I have to admit I did not expect that. I guess after years of hearing about these possible consequences without them eventuating, I had kind of become desentitised to the possibility. It is a murky and complex issue that has plagued the AFL for a number of years. Reading about it this morning a range of thoughts quickly ricocheted through my brain.
Social media has already lit up with shadenfreude from supporters of other clubs and in a way it is a relief to know this whole circus has not been over nothing, which is what a not guilty finding would have suggested. Before you bombers fans fly up (see what I did there or is it the wrong day for puns) in outrage about irregularities in the investigation, the media agenda and a lack of concrete proof, let me say that I accept some of those things; but to an impartial observer, if the adjudication panel came to this conclusion, having considered a huge amount of evidence that I will probably never see, I don’t see a reason to dispute their conclusion.
Most fans from other clubs I have spoken with over the past few years have been fairly confident that something untoward had been going on at Essendon and the club had done all it could to be covert about it. As such many will feel vindicated that players and clubs can’t get away with these types of practices, especially relying on a lack of documentation as a defence. Some may also feel there is some justice that the players are reaping their own consequences of not accepting offered plea bargains as part of the original investigation. Personally this aspect of the decision brings me no joy or satisfaction. A club that many of my friends are passionate supporters of has been decimated and its supporters will feel that pain viscerally. After years of uncertainty and false dawns, 17 players will be devastated at the disruption to their own careers and what it means for their reputations.
What does it mean for the club? 2016 is going to be one tough year. The banned players are all in their best 22 and comprise a good number of their top ten players. It is hard to see the club not vying for the wooden spoon this year and being even competitive against some of the better teams could be a challenge. That problem will not end there as the banned players will not simply return after 12 months without missing a beat. It will probably take a considerable part of the 2017 season to get the team functioning well together again.
In football, form determines crowds so Bombers administrators will no doubt be expecting to take a hit in memberships and gate receipts for the next two years as well. The financial pain may not end there, with the possibility of legal action against the club from past and present players already being discussed. Overall, the next few years are going to be a very difficult time and I can’t overstate the enormous job coaching staff and the Essendon board have to limit the bleeding.
All of that has as little morbid fascination as watching forensic investigators pick through the wreckage of a crash to me. The only thing that I will be interested is the performance of top-up players from the VFL that Essendon have been given the right to recruit to replenish their squad. Maybe I have seen “The Replacements,” too many times but I am excited for the opportunities some players may get they would not have otherwise. Many times a player never quite makes it because they only ever play a couple of games and don’t show enough before they are discarded. Given more responsibility over a season there might be a chance for a few players to grow and show they can play at AFL level.
But that is minor sideshow to the main unfortunate events that have unfolded. I feel for the players and fans, although before they embrace the feelings of despair and injustice some of them must be feeling, it is worth putting it in perspective and remembering this is far from the worst or most unfair thing happening in the world. I'll grant this is a pretty extreme metric for analysing misfortune. A lot of people would quite rightly be feeling pretty gutted, but lets save talk of tragedies and the like for elsewhere.