Last winter, I went to New York on holiday. I researched a bunch of bars and restaurants on Instagram. I went to them. I had a good time. I came home to Melbourne. The end.
My time in New York is not really a story. I returned to my artisanal ramen, craft-beer wanker life. I wrote articles in the same way. It’s almost like I never left in the first place.
In life we want our stories to be challenging, transformative. We want something mythic.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell is most famous for The Hero’s Journey, a work that compares various myths and legends across the world. Campbell noticed every great myth through time follows the same general shape: a hero enters into an extraordinary world, faces challenges and returns to the ordinary world, forever changed.
It’s repeated in the stories of Moses, Jesus, Buddha. It’s been appropriated in Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix.
I write football. The language of football is facts. You win, you lose. By how much? This is all just information. It makes the off-season particularly hard, because there are fewer facts. This is usually when writers start writing about the MCG getting a roof.
But this AFL off-season was special. We didn’t just get facts – we got a myth. A hero has entered into an extraordinary world, faced challenges and returned to the ordinary world, forever changed.
Our hero is Jobe Watson.
Act I: Departure
We all know the images of Jobe Watson’s career. Watson breaking the tackle. Watson with the handball out of congestion. Being named captain of the club his father, Tim Watson, had captained. Kissing his Brownlow medal.
Then, the thousands of images after the scandal broke. The sombre press conferences at Windy Hill, the media ambushes in carparks by night. The voice of his heartbroken father describing his slow descent into despair.
Watson had a narrative that had presumably already been written. The aspirational tale of an unfit, complacent player turned Brownlow medallist. A transformation by sheer effort. Now it acquires a cruel addendum. The name Jobe Watson recalls ‘drug cheat’ and the morose public face of a systematic doping program.
Images don’t capture the betrayal felt for paying the price for a program that he didn’t anticipate, engineer or design.
Pain, judgment and betrayal can be a sobering call to arms. Jobe Watson didn’t go on a journey to save his club or his career, Jobe Watson needed to go on a quest to save himself.
It is at this juncture that Watson decides to step out of the world of football, drugs and scandals to an inexplicable second act: to pour coffees halfway round the world.
Act II: Initiation
“Almond milk is a nightmare to work with,” he would later say in an interview with the Herald Sun. Jobe Watson the barista is stupefying back home.
But he is leading a life without impossible questions. He is not the face of anyone or anything. Making coffee is about knowledge, precision and skill. Eventually you learn to make the perfect cup. The challenge is to keep making the perfect cup, one after another, for eternity.
For Watson, working at a job defined by artistry and repetition would have been nostalgic.
One day he is having breakfast at a café. He looks up and sees her. She’s a Dutch model. Everything in his life has been defined by effort and desire. He runs after her, holding a napkin with his phone number on it.
It is in New York that Watson experiences the highest of human experiences – love and happiness.
But halfway around the world, a faint siren sounds. The new season is approaching. Jobe Watson the affable barista will soon be no more. Jobe Watson the footballer must return home, having found the essence of who he is.
Act III: Return
So who is he, if he isn’t ‘embattled Essendon captain Jobe Watson’? He needs to breach the chasm between his old and new lives.
He returns the Brownlow medal he worked harder than anyone else to get. He relinquishes the captaincy that was as much his honour as his cross to bear.
This season, maybe his last, Jobe Watson is finally just a footballer. He hasn’t been one for six years. It is left to be seen whether he can be one again.
He will no longer be Essendon’s best player, or a totem for an inflammatory story.
We, the footballing public, want him to be at his best. All indications point to things finally getting better.