We were so close.
With mere minutes on the clock, and five points in arrears, it looked like we might somehow pull off the impossible – the very thing that has eluded us since August last year… winning a game of AFL football.
As the clock ticked down, we whittled down the margin: one point, then another, before a final forward thrust… but in the end Brodie Smith’s flailing boot sent the ball out of bounds on the full, and the game was lost – leaving us with one solitary collective response:
Thank God for that!
For a second there I was starting to worry we might accidentally get a win.
I mean, I feel bad for the players and everything and, all in all, I like winning.
I prefer it, even. It’s generally a Good Thing when my football team wins, and a Bad Thing when it doesn’t.
But, let’s face it – after 22 years we should broadly understand that there is only one win that we are really interested in, and after eight rounds we should certainly understand that we won’t be getting that win in 2020!
So, yes: I am now completely on board with the brutal beauty of our ineptitude, and am celebrating every loss – particularly the tough, fighting ones, as our more recent losses have been – as a single step in a much longer journey.
And, of course, generally wishing this turgid year to be over as quickly as possible, so that I can use the few off-season months to chip away at my proposed thesis, entitled: “Wooden spoons: Are they really so bad anyway?” (working title only)
I mean, for such a maligned object, they’re actually pretty useful around the home – far more useful, it must be noted, than a large, unwieldy golden chalice.
As a piece of kitchenware, they’re hardy, malleable and – importantly – they help you to create great, delectable things.
I have several in my own home and find them perfectly practical implements. Indeed, I never seem to have enough of them.
You can use them to beat things, which is handy given at the moment we’re not particularly capable of beating anything much.
They do, however, retain a certain lingering odour, a perpetual reminder that you’ve made a meal of something.
But why this harmless and handy household tool should have become synonymous with failure and disappointment is quite beyond me.
A little research into the history of wooden spoons as a sporting concept (which, of course, I’ve never had much call to do before this year) reveals that I have always had a mere degree of separation from the concept.
It was, apparently, birthed in Cambridge, England – as indeed was I.
Originally offered as a Booby Prize for egregious performance in academia, the university’s graduands transferred the concept to rugby, a code which appears quick to adopt strange new quirks on a whim, given it was created (according to folklore) when a fellow named William Webb Ellis picked up the ball during a school soccer match and simply placed it at the back of a net for a goal.
So presumably the refereeing of that seminal match was about on par with yesterday’s umpiring at Adelaide Oval.
Anyway, the wooden spoon concept was later adopted with gusto by various sporting codes across the pond and, well, here we are.
With one hand on the proverbial spoon.
And, sure, I know that ‘winning’ the spoon is frowned upon in AFL circles, but it’s a bit like that scene in Dead Poet’s Society – you’ve just got to find a way to look at things from a different perspective.
I mean, look at this: here is the current AFL ladder:
Pretty depressing, right?
Not much fun at all.
Still, we went into the round on 55.5 per cent, which you’ll note that yesterday’s three-point loss has bizarrely lifted to almost 60 – and it’s always good to get a percentage-booster at this time of year, isn’t it?
But, as someone suggested to me this week on social media, if we simply choose a different way of looking at it:
…much better, isn’t it?
A thing of beauty, almost.
So, anyway, on Saturday we play North Melbourne, who as you can see are 17th on the ladder (or second, if you prefer) with two wins.
Needless to say, this… this is our Grand Final.
The Evan Hewitt Cup, if you will.
And it’s the archetypal eight-point game – with the Roos jealously eyeing off our top spot on the inverse ladder above.
So, unlike our last Actual Grand Final, on this occasion, I’d be quite ok with a hefty loss followed by Ben Brown ruining one of my favourite songs.
Speaking of which, I’m giving points to Ollie Wines this week for this elite trolling effort:
I can afford to be magnanimous to Port, of course, given they lost to St Kilda on Saturday at home by 29 points.
Five days earlier, we’d lost to St Kilda at home by 23 points.
Which, if I am understanding these things correctly, means we are now better than Port.
So that’s good.
Although their supporters didn’t seem to think so for some reason.
Anyway, I digress.
The point is, if we’d won yesterday, and we then managed to beat North Melbourne in the Evan Hewitt Cup, we’d be in serious danger of missing out on the wooden spoon.
Is this a good thing?
Well, for starters – and most importantly – because most of you reading have probably never even heard of this ‘wooden spoon’ concept before (given it’s something generally won by Other Teams) I should explain that in the AFL its recipients are not relegated or otherwise penalised – they’re rewarded.
They get to pick the best young player available in the corresponding year’s draft.
Unless they don’t of course. They could always decide to pick up a Laurence Angwin type instead, but in general, sensible clubs save their early picks for really good players who don’t break into their teammates’ houses.
Then of course, if for some reason we were to get a free agency compensation pick – for any random reason whatsoever – that would also be linked to our place in the draft.
So, potentially, the nature and scope of our much-publicised rebuild depends very much on where we finish this season.
And here’s the thing.
It hasn’t been a great year, frankly.
Let me list some of our more notable achievements:
- Biggest Showdown loss
- First loss to Suns
- First loss to St Kilda in nine years
- Longest losing streak
Frankly, if we manage all that and don’t add ‘First Wooden Spoon’ to the list, I’ll feel a tad ripped off.
Sure, a top draft pick ain’t gonna solve everything. Of the teams to finish last since our last flag, not too many have gone on to win premierships. But some have.
West Coast for instance: and I remember their two flags in that time far more readily than I recall their sole wooden spoon.
And then there’s Richmond, who used their 2007 draft hand (which was bumped down to number two on account of a Carlton priority pick) to secure the guy who would captain them to a Grand Final win against us a decade later.
Point being, if you’re going to rebuild from scratch, surely the chance to recruit the best players available is worth more than the odd meaningless win in a pointless season.
But if the short-term reward means that much to you, you can always improvise.
I read during the week about the Crows keeping an “internal scoreboard” of various performance indicators, to give them cause for optimism as the losses rack up.
I’ve decided to try something similar, inspired by a guy I used to know when I lived in the nation’s capital, back in those dark early-internet days when to watch AFL games you either had to rock up to the Ainslie Footy Club’s front bar each week or adopt someone who had cable TV.
The guy I adopted happened to be a Fremantle supporter. Back then, the Dockers were bad in any given year, but this particular year – 2001 – they were egregious. So bad, indeed, that they only won two games for the entire season (one of which, naturally enough, against us).
But my Foxtel-toting friend was accustomed to his team’s misadventures, and let me in on his failsafe strategy to remain upbeat in the face of such unrelenting incompetence.
It was simple, yet brilliant: he just gave Freo a 30-point head-start every week. So when you’d sympathetically sidle up and broach the tricky subject of his team’s ugly 19-point loss to Sydney the previous weekend, he’d cheerfully pipe up: “Great, wasn’t it? An 11-point win! Just what we needed.”
Or a week later, when they’d gone down by a typical 38-point margin to Richmond, he’d come in shaking his head: “Can’t believe it, so close. Eight points. What a heartbreaker…”
Anyway, I’ve decided to adopt this approach for the rest of the season. It’s not failsafe – even with this generous tolerance, we’re still only 4-4 and perched a win and percentage outside the eight.
But it just helps make everything look slightly less shit: by my revised calculations, we’ve had a strong win against Sydney to open the season, followed by a post-lockdown run of increasingly competitive losses, then a breakthrough nailbiter against Freo followed by a three-point heartbreaker to West Coast and last week’s seven-point victory over the Saints – before running out 27-point winners yesterday against the Bombers.
You see? It’s all a matter of fresh perspective!
But if that’s not for you, then I’d recommend merely abandoning the pursuit of victory altogether.
It’s actually quite liberating: no longer do you have to stress about short-term annoying things such as poor form or a burgeoning injury list, or spend inordinate hours pondering the logistics of our path to an unlikely finals berth.
In years gone by, from about the halfway mark of the season, I’d be waiting nervously on the results of powerhouse clashes such as Sydney vs Hawthorn to see how the fallout may affect our top-four ladder chances. Now, however, I’m more concerned about the results of games that affect our top-four draft gambit. Like, er… Sydney vs Hawthorn.
To the point that I’m actually rather embracing it all now.
I’m quite looking forward to rocking up at Adelaide Oval next year (COVID permitting) for our first home game and the excitement of the Great Unveiling of our Inaugural Spoon.
Mind you, I’m also hoping that by then we might start to win a few games here and there – which isn’t beyond the pale.
After all, things can change quickly; this time last year, you’d have laughed if someone had told you that in 2020 the world would shut down, people would have to wear face masks to go outside, and the Suns would play compelling football. And yet here we are.
But all this does raise the spectre of something we don’t talk about much:
Let me be clear (in case anyone from the AFL Integrity Unit happens to be reading this) – I am not endorsing Tanking in any way whatsoever.
It’s just that, if you’re going to do badly anyway, why would you want to stuff it up by only doing moderately badly?
Would you really want to garner a narrow win, and feel up and about for a few days – but knowing it could make the next five to ten years just that little bit worse?
So, for the first time this season, I’m no longer feeling despondent about where we are. Not overly anyway.
Indeed, I’m rather looking forward to our gradual improvement, and enjoying the novel experience of enjoying a random passage of play and having to double-check the name of the player who pulled it off.
My despondency remains, however, about how we’ve come to be here – having blown chance after chance after chance to do something better with what we had.
But we’re playing the long game here. (And we’re playing it very badly, it must be noted.)
The very, very, very long game. About 22 years so far, in fact.
But in that context, what’s a few more weeks of pain?
Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s shamelessly biased weekly football column, published on Mondays during the AFL season.
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