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He who shall not be named

Touch of the Fumbles

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Hi there Kurt – you don’t mind if I call you Kurt?

You see, for a long time I haven’t brought myself to utter your name at all. You’ve just become He Who Shall Not Be Named.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate all you did for us while you were here. There was that game against Essendon when you kicked seven. And the four in the semi-final against the Pies. Another four in the prelim against the Hawks (you’ve heard of the Hawks right?)

We lost both of those finals though, but you still played well, so thanks.

There were probably a few other games in between those three where you did good stuff, but they’re the main ones I remember of Kurt Tippett at Adelaide. The highlights package, if you will.

I also remember you kicking a lot of behinds. Often at reasonably crucial moments, but generally just at any given time. You could be 20 metres out, directly in front; it still wouldn’t fill me with confidence.

During Saturday’s grand final, when you were lining up for that goal you kicked, Bruce McAvaney noted, “he’s normally pretty accurate”, which made me chuckle a bit.

But I could forgive the wayward kicking, Kurt. It was more the years of speculation that you were determined to go back to the Gold Coast because you were so homesick. And then that when you finally left, it wasn’t to Gold Coast because you were homesick, it was to Sydney because they offered you a bucketload of cash. (I did like that line about how you had a few relatives over that way, though!) Even then, the Adelaide Football Club talked about getting a “positive outcome”.

But it wasn’t very positive, was it, Kurt? The dodgy deal the club signed with you that saw the CEO and football operations manager stood down and you suspended for half a season. The draft sanctions that will hamper the club for years. And of course, getting no compensation for losing you to Sydney. Not even Jesse White (though we probably dodged a bullet there!)

Bizarrely, Kurt, in the two years since you left we haven’t actually played against you (we might be partly to blame for that, since we got you suspended for half a season and all), but that’s probably something of a relief, since we haven’t got close to beating Sydney in that time. And, like Geelong after losing the 2008 grand final to Hawthorn (you’ve heard of Hawthorn, right?), I’m pretty keen to never see the Crows lose to a side with you in it. Also, ideally, I’d prefer you don’t win a premiership for the balance of your career. That’s really what’s prompting me to write to you today.

I’d penned an entire letter in my head based on the likely assumption that you’d have a premiership medallion right now. The Swans, after all, were hot favourites, with you and Buddy being paid ridiculous amounts to complement a team that already won a Grand Final two years ago, because in the AFL all teams are equal but some are more equal than others.

I even picked you as my Norm Smith medalist because, well … it’s just been that kind of year, hasn’t it?

But here’s the thing, Kurt. I was prepared to be magnanimous. I was prepared to say, “Congratulations, you treacherous bastard!” I was prepared to say, “It’s not you, it’s me”.

A few weeks ago a young guy in my office gave me pause for thought. He silently observed a Monday morning newsroom footy debrief, wherein (I’m sorry to say, Kurt) a few less-than-complimentary barbs were flung around about your good self.

He then looked quizzical, and poignantly asked a question that had evidently been nagging at him for some time: “Why do you all hate Tippett so much?”

This fellow is recently arrived from Tasmania, where they evidently know nothing about bearing long and largely redundant grudges. He’s also a Melbourne Demons supporter, so perhaps he was of the view that proponents of a club with a healthy balance sheet and a relatively even win-loss ratio shouldn’t really get so hung up about someone who didn’t want to play for their club.

But his question, childlike in its innocent simplicity, left me momentarily silenced.

“Well,” I mustered at length, “how would you feel if you’d invested so heavily in developing a great player and he just left for a bigger pay packet?”

“Um…Tom Scully?”

Momentarily silenced again. “Well, exactly. And how do you feel about Scully?”

“I wish him the best.”

I decided there was no point continuing a discussion about football with a Melbourne supporter, since they’re not only long-accustomed to failure, but actually quite chipper about it.

But the question has nagged at me since.

Why do we hate you so much, Kurt?

After all, players leave clubs all the time, and increasingly so. In a few years a one-club player will be a novelty, or a historical curio. And given that you’ve just played in a grand final (albeit not particularly well) while Adelaide are hard-pressed merely to string two decent games together, it’s clearly been a beneficial move for you.

Jack Gunston laughed, we’re told, when asked whether he had any regrets about walking out on the Crows.

Brian Lake marks over Kurt Tippett in the grand final. AAP image

Brian Lake marks over Kurt Tippett in the grand final. AAP image

Laughed! But of course he has no regrets: he’s played in three Grand Finals for two premierships. He almost won last year’s Norm Smith (and probably should have, kicking four goals in a low-scoring game). I bet he cries himself to sleep that we took away his Mark Bickley Award (whatever that is?).

Of course, maybe – just maybe – if he’d hung around, and you’d hung around, and Davis, and Bock, and Maric – that solid spine of talent – we might have challenged for a premiership as well (Probably not three, though). That thought might give you some insight into why Crows supporters are a bit sensitive about things, Kurt.

When you left for Sydney, Swans chief executive Andrew Ireland argued that in the age of free agency, people just need to adjust to footballers moving on.

“I think he was a young player who decided he didn’t want to live in Adelaide,” he said. And there’s the rub.

So, Kurt: was it Adelaide the club, or Adelaide the city? Or a bit of both?

When a player leaves a team for another it’s generally the prerogative of the spurned supporters to vent their spleen against the turncoat, but once the final siren sounds it’s usually all forgotten. But I suspect the bile lingers a little longer in the throats of Adelaide supporters. As footy fans, we can lose perspective sometimes: two of the Crows’ All-Australian squad inclusions, Sam Jacobs and Eddie Betts, came directly from raids on Carlton, and yet I still get riled that the Blues ended up with Bryce Gibbs all those years ago. The mention of players such as Tyson Stenglein, Scott Welsh and Ben Hudson still makes me bristle.

Because here’s the thing, Kurt; even though you did kinda cripple the club that drafted you as you swung the door closed, I suspect deep down there’s a bit of that collective Adelaide insecurity that wanted you to want us. And you didn’t.

That desperate desire for approbation is probably understandable from residents of a city-state with a net population loss of around 3000 people a year. So when a Sloane or Dangerfield talks about how much they love playing and living here, a part of us asks: “Really? Playing AND living?”

So, Kurt, since it’s the end of the season, let’s just put all this behind us. (I actually prefer Josh Jenkins anyway.)

And, as Andrew Ireland noted, these days leaving clubs is all the rage. Even Melbourne clubs.

In a schadenfreude-kind-of-way, it was nice to see it happen to Collingwood for once, of all clubs, with mini-Dane Swan (aka Dayne Beams) telling them he wants to move back to Brisbane to play alongside his brother Claye (their parents were obviously keen on the letter ‘Y’).

For Nathan Buckley, who walked out on the then-Bears in 1993, it seems the karma bus has finally knocked him on his arse two decades on.

We all like a bit of karmic retribution. Indeed, that seemed to be the prevailing theme of Saturday. In the end, Buddy Franklin gave up a third premiership for his pay rise; I wonder if he thinks it was worth it? Still, at least he played well …

Though there’s nothing really wrong with changing clubs per se. Look at Matt Spangher, the feelgood story of the grand final (sorry to keep going on about the grand final, Kurt!); misses out on selection for three premiership sides at three different clubs, and finally wins one as a solid contributor with Hawthorn (you remember Hawthorn, right?)

And the hated Port Adelaide will doubtless snare Paddy Ryder and be brilliant in their bastardry, while we’ll panic-trade Paddy Dangerfield for a handful of magic beans.

Given how he polled last Monday, it now seems almost inconceivable Danger won’t win a Brownlow at some point in his career, though winning one at Adelaide would certainly have helped retain him. Imagine how well he’ll poll when he has a good year!

And even though the consensus is that Nat Fyfe was dudded, he was suspended twice for rough conduct and striking, despite appealing both charges. And as Lady Bracknell would have said if she was an AFL fan, to lose one appeal may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness.

At any rate, I’m sure Freo supporters were at least comforted by the fact the Brownlow still came to Perth via West Coast Eagle Matt Priddis (that’s how this works, right?).

The thing is, Kurt, you got to pick your team. But I can’t.

Anyway Kurt, I digress. We probably should have traded you back in 2011, as Matt Rendell suggested, knowing you would leave either way. A canny fellow, Matt Rendell. We sacked him, of course, because “mud sticks”, apparently. Unless you’re Steven Trigg, of course.

But they’re all gone now, Kurt. You, Rendell, Triggy. Even Sando.

It’s hard to tell just how much the fallout from your exit influenced Sanderson’s sacking. But I’d reckon there were a few noses out of joint after the scattergun efforts to get back into last year’s draft. (Oh, add Bernie Vince to your list of scalps as well.)

You never got to play at Adelaide Oval, Kurt, but one of the justifications for the Sanderson sacking was Rob Chapman’s claim on ABC radio that “if we don’t maximize Adelaide Oval next year and we lose more home games, mate, we’d be in real serious trouble”.

“Your club will sit then in a period of mediocrity for a long, long time because so many people get disengaged.”

Hang on; didn’t Adelaide, despite its on-field mediocrity, continue to draw record attendances throughout the season?

I’d humbly suggest if the club is worried about disengaging the Oval crowds, it should pay a bit more attention to its twee, cringeworthy presentation; Port has the misty-eyed toothless hordes raising their scarves to “Never Tear Us Apart”, while we have 19th Man chant nights, Kiss-Cam and the three-quarter time “O-T-R” dance-off. (They never close, apparently).

The thing is, we wanted a shake-up, right? We just need to be convinced this is the kind of shake-up we wanted.

Roo was a wrecking ball on the footy field and it now it seems he is much the same off it. I won’t complain, of course, if the Alastair Clarkson scuttlebutt proves true, but Andrew Jarman appears to be as wide of the mark on that one as his shot for goal from the square in the 1993 preliminary final.

We talk of frustration, but while we’re perpetual underachievers we’re not perpetually unsuccessful. Caroline Wilson says we’re a once-great club, now no longer great, and one can’t really argue. But in many ways we’re quite successful (except ultimately in the way one would hope a football club might succeed, on the field).

The thing is, Kurt, you got to pick your team. But I can’t.

You don’t really choose who you support; your team finds you.

And even though I know my footy club is a corporate invention that’s run like the Adelaide mafia, I still get a giddy excitement on the morning of every game-day with the faint prospect that we might walk away victorious; I still cheer like a raving lunatic whenever the fellas wearing whatever combination of red, blue and gold is this week’s marketing gimmick get hold of the ball. And I’d still rather sit through the most dour, underwhelming Crows win than watch the most skillful, soaring nailbiter between Geelong and Hawthorn (you remember Hawthorn, right, Kurt?)

That’s my lot, Kurt. I’m stuck with it. As for you, the Man Formerly Known As He Who Shall Not Be Named … well, it’s like Viper tells Maverick after Goose dies in Top Gun: “You gotta let him go, son. You gotta let him go.”

See you next year, Kurt. I’m glad we had this chat.

This is the last ‘Touch of the fumbles’ for the year. The column will be back for AFL season 2015.

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