Jobe Watson, a nuanced footballer

Jenna Downer Roar Rookie

By , Jenna Downer is a Roar Rookie

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    Jobe Watson, former captain of the Essendon Football Club, today announced his retirement. The 32-year-old will hang up the boots at the end of the 2017 home-and-away season.

    Watson is a three-time Crichton Medal winner and two-time All-Australian.

    He was also suspended after the Essendon doping scandal.

    Drafted under the father-son rule in 2002, Watson worked hard to emerge from the shadow of his father, Essendon great Tim.

    Jobe’s problematic kicking and fitness levels hindered his early career. Initially, coach Kevin Sheedy thought little of him and he was lucky not to end up on the trade table.

    However, a change in coach and a momentous change in attitude saw Watson transition from a fringe player to a dominant and influential captain in the league.

    From all accounts, he is a measured, kind and intelligent man.

    He has enjoyed several seasons as an elite midfielder in the game he loves, having built a strong-bodied game around an awareness of his inadequacies as an athlete.

    He and 33 others were also found guilty of breaking anti-doping regulations and were sanctioned with a playing ban. In addition, he handed back the highest individual honour the game offers: his Brownlow medal.

    On reflection of this, Watson states “it is what it is”, a revealing statement for a man trying to reconcile an incredibly nuanced circumstance.

    The individual burden of guilt that Watson shouldered in terms of leading a playing squad that was decimated and branded drug cheats probably can’t be understood by anyone outside of the condition. Certainly, he faced much of the media attention and acted as the spearhead for the playing group in communicating their plight.

    Jobe Watson Essendon Bombers AFL

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    By his own admission, he still hasn’t processed much of the scandal and calamity that was the Essendon doping saga.

    Football clubs are, despite all the efforts to regulate and administrate, a group of young men who spend more time together than with their families or friends. A bond forged through this time and through common struggles can be unfathomable to those outside.

    Their job and passion requires them to place complete trust in each other.

    In this setting, the importance of your leaders, and their influence, becomes emphasised to the highest degree. As does their accountability. Where Watson sits in the Essendon drug saga ladder of culpability is a conversation for another article, and perhaps another author.

    The fear of failure, of being branded a loser, permeates through the ethos of elite sport. It remains a carnal motivating factor in pushing both your body and mind past reasonable or even thinkable limits.

    But for all the fear of losing, nothing tarnishes like the label of cheating.

    From the very first Olympics – the original formation or organised competitive sport – the shame of cheating was clear. Sophocles said he “would rather fail with honour than to win by cheating,” and this has, for the most part, been the moral compass on which sport has operated and the basis of its marketability.

    Rightly or wrongly, it will be difficult for Watson’s legacy to ever lessen, or remove itself from the stigma of doping. Invariably, a conversation on Watson’s career and a reference to doping will sit interchangeably in public discourse.

    To borrow from Watson, this too is what it is.

    Essendon captain Jobe Watson. Photo: Greg Ford

    (Photo: Greg Ford)

    I arrived later than I would have liked to Essendon’s Round 1 game against Hawthorn at the beginning of the 2017 season. Walking towards the MCG, in the middle of the first quarter, is one of my favourite memories of Jobe.

    I couldn’t even see him.

    Every time he touched the ball, the noise escaping the stadium rose almost three-fold. I could have sworn the MCG was vibrating.

    I also vividly remember his goal on Anzac Day 2013, deep in the pocket. It wasn’t particularly skilful or freakish; he has kicked many better. It was, however, representative of himself as a player. He saw an opportunity, he worked for it, he capitalised.

    He has racked up 27 or more disposals on ten occasions this year. There have been moments of brilliance; lightning handballs reminiscent of some of his best form. He is a calm head with a feel for the game, and a true team man.

    He has also become aggravatingly slow.

    For a footballer who has always struggled with speed, this has proved pricey. Watching him play in Round 20 against Carlton, it was clear just how aware of this he is – one instance, when he had time and space, he seemed hyper-aware and rushed, his decision-making affected.

    He seems to possess just as much, if not more, of the warmth that his father Tim exudes and has made him a regular on our TV screens.

    Jobe has an authenticity that permeates when he speaks and is naturally suited to football media. In 2014, a hip-flexor injury saw him take to our screens as a boundary rider, where he was a comfortable analyser of the game.

    Today, he said that he has had a ‘wonderful’ time as a footballer for the Essendon Football Club. I hope that is true for him in the way that I say it has been truly wonderful to watch him.

    By his own marker, he hoped to leave the club in a better position than he found it. From where I sit, he has.

    I will miss you, Jobe.