Football Loyalty

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

“We are all in the same boat, in a strong sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.”

That is a quote of English poet G.K Chesterton. I know Chesterton was talking about the wider world and humanity, even family when he made it, with no thought of ever having it applied to sport, let alone a game he would never have heard of.

Sport survives on loyalty. But loyalty is to many and not just one. Was Adelaide loyal to Neil Craig when they parted ways after the St.Kilda debacle and were Melbourne loyal to Dean Bailey when they parted ways after the catastrophic loss to Geelong?

In the end they weren’t if you believe removing someone from their job is seen as an act of disloyalty. But they are one and Football Clubs are many. So sometimes to be loyal to many you have to be disloyal to one.

Adelaide and Melbourne chose loyalty to their members and supporters, the tens of thousands who are the lifeblood of the Club is ultimately who they had to answer to.

When you are appointed to coach an AFL Club you are not only provided a fantastic opportunity, but it is also an incredible act of faith on behalf of the AFL Club.

I would say both Clubs displayed loyalty to both Craig and Bailey for the majority of their tenure. It was only at the end that both Adelaide and Melbourne had to shift their loyalty for what they believed was the greater good of the Club.

Adelaide gave Craig seven years and for most of those years Craig delivered, securing five finals appearances in succession, but the Club never made it to the ultimate game and in the past two seasons they have slipped. It was time and the crushing defeat against St.Kilda decided his fate or possibly just fast forwarded it.

Adelaide knew it had to spark the Club to get something from the remainder of the season, they needed to try one of their respected Assistants in the role to see how he handles the main job, they needed to buy themselves time to search for a new Coach while the market is broader in its options and they needed to create some new excitement for season 2012. Adelaide had weighed it all up and ultimately they were loyal to the wider Adelaide family.

Bailey hasn’t delivered what Melbourne wanted, but to be fair in his first two seasons he was working with a playing list in decline and rebuilding was necessary and in fact, his mandate. Melbourne knew this and remained loyal to him because they knew he wouldn’t win too often in the initial years, but they were still watching and assessing him to see  if he  could rebuild the playing list and with it the Club.

Melbourne were loyal and showed faith when they extended his tenure by another two seasons after the barren first two and the team had improved and Bailey seemed to be working well with his list, but this year, despite remaining in touch with the eight, the team has always faulted when it was expected to perform, particularly against stronger or similarly placed teams. It was felt he couldn’t lift the level. Certainly his players could not.

 Bailey’s Waterloo came at the strongest home ground fortress of all-time. He went into what was to be his final battle with an inferior team against an exceptional opponent on its own territory. If it was real war he never would have engaged, but he had no choice. By the end of the day he and his team were ruthlessly taken apart, so devoid of any capacity to resist, that it left the Melbourne Club in tatters and with no choice but to part ways.

Bailey took the blame for the defeat such was his loyalty to the players to the very end, and it appeared he may have known it was the end of his AFL coaching career level when he faced the media after the match.

 Bailey never cheated his players as coach, but if they didn’t cheat him or their Club against Geelong they certainly showed Bailey and the multitude of Melbourne members and supporters very little loyalty, and ultimate loyalty in football will always lie on the field of play.

So in the end Melbourne chose the same path as Adelaide. Give a respected Assistant a chance to see what he can do, rebuild the lost credibility for the remainder of 2011, surprisingly they can still make the finals, buy themselves time to find a new coach and sort out any internal issues they may have.

Adelaide appears to be in the same boat and Melbourne needs to get on board and show each other a terrible loyalty. They could start by ignoring a media who think they know Melbourne but cannot possibly, unless like Garry Lyon and David Schwarz they have given their heart and soul to the place.

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