We’ve all seen Twitter accounts detailing the number of days since Essendon won their last final.
And we have seen a once mighty club divided and fractured as the continued fallout of one of the darkest periods in, not just the history of the Essendon Football Club, but footy in general claimed victim after victim. From players to the head coach, from administrators to supporters, so many Bomber faithful have been lost to the game over the last ten years.
Hell, at one point, even yours truly – a Hawthorn supporter – considered walking away from the game and leaving it to those dancing on the grave of the Bombers. At a time when my team was flying high and winning flags, the entire situation at Essendon and the salivating mob howling for the heads of those at the club was almost enough for me to call it quits. I hated it then. I still hate it, now.
So many good people who could have aided the Bombers as they endeavoured to repair the club were no longer part of the process – they walked away or were shown the door.
And at times, some even lost a semblance of who they are.
You don’t have to rewind too far to find James Hird as a lost soul, having moved away from football after the weight of the Essendon supplement saga seemed to fall on his shoulders. I remember hearing him interviewed on radio as I was driving to work – he was driving at the time, as well – delivering chocolates to make money. He sounded as though he was a little more relaxed, as though the pressure was off and he was getting on with life.
But without knowing the ins and outs of what was happening, I found myself wondering what the hell a man of his stature was doing selling chocolates? Surely he had so much more to offer?
I was worried that too many things remained unresolved for Hird. He was the face of all that went wrong at the club. He took the hits. He was the man who stood on the beach as the tsunami hit.
In the end, it all became too much for him. That wave washed over him and we have since learnt of the toll it took upon the former champion of the club, and his family. This wasn’t just about a man being turned away from a club and a sport – this was a man being pushed to the edge, and almost over it.
It could have ended very, very badly. It almost did.
With news that James Hird has interviewed for the vacant coaching position at Essendon (and was invited to do so), some have raised an eyebrow – some have raised both – considering where the club has been and how it got there. However, at a time when the club has been in disarray, could having the golden-haired boy and club legend back at the helm be the step toward healing a scar that still weeps at Bomberland?
To call the last nine months at Essendon a disaster would be hyperbole, especially given they have first-hand knowledge of what a real disaster looks like. However, as long-suffering supporters will attest, another season of disappointment has gnawed at them after making finals last year, and the failure of the board to get themselves in order has been both concerning and embarrassing. The situation surrounding Ben Rutten, the potential hiring of Alastair Clarkson, and the fallout of the entire debacle, with multiple senior positions at the club vacated, was just another kick in the nuts to a team that already had some significant swelling in the area.
It wasn’t the swelling that worried them – that could stay. We all like that, right fellas? Right?!?! Eh?
The associated pain and suffering, and the repeated blows to the area… that was the issue.
When was it going to end?
Though distanced from the club and aiding Mark McVeigh with his interim coaching at GWS, James Hird still bleeds red and black. He may have sat in the coaching box wearing charcoal and orange, but the colours he wore as a star of the game are synonymous with Hird – they will always be a part of him. They will always call him back.
Is it time he re-embraced them? And are the club ready to re-embrace Hird?
You can understand the reluctance, if there is any, at Essendon when it comes to bringing Hird back into the fold, particularly given what occurred on his last tour of duty. Sure, we can point fingers in any and every direction, but some of the responsibility for the collapse at Essendon and the sanctions imposed has to sit with Hird. It can’t not.
Has the club forgiven him?
Have the supporters?
Did they all ever really blame him and him alone in the first place?
Ben Rutten was given two years at Essendon. David Noble got the same treatment at North Melbourne. Now, more than ever, footy is being run like a business – romance dies when business is involved. Why would the Bombers fall back into bed with Hird when the breakup was so messy last time. Or will they do it BECAUSE the breakup was so messy last time?
If this was viewed as an intimate relationship, some would call it dysfunctional. Here, you have Essendon, hurt and vulnerable, looking for someone to love them, but after years of searching, they have found none.
And here is Hird – he is familiar, they have history, and though Essendon knows there is an element of risk, theirs is a relationship built on passion. Others may be on the Bombers’ radar – they may like the look of a couple and wonder “what if…”, but none generate the passion that Hird does from the club.
None ignite a fire under supporters quite like the golden-haired boy, whichever way that passion leads them.
Whether Hird is accepted back at Tullamarine (reads so much poorly than ‘Windy Hill’) will be one of the stories to watch over the next little while. A polarising figure, I always had the feeling that he was a pretty damn good coach in the making, particularly given the apparent lack of support around him. With experienced coaches such as Ross Lyon and Brad Scott baulking at the chance to take the helm of the Bombers, will Hird, portrayed as a villain by the media, return and become a club hero once again?
Yes, romance may be dead in football, but Hird back at Essendon has a certain feeling of justice to it. If you’ve followed the ‘saga’ over the entire course and heard the accusations, the half-truths, and all sides of the story, there has to be a part of you, even a small one, that is rooting for Hird to make good.
I doubt this will be his last chance to coach an AFL team again, but with the Bombers on the ropes and in need of someone to lead them out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves, could the man that managed to barely drag himself out of that hole in the first place be the one they turn to?
I doubt Essendon will jump back into bed with Hird, honestly. This interview seems more like a quick shag with the ex in the laneway than a commitment of any sort, but I suppose we’ve all found ourselves in a situation where one thing leads to another. Some great romances have started, or rekindled with a laneway encounter, right? Yes, I am a classy unit.
Where do you sit, Bomber fans? Does Hird deserve a second chance at coaching the club he loved? That he loves?
Or are you more than happy he got his time in the laneway before you started looking elsewhere?