First published in The Roar
So the bureaucratic B-52 that is ASADA has started up its engines and taken to the sky trailed by an ugly plume of greasy smoke.
Its destination, of course, is Windy Hill. There this metaphorical bomber will take aim at the footballing variety.
At the time of scribbling these words the firm whisper was that official phone calls had been made.
The broad understanding is 34 people, most thought to be players from Essendon (including those who were at Essendon at the relevant time but have since moved on), will be asked to show cause as to why they shouldn’t be found guilty of offences relating to the use of a substance known as Thymosin Beta 4.
That’s 34 separate ASADA briefs checked innumerable times over the course of sixteen months. A brief every two weeks.
Put in that kind of perspective – and given the stakes – perhaps us news-thirsty sideliners shouldn’t be so critical of the slow time-line. A prosecutor’s lot requires precision. Out of necessity wheels grind before they spin.
Still, this has been an agonising wait.
For the players and their families it must have been all but unbearable even if it’s just as likely that time has fortified them against wanting anything beyond a conclusion.
For others it’s all been a drawn out game of chess played between three main schools of thought. On the one hand sit besieged and defensive loyalists, conspiracists and denialists.
Those who’ve borne the brunt of Essendon’s aggressive swagger over the years share the other with the rest of us who can’t stomach the idea of cheating at the expense of player welfare.
And yet for all the banter, misinformation and amateur sleuthing so many fundamental questions remain satisfactorily answered.
Who the hell is Stephen Dank? What did he promise? What did he deliver? How and who did he convince?
Who knew what and when? Who did what?
How can a club desiring pushed boundaries not have recorded the finer details?
Did the players twig? Did they not smell an ill wind at the scope of the pin-cushioning? Or do athletes simply do first and ask later, if ever?
For me the latter question remains the hardest to reconcile. If I was a professional athlete armed with knowledge and forewarned of the hazards of breaching relevant codes would I not ask the waiter to list the ingredients of my soup?
I can’t help but assume that I would.
But I’m not fighting for a senior game. Not every moment of my young life has been geared towards participation in a sport that entrenches itself in the dreams of kids everywhere. I’m not all but owned by an institution that sees a Premiership window ajar.
I don’t have Dick Reynolds staring down at me from a wall and the spectre of Kevin Sheedy lurking as I lace my boots before training. I’m not being mentored and tutored by a now suspended bloke who’d all but been canonised by a place whose unfortunately timed mantra was ‘whatever it takes’.
When working the Gabba boundary in commentary at the Brisbane versus Essendon game a month or so ago I saw in the Lions the usual pep. The chatter was rife. Players sat restlessly. Brisbane were anxious about their lot in the way footballers need to be. There was an enthusiastic edge to their work.
On the other side of the interchange gates the Bombers were largely voiceless and lethargic, an observation I made to air. Their bench was almost silent. Later in the game – juiced perhaps by an inability to put away a less fancied opponent – players started bickering as they came and went from the pine.
Goddard and Chapman, two high profile post-scandal recruits, were spitting ten flavours of venom over relatively innocuous on-field incidents. Chappy was flicking elbows. Goddard was fuming. At the time I wondered if they were looking for a reason to let steam spew.
Essendon still won that night, if only just. Ryder sealed things a minute from the end with a terrific kick from an awkward spot. The celebration was eerily muted for a side who’d just snagged a victory that evened their season’s win/loss record.
In hindsight maybe there really was something in what I saw – if I recall correctly there’d been a Fairfax report in the lead up to the match hinting that ASADA was coming to the end of its process.
Or maybe there was nothing at all in what I observed and it was just a plain old flat night for the visiting side.
For too long now this is how plenty of us view the Bombers – with a whopping great question mark next to an equally prominent asterisk. It’s a horribly depressing distraction.
Many will now measure Essendon by how they front up against Melbourne on Sunday. Maybe the Bombers will link arms for a week. It’s hard to see how they will for two. With (apparently) only ten days to show the kind of cause necessary to beat further action you’d reckon minds will naturally drift.
One thing is now certain – the talk is over and the game is on. Already de facto club spokesman Tim Watson has hinted at legal action by the Bombers. You’d reckon this squabble is only just warming up.
I can’t help but conjure a list of broader possible ramifications if it all end
s up with the wigs and gowns. But who brings action against who? Are years tied up in court really worth it?
How would years of litigation affect the future competition and Essendon’s part in it? Does the club indemnify each player or official affected? To what extent?
Will players break ranks? What are the insurance implications? How deep are the pockets of Essendonian benefactors?
What is the contractual position of players signed since this all broke? Can Goddard and Chapman argue for reinstatement of their free agency? Clearly they haven’t got what they bargained for. Will future draftees and rookies baulk at Windy Hill?
What do current and potential sponsors do? Who ultimately pays all the bills?
For all the fighting talk by the hard-nosed red and black few who remain ensconced in finger-pointing amid a quagmire of conspiracy and spin, a hard reality will surely eventually bite.
Pockets may be deep, but arms eventually shorten. And no club can bleed like this forever.