty top deck of the Ponsford Stand thinking I could be over there swearing and kicking things to my hearts content with nobody within 20 rows to annoy.

Next Week
Now that Sydney are back in form there is little doubt that they will beat us, but it's important for the morale of everyone involved that we don't get murdered. As pointed out in the post for last year's Gold Coast disaster (one 100x worse than what happened this week) it's extremely rare for teams to win three games or less in a season. So rare that only Fitzroy (RIP) and GWS (unfortunately not RIP) have done it since 1987, and as much as last week showed me that a party can break out unexpectedly I still fear we'll struggle to reach four wins as the year goes on and we're gradually torn apart by (more) injury trouble and (more) confidence issues.

So forget those who have already been tried and failed this season, time to roll in the tried and true. And Mitch Clisby.

IN: Clisby, Garland, Jamar
OUT: Terlich, Jetta, Georgiou (omit)
LUCKY: Bail, Evans
UNLUCKY: Salem (by all accounts ran riot in the VFL but there's no need to throw him under the reality bus just yet), Toumpas (career all but destroyed by us drafting him)

Was it worth it?
As somebody with a sick fetish for watching videos/reading about the death of South Melbourne and Fitzroy yes - every day above ground is a good day.

Final Thoughts
Given that we were exchanging the cold, barren emptiness of the Ponsford Stand Row AA to LL for civilised inside comfort I took my beloved to the game. It was the first time she'd been with me since Round 22, 2010. Halfway through the second quarter she said: "I don't know how you do this every week". It seemed appropriate, but I had to explain that this wasn't even in the bottom 50 performances since that night.


  1. The headline is a play on the title of a novel by the recently deceased Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I saw what you did there and it was good.

  2. The last time my other half came to a dees game with me was Round 5 against the Lions on a Saturday night in 2010. What a glorious night it was. We've only played at that level maybe twice since then (Adelaide and Sydney - doesn't that make you sick?).

    Anyway I commented because she says EXACTLY the same thing to me

  3. I was heartened by the GCS banner. Not only were we recognised as a "Demon Army" but we were considered so threatening that we needed silencing. It felt good being a threat.

  4. Re: the rolling maul

    "Stephen Alomes is a bit of a lunatic - not that there's anything wrong with that. Given his reputation of being one of the AFL's/Aussie rules' most shameless propagandists, at least in academic circles, I was expecting the worst. Somewhat surprisingly, it took him a while to plumb those depths this time.

    His presentation topic was on the aesthetic merits of Australian Rules football, and what to do about the rolling maul that threatens to suffocate the game. There were interesting points that Alomes (whose academic career seems to specialise in explorations of Australian nationalism) made about the notions of play, art and the agon, but all the potentially fascinating insights that could come out of such a discussion were undone by Alomes' starting point - that Australian Rules football is the best game in the world - and working back from there.

    Alomes also heavily and unashamedly tried to plug his new book, which made the actual interesting parts of his presentation even more isolated. I'm still confused as to what purpose he thought there was in showing the audience his rather mediocre paintings of Australian rules football scenes were. The highlight came when academic and former 1960s Melbourne player Bob Stewart, asked Alomes when the 'golden age' of Australian Rules was supposed to have been, considering that Stewart had played in his fair share of games out there (pointing out to the MCG arena) where the ball struggled to leave the centre square, and had 36 blokes surrounding it.

    It's fair to say that when Alomes says that Australian rules is the greatest game in the world, he's not on the same wavelength as many of the game's lay supporters who make that claim. The contradiction of Aussie rules is that, in its own mythology, it is and always has been the greatest game on earth; yet its rules have changed frequently, while at the same time these rule changes are bemoaned by the common man. Alomes suggests that the game needs more changes - restrictions on how many players can be around the ball, numbers on the field, no marks for kicks that go backwards. For someone who loathes the offside rule, these seem to be inherent contradictions in this change manifesto - and yet he seems entirely unaware of this."

    Not surprises that Alomes' book also includes a foreword by Kevin Sheedy.

  5. Bless you Bob Stewart, the 'golden age' thing is complete bollocks. If you asked 100 people when footy was at it's best you'd get 25 different answers minimum, and even then they'll will want to qualify it by saying "Well 1978 was best but we don't want players being shirtfronted off the ball" or "1998 was good but they shouldn't allowed deliberately rushed behinds" etc..

    I understand that the rules have changed significantly in the last 100+ years, but I prefer the idea of saying you're not going to alter anything for a couple of seasons and then take a wider look at the rules rather than just throwing out knee-jerk changes to satisfy people like Leigh Matthews who never seemed to have much interest in the rules while they were playing.


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