A few years back, Adelaide narrowly beat Port in a pre-finals Showdown, but I didn’t get to write about how good it was (which it was) because some ignoramus in the crowd threw a banana at my then-favourite Crows player Eddie Betts.
How sad that was.
The only redeeming element was the way the broader game, and its players, rallied behind Betts and against racism in sport. It was a groundswell response that made it feel like a watershed moment, of sorts.
On the weekend, we played Port again – this time, though, they’re the ones heading into a finals campaign, and we didn’t win.
But all of that’s almost by the by because we’re again – still – talking about racism instead.
Because, as we know, someone vilified an Aboriginal player at a recent Crows SANFL game.
In fact, not just someone.
Taylor ‘Tex’ Walker. Our leading goalkicker. Our former captain.
And how sad that is.
It’s sad, first and foremost, for Robbie Young, the Narungga/Ngarrindjeri man and North Adelaide player who was the subject of Walker’s words, and who now has been thrust unwittingly into a national spotlight.
It’s sad for the Crows staff member who felt compelled to report Walker for his words – a desperately difficult choice for a tiny cog in the vast machine that is a professional AFL football club.
It’s sad for Young’s fellow Indigenous footballers, past and present, who so frequently have to speak up against racist taunts from the grandstand or anonymous social media trolls, only to now have to hear of such things being said by one of the game’s most recognisable veterans.
It’s sad too, for Walker himself; although that, as Matthew Nicks himself noted in his eloquent and impassioned media conference on Friday, is for now very much secondary to the damage he’s caused.
There may be positive things to come of all this, but for now there are just too many sad things.
There are those expressing sympathy for Tex, noting the good things he’s done: leading the team through its hours of darkness after the death of Phil Walsh, numerous small moments of generosity that have lifted the spirits of supporters, individual and collective, over the years.
And it’s true: life is nuanced. A bad thing doesn’t have to define someone.
But a bad thing has been done – there’s no escaping that.
This isn’t something that we just move on from.
This is not ok.
Again, as ever, the game and its players are rallying against racism in sport, but to me it feels far more depressingly futile this time round.
Walker, after all, has stood at the forefront of such campaigns in the past.
If he can do that, and if he can spend 14 years in the AFL system with its intensive and ongoing cultural awareness programs, and lead a club, and yet still be capable of uttering racist epithets about opponents to teammates, in front of other teammates… well, it does suggest that so much of this stuff is mere lip service, doesn’t it?
There is some consolation that someone at the Crows felt empowered to take action on this, and that the club ultimately reported the matter to the AFL, even if the timeline of events is not clear.
Club CEO Tim Silvers, who was impressive, spoke of his hope that “we can learn from this”, which in itself is kind of exasperating.
For this is not the learning moment.
The learning moment was all those times the players were literally taught, like schoolkids, not to act like racist arseholes.
Prominent current and former players have spoken in the days since about the frustration and hurt this has caused.
For Crows supporters, it has felt like being almost literally winded.
I’ve seen people on social media in the last few days – people who usually back the club to the hilt no matter how badly they’ve cocked something up, whose belief wasn’t shaken by the camp, by the ongoing retention issues, by years of frustrating failure – suddenly lose their passion for the fight.
And that’s sad too.
I mean, there’s not even a Simpsons gif that sums up what it feels like to be a Crows supporter these days.
Oh wait, yes there is:
Because even putting aside the disappointment and the now-familiar round of national humiliation, this latest gut-punch to our collective psyche takes away, in one unthinking utterance, so much of what we valued about our club.
We’re currently second-last on the ladder, after finishing bottom last year.
If we continue to improve at this rate, we’ll be playing finals again in another nine years – which, to be fair, is still a quicker rebuild than Carlton and St Kilda.
But for much of this year, things still felt on track.
We had some great wins – none greater than the games against Geelong and Melbourne.
In the former, Tex kicked five and appeared reborn as a footballer.
In the latter, when he put us ahead in the final minute it was one of the highlights of not just this but any season.
Indeed, if there was a narrative that defined our increasingly wretched year, it wasn’t so much our emerging talent – it was Tex’s redemption tale.
And now it’s over.
He was our best story this year.
Now he’s our worst.
What a shame it is.
Of the small morsels of interest remaining in the final rounds, one was whether – at 31, and having been written off last season – he could snatch an unlikely Coleman Medal for winning the league’s goal-kicking tally.
It’s not to be, and he’ll remain mired on 48: of all things, the margin by which we lost the 2017 Grand Final.
There are those who say he shouldn’t be back next year.
Some don’t want him back in the jumper; others just can’t see how it can happen.
I get that, but I also don’t want it to end this way.
I sure as hell ain’t a victim here, but I could have done without having to explain to my suddenly-football-obsessed nine-year-old why his favourite player wasn’t playing this weekend, and won’t for a long time yet, if ever.
Or attempting to explain, anyway.
I’ve always been glad, despite penning the odd piece of banter, that I’ve never actually concertedly covered football as a reporter.
After all, why would you want to risk discovering that your favourite players, or the folk running the club you support, are basically a bunch of arseholes (hypothetically speaking)?
As Indigenous media presenter Shelley Ware tweeted to an irate Crows supporter after the initial reports of the investigation, when the general response was to complain that Walker had been effectively convicted before his trial: “No one likes to think anyone they admire is capable of these things.”
As the news filtered out on Thursday, social media was like a collective processing of the stages of grief.
Initially, many attacked one of the two Age journalists who had broken the story.
The prevailing narrative appears to be that the guy has a grudge against the Crows, because he broke the story about that infamous 2018 camp, elements of which are still disputed, and first reported that Mitch McGovern wanted out of the club halfway through that same year, which was also disputed. Although he did, and now he is.
There was also some suggestion that because the investigation was subject to AFL secrecy provisions, it shouldn’t have been reported on, even entirely accurately.
But by Friday morning, as media release after carefully crafted media release began to filter through to journalists’ inboxes nationwide – from the AFL, the club, the Players’ Association, North Adelaide and the SANFL – such narratives evaporated.
It was, I think, about the lowest point I can recall as a Crows supporter.
There was, of course, the tragedy of Phil Walsh, which will forever be on its own plane of despair – but in the aftermath those events galvanised affection and pride for the club he led.
When the Tippett scandal happened it wasn’t just bad because of what it was, it was bad because of what it meant. We were so proud of that Crows team when they walked off the MCG after losing to Hawthorn by five points, having gone in as rank underdogs.
Kurt, that cruel bastard, was magnificent that day.
Still, the future was bright… and then it wasn’t.
But moreover, the past was tainted too.
All those memories, all that pride was suddenly, inextricably bound in resentment and that familiar sense of national humiliation.
That’s kind of how it feels today too.
Amidst all this, there was a Showdown to play – one of the biggest fixtures on our annual football calendar, reduced to a footnote.
Even before the events of late last week, I’d opted out of attending.
The mate I usually sit with was indisposed, and the mask mandate meant I’d be stuck on my lonesome grumpily watching my team lose, looking much like this:
Although Nicola Spurrier did stipulate masks could be removed when you’re having a sip of beer, which bodes well for my eventual return in the final round.
If there was one consolation of having to face a rampaging Port with our club at its lowest ebb on-field and off, it was that normally I have to spend about six hours of my weekend watching us lose and Port win, but this week I could manage it in just three hours. Handy!
But watch it I did, of course.
However much we’re hurting as supporters, we always go back to our club.
And the signs were there early that the playing group was galvanised.
The SANFL team, in whose huddle Walker had uttered his offending words, beat the Port Magpies in the curtain-raiser – the final margin of 13 points awkwardly paying accidental homage to the former captain’s guernsey number.
But if the reserves side’s win inadvertently invoked Tex Walker, the senior side did the opposite: it showed what it could be without him.
They played with ferocity and intent, holding the finals-bound Port to a mere goal at the main break.
It wasn’t enough, as things fell apart early in the last – continuing a tradition dating back to 2018 whereby two of our players seriously injure each other while Port kicks a goal.
By the end, there wasn’t much to celebrate except Ken Hinkley struggling to keep his glasses from fogging up while wearing his mandated mask.
Given the underlying theme of the week, though, it was fitting that a Kenyan-born migrant son of Sudanese parents, Port’s Aliir Aliir, was undeniably the best on ground.
I mean, I would have preferred we didn’t keep kicking the ball straight to him, but nonetheless.
Though of course, sadly and inevitably, even that small symbol ended up with racist bile being spouted on social media.
How sad it all is.
But we had a crack; after the week we’d had, that was something.
And on the bright side, it kept us in mathematical contention for the Jason Horne Cup, albeit with an extremely unlikely North Melbourne win against Sydney next week standing between us and the Number One draft pick.
What comes next?
Well, I sometimes tell my nine-year-old Tex Walker obsessive that the first game of football he ever saw was the week he was born, when we played West Coast in the final round of 2011 – and lost by almost 100 points.
We watched it from the hospital room he was born in, when he was two days old.
Tex kicked two goals that day.
It was about the worst finish to a season we’d had.
But the next year, we won 17 games and finished second: at least until we blew it in the major round.
This is the thing about football.
There’s always another day.
For now though, the end of the season can’t come soon enough, and there’s plenty to ponder before the next one starts.
I’ll still be there though, presumably with my big tray of beer.
I love this club.
But, bloody hell, they make it hard work sometimes.
Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s shamelessly biased weekly football column, published on Mondays during the AFL season.
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