In 1958, when I was nine years old, I watched Collingwood win the VFL Premiership on our black and white TV (of course).
Naturally, I started supporting the Magpies and have done so ever since. I have taken all sorts of abuse from not only VFL/AFL supporters but also supporters of other codes. I have been abused in restaurants, shopping centres, parliaments, on street corners. But hey, that’s what love is all about.
For me, footy is like my religion (Catholic) only more so. I have far more feeling of devotion to the Pies than to the Pope. I love the highs, I loathe the lows, I feel their pain and I cop the blows.
I do remember all of the last three premierships (and for all you Saints fans, I also remember acutely the theft in 1966 thanks to Barry Breen). I remember particularly the 1990 premiership because it was after 32 years in the wilderness. I remember the heroics and the thuggery of that match. I remember the knockout punch on Gavin Brown by Terry Daniher and I rejoiced when the Pies put the Bombers to the sword.
So, I do understand the pain Bombers fans have been through these past two years and are going to go through this coming year. I do understand the horrid feeling of anticipating the jeers and jibes, the insults and the sledging that has been and will come.
This sorry episode of the taking of supplements, so canvassed now on the international stage, is a real test of the Bombers loyalty to their club. I have every confidence that the hard core Bomber will see this through and this will be an enormous help to John Worsfold and Lindsay Tanner.
But what about the players? There is this nagging feeling in my bones that they may be a bit more culpable than they portray themselves to be.
I know that Stephen Danks is the true villain here. I know that Bruce Reid did a fair bit to alert James Hird and so I don’t have any view of Reid on whether he did enough or not. I do think James Hird should carry a huge amount of the responsibility because players look to the coaches to manage their football (and in some cases, their whole lives – I know of the work Mick Malthouse does, Ron Barassi did and Kevin Sheedy did).
But hey! What part about querying something about to be stuck into your arm didn’t happen with that dozen players? Some players refused and others just went along with the program. Lemming like!
Thymosin is not a recreational drug so one could argue that it is ok. But it is on the banned list. Buyer beware! I would hope that players would be asking questions. And if they were lied to, why didn’t they say so, through the Players Association?
Gotta say that I do trust my doctor when he says, this is gunna hurt when I stick this needle into you but you’re going to be ok after and in fact, better off. So did the players trust the doctor? But it was not the club doctor who administered the supplement. Bruce Reid was squeezed out and raised his concerns with Hird. Starting to get a bit smelly.
So Danks gets life and is appealing the penalty. Hird gets a year off and a huge payout, Reid gets off (but not entirely and this is a shame), the assistant coaches (Bomber Thompson among them) get off and the players past and present get a hideous two years and then a year off.
The Club is fined and the fallout now includes other clubs who have signed former players as coaches or players who can’t now honour their new contracts.
Contrast all this with the result in Cronulla where it blew over in a year with little fallout to the players or the club. I feel very sorry for the players and their families. I would hope that the compensation they seek from the Club for lack of duty of care is substantial.
But still that niggling feeling persists. There seems to me to be two class of player in this unfortunate group. The gullible and the culpable. But we traffic infringers all know that ignorance is not excuse for breaking the law. You can’t say to the magistrate, “Oh, your Worship, I was a bit stupid, I wasn’t looking, I wasn’t paying attention, I trusted the other bloke” and think you will see much mercy.
So if the culpable cop it, fair enough and if the gullible cop it, fair enough too. They should have known better.
Having said all that, I do think that the punishment needs to match the crime. This sanction on the players seems over-harsh. You only get a couple of weeks for strike one of a recreational drug bust. For many of these players, their “crime” was to trust their coach, their support team and their club. They have suffered the trial by media over the past two years and while no one until recently (bar Jobe Watson, a hero in my book) was named, the odium covered them all. They were all drug cheats (even though “drugs” is a misnomer).
From my lofty Magpie perch, this eating of the young is unnecessary, unbecoming, and distracting from the real issue. The supplements program has been exposed, condemned and this exposure sends a real message to anyone in sport generally.
Why we need to enhance the pain of the players is beyond me. I say let them have a couple of weeks off, or fine them a huge amount like 10% of their contracted fee for a year, but let them get on with their lives.
They are not criminals. They have not injured anyone but themselves, they haven’t threatened anyone, they haven’t actually been found guilty of breaking the law in a court of law in an Australian jurisdiction. It seems a bit rough to me that a non-judicial body can smash to smithereens the career and future of young men like this.
And remember this – the long term effects of this invasion of personal bodies with supplements have not been determined. These players may yet pay a bigger penalty.
Who says Magpies don’t have feelings? There should be honour in the Coliseum and I feel for the victims here – the players and their families.