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Mark Thompson ready for next life stage after grumpy few years at Essendon
MARK ROBINSON HERALD SUN JANUARY 29, 2015 10:00PM
Mark Thompson starts a new life after leaving Essendon.
MARK Thompson has been angry for two years.
It was a war, he said, as the AFL and ASADA and the accusations, the allegations and the headlines made almost every day unbearably intense.
He found some solace last year coaching Essendon, doing what he does best, losing himself in what he calls the purity of football.
“Purity of footy is the thing that has driven me,” he said.
“I’ve tried stay in that zone as long as I could each day in my life. But more and more, like the past couple of years, it has taken away from that to the point where it’s affecting your happiness in life.”
The war is now over for Bomber.
After 33 consecutive seasons in club land, he starts a new life.
He will still be erratic, strong-minded, arrogant, confident, whimsical, quirky, funny and honest. But he won’t be in footy.
He started in January, 1981, in Essendon’s under-19s team, being coached by Kevin Morris, a fresh-faced, stocky left-footer from Airport West, just around the corner from Windy Hill
And he departed in November, 2014, still stocky, still a left-footer, a lot wiser, a little beaten up, but with a career colossal in achievement.
He was a three-time premiership player, a best and fairest winner, a club captain and a premiership captain at the Bombers and a two-time premiership coach at Geelong.
As a player he was fiercely competitive. As a coach, he was probably worse. He knew football. How to get the ball and what to do with it. He coached beautiful football, too. The Geelong team of 2007-2010 was purity in all its glory and for that, the game itself should say thanks.
Sadly, he hasn’t been clapped out of footy, which is the game’s shame. The game is so intensely competitive and so future-oriented, it hardly stops to smell the roses. Then again, Bomber isn’t a roses type of guy.
Quite unbelievably to everyone outside of the club, Thompson was effectively sacked by the Bombers.
Mark Thompson is looking forward to the next chapter in his life. Picture: Colleen Petch
Mark Thompson is looking forward to the next chapter in his life. Picture: Colleen Petch
It wasn’t all Essendon’s doing, for Thompson admits he can be a difficult individual.
Asked if he felt let down by the Bombers, he said: “A touch. I was to blame, too. It was a mix. We just couldn’t work it out. But it’s the best for me and the club. Hirdy being there by himself, his own man, his own staff, and he can do the best he can. I wish him well.’’
He says the next chapter in his life is both exciting and foreboding.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“I’m enjoying not having that commitment to go to game-plan meetings and training meetings and having that consistency of turning up to work. It’s good, but at the same time I sometimes get lost and can’t get going.
“The other side of the coin is to learn how to initiate himself. It’s not daunting so much. It’s re-skilling yourself and pushing yourself to do it. Work pushes you out the door every day and nothing is pushing me out the door at the moment.”
WORKING WITH HIRDY
THE GOLDEN Ticket of Hird and Thompson — who both returned to Essendon in 2011 — was never as sparkling as was imagined.
The first season was rewarding, it was progressively a chore through 2012-13 and he coached in 2014.
“The first year was a good year, I enjoyed it. The second year I didn’t enjoy much. To be honest, I was thinking about leaving at the end of the second year.
“The third year I didn’t enjoy, and the fourth year, I wasn’t even going to be there.
“From the start, it was a difficult role because everyone thought I had more influence than I did, and I didn’t want to have the influence, I didn’t want to be senior coach, I wanted to be a good support coach.
“But being in the support role, you don’t have that much influence. James is own man, his own coach and he would ask me something and I’d give 100 per cent help, but he wasn’t a puppet, he was the coach.
“That’s been lost a bit. I felt uncomfortable when people thought I was pulling the strings when I clearly wasn’t.”
He disputes he and Hird had fallen out after Thompson’s speech at the best and fairest and says he wasn’t promoting himself to replace Hird.
So the relationship didn’t deteriorate?
“No, I don’t think it did,’’ he said. “I knew where I was going, I was going out the door and that had to happen. You don’t make arrangements and walk away from them, even though when I took the senior coaching job I knew would love it.’’
His inflammatory speech was misinterpreted, he said.
“My mindset was, I just told the people I loved coaching and I knew I couldn’t coach Essendon because they had a coach and I wasn’t going to take the coach’s position.
“I said I couldn’t take a step back, that I couldn’t be coach of 2014 and be in the background in 2015 at the same club. It didn’t make sense. I just told the people I loved them and told the players I actually enjoyed coaching them.”
“I knew I couldn’t play a second role at Essendon and I heard there were a couple of other clubs (interested) and I wanted to tell the world that I enjoy coaching. So I did, why not, and it might’ve got a few people angry, but that’s the way it is.”
THE DOPING SAGA
CLEARLY, the AFL/ASADA investigation has taken its toll, as it has on everyone. He maintains the players should not be penalised.
“I didn’t think (the club was) doing anything illegal, but what they were doing (injection program) was probably uncomfortable with me,” he said.
“It consumed a lot of our time when we should have been focused on other things, on football.”
Through 2013, Thompson was ferociously angry and privately militant. He wanted the club and Hird and everyone involved to fight until they could fight no more.
Often he would wake up at 2am and read the newspapers online, such was the itch which forever needed scratching.
“In 2013, that’s the way I felt. I was angry. I was being accused of something which I wasn’t guilty of,” he said.
“Now, I’ve got to live with being accused of being a drug cheat. I still wake up at times and know myself I don’t want to accept it, but you can’t do much about the power of people, the power of the world.
“People are going to have their opinions based on what they know. Some know a lot, some know very little, and if they think we are guilty of that, then that’s what they think.
“I’m sad it happened because there’s been so much carnage, it’s a demolition trail really.”
He parked his anger and frustration through 2014, and endeavoured at his press conferences to be bubbly and informative.
He says that behaviour is his true self.
“I thought the footy club, the Essendon supporters, membership and even people who supported other clubs deserved more from Essendon,” he said. “More honesty, to be more interesting, to be informative, to be entertaining.
“That’s pretty much me in my life. I like to enjoy life. I’m very serious about footy and I made an attempt to actually give our supporters an insight to what’s going on in the coach’s box, what’s happening in a game, what’s happened at training, at selection, dealing with the players ... if I could do my best work there it would help in some way.’’
AROUND the time the Bombers contemplated sacking Hird, Thompson was linked to the vacant coaching job at Gold Coast, which perhaps forced Essendon’s hand to ask if he would consider the Essendon role if they sacked Hird.
His former manager Michael Quinlan contacted the Suns, which was revealed to the media.
“I never asked him to ring,” Thompson said. “They made contact and he made contact with me.”
Did you want the job?
“If you’re in Mexico and not in people’s faces and not in a hurry to find out what’s going on, you’re probably don’t want the job.”
It was also around this time that rumours of Thompson’s private life were being circulated and, one plus one, the Suns dropped off Thompson.
“I find there are some awful people out there who like to spread gossip,” he said. “It’s not right.
“I’ve had problems these past couple of years. I’ve been fighting with the AFL, it’s been a war, and in war people do some horrible things.
“Unfortunately, it’s not whether you win or lose, or what the truth is, it doesn’t matter. The big players in this always win and the little players, the individuals, get squashed and walked upon.
“I know for a fact there have been some stories started by some people, yes.’”
Thompson pauses countless times in an hour-long talk. He pauses here. He could smear many people as they have smeared him, but he chooses not to.
The war is over for him.
Signed on at 3AW and looking to join the speaking circuit while pursuing his property interests, as well as continuing his role on Fox Footy’s AFL360, Thompson hopes he doesn’t get the coaching bug again.
“I want to be very good at these next jobs so I don’t have to go back to coaching. Hopefully I don’t get that pull, hopefully I can live without it.”