Tuesday, 17 October 2017

New Jack Watts City

In the flash of a tweet the most divisive project since the Stanford Prison Experiment ended with a whimper. After nine years of dialling W for Watts the number you are trying to call has shifted to an 08 area code and is no longer connected. For reasons more emotional than sporting I'm cut up about it. All that mental energy spent willing him to do well so we he could shove an arm deep down the throat of all the detractors comes to an end as he's practically given away for the equivalent of a packet of chips just as we're starting to come good.

I'm not going to use his obituary to rewrite history and turn him into something he wasn't, but I wouldn't have thought he formed the barrier between mid-table mediocrity and a finals berth at the very least. Since Hogan arrived he was no longer expected to kick massive bags, he was there as a forward option and a cog in the larger machine. An cog who made good decisions in a sea of people who had no idea what to do next except get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. Obviously he could have done more like knocking a few people over or taking screaming pack marks, but even if he was never destined to become a Hell's Angel who'd kill your grandmother to get to a hard ball, his positive attributes surely outweighed cashing in for pick 31 and starting again with some random kid.

In a career where he's been blamed - sometimes fairly, but usually because he was an easy target - for everything but the rise of ISIS let's focus on the positives. Like his wonderfully casual nine-iron goalkicking, and how he was a bloody good lead on the rare occasion where we'd kick to the advantage of forwards rather than panic roosting towards the square. For somebody regularly slaughtered for not being enough of a raw meat eating alpha male fuckstick he was also our most dependable forward to drop back into defence at the end of a quarter. Who floats back to take the saving mark and gets us out of jail with an on-target kick now? I'm probably Sizzle McDonald's #1 advocate but while he's got the marking covered I don't particularly fancy him having to hit a target when we're a point up with 30 seconds left.

It wasn't always smooth sailing, but I had a Come to Jack moment against Sydney in Round 6, 2014. He only had five kicks, cost us a goal by dropping a mark in defence and was being treated by many of our fans (some who are probably throwing themselves onto the funeral pyre in despair now) like the man who invented leaded petrol. That night I realised that it didn't matter where we'd drafted him, he was never going to win the Brownlow and the best thing to do was to bunker down, enjoy the good times for as many games as possible and accept that he wasn't going to play 22 stunners a year. From then I've been much calmer, no longer wanting to throttle his detractors or engage in pointless arguments with Twitter eggs about how he did just as much as Nic Nat. Live and let live.

Since then he's gone up and down like a rollercoaster, but on the whole I've genuinely enjoyed him. If you believe the ham-fisted propaganda campaign there could have been issues with intensity of training and setting of standards for younger players etc.. etc.. etc.. but really just how bad could it have been? Did he have a dodgy pre-season or was it 23 consecutive home and away weeks of running diagonally across The Tan and pouring a bottle of water over the head to appear sweaty? Could I get an itemised list of all the minimum standards that he wasn't achieving, rather than that being used as convenient shorthand for "I have no idea but am trying to sound knowledgeable".

I'm not convinced man management is about everyone necking themselves until their hamstrings are about to tear out and fly down the Yarra, but maybe there are things we don't know. Things that make punting him out the door in exchange an almost derisory draft pick make sense. That's why I can't get properly outraged, but I am terrifically grim at what is probably the most emotionally draining trade (even including the SME going) of my supporting life. Wasn't all that fussed about Woewodin, didn't give two shits about Johnstone, but this has torn my heart out. Behind Nathan Jones he's the player I most wanted to molest over the fence after a winning Grand Final. To be fair what's happened today probably enhances my opportunity to see him win big. Probably after knocking us out of the eight after another Round 23 debacle.

Speaking of Round 23 (because I'm never going to stop until we're good), there was a lead and goal that didn't make the highlights package but which should be required research for Port on how to best feed him. Meanwhile we've got our fingers crossed that a whole-hearted defender who's had one Cuthbertson-esque purple patch and a thin kid who's spent most of two years in the reserves are going to successfully play foil to Hogan. You never know when a seemingly weird decision is going to cause magic to fall from the sky, but I'll wait for solid evidence before being convinced this wasn't just the execution of a scapegoat. Like when dictators publicly execute a few criminals at random as encouragement for everyone else to straighten up and fly right. In this case, at least, he gets a chance to redeem himself. I hope he does so well that we get somebody good at 31 and still regret having made the trade.

I'm not going to burn Simon Goodwin in effigy on Brunton Avenue yet. At least not until we're kicking 4.8.32 every week next year because Hogan's injured, Pedersen's a 31-year-old journeyman who can't be expected to deliver every week and McDonald is no longer playing with the element of surprise. But what shits me about this debate, even until this afternoon when I was holding on to hope that he'd stay and be a redemption story worthy of a Rocky movie, is how people were happy to throw him in the bin just because he's never going to become a superstar of the comp.

I've heard and understood the case for trading him. In fact I think he's doing the smartest thing by going somewhere else for a fresh start, and I'm determined to wait and see what happens with the pick and forward line in general next year, but gut feeling is either something very dodgy has gone on behind the scenes or this is a tremendous cock-up. I don't know if I'd be any happier if were for pick 20 or 25 (even though that leaves you effectively selecting from the same group of players), but there's a psychological barrier about the 30s that makes it feel like an extra ounce of piss has been extracted. This is not how a sane and rational man thinks, but I'm not a sane and rational man I'm a Melbourne supporter.

Forget what happened years ago (except for how his pissweak teammates refused to defend his honour on debut by punching on), 150 games later it doesn't matter that we picked him first or 99th he filled a role, and every team needs role players. Richmond and the Bulldogs had about 15, and if you're confident that Oliver, Petracca, Hogan, Lever are heading for the stars then what's the point of getting through all the difficult years then folding the moment things start to turn in our favour? If it turns out well then I'll kneel down and join the Mahoney/Goodwin Kiss My Ass Club, but until then I reserve the right to hold healthy scepticism about the deal and conveniently emerging negative stories. Next there'll be Russians plastering that one about his locker all over Facebook.

There is suggestion that salary cap pressure contributed to us having to chuck him but, a) who's the dickhead who got us into that position after 11 years without finals and not one genuine, fully developed superstar on the list, and b) funny how that only came out after people had been cracking the shits for a few days, and after it had already been suggested that he could stay if he wanted to. 

So what would have happened if he had decided not to go? Pretty high risk signing Lever to big money without having a contracted player officially off the books. They must have been reasonably confident that the negative press dumped in the last fortnight was enough to make sure they got the desired outcome. Who's running this joint, Harvey Weinstein? Then it turned out we might be paying part of his salary next season anyway and it became apparent that the manager of a Tijuana whorehouse had seized control. At least I don't think there's a membership brochure in the mail featuring his beaming face on the cover. Though it does represent the final death-knell for my proposed '2018: You Ready?' campaign.

Anyway, this has left me gloomy as all fuck, but at the same time once the shock of leaving his comfort zone and having to live in Adelaide wear off I'm sure at least he'll be happy. I look forward to a dramatic resurrection in this career of Jimmy Toumpas as they create the most lethal combination of MFC draftees in history.

As for us the best thing to do next year is to keep a calm head (remember, the receptionist and the Twitterist aren't the ones signing off on the deal - at least try to be civil) and remember that the club will - we hope - outlive the careers and probably lives of everyone currently on the list. I'm not your mother to tell you what to do, but this doesn't feel like the sort of thing you'd refuse to renew a membership over - especially if you sat through fielding a guy who'd threatened to kill a witness to him kicking a woman around and joyfully clapped like a seal while we were throwing games for draft picks.

None of this post was pre-prepared, because even though it was always coming I didn't think I'd be emotionally affected so much. So, because I cannot fathom any more #wattschat I leave you with my top 10 memorable moments of a thwarted career.

Honourable mentions
The time in the early days of Facebook when Juice Newton forgot to turn the privacy settings on and we got to see photos of him and Watts running riot with housewives in Bali.

The Energy Watch ad, where despite being an amateur he was a better actor than the father/son team who were so wooden you could make a table out of them.

10. The debut - Round 11, 2009
What an appropriate MFC-sized clusterfuck it was. First he was rolled into the team well before he was ready just to try and spark a few thousand extra people through the gate. He had a VCE exam the next day, but player welfare be buggered who needs to concentrate on education when you're a #1 pick?

For the grand total of +1700 on the previous year's Queen's Birthday crowd we treated him like the second coming Jesus in videos and live announcements, then when he finally trotted off the bench for the first time Collingwood players mugged him while 17 teammates stood around going "gee that's rough". The only thing we can be thankful of is that it would never happen again today, half our side would be rubbed out for a month if anyone tried it.

9. Blind turn around no one - Round 20, 2011
In a complex side that went from good to bad to good to fucking awful, this was his best season to date. He played every game, he kicked multiple goals a few times and looked like he was on the up. Then 186 and associated sagas turned up and ruined everything, but in the week immediately following that shemozzle he lifted our spirits with this piece of video game style trickery. Now it seems funny that the closest player to him was Brock McLean, another high draft pick we couldn't get 100% out of and flogged to another club.

8. The troubled Neeld relationship - 2012/13
It shouldn't surprise anyone that a guy operating at an intensity level like Michael Douglas in Falling Down was going to struggle to cope with somebody who didn't always look like they were about to launch a killing spree. His motivational tactics started with a public potting in November 2011, and things never got any better. Neeld has perhaps been slightly unfairly treated in that people will believe any old story you make up about him, but I hope that now Jack is free to tip the bucket on the club we'll find out if it's true that the coach really did scream in his face that he was a "weak cunt". Which would have been ironic for a man who had a chintzy Keep Calm And Carry On sign in his office.

7. In defence - Round 10, 2012
In a way the coach's reasoning to sending him into defence was sound. If he wasn't going to kick goals he might as well use his good skills and decision making elsewhere. It had started two games earlier, when back in the side after a fortnight out he had 34 touches against Sydney. It wasn't hard to rack up possessions in the backline that night considering we lost by 101 points, so this was by far the better

On the night where Colin Garland played a starring role forward, Jack was dominant in defence and scored his first of three maximums in the Brownlow. It was one of several dozen false starts where we thought he'd finally discovered his niche, but like everything in those two years things didn't take long to sour. He was not a defender. But to be fair, in that team neither was anyone else.

4. Enter the scapegoat - Round 2, 2013
People had been coming for him from about 10 minutes after he was drafted, including notorious Melbourne player assassin Leigh Matthews who piled onto him after about six games, but this was where it originally hit the big time. When he was the unlucky one to be subbed off amongst 21 other players who could have gone with him, there were sounds like might have been triumphant, mocking cheering from Essendon fans, our lot emptying their frustrations on the easiest target or a healthy mixture of both.

He was clearly becoming mentally frazzled, so when he was dropped it seemed like a good opportunity to either give him a rest or a casual trot at Casey. Instead we did neither and brought him along to the next game as an emergency. When asked why he was there Neil Craig said because they didn't want to have to play The Spencil if there was an injury - to which I asked why did you pick him as an emergency in the first place then you lunatics?

5. On the loose at lastRound 13, 2013
Arguably his best ever performance, coming at the start of a purple patch that not surprisingly coincided with his nemesis getting the arse. In his 64th game he finally got off the leash as a forward and was able to lead and mark, instead of battling for overhead marks that he wasn't suited for or withering away on a flank.

He kicked four to help set up a big lead, before the Bulldogs piled on seven goals in 15 minutes to reduce the margin from 44 to two. Given that we were 1-11, and had only won by a last quarter avalanche against an expansion team full of kids the importance of holding on cannot be understated. If we'd lost it would have been worse than the Chris Sullivan Line game (and that would have been replaced with the Jeremy Howe Line), but after helping build the lead he then went into defence and took a mark on the last line to hold them out and deliver a popular win. We didn't get another one for about 10 months.

4. Another round of lows - Round 6 2015
Roos had convinced Watts to stay at the end of 2013 when it looked like he was going to walk, and might have got the best out of him in 2016 but the first two years were a mixed bag. Three goals in Round 1 of 2015 were another false dawn, and by Round 6 he was starting as the sub and coming on to half encouragement and half Bronx Cheers from dickheads who wanted him to do badly so their point would be proven. He was going so badly even that poon 'Stevo' could crack gags on him.

After this it was suggested that he'd dropped himself, which sounded like a face-saving way of hiding being dropped to me. And it turned out to be good news for him because he missed us losing to Hawthorn by a hundred. Despite this rocky start the coach would eventually call him the heart and soul of the club, only to leave and watch it all go tits up. Given that Goodwin was actually coaching in 2016 are we to understand that he had the footy side covered and Roos was there to successfully spread good vibes and appear at press conferences?

3. The last great game - Round 4, 2016
It may be telling to his ultimate fate that the last time he absolutely tore a game to shreds was the start of last season. This was an underrated demolition job on the Pies that obviously nobody except me watched, because it was entirely forgotten by the time he did them in with one kick a year and a bit later. Four goals in a near flawless performance, save for an uncharacteristic miss from right in front, much to the visible disgust of the Pies mutant I was sitting with.

2. The winning goal - Round 19, 2016
With five games left nobody was yet thinking about the Mighty Ducks Finish run to the finals, and they might never have had a chance if it wasn't for this. That we stuffed it up in the end shouldn't detract from the casual way he chipped through the winner under immense pressure. See, sometimes a player being casual isn't cause to crucify them. I hope you prefer watching tormented run-ups that veer from side-to-side like Luke Hodge approaching a booze bus.

1. Queen's Birthday redemption - Round 12, 2017
It was far from his best game, but that run and finish to win the game was . The same journalists who had been potting him for years queued up to talk up how he'd finally 'arrived' 18 months after he'd started playing really well. There was such a carnival atmosphere after this that victory was celebrated in a guerrilla Facebook Live session alongside Jayden Hunt from inside a spa. That's the sort of comic genius I want, even if he's not suited to living a Bear Grylls style existence on the side of a mountain.

Ironically it (the game, not the Facebook extravaganza) was his last great moment with us, he did little coming back from injury and clearly had his cards marked after that. If there's one life lesson to be learnt from the Melbourne Football Club it's that you should never be happy because a let-down is just around the corner.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you. Sadly devastated and close to tears. Clueless bunch of incompetents. Coaching is surely about unleashing potential. Massive fail here.

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