To the attention of the administration of the EFC.
Our once great club is in crisis. We have been asked for patience, but our patience has run out.
We have been in trouble for a number of years, consistently blinded by the promise of a new dawn that never arrives. But that trouble has now reached crisis point. I write to you as a member since 1993 (on and off, admittedly, but always a supporter). Sitting in my lounge watching another capitulation in another uninspiring season, the pattern that has become all to familiar. Our team which lacks resolve, gets put under pressure, and folds. The reason for this is appears to be a systemic issue from within the very bowels of the club. Our process and culture are not ones that lend themselves to success in professional sport. The evidence to support this claim is undeniable. We have not won, or even looked line winning since the mid 2000’s. This is just a fact.
It’s obvious there has been attempts to amend this, mediocrity is not the aim of any football team. But the problem appears to be one of direction, and uniformity of vision within the football club. I will list where I think the key issues are across the club and have been for some time and you will see how when you look at these problems in isolation, they paint a larger picture of lack of continuity across the broader organisation. Which will be illustrated in 3 broad points.
Coaching and Game Plan
I once had the opportunity to sit down and talk about coaching with the Naismith Hall of Fame coach Lindsey Gaze. Gaze said his philosophy on coaching was simple. A good coach’s job is to work out what a player is good at, and then put that player in a position to excel in a way that best serves the team, while hiding any weakness that might be detrimental to winning.
Since 2007, The Essendon football club has had 4 Senior coaches, soon to be 5. Every one of these coaches has come into the club with a broad vision of how they want the club to look, and play. The design seem sound, but all these builds seemed to never quite fit what players we had at the time. Matthew Knights wanted to play a high-speed running game when we only featured a few players where this suited their natural game. The end result was a squad that only ran one way and had a lot of soft tissue injuries. James Hird came in and wanted to run a grit and grind style, reminiscent of the dominant Geelong sides. But our squad simply didn’t have the size, we attempted to turn our squad into one that could handle the rigors of contested stoppage play, and the less I say about how that turned out the better. Then came in John Worsfold, who had ambitions of a game plan that relies heavily on high possession football that is executed with a high level of skill, when it is clear that the skill level of our list did not have the level required to execute that effectively. Now it appears with the newly minted Ben Rutten/Blake Carracella arrangement we want to have a highly disciplined, considered, structure reliant game plan. But our best and most creative players. Shiel, Stringer, Saad, Tipungwuti’s strength is in their ability to be creative and the current structure seems to not best take advantage of these strengths, in a way that as Lindsay Gaze put it, hides their weaknesses while best serving the team. In short. Our coaching and game plan do not suit our players, our players don’t suit our game plan. Your job moving forward is to work out which one that is.
Recruitment and Player Development
The shorted COVID impacted season has found our list wanting. Across the AFL clubs have rotated the majority of their lists through their senior team to relieve the physical toll brought on by the condensed fixture. Our reserves are have been quite poor, or not even used at all. What we need to work out, is this due to the lack of quality in the bottom half of our list, or their lack of preparedness? Adrian Dodoro has been a Stalwart of the club. But the reality is he has not produced a list that has won a final at all during his tenue, one that sees him the longest standing list manager in the AFL. Now a recruiter does not win games of football. Recruiting only brings a player through the door. What happens after is arguably more important. Why does it seem that with the exception of our highest draft picks, players take an age to find their way into the senior team? And when they do, they don’t stick, only to return months later looking shells of the player that showed some promise when they arrived. It short it appears our players rarely look like they develop. There are always exceptions, but when you look at our list as a whole, it’s not the rule.
In the Sheedy era, Kevin had no problems giving kids he saw as part of our future an opportunity to see for themselves what the top level looked like, and to show the club if they had what it took early in their careers. We don’t seem to really do that anymore. We also seem to have developed a preference to draft players who suit a particular personality type. Fine young men who present well off field and come from stable families. Which is fine, but these players seem to be the ones that show less grit and determination than the ones we are forced to bring in from other clubs to address the shortfall. To frame in historical club reference, we have a team full of PEGS boys with not enough Keilor Park to balance it out. Am I calling these guys soft? Yes, Yes, I am. Players with talent in the reserves seem to have to jump through exorbitant number of hoops to gain opportunity all while average performances in the senior side appear to not be made example of. When young players come into the senior team, they don’t seem to be afforded the same exceptions that the tenured players do, to the point when they do get their chance, they appear so fearful of being dropped they don’t perform.
We have not taken advantage of our NGA academy like other clubs have; we have chosen to use our Rookie B spots on players who are years away from senior football. We were handed a gift by the AFL being awarded the Tiwi Islands as a recruiting zone, and as of yet only the VFLW team has seen any benefit from it. Surely an 18-year-old Tuntagalum, Tipungwuti, Rioli, Puruntatameri is going to offer more immediate help to our struggling team than some lad whose barely touched a football. For a club who prides itself for having a rich history with indigenous Australia, heading into the Dreamtime game with 1 player of indigenous heritage in our senior team paints a picture of lack of identification and development in an area which once separated us for the better from the rest of the competition. This itself is also a cultural issue. We used to be a club where every indigenous player wanted to come to. Now they can barely find a place our list to develop. (where is Irving Mosquito? He was the most dangerous bolt of lightening in a game that got stopped for lightening in the Marsh cup) which brings me to my next point
After a similarly insipid display 2 seasons ago, our CEO Tweeted out words to the effect that the effort and intent wasn’t good enough. Words that actually echoed a large portion of the supporter base. The fall out saw the CEO have to issue a formal apology to the playing list. This was not the behaviour a club that shows any sort of resolve, from the chairman to the boot studder. If the list cannot handle criticism, how can they be coached? And the leaders should not issue statements that they aren’t willing to stand behind. The two most passionate teams to take the field since 2007 were the team that was under fire during the supplement saga and banded together with passion to galvanise when the captain and coach were under fire, the win in West Coast on the road was the prime example of the teams resolve. The other was the team was the team put together on the fly in the suspension year. We didn’t win a lot of games that year, but that team played with so much heart and determination to succeed against the odds.
The consistent theme was with those two teams was an ‘us vs them’ attitude. As supporters all we want to see is effort and application, all too often we see vision of our senior leaders short arming a tackle, missing targets under no pressure, or generally just not putting in when we need them to stand up under fire. Is it because for the better half of the last 20 years, when the game was in the balance, James Hird, and later Jobe Watson, took control to drag us back into it, or over the line, and we have not learned as a club how to do it without such stoic leaders available? Why don’t our players seem to understand that if you want to win, or at the very least not be humiliated you need to crack in.
Our club seems to be stuck in the glory of the past, with little understanding of how it was achieved. At what point does the ethos of a club go from, “anything less than a semi-final is a failure, to “let’s try and win a final this year” it speaks volumes of an acceptance of mediocrity, and a culture that’s lost its way.
Admittedly as a club we have had our fair share of challenges. But enough is enough.
We, the membership have lost patience.
2021’s motto has to be ‘no more excuses, we win or we’ve failed’
That would resonate with members far more than any other affirmation of pap.
Your job, moving forward is to address these 3 key issues.
Yours, in frustration,