If my unborn child barracks for Carlton I’ll sell it on eBay
Sitting here on the back deck, I find myself staring at the steam spiraling effortlessly upwards out of my piping-hot coffee reflecting on the good and bad times I’ve experienced as a Bombers supporter. Why am in I a reflective mood? I am about to bring another brand new Essendon member into the world in less than 3 weeks time. I hope from the bottom of my heart that he or she gets to experience some of the highs I have experienced following the mighty Red and Black. As I hope and pray that my child lives a life that is healthy and happy, I also look forward to one day sitting down and telling my own personal story of the Essendon Footy Club. It will probably go something like this:
I remember the baby Bombers of ’93 and winning the flag in a year where we were given no hope. That game was probably my earliest memory as a Bombers supporter. I watched the game with my mother and grandparents in rural Victoria. We had a team that played with heart and skill, and the baby Bombers were far too good for Carlton on that last day in September. Michael Long’s goal in that game is something I’ll always remember. There is no way Silvagni got anywhere near that ball. SOS, as your wife often says, near enough isn’t good enough and every inch does indeed matter.
I remember the Tony Lockett shot for goal in 1996 that cost us a spot in the Grand Final. It was the same year my hero won the Brownlow. As a kid I would run around in a long sleeve “Speed Kills” jumper with the number 5 sewn on the back. I would play footy whenever I had the chance, even if it meant kicking it around by myself and commentating the fictional game out-loud that was playing in my head as I did so. I would always wear that long-sleeved jumper and Mum always had trouble getting it off me – no matter how dirty it was or how putrid it smelled.
Little did I know at the time it wouldn’t be for another 4 years before I got to experience premiership joy and truly appreciate it. 1999 was a terrible year. We were robbed – there is no question. Justin Murphy is someone I’ll always associate with that game. It should’ve been the start of a dynasty, which we now all know wasn’t meant to be. Of course the great number 5 didn’t play, and it is almost forgotten now that due to chronic stress fractures in his foot there were thoughts at the time that his career might even be over.
It wasn’t, and of course in 2000 we witnessed a team lead by our talisman Hird hellbent on success. We all remember that Essendon was an unrivaled and dominant force, and for those too young to have witnessed it, well you just had to be there. Every week, every game, Essendon ran out expecting to win, and we did. Apart from one game. That game was against the Bulldogs late in the season – and I remember actually crying after the match. To this day I have no idea why . Perhaps it was the ghost of ’99 coming back to haunt me, but for some reason I was genuinely sad. That’s one thing I love about footy, it draws on the most primal of all human emotions. I’m sure an anthropologist somewhere has done a paper on it – perhaps it relates to tribalism, perhaps it relates to competitiveness, I don’t really know. What I do know is that 2000 was triumph, and appeared to be only the beginning.
Of course it wasn’t, as our 2000 team was picked apart by injury and by other teams feeding off our bounty of talent and Essendon’s salary cap pressures, while the then love child of the AFL Brisbane enjoyed significant salary cap concessions and Premierships to boot. Fast forward 17 years and it is happening again with GWS, but that’s another story.
I’ll glaze over the next few years as we slide into mediocrity. Sheedy, perhaps trying to squeeze one last Premiership out of the class of ’93 tried to top up with players such as Mark Alvey, Tye Zantuck, Damien Cupido and that Justin Murphy prick. For some reason Sheeds bought in other Carlton has-beens as well in Scott Camporeale and Mark Allen. It was a miserable time interspersed with one or two memorable moments, such as the Line In The Sand game and Hirdy’s hug after the Eagles game and the “horror week”.
The class of ’93 felt finally over when Class Captain and my hero James Hird announced his retirement in 2007 (albeit that the evergreen Fletch went on and on). It was also to be Sheeds’ last season, so it was truly the end of an era. In that final game against the Eagles, there I went again with the tears, however fortunately I was old enough to get rip-roaring drunk. So Essendon was also responsible for my first real monster of a hangover.
The next era was a Knightmare and a forgettable period for Bombers fans. In fairness to Knights, whoever took the reigns as coach was going to have his work cut out for him replacing a legend like Sheeeds, who was not only a master coach but a master statesman of the game. Knights was cut in 2010 after successfully bringing that good old Richmond mediocrity to club (let’s pray we don’t finish 9th this year). Our list wasn’t good, and we needed someone to reunite the club again. Enter James Hird. He came back to the club like a knight (pun intended) in shining armor amidst the dawning dark apocalyptic clouds.
We all know what happened next, as one of the darkest days for any Bombers supporter began. I won’t expand on it here, as there have been endless stories written about this period, but needless to say it was a terrible time for all fans and the club alike. While James Hird had his part to play, the fact that he has been left to carry the can for the failings of the ENTIRE COMPETITION is, and shall remain, a national disgrace.
I’m sure there are lessons for my child that I will be able to impart. One is about not trusting people too much, including those you keep close. I do hold regret that he or she will never have a chance to see James Hird play live, watch him glide gracefully for a mark or single-handedly drag his team over the line when a game is up for grabs. In fact I’ll probably talk about him to my future grandchildren in ways that an old bloke might talk about John Coleman, except hopefully I’ll still have my teeth.
So as we move to this new era, one which I think will deliver us success and Premierships, I hope my child can love footy – and Essendon FC – just like I do. I hope he or she can hang on every kick and mark and get just as excited as I did as a kid, get to witness a dynasty, and hopefully there is a HERO to admire that echos James Hird. And if my child comes home from school one day barracking for Carlton, well it’s time to find another family.