Last night Carlton, the club I have supported with passion and dread for my existence, got pummeled by Port Adelaide. 90 points was the final margin, somewhat reflective of the gulf in experience and match smarts between the sides. The game began ominously before the Blues did well to steady, sitting around the 25 point margin for much of the first quarter. In general play, we won the second quarter, but couldn’t convert, kicking 5 behinds in a row and then conceding a late goal to be down by 34 at half time. The general feeling was that if the effort stayed at that standard, it would be a decent hit-out. Unfortunately things went to shit in the third quarter, and had they finished well would’ve been up by about 80-90. The last quarter we probably just lost, but fought out.
The majority of football supporters are unreasonable. I have found this to be true particularly of big football clubs with lots of supporters – Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond, Essendon etc. They do not understand the fine mechanisms involved with the elite game, underestimate the difficulty in executing plans, and struggle to grasp how ‘effort’ is defined. They are most concerned with quantifiable things, like goals kicked, goals conceded, margins, win/loss. Fair enough – footy is a win/loss industry. But to simplify it to that level, particularly when your team is playing 7 teenagers, 5 of whom are in their first season, and first handful of games, and the second year players not really further ahead in their development, is to neglect what is happening on a larger scale. Fans are caught up in emotion. They see 22 people who they can live through vicariously every week, and they are only interested in winning, and effort. To question Carlton’s effort last night would be wrong; to question their football smarts, physical ability and skill execution would be more accurate.
Football smarts are not just kicking and handballing to the right person. It involves learning where to run, when to hold structure and when to break it, when to call a teammate in. It even comes down to the fine art of, shock horror, knowing when it might be better to corral an opponent rather than run at them and tackle, exposing you out the back. People really struggle with that one. Some players are naturally smarter than others, but for most it is learning through exposure. Many years of repeat exposure, against stronger, smarter more experienced opponents is the only way to get better. Take tonight’s opposition – a playing group who under Ken Hinkley for the last 4 years, have had a few ups and many downs, and finally seem to be getting their act together. They are into their 5th season of playing together, learning a game plan, and building their bodies. Hinkley took over a very young team in 2013, a bit further into a rebuild than we at Carlton are, and has invested time into them, even when they were getting belted. Let us see what this team is like after 5 years under Bolton.
Obviously with young players making up such a large bulk of the team (only 5 players >100 games in team last night), they are physically under-developed, do not have the miles in their legs and will drift in and out of games. Surely this is no shock to fans? Their skill execution can be questioned, but again, that comes down to many things, not just the skill executor. The person up field may be calling for it when they shouldn’t – footy smarts – or leading to the wrong area – brain fades. This creates a difficultly in executing, which could be difficult in distance or angle, or be picked off by other players. Again, this is learned through repeat exposure under pressure in games. A baker is only going to learn by baking and making mistakes on the day when the big orders are required – not by practicing at TAFE. It would be wrong to mistake the 3rd quarter for lack of effort as we were merely destroyed by a stronger team who all knew their role, and executed without relenting. To play as Port did, running in waves, takes a supreme amount of confidence and trust in teammates, things that can only be built through years of try and fail practice.
Naturally, a 90 point loss stirs the emotions of the fans, and I always have a look at the official Carlton social media sites to check in on the ridiculous barrage that they cop. Most of it is really a lack of understanding, lack of patience, and sometimes people are just plain dumb. Tonight was one such night, and for the first time, I responded. And it has led me to write this, to show an instagram user why their comments are, quite frankly, fucking ridiculous. Here is the comment that ignited this column:
The low hanging fruit in these situations is to target the user’s grammar and spelling and
seems as low hanging fruit tastes the sweetest – mate, if you’re going to have a misinformed go at the club, at least spell properly or introduce some form of grammar I am not one for attacking the uneducated. Now I will go through each of the person’s ‘points’ and systematically deconstruct them.
1. ‘Where was the Anzac spirit’
Anzac day is a good day for reflection. It encourages thinking about sacrifice, courage, mateship and luck. Sacrifice and courage are two things that AFL footballers live from the moment they step foot into a club, forgoing regular life to have the fortune to find success at sport. In terms of ‘Anzac effort’, last night I saw many moments of courage, sacrifice and mateship, despite losing the game by 90 points. I watched 5th gamer Harry Macreadie back into packs to attempt or take a mark no less than 4 times; I watched young first gamer Cam Polson run hard both ways to chase and tackle blokes which takes courage when you’re tired and the game is over; I watched the backline, constantly under siege, have courage and mateship to drop off their man and go and spoil to help a teammate; I watched Jack Silvagni work his arse off between the flanks, getting back to help in defence before working hard to present up field when he broke out; I saw Bryce Gibbs have his finger dislocated in the 1st 15 minutes, and play on and work hard at the contest; I saw Patrick Cripps bend his back and win contested possesions like they were going out of fashion; I saw Marc Murphy demanding that teammates follow him and keep working, right til the final siren; I saw the players give their all. They just weren’t good enough.
If fans demand Anzac spirit only on Anzac day or in this case, Anzac weekend, they are setting their club up for failure. If this person was holding the team accountable, they would make this Anzac comment every week, because ideally you want your team playing like this all the time. I can guarantee, with almost 100% certainty, that they wouldn’t have questioned ‘Anzac spirit’ after a loss like that in any of the other 21 games for the year. It is a throwaway, evocative line that doesn’t mean a great deal if you expect a player to lift just because it’s Anzac weekend. What does that say to them about other games – not as important? This is why footy clubs are run by the people that run them, and not by general public nuffies.
2. ‘How Rowe gets a game is behind me’
I think they meant beyond me. Maybe they met behind. Regardless, I am not sure what game they were watching. Sam Rowe spent the majority of the night on Charlie Dixon, who kicked just 2 goals as a key forward from 60+ inside 50s. Big tick for Sam Rowe. He gets a game because he is an outstanding competitor who has a stronger body than our other young key backs, and works his arse off at each opportunity. Yes, his skills and agility are limited, but he is the best we have. And he has done a fine job this season – Rnd 1 – Riewoldt, 1 goal; Rnd 2 – Hogan, 0 goals; Rnd 3 – Daniher, 1 goal; Rnd 4 – Lynch, 7 goals. Last week against Gold Coast was an anomaly. I was at the game, and Tom Lynch would’ve kicked 7 on Alex Rance with the clean entries and disposal he had from fast breaks. The midfield pressure on the kickers into Lynch is what killed Rowe that night. Last night, he was pretty good; Wayne Carey, a man with pretty reasonable qualifications to judge on field performance, had him in his top 4 players on the ground. I’m happy with that.
3. ‘We are getting our ass kicked anyway how can Bolton think his good’
Again, due to lack of punctuation and poor grammar, I don’t know if the person is referring to Rowe or to Brendon Bolton’s opinion of his own coaching. Given I’ve answered Rowe, I’ll go with the latter. Bolton is a coach. If every coach that lost like that started to question their ability, we would have no coaches in the game. Young teams losing like that is part of the game. Hawthorn, under Al Clarkson in 2005 and 06, suffered some fearful beatings. Port Adelaide, who we played last night, were so bad from 2010-12 that people questioned whether they would survive as a club. We have not had a culture of success for a long time, but once you have it, as we are planning to, you try and turn it into longevity. It is important not to confuse Carlton pre-Bolton to Carlton now. We are a completely different club. We have gotten rid of over 30 players in 2 years. That is extraordinarily high. People like this person need to separate their emotion and frustration at our lack of success over the last 15 years, which can be difficult I know, and see that this is a coach, playing group and administration who are now only 27 games into getting to know and understand each other. If you think Bolton is no good on the basis that he is playing youth, getting them to stick to a gameplan, that yes, does evolve from defense upward, and we are losing as a result, you have rocks in your head.
4. ‘Pickett for the bin Phillips spud’
I am beginning to think that this person has made the cardinal sin of shooting their mouth off without doing any research. Coming off his first 2 years of total injury at GWS, Jarrod Pickett last night played his 5th game of AFL, after not playing at any level for the best part of a few years. Consider that. He is quick, he reads the ball off contests well, and has good skills. Last night wasn’t his best, but given he is 5 GAMES INTO HIS CAREER, MAYBE I’LL CUT HIM SOME SLACK YOU MORON. As for Andrew Phillips, well here is a man who after just 2 games back in the VFL has been called up. Prior to those 2 VFL games, he was on the long term injury list from either just before or just after Christmas. So maybe he might take a few games to get up to speed and find his feet, too. Last night Ryder took the points, but again he was competitive, winning 29 hit outs, and actually had 3 more hitouts to advantage (ie. for a clean possession, which is what ruckwork is about) than Ryder. Needs to tidy up his skills, but was generally under serious heat when disposing around stoppages.
5. ‘Starting to think Bolton has no plan A,B or C has made us the laughing stock of the afl has done nothing to convince me he has any coaching ability’
I think we are far from the laughing stock of the AFL. Maybe fellow moron supporters from other teams, much like this person, are laughing at us, but if you validate your club through the opinion of others than unfortunately you will disappointed your whole life. The club has, for the first time in its 150+ year history, admitted the problem that we face, appointed a coach who has put his ego at the door and is investing in quality youth, giving them games when their form has dictated, and put the long term future ahead of the short term. What is laughable about that? I think, on the contrary, most commentators who might have an idea about the game respect that we are sticking to this plan, one that will involve more losses like last night, and will take a few years before we see the fruits it will bear. Bolton has clearly demonstrated his coaching ability. Our defense in the time he has been there has found a nice consistent lineup and structure. On the whole they are dependable.
He has shown that his plan A revolves around kicking the ball well and working it systematically up the ground, as opposed to gung-ho blazing away. We set up with a whole ground structure, switch across when things clog up, and are well placed defensively to stymie quick attacks. Plan B, as seen against Essendon when the conditions changed, involved working from stoppage to stoppage with a sweeper behind play. I am sure he has a plan C, but consider this: When you are coaching a young team, (who will struggle to uphold a game plan all game due to natural fatigue and lack of experience) would you rather them stick to it, and learn from a bad loss, or just change it as soon as it gets bad so that on the surface level, the margin is less, but the players haven’t learnt what went wrong with Plan A? I think that the answer is quite clear – stick with A and let them learn. He did throw numbers back for the last quarter, and we worked hard and halted their all encompassing momentum. Bolton has unified this group and has them playing for each other. If that is not an indicator of coaching ability, then what is?
6. ‘1 year and 5 games down worse point then when he started can’t deny facts’
Of all the points, this is the most symbolic of the dickhead supporter who refuses to look at what is going on at the club. I’m not sure how this person thinks we are worse. Last year, with a much older and more experienced team, we over-achieved across a good few weeks, ending up 6-7 I think after 13 games. This is all well and good, but this included playing older players – Lamb, Kerridge, Armfield and the like, who, while good clubmen and solid bodies, are not ideally in your best team in a few years once the youngsters are battle hardened and ready for consistent game time. So this year, Bolton has brought in these youngsters, and we have done alright. Won one game, in it up to our ears against Melbourne, had good halves against Gold Coast and Port, and good moments against Richmond. One bad loss doesn’t set the club back. I would think given the youth is starting to win spots on merit, that we are in a much stronger position then last year. But if you, dear supporter, choose to take everything at surface level, then we will stay mediocre. We can play older players, and we might win a few more games and not lose as badly, but when those players leave, we play the kids next year. And then what’s happening now, is happening 1 year later and we go further behind in our plan. If you cannot see that, then you are simply not smart enough and I suggest you go and follow a simpler game with less variables – maybe ten pin bowling.
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Obviously, we would prefer not to lose by 90 points. But last night was also full of good signs, save for the third quarter. To say that the margin was because we were dismal is to take away much of the credit from Port, who were simply too good. For the record, I invited this instagram person to find the blog, and read why he is off the mark.
As you can see, they didn’t really understand the concept of a blog and thought I was ‘smoking weed’. At no point in their incessant rambling did they profess any desire to think reasonably, instead descending to personal attacks. They are clearly obsessed with the short term of winning games and are unable to see the good parts of our game and apply future thinking to see what that will look like with more experience and time. The truth is, it will get worse this year before it gets better. We might win 4 games this year, and next year will likely be the same with some good efforts and wins interspersed with blow out losses. I will post the link for this person to read all of this and encourage them to engage in some reasoned, intelligent discussion rather than putting out emotional throwaway lines to cover up their lack of understanding. Go Blues.
Postscript – I am interested in hearing what their solutions look like. How would getting rid of Brendon Bolton achieve anything other than throwing us back another 2 years of rebuilding? And what would getting rid of Murphy and Gibbs and bringing in someone like Fyfe actually do? This was the response I saw the user post to another fan. As I said, I’m glad these sort of people don’t run the club.