Roughly 12 years ago, myself and several of my then-Advertiser-colleagues gathered at a city bar to farewell my then-girlfriend/now-wife, who was off to the UK for a few months.
At some point, a mate of mine showed up, with a couple of “friend-of-a-friend” footballers in tow – one of whom, as you probably already deduced, was a guy named Scott Thompson, who’d recently played the last of his 39 games for Melbourne.
(The other, in case you’re interested, was a bloke who’d recently moved to St Kilda from Port Adelaide and would go on to win a couple of flags with Hawthorn while forging his own niche as one of the league’s foremost toupee ambassadors).
I don’t recall any specific misbehaviour, and on a scale of one to ten – with one being dinner at the Macavaneys’ and ten being a night out with West Coast’s ’06 premiership squad – it was definitely on the lower end of the scale. But nonetheless at some point in proceedings a nifty-looking sculpture that was perched on the bar came off second best.
And since AFL players assaulting marble statues is the kind of thing that will get noticed in a room full of journalists, this led to a write-up in the paper’s gossip column. Which I was none too happy about, given the alleged bust-busters had come to the soiree with invited guests of mine.
But I needn’t have worried. Somewhere up the line the right strings were pulled, and so was the story.
Which taught me a lot about the influence of the Adelaide Crows in this town.
It also taught me a thing or two about supporting a football club, and how in my profession you often have to compartmentalise your allegiance for the team you scream for each week and the regular realisation that they’re also part of a ruthless and relentless commercial juggernaut.
Which is surprisingly easy to do: it’s like loving the country you live in, even though you more often than not despair at the way it’s governed.
Still, it’s fair to say this strange meeting didn’t leave me with any inkling that I’d still be cheering Thommo on as a Crows player for another 261 games, and then some.
It’s been noted a fair bit this past week that if he’d had the same career for a successful Melbourne club, he’d be regarded as one of the superstars of the game.
But it’s not just that.
Perhaps aptly for someone in the public eye who decided to enjoy a loose night out in a bar full of reporters, Thommo’s football timing was all wrong.
If he’d been part of premiership sides, like his fellow 300-game Crows McLeod, Ricciuto, Edwards and Hart, he’d perhaps attract descriptors beyond the stock-standards like “honest”, “battler”, “warrior” etc.
Instead, what was arguably his best individual year was also the club’s worst.
He won his first Malcolm Blight medal in 2011, back in the days when he joined a midfield peopled by the spiky-peroxide-blond likes of van Berlo, Vince and Mackay, who collectively looked a bit like extras from Village of the Damned or rejects from the Hitler Youth.
It was the year that saw Neil Craig banished and the Crows finish 14th – ahead of only three other teams. One of which was, by way of consolation, Port.
Indeed, the last time the Crows were genuine, bona fide contenders, Thompson was still a young second-stringer with potential.
He may be getting the best out of himself in this Indian Summer of a season, but in truth he always did.
I recall flashes of brilliance – a scissor-kick clutch major out of thin air in a narrow 2005 loss to Brisbane, 23 touches and six goals in a big 2008 win over Richmond at the MCG, his modest reaction on being told he had gathered a ludicrous 51 possessions against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium.
There was also, of course, the odd facepalm moment, most notably the out-on-the-full that set up Buddy’s infamous match-winner in the 2007 elimination final.
It was Thommo’s “Lucas Neill Moment”, back when the Socceroo star’s penalty that ended their World Cup run was still painfully fresh in the memory. Like Neill, he had played his heart out, and led from the front, but the last of his 34 touches was the one we’ll always remember.
But the definitive Scott Thompson performance for me was in a game against St Kilda in that wretched 2011 season – the game, indeed, that finally killed off Craig’s senior coaching career.
In a 103-point defeat, Thommo still tried his heart out, carrying his pathetic side with 26 touches, 10 marks and a goal.
It’s lucky he’s famously broad-shouldered, because at his zenith he carried this team.
I only hope the team can do what Shane Crawford’s Hawks managed for him, and let him retire with a premiership to his name.
Of course, there’s a way to go first, and that messy grind against Collingwood on Saturday night probably raised as many questions as it answered.
Foremost among them, what the hell is the deal with Charlie Cameron’s hair?
It looks like the haircut former Yankees major league star Don Mattingly ended up with in that softball episode of The Simpsons. I can only assume, therefore, that it is the result of Don Pyke repeatedly telling the livewire forward to “get rid of those sideburns”.
That riddle won’t be solved anytime soon, but we’ll learn a lot more about where we stand when we play Geelong at Simonds Stadium (or whatever sponsor starting with an ‘S’ it is these days?) this Saturday night.
Besides another reminder of the sublime skills of the “Smiling Assassin” (aka Paddy Dangerfield), it’s the archetypal ‘eight-point game’, which could either entrench us in the four or send us hurtling into the chasm of mediocrity.
Port played – and won – their own eight-point game on the weekend, and all of a sudden I’m getting that familiar, nagging feeling that this whole season of promise could boil down to us finishing fifth and them finishing eighth and everything ending in the worst kind of unmitigated disaster.
Port now only needs to win two games more than North in the remaining six rounds to supplant them in the eight – a ridiculous proposition only a few weeks ago, when the Kangaroos were flying high with nine wins from as many starts.
The Power’s draw is tough, but so is North’s, who’ll likely only start (lukewarm) favourites in one, maybe two, of the next six matches.
We don’t know much about what Port will do (I can certainly see them, for instance, smashing GWS this week and then losing to Brisbane the next).
All we do know is that the Round 22 Showdown will really be something (unless they win, of course!).
By then, though, we’ll also know far more about where we stand. And we may be forced to consider the worst question possible ahead of the finals.
Will it be Tippett, Gunston or Dangerfield whose team ends our season?
A question, I fear, that could yield the worst possible answer.
But if we can navigate this minefield of menace – and somehow manage to send our durable Number 5 out a winner in what will, all things going to plan, be his 309th AFL game – the Crows should probably make a bust of Thommo to sit on the bar at future corporate functions.
And, to ensure it never falls victim to any inebriated incident, they should make it just like the man who inspired it.
Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, published each Monday during the AFL season. Yes, it’s shamelessly biased. Even up the score in the comments section below.
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