On the edge of stealth
In its professional era, Essendon has been keen to get any edge it can when improving its performance on the field, when extracting more money from its members or when trying to get the high moral ground over other AFL clubs. The "whatever it takes" approach has corrupted what was a conservative club was accused of being a football equivalent of Lance Armstrong. Specifically, in 2013, the club found itself on trial through the media after it heeded AFL advice to announce that it had run a cutting edge supplement program the previous year. Although an ASADA interim report later cleared the club of using illegal drugs in its program, the AFL was not pleased and charged the club for bringing the AFL into dispute. The charges included allegations that Essendon had used supplements that were "exotic" and "beneficial." It seems that after recruiting rugby league players Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt, and negotiating for them to be sponsored by supplement company Swisse, the AFL was concerned that one of its clubs might be using supplements that actually worked.
Essendon was founded in 1871 to represent a growth area in Melbourne's north west; an area typically home to protestant middle-classes. In 1896, the working class inner city clubs broke away from the VFA to form the VFL. Although differentiated from the inner-city in ideology and in class, Essendon received an invitation to be part of the breakaway due to its on-field power and status as a region of growth. It was an invitation that the inner-city clubs soon regretted as Essendon won the first VFL flag. Essendon subsequently went on to win a league record of 16 premierships.
Initially the club was known as the 'Same Olds' because it was in the habit of winning premierships from year to year. For a while, it was also known as the blood-stained blacks, although not in an official capacity. In the 1920's, the club became known as the Bombers due to its close proximity to the war-time airport.
The Bomber's conservative history ensured that for the next 60 years nothing much happened to the club off the field. Appreciating something had to change, in 1981 the club hired Kevin Sheedy as its coach. Sheedy was a former Richmond back man who had been renowned for innovative and dirty play. As coach, he applied the same philosophy. Consequently, a club of clean-cut athletic-go-getters without imagination was transformed into a tough and unpredictable unit.
The injection of mongrel seemed to be working brilliantly as the club made its first grand final appearance in 15 years. Unfortunately for the Bombers, the grand final appearance culminated in a record defeat at the hands of Hawthorn. Like true champions, Essendon picked themselves off the canvas and in 84 and 85 they went on to record back-to-back grand final victories, which in turn led to a surge in membership.
In the 1990s, the American military unveiled its stealth bomber that was invisible to radar and it duly inspired Essendon. Not only did the club embrace the image of the bomber on their logo, they also embraced the concept of stealth by secretly cheating the salary cap. Of course, nothing is ever truly stealth and just as Australia's Jindalee radar system showed that the stealth bomber could be tracked, accountants showed that even payments made via brown paper bags still leave a trail. When exposed, coach Kevin Sheedy defended the club by saying that maths was never his strong point. While it was a powerful defensive argument in the eyes of some Essendon supporters, it wasn’t enough to prevent the club from be fined and stripped of draft selections.
With salary cap cheating giving it an edge on the field, membership surged and Essendon and resulted in the club outgrowing its home in Windy Hill. It then moved to the MCG in 1992 where improved accessibility and a big time atmosphere caused its crowds and membership to thrive. In 93, the move paid instant dividends. In the preliminary final, Essendon triumphed over West Coast and Sheedy celebrated by waving his jacket above his head in front of the huge crowd. In the subsequently grand final, Essendon demolished Carlton and Aboriginal player Michael Long won the Norm Smith medal in the International Year of Indigenous Peoples. The waving of jackets subsequently became an Essendon-West Coast tradition and Aboriginality became associated with the club formerly referred to as blood-stained blacks.
By the end 90s, the club had grown the largest supporter base in Australia and was also pulling the largest crowds. An example of its popularity came in 1997 when the club finished 14th, but had 11 games at the MCG that attracted more 50K people. It resulted in Essendon being ranked ranked #1 in attendance in the AFL.
No Sheedy, no Hird, no hope and $330 reserved seats
In the beginning of the new millennium, the club was at the peak of its powers but it still wanted more. Dollars signs had engulfed the administration's eyes and so in 2000 the club moved to the smaller Docklands Stadium in order to reap more financial rewards. The main motivation for the move was to restrict the ability of the average fan to attend games, which would force them to buy memberships. Furthermore, corporate boxes would be easier to sell when the home game carried the positive label of a "sell-out".
Members tried to vote against the move, but the board engineered the meeting so that opponents wouldn’t be able to cast their votes. With profit, rather than fan welfare in mind, a perception was created that the team should be renamed Essendon Inc. Furthermore, smaller crowds meant that it was rival Collingwood that drew the huge crowds at the MCG and became more closely associated with the spiritual image of football. Ironically, despite trying to force memberships on its fans, membership growth went backwards and it was Collingwood that took Essendon’s number 1 mantle.
More problems for the club came in 2010 when it found itself in dispute with the Bowls Club that shared some of the club's training facilities in the Windy Hill precinct. The Bombers wanted the bowlers to move somewhere else so that the Bombers could upgrade their facilities, but at a special meeting, 90 members of the bowling club voted to stay put. Given the Essendon board's previous approach conflict resolution, it was suspected they may have tried to lubricate relations with some donations of tea and lamingtons and if that failed, get 100 Essendon members to covertly join the bowling club and vote for a move. Instead, the Bombers decided that the impasse could be another opportunity to extract more money from members. They subsequently announced plans to build a new $29 million training base elsewhere and asked members to donate money to its "flight plan."
As for fans, the club had become a farce and fans were deserting it like rats leaving a sinking ship. If the board didn't do something, it would have ended up drawing crowds comparable to the Melbourne Demons. Golden boy James Hird was then recruited to address its image problems with fans.
The recruitment worked well with promising signs both on and off the field; however, 2013, it was again revealed that the Bomber's love of stealth wasn't that stealthy at all. It seems that the club had hired an assortment of high performance managers who liked to go by titles other than their real names. One of these referred to himself as "The Weapon" and his weapon of choice came in the form of a needle. The contents of the needle were devised by another high performance manager going by the name of the "The Pharmacist", who in turn was alleged to have sourced some of his supplies from a convicted drug dealer known as "Dr Ageless."
The actions of the trio, dubbed the "Batman Villains", may have gone undetected but for an ex-player, Kyle Reimers (real name), giving an interview to the press. In the interview, Reimers said players had had to sign "waivers" concerning a "supplement" program that had been "pushing the boundaries." Reimer's account was later contradicted by another ex-player going by the name of "Spike," who was adamant the "waivers" had been "confidentiality" agreements that protected the club's "intellectual property." Spike then went on to explain that he had never been injected with anything more than vitamin C. For one reason or another, it seems the Batman Villains had concluded that feeding players oranges at quarter time no longer did the job and a jab in the stomach would be the way to go. Furthermore, administering the vitamin C via needles instead of oranges was a form of "intellectual property" that needed to be protected.
It later emerged that while Spike might have received Vitamin C, other players had received extracts of pig brains, bark, and the first milk of a mother cow. It was even alleged that golden boy James Hird was keen to use some drugs to improve his tan and sleep his libido.
Ironically, Essendon's slogan for the season was "whatever it takes", but was soon interpreted to mean, "What did we take?" Likewise, when a government investigation found links between AFL clubs, organised crime and the abuse of peptides, stories of personal "personal growth", "pep talks" and even "Dons" gained a whole new meaning. Finally, the fondness for pig brains, calve food and bark, helped explain the Don's tendency to be obsessively money hungry, to stare at cameras like a dull-eyed cow and to stand around the field like motionless trees.
Worried that the Batman villains may have secretly drugged the players, the club launched an internal investigation into what may have occurred. The report found that traditional medicine had been marginalised in a way that created "a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the club". The report did not; however, find any evidence of illegal drug use.
For the AFL, the fact that a report writer had had a disturbing picture in his mind was a justification to act. The AFL subsequently leaked stories to the media so that it would create a “disturbing picture” of the club in the mind of its readers and this disturbing picture would then be used to justify excluding the club from the finals, fining it $2million, banning coaches and excluding it from the draft. Considering that an official ASADA investigation issued no infraction notices, the AFL’s actions created a disturbing picture of an authoritarian environment that was out of control and intolerant of any challenge.
Numerous media commentators and other AFL clubs advised Essendon not to fight as you can’t beat City Hall. Essendon coach James Hird and doctor Bruce Reid disagreed on the grounds that the AFL is not City Hall and it is still constrained by the laws of Australia. Both launched legal action against the AFL. Hird was later basically bribed by Essendon to withdraw his action. Reid continued his and the AFL backed down.
Roy Morgan research
Essendon Bombers supporters are:
2001 when compared to other Australians
2004 when compared to other AFL supporters
2006 - When compared to other AFL supporters
Essendon Bombers theme song
It is hardly the kind of lyrical genius that would bring a tear to the eye of John Lennon or Bob Dylan. It is also interesting to note that whilst the other clubs sing about loyalty, unity or courage, Essendon sings about "glory and fame". It could be argued that such motivations make it an attractive club to the wanker element in society. Unfortunately, with 16 premierships, the wankers have had a lot of fame to sing about.
After injection revelations of 2013, it was suggested "fly up" should have been changed to "shoot up."
Carlton Blues- Carlton has 16 flags to Essendon's 16; the most in the league. Essendon defeated Carlton in the 93 Grand Final which Carlton president John Elliot attributed to Essendon cheating the salary cap. Carlton knocked Essendon off in the 1999 preliminary final and it was later revealed that Carlton was cheating the salary cap. Carlton went on to lose the Grand Final but still felt it was a good year as they had denied Essendon a probable flag.
West Coast Eagles -In 1993, Essendon beat the West Coast and coach Kevin Sheedy waved his jacket in celebration. The following year Essendon lost to the Eagles and West Coast fans waved their jackets in celebration. Upon their next meeting, Essendon won and their fans waved jackets. Some Essendon fan then wrote a song about waving jackets and sticking it to the Eagles. In 2004, Kevin Sheedy collapsed in the heat while coaching Essendon in the west. When he came to, he saw thousands of Eagle's fans waving their jackets. (The jacket is now on display in the medallion club at Melbournes Dockland Stadium.)
Collingwood Magpies - Collingwood has long competed with Essendon for the honour of being Melbourne's most successful and popular club. Having lost the 1990 Grand Final to Collingwood, Essendon fans are forever reminded that just as they are the only team that can't beat Port Power in a final, they are the only team that can't beat Collingwood in the Grand Final.
Every year, the two clubs battle on Anzac day which outside the Grand Final, is the biggest match on the AFL sporting calendar.
The two clubs are also competiting for the title of being the Machester United of Australian sport. Essendon has the corporate deal making and the pretty boys while Collingwood has the president and the supporter base.
Hawthorn Hawks - In 1983, the Hawks inflicted a then record Grand Final defeat on Essendon. The following year, Essendon turned the tables. In 1985, Essendon backed it up with another Grand Final victory over Hawthorn. In the 80s, the clashes between the two clubs were not just the highest standard, they were also the toughest.
Nth Melbourne - Because they drew supporters from the same area, Essendon managed to have Nth Melbourne excluded from the VFL when it broke away form the VFA in 1896. Nth Melbourne didn't enter the VFL until 1925 and they have blamed this lack of history as the reason it lacks Essendon's supporter base.
In 1998, some Nth fans decided to inform Essendon of their softness by throwing marshmallows at coach Kevin Sheedy.
Nth Melbourne's Grand Final victories in 1996 and 1999 have both came against opponents that had defeated Essendon by a point in the preliminary final. For a while, Essendon saw defeating Nth as the flags they should have had.
1)A reporter from the Herald Sun asked James Hird: "Are all Essendon players conceited?" Hird replied: "I don't really know, but I'm not."
2) Mathew Lolyd was talking to a very pretty lass about the game he had just played. For almost three hours, he talked about the marks he took, the goals he scored and how it felt to hear the crowd cheering. The lass gave a bored sigh and Mathew realised he was being a little self-centred. Like a true gentlemen he said: "Enough talk about me. Let's talk about you. What did you think of my game today?"
3)"Hirds playing on Loyld, fumbling around for the ball and probably his
4) What are the first five words an Essendon coach in a three piece tailored suit hears?
|Was this more interesting than a news update of players in a recovery session standing around in the ocean looking cold or of a team 'training without incident'?|