Monday 31 August 2015

The Rainbow Connection Meets The Reality Bus Uptown

Round 22, what a time to be alive. No longer the end of the home and away season, but you'd hate to be one of the thousands of Melbourne fans who threw their arms up in despair and walked out last week not to return until at least 2016. If you'd done that you'd have missed the latest in the conga line of self-inflicted debacles, the Veil of Negativity fiasco.

As far as debacles involving us went it was minor but came just at the right time as people wanted to lash out at anybody in power, and fuelled by shithouse crisis management took over the week. It seemed a bit early to enter crisis mode considering we were about to go as lambs to the slaughter in Perth, but now that the internet allows us to entire InstantOutrage mode at the drop of a hat the reaction to the implication that Melbourne fans are self-loathing, teenage emos who are rummaging around their cutlery draw for a fork to plunge into the toaster was scathing.

Not that anyone particularly cared when Roos first raised the spectre of the famous veil on Monday night's AFL 360. I certainly didn't think any more of it, but at the same time I was too busy screaming at the TV for them to ask him a sensible question that I may have missed the chance to take offence at his comments. Where the shit hit the fan was when Peter Jackson decided to come out and helpfully clarify that Roos wasn't talking about the club being a downer to work or play at, just that the fans are the negative ones. Which caused an otherwise nothing story to blow up to the point where people are blowing their top. Roos must have gone into PJ's office and thanked him for turning a trickle of emails into an avalanche.

Given that nobody has done more than I to spread the famous veil across the club it seems almost hypocritical to say it, but don't you think people went a bit over the top about all this? The suggestion that Melbourne fans are negative is... 100% correct. Other than the few "think happy thoughts" teenyboppers who believe that positive vibes can make a difference our fanbase has had their hearts ripped out and shoved back in so many times over recent years that a lot of people don't have any emotion left to give - but it's a near total verballing to suggest they were saying we were the reason the side is still crap after all these years.

What irritated me was the clarification from somebody who is generally a gun operator. Maybe he got stitched up by the papers Bartlett/Yankees style, but I'm not sure who they were speaking to when they rushed to tell us about they scored highly on a staff engagement survey as if there'd be a mass exodus in the finance department otherwise. It just poured fuel on the fire, and now the poor receptionist is probably on stress leave again because she spent all Tuesday afternoon taking calls from frothing nutters intent on explaining how they weren't negative. Compare and contrast to the pre-season when some galoot on 3AW started spreading rumours that we were going to sack Jackson and replace him with Brian Cook, they refused to respond and provide oxygen to the story and it died in the arse. Now along with the team who voted itself out of existence we're going to be the side whose coach and CEO "blamed the fans" for losing.

And we fell right into the media trap on this. In a year where the previously cadaverous MFC has started to show vital signs again this gives them an opportunity to lay the boots in again and make us look stupid. We've got people paid to do that on the footy field, we don't need to assist. Of course somebody then decided to make the own goal decision of ringing around trying to flog $200 raffle tickets but I suppose when you're skint like we are the need to make money outweighs everything else. There's no truth to the rumour that we helped the Australian Border Force with a publicity campaign later in the week.

By the end of the week it was practically accepted wisdom that Roos had gone on Fox Footy on Monday and said "We lose because the fans are depressing us" and that Jackson had rung up the Herald Sun on Tuesday to clarify that "yes, they are a bunch of miserable pricks who are really bringing us all down". I foolishly opened the Facebook comments about Sizzle Jr's debut to see the very same people who are probably up in arms about being referred to as negative whinging about how awful it was that we were going to kill his career by throwing him to the wolves in an unwinnable game. Which it was, but if you can't see the difference between a late season taste of the big stuff and burying somebody like we did with Toumpas (who has apparently re-signed, which I'm for because we may as well persist rather than give him away for peanuts) you're not trying.  Conspiracy theorists would suggest they picked him because they needed a good news story, and well at this time of the year who doesn't?

So after five days of this, to the point where even I of all people wanted to buy Facebook advertising and target it to Melbourne fans telling them to calm the fuck down losing to Freo seemed like an afterthought. As long as the veil wasn't the 2015 version of the pre-186 accommodation debacle we'd forget about the game quickly and could get back on to eating our club alive like classic era Richmond fans.

To be honest it's Monday night and I've already forgotten the game. I remember us getting thrashed, I remember us kicking it out on the full and I remember Jesse Hogan moving increasingly closer to breaking the neck of a teammate but otherwise it was just a blur of late season slurry that didn't tell me anything I didn't know about either side but was soundtracked by Dermott Brereton talking through his ringpiece on several topics and shouting condescending advice at our players like he was watching little kids vs big kids at an Auskick session.

Our world famous "was it worth it?" segment is usually reserved for games personally attended, but in this case I'll deviate from normal procedure and tell you that even from the couch there was very little essential about this match. In a bizarre twist of fate I'd been left in charge of a small child while all this was going on, celebrating just over a year since the first game of her life ended with the Dees kicking 4.10.34 against Freo in Darwin. Around the 20 minute mark of the first quarter as the people who gave us Scott Chisholm began battering us the smell of a turd wafted through our living room, which seemed appropriate.

The only blip in the expected Fremantle dominance was the brief but wholly unsatisfying period in the first few minutes when we were getting the ball forward easily but panic hoofing it into congestion for want of the slightest idea of how to craft a scoring opportunity. Highlights of our inept attacking set-ups on Queen's Birthday must have been on high rotation at Docker HQ this week, because they set the loose man trap and like total suckers we fell for it repeatedly. At least we did for a few minutes until they realised who they were playing at the same time we realised it was a first quarter and proceeded to tear us apart. Five goals before quarter time and another five unanswered in the second quarter before easing off and letting us stumble to the finish line with slivers of our dignity intact.

We got off lightly because they didn't care enough to tear all our limbs off, but at least when people look back at the record books once we've folded at least they won't identify this as one of the all-time great debacles. If it had been two or three weeks ago we would have been clobbered in spectacular fashion, and would have deserved every bit of it.

Given that everyone in the world knew we were going to lose this game (lift that veil Roosy, you did too and there's no point denying it) the primary focus should have been on Nathan Jones' 200th game. There should have been a Press Red for Chunk option to watch him run around crashing into people, but if there was it would have ended in tragedy. Just in case you didn't already know that other than the perennial injury cases he's the unluckiest player ever to have been born his big day ended with five clanger disposals and an ankle injury. I said it last week and I'm even more certain now, if he's been playing fit the last few weeks I'd be astonished. Nevertheless a month of struggling towards a milestone should not detract from the way he has taken the load on himself since 2012.

It's hard to know if he would be the same player elsewhere, but after a few years out of the spotlight he's developed himself into the biggest fish in the most polluted pond over the last few years and for that he should have been hoisted on the shoulders of teammates and fans alike then carried all the way back to Victoria. He has been a colossus, and as his injury doesn't appear to be serious deserves to sit there this week and watch from afar what he's been propping up all this time. In a manly way I just want to hug him and tell him that winning games would be nice but the respect of the people means so much more when it's won in the worst of times.

The best tribute all week came from Colin Garland of all people, who betrayed more emotion in a single column than he ever has in his face. It had a certain valedictory tone about it, like an era was about to come to an end and as we know Jones isn't going anywhere my first thought was that Col had wrestled with the decision of whether to stay or go and had finally reluctantly opted for the latter but was waiting for somebody to talk him out of it. Then a competing conspiracy theory emerged suggesting that he wasn't just leaving, but that he was completely jack of football and is about to announce his retirement. I can't think there's anything in it, and I'd rather he goes elsewhere and has success than chuck it all in, but in a week where Slamming Sam Blease has been forced into retirement due to concussion wouldn't it be appropriate that another player who has been comprehensively Melbourned stood up and said "I can't take this any more" and went to work in a chicken shop somewhere?

My problem with losing Garland, and to a lesser degree Howe, is that on their day they are players who you could see in a top eight side. The sad fact is that we're running at starvation levels of them, and much of our list owe their careers to the AFL pointlessly expanding into markets where nobody cares. For instance Matt Jones is a fine VFL player, and he had a good run in his first season despite falling into a toxic environment but he couldn't sustain it. Even as the tide rose slightly he sank from view and is at best good for one or two serviceable games a season. Which would be fine if we had a cavalcade of stars that meant we only relied on him or one of Terlich, McKenzie, Riley etc.. a couple of times a year but we've got about 10 who either fit that bill or you feel are only likely to ever be really useful if we can develop stars to play around them.

Witness, for instance, Newton doing the reverse to all his teammates except Viney (our only siren-to-siren player all day) and playing a good game when we were being thrashed then disappearing when the sting went out of the game in the second half. Or Michie who seems like he should be handy but has proven very little over the last couple of years. One day we might not have to rely on players like this, but that's a long way off unless we hit the jackpot on recruiting and/or manage to develop Brayshaw, Salem, Hogan, Kent and probably Petracca instead of ruining them like we have so many others recently. It's not a veil of negativity, it's an all encompassing Tuckerbag style paper bag of negativity worn completely over the head with slits cut out for eyes.

After five minutes of fruitlessly going forward to the advantage of nobody but Freo the floodgates finally opened. There was some assistance from questionable free kicks, but even if the frees had gone the other way we were playing like such rank amateurs that we'd have undoubtedly given them the ball back for a goal before long. Cue the procession, where clearances were non-existent (and in some cases around the ground woefully defended that it was embarrassing even by our standards) and none of our players could get their hands on the ball to the point where four of our top five possessions were playing in defence even though we only lost the inside 50's by nine.

As the 10th goal went in I was holding a kiddies toy ("you've changed man" - Adam 1981-2013) and 'playfully' piffed it at the floor only for it to ricochet off a play-mat and rocket into the centre of my television. Fortunately no permanent damage was caused, I've spent enough money on this club in 2015 the last thing I want is to be replacing an appliance ruined in a fit of pique during an otherwise meaningless match. Later when we managed to stem the bleeding long enough to have a clear kick across half back and the runner gave away a free kick for fuck's sake I adopted the Basil Fawlty position directly in front of the TV.

The only thing that caused me to uncurl and rejoin society was when 'Derm' tried to sound knowledgeable by naming the runner as if they were old mates only for Brad Johnson to point out that he was actually looking at the Fremantle team sheet and the Melbourne runner was some other bloke.

Why did I still care? I don't know, it's in the blood. It still hurts me to see our club being treated with contempt by opponents. I'm used to it now but it still rankles, I just want somebody to make a stand. The only person likely to that yesterday was Viney, whose efforts to fire his teammates up ended in him paying a $1000 fine for wrestling. Money well spent.

As the game rapidly degenerated into Disinterested vs Disinteresting the only excitement was a small dog running across my garden during the fourth quarter and late in the day when I realised Daniel Cross had somehow managed 39 touches. Which is the equal ninth most on record for us. If you'd blindfolded me, spun me around, forced me to swing at a Pinata then asked how many he'd had I wouldn't have said more than 25, but it was that kind of day for showing interest. After a rocky start - not that he was alone - I liked what he did and think he should definitely go on next year but I'm not sure there wasn't a typo somewhere along the way.

I didn't mind Sizzle Jr's debut. He was clearly way out of his depth, but we know he was only there to get experience and give the club a good news story to try and defuse some of the bad karma so I'm not going to hold it against him. It was far from a Weetra-esque debut, and he showed enough to indicate that he'll get games on merit next year if he bulks up beyond Cale Morton dimensions and is no longer likely to lift off in a strong breeze.

The last quarter passed me by as if watching a game between two neutral teams. I've still got enough in me to go next week and watch with intent - and to miss footy a week later - but I find it hard to get into our games watching them on TV at the best of times let alone when it's clear that not one person involved except the permanently aroused Dwayne Russell wants to be there.

Such scant interest was being paid that I didn't even remember to pause it when I left the room just before the end of three quarter time and totally missed Gawn's goal. We kick so few it seems rude to have been out of the room when it happened, but even when I came back it didn't register that we'd added another for about five minutes. I'm used to being tired and emotional (not a euphemism for being roaring drunk) but this was ultimate CBF on the same level as the Northcote Leader delivery kid who dumped their entire run in my recycling bin on Friday night despite the fact that we live nowhere near Northcote. Draft that kid.

It's a measure of how satanic our form has been against the Dockers over the last few years that it turned out to be our highest score against them since Round 16, 2012 and raised our average score per game against them since then to the dizzying heights of 42.66. There's a lot of things that could be regarded as our kryptonite (drafting, development, Docklands, North Melbourne) but in the last three seasons Freo has equalled death like no other. I've not got the time nor the inclination to go through the archives to find out but I've got deep suspicions that we've had such an impotent run over six matches against any side since World War I

We should be able to string our lavender marriage with the top 14 out to the end of the season as long as Essendon don't beat Collingwood and make up two percent, and we are getting there (to mid-table), but at the moment progress is slower than paddling a canoe to New Zealand but with the same high potential for us to be wiped out by a freak storm. My head says there's better to come next year, but my heart says it's still a good idea renew your Farce Insurance for 2016.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
---- Significant distance ----
4 - Neville Jetta
3 - Lynden Dunn
2 - Jeff Garlett
1 - Daniel Cross

Apologies to Grimes and Salem who were at least in the mix for the last couple of votes. He might not have pocketed a vote but congratulations must go to Grimes who has won quarter time bragging rights two of the last three weeks by being named sub and playing no part in us going 10 goals behind. He'd better start playing his part in debacles soon or they'll make him captain again by default.

Courtesy of a great run in some terrible games it's advantage Viney, and after looking the certain winner a few weeks ago Vince now finds himself needing to keep Jack scoreless and deliver a best-on-ground performance just to steal a share of the prize pool.

McSizzle also remains a chance, but with Viney's capability of staying afloat when all around him are floundering put him in the box seat to take home his first Jakovich outright. However, if you're a betting man you'll know that Tom has scored 10 of his 85 career votes against GWS, and Viney 7 of 83 so each has a claim. Vince hasn't polled against the Giants yet, and I would suggest this as a great time to start.

In the minors Hogan and Gawn do what was almost certain last week and confirm themselves as champions. After suggesting it would be Gawn who would take the title on Thursday night it turned out that Jesse was the recipient of selection changes when Brayshaw was mercifully rested a month after he threatened to keel over and die.

40 - Jack Viney
38 - Tom McDonald (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
35 - Bernie Vince
27 - Nathan Jones
25 - Jesse Hogan (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
17 - Angus Brayshaw, Jack Watts
16 - Daniel Cross
15 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
11 - Cameron Pedersen
10 - Jeff Garlett, Aaron vandenBerg
7 - Chris Dawes, Dom Tyson
6 - Viv Michie, Christian Salem
5 - Colin Garland, Ben Newton
4 - Lynden Dunn, Neville Jetta
2 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Jack Grimes, James Harmes, Jeremy Howe, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Mark Jamar, Matt Jones, Alex Neal-Bullen, Jake Spencer

Freo's cheersquad must have pre-submitted their application to tank, because even with home advantage and the sort of arrogance that could only come from being the minor premier (whatever that is) they could only manage a dull "thanks to supporters and members" message in the worst font since Times New Roman.

On the other hand our side paid a fitting tribute to a great man by shipping this monster across the continent.

Dees win by a landslide, and as GWS are to cheersquads what we are to Australian rules football I'm claiming victory in advance for next week, which will give us a record of 24-1-0 and the first unbeaten season in Banner Watch history. Congratulations to all who found themselves contemplating their life while elbow deep in crepe paper on a Thursday night in Bentleigh, if there is a football heaven you all deserve to end up there.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Imagine following a team who kicks reasonable scores, you wouldn't know where to turn. Lucky for us the Dees kick so few goals you could decide the winner by a game of Rock Scissors Paper. This week I'm opting for Watts' snap, narrowly beating out the accidental Jack Grimes goal which may have come off McDonald on the way through which I ranked highly because its absurd nature neatly matches my experiences of watching this club.

Garlett still leads overall, but in a dramatic development I'm swinging back to the ice skating goal against Geelong as my favourite.

Stat My Bitch Up
Apparently after looking at membership data it was revealed that a large portion of people aren't even in the ground at the first bounce every week, and what a treat the last month has been for those people. They certainly haven't missed many Melbourne goals, three in total. They have however failed to see 26 by the opposition and probably find themselves doing this on the way into the ground

Which would be awkward if you'd gone all the way to Perth. A month ago our first quarters weren't looking terrible, but suddenly they've drawn alongside the third and fourth in the axis is evil. Second quarters... not so bad.

Q1 - 54.50 to 76.57
Q2 - 57.43 to 64.56
Q3 - 59.30 to 81.50
Q4 - 45.57 to 67.74

For those of you watching our average points per game plunge like the Chinese stock market we've somehow managed to land dead on 70ppg. No charismatic extra numbers, no recurring three, just 70 exactly. Which makes the equation for next week fairly simple, hit the average or go below. Considering this year we've scored 50 thrice, 60 thrice (and nearly hit another hat-trick over the last three weeks by going 54, 54, 55) I don't doubt we can score a nice round number but it's probably more likely to be 40.

We've been moderately blinded by progress, but unless we score 110 this week (fat chance) it will be the fourth worst scoring 22 game season we've ever played behind 2013, 1997 and 2014. So, three of our lowest scoring seasons since 1970 in a row - roll-up kids and start supporting the amazing excitement machine.

There's a lot of other stats about how dreadful we are, but out of respect to anybody who does think that the veil is having an effect I'll keep them to myself.

Next Week
Contrary to my previous claims Casey are playing a final next week, which demonstrates just how much I care about them other than as a day-care centre for our rookies and midcarders. Feel free to go back to last week and read the opening of this particular segment again because most of it remains accidentally relevant.

Now that the VFL finals game neatly coincides with the last round there's even more complications in team selection, after years of uncomfortably shafting Casey at this time of the year we'll probably do the right thing and leave all the "too good for the 2's, not good enough for the 1's" players down there (in fact as a gesture of solidarity they can have Matt Jones back especially for the occasion) while the seniors plunge to bitter defeat.

It's effectively been revealed that Brayshaw, Harmes and Dawes (this time can he resist the urge to biff somebody and get suspended for Round 1 2016?) will all be back in, but I'm not sure how seriously we're meant to take that after last week's debacle where Harmes was announced as being rested, named on Thursday anyway then not picked on Friday. The suggested changes below reflect the fact that I think it's madness to bring Brayshaw back for a meaningless game when he's got nothing left to prove. Also happy to let Tyson get a head start on pre-season instead of risking him.

The Jamar question remains unanswered, and as far as I can see nobody can be bothered asking Roos if he'll play because they're too busy probing for his feelings like they're writing an article for New Idea. We don't need two ruckmen against GWS but I still want him to play. Don't think he will though, and if he does I suspect it will be announced well before 6.25pm Thursday in order to try and pump up some interest in what will otherwise be a record low crowd. If he's merely in on the extended bench then we've decided to take the piss out of a life member one last time for the road - because that's worked so well in the past.

IN: Jamar (emergency: Fitzpatrick), Riley, Harmes, Dawes
OUT: N. Jones, Spencer (inj), M. Jones (omit), Howe (no point)
LUCKY: Garland (I'm buying in to the conspiracy theories), Stretch, Neal-Bullen and O. McDonald (not great games but better to play them now no matter what)
UNLUCKY: Brayshaw (deserves his spot on form)

As for the crowd I'm not expecting much. The Bulldogs-GWS game in the last round of 2014 should be a good guide - a crap team vs GWS with nothing to play for got 14,725. Now adjust for our fans loathing the place, the lack of MCC Members and our 'disappointing' last month of the season and see what happens. Admittedly last year they played a 4.40pm game, but I still think it's going to be a numerical disaster. I've never been to a crowd lower than the 12,410 on Mother's Day 2003 against Port Adelaide (when my mum celebrated by nearly punching on with a Port fan) but if this tops that I'll be astonished. After the 'negativity' fiasco some people were speaking of boycotting this game, but how will we be able to tell? And it's Father's Day, which can't help. If like me your father is a feckless Scotsman who did a runner you won't have any issues, but many of you probably had proper upbringings and wish to spend time with the old man. Well, do it another day we've got to get to 10,000 - though I would secretly be chuffed to be at a record low.

We should have tacked on a page to Ross Lyon's application and asked to be considered for GWS style home crowd rorts to get us into five figures. Given that they're the opposition it shouldn't be too hard to organise. As Level 3 will be shut (I did give thought to smuggling in and unfurling a #FISTEDFOREVER banner up there during the last quarter for comic value, but the amusement value to the 14 people who read this would be outweighed by everyone else using it against us for years to come) what about throwing open Level 2? As long as the cheque doesn't bounce we'll end up paying the stadium for the privilege anyway, so why not try and rope a few more people in to spend on food and drink. Who am I kidding, it's going to be a fiasco and they're not even going to open the catering outlets. I might buy a Nandos and pour extra hot Peri Peri sauce into my eyeballs pre-game.

Final Thoughts
Describing Winston Churchill's support for Lord Beaverbrook (#draftsillynames) during the Second World War, Ernest Bevin said he was "a man who has married a whore, he knows she's a whore but he loves her just the same". I've got no idea who two of those three people are but as a Melbourne fan it seems apt.

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