The tragic figure of Jobe Watson

Marty Gleason Roar Pro

By Marty Gleason, Marty Gleason is a Roar Pro

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    As nonsensical and downright aggressive and intolerant as all footy discussion has become these days, how can anyone watch Jobe Watson walk off the field in tears against Sydney and not feel overwhelming sadness?

    Has there been any footy career whose downturned result has been the opposite of everything promised as much as Jobe’s? Does anyone’s given name match the events of its biblical character’s counterpart so precisely?

    He came into the league, much like Gary Ablett Jr, as the heralded son of a former champion and much-loved player – Tim Watson – who won three premierships, including winning one ‘post retirement’.

    Likewise, the club he was joining had two decades under its belt as a mover and shaker, one of Melbourne’s iconic clubs.

    Coach Kevin Sheedy didn’t rate him early and it wasn’t all plain sailing, but eventually it worked out – or was working out.

    Watson’s 2012 Brownlow Medal gladdened the heart of almost everyone who followed footy. It was the culmination of Essendon fans seeing this child here and there around the club for decades as a member of father Tim’s crew, growing up to assume the accolades of the player he was born to be.

    But Essendon, like Carlton, lost their relevance this century. They stopped being a player come September, then they became beholden to shoddy recruitment of retired 30-year-olds, and finally became victim to a cowboy sports scientist.

    Watson was booed by crowds, spent three years training with his mates under the most intense stress, was banned from the sport for a year, and in the end lost his Brownlow Medal.

    He gave Essendon some of its dignity back. In captaining the dirty years and ensuring there wasn’t a mass exodus of players, what Jobe did was arguably greater and certainly tougher than the stern but plain-sailing work of multiple premiership captains of say, Terry Daniher and Luke Hodge.

    But history will surely not recognise this. Watson will not be anecdotally known as a greater leader than other captains who are almost incidentally there during the surging good times. People will acknowledge Watson’s difficult captaincy of a unique niche moment, but he will not be the first captain to jump off the front page of Essendon’s 2050 Limited Edition Retrospective Treasury Album.

    His career all ended in terrible emotional wear over an entire five-year period. Still, his retirement surprised me. He never seemed that old. 32 seems to be the limit these days, as clubs push for greater playing and management excellence at the expense of emotional and historical excellence.

    Jim Pavlidis in the Sunday Age wrote exactly of my feelings towards Watson:

    “It’s unlikely either side in the red-and-black-view-of-history wars will ever agree on anything, except when the conversation turns to Jobe Watson. Throughout the long supplements saga Watson displayed none of the hubris of others at Essendon, and the dignified manner of his retirement announcement, devoid of anger or self-pity, sees him leave the game as a universally admired champion.”

    The AFL doesn’t do stories about how sometimes life itself just doesn’t work out. You are the master of your own destiny, right Daniel Menzel, Clay Smith, Alex Johnson?

    But with Jobe Watson, the AFL community is having to acknowledge that failure is a major part of the world.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • September 13th 2017 @ 2:55am
      Kurt said | September 13th 2017 @ 2:55am | ! Report

      “How can anyone watch Jobe Watson walk off the field in tears against Sydney and not feel overwhelming sadness?”

      Surprisingly easily as a it turns out. I tend to fall into the camp of ‘they’ve been punished enough, time to move on’ when it comes to the Essendon players, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I think Jobe deserves a profound outpouring of grief and sympathy because he’s decided to hang up the boots.

      And comparing him with Hodge as a captain? Please.

    • September 13th 2017 @ 4:25am
      Craig said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:25am | ! Report

      Well said.

      Regardless of how you feel about Essendon or the ‘saga’, the players are pretty much recognised as victims by the majority of people. If you’re not in that majority and you think “they should have asked more questions”, do you really think they deserved the ‘saga’ to drag out longer than proven and tested positive drug cheats? Ben Johnson was suspended for 2 years for taking steroids and admitting to taking them for years.

      The Essendon players had their careers effected for 3-4 years.

      If you can’t feel any compassion for them, you’re either stupid, heartless or both.

      Leading the players through the mess was Watson. They continued to perform admirably through the mess of a few years. Watson, in his prime (ie; brownlow medalist) was also robbed of the opportunity of steering his players through the semi finals.

      It’s a sad tale. But nobody can question his leadership, humility or the amount of respect bestowed upon him by the greater community.

      He deserved a better send-off than the bombers put up against the swans, but those who actually understand sport, understand the sacrifices these guys make, understand what 3-4 years of misery in your chosen field means, we understand. We tip our hat to you good sir.

      Well done Jobe.

    • September 13th 2017 @ 9:53am
      mdso said | September 13th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      There is something about Jobe Watson the man, and many who follow Essendon will always remember him. He was a shining light through years of darkness.

      Jobe was crucified by the media for taking AOD 964 which the media believed was banned but, it wasn’t banned. Neither the AFL or ASADA or the media ever apologised to Jobe for messing that up big time and misleading the public.
      Jobe handled the saga with dignity and was there for his team mates and others, through some cruel times. Jobe never was a victim to the saga. His light shone like no other.

      Whatever the future holds for Jobe Watson, he deserves a happy life. Well done Jobe, you will be a very hard act to follow.

      • September 13th 2017 @ 12:58pm
        Gecko said | September 13th 2017 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

        Jobe made a bad decision to have weird stuff injected into his stomach to enhance his performance.

        But after that drug-taking was exposed, he handled himself with more dignity and showed more leadership than anyone else at Essendon.

        And over the course of his entire career, Jobe showed enormous character and dignity, so he remains admired by many, including me.

      • September 13th 2017 @ 9:50pm
        Alex said | September 13th 2017 @ 9:50pm | ! Report

        @mdso,

        Jobe was a great champion of the club and sad to see him bow out the way he did. But for you to come out and emphatically state he took AOD964 and it was not a banned substance is a bit rich. Where you there to confirm it or has Essendon football club provided any proof on what was injected to those players?? Didn’t think so

    • September 13th 2017 @ 12:39pm
      Bobbo7 said | September 13th 2017 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

      While I have no real issue with Jobe Watson, for mine the senior EFC players should have stood up and asked serious questions about the offsite jabs – they had been in the system for years and must have known this was a radical departure from the norm.

      The only one to blame for Jobe’s situation is EFC. They failed all the players and despite the “dog ate my injection records” defence, the club got what is deserved.

      • September 13th 2017 @ 1:18pm
        Casper said | September 13th 2017 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

        I’ve never understood the fascination with the offsite jabs. What difference does it make if you are getting the jabs at the club or at a clinic? Fletcher said on Open Mike that only one of his jabs was offsite.

        The whole supplements program was a departure from the norm, so not sure why this deserves special attention.

        • September 13th 2017 @ 1:35pm
          Ian Whitchurch said | September 13th 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

          Having them off-site means even less chance that there are accessible records of who got given what and when.

          • September 13th 2017 @ 1:47pm
            Casper said | September 13th 2017 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

            Don’t agree with that. That would suggest it was Dank’s plan not to maintain the records correctly, which from what I’ve read doesn’t seem to be the case.

        • September 13th 2017 @ 4:17pm
          Birdman said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

          took it away from Dr Bruce Reid’s attention

          • September 13th 2017 @ 9:47pm
            Bobbo7 said | September 13th 2017 @ 9:47pm | ! Report

            The whole program was dodgy Casper. Off site, on site, the senior players must have realised this was markedly different.

            Anyway, it’s over with and I’ m sure everyone can move on.

            • September 14th 2017 @ 7:30am
              I ate pies said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:30am | ! Report

              David Zaharakis realised it was different to the point that he refused to do it. I guess he was the only non-naive person at the club.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 7:27am
      Horrie said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      When Jobe was chaired off with a guard of honour that included Swans players and the applause of the crowd I was immediately reminded of the dignified farewell that AFL crowds denied Adam Goodes.

      I was also reminded of my likening Jobe to a young Hamlet bearing the burden of his father’s decisions (among others).

      His dad was one of the architects of the axing of Matty Knights, an honourable man who would have rejected the subsequent ‘whatever it takes’ culture at EFC. Tim also was instrumental in the installation of Hird and Bomber Thompson.

      His dad was desperate for success.

      The subsequent unfolding of events over the years is well documented. Just as Hamlet made error, so too did Jobe. He signed up to the secrecy provisions. He was the on field leader and an influence over the other players, especially the younger players who signed up to the dab and jab regime.

      The outcomes were sad for all EFC fans and players and ultimately the game was brought into disrepute by the actions of EFC and the hubris of its off field leaders. It is not a complete Shakespearean tragedy in that no-one has died, though the fears of some players about the long term health impact of the drugs is tangible.

      I am a great admirer of how Jobe has conducted himself in damned difficult circumstances. It was however appropriate that his medal was handed back and the year’s suspension was really the minimum that could have been expected. The rotten State of Donsmark by contrast got off rather lightly with fines, cost of legal actions and player compensation and a year or two in the doldrums.

      Tim famously fired the replace Knights campaign through his use of the adage “the fish rots from the head”. His campaign ultimately led to the rotten State of Donsmark. The actions of the father ultimately was a key contributor to the troubles faced by his son. Tim and Jobe seem the most decent of folks. They both made questionable decisions and trusted the wrong people. I hope both can move on.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 11:20am
        Leonard said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

        Interesting points here, starting with “Jobe [as] a young Hamlet”.

        The essence of classical tragedy, from the Three Mega-Greeks to Shakespeare and beyond, is that tragic heroes contribute to their own downfalls – Macbeth’s ambition is a well known example: a less ambitious man wouldn’t have been gulled by the ambiguous promises of the three witches.

        Jobe Watson’s flaw was that he was too trusting of the good faith of EFC bigshots such as ‘Champion of Essendon’ Hird and the revered club identity ‘Doc’ Reid – it would have been a hugely challenging decision to follow his initial uncertainty and go against them, especially as he was ‘Son-of-Tim’. Another captain, less embedded in the club’s long and largely successful history, might have kept on asking. (Think Goddard.)

        In many classic tragedies there is a trusted companion, family member, national icon, who gives the hero the wrong info (or whatever), and IMCO (= ‘considered’) opinion trusted confidant ‘Doc’ Reid had that role, a responsibility he clearly failed on two counts, the ‘First do no harm’ one, and secondly see that others do no harm, either.

        Perhaps if Jobe ‘Son-of-Tim’ Watson had looked for advice from those he trusted outside club and family, the whole tragedy would have been trip-switched.

        In my scenario, the trio of Hird, Dank and Reid have the three witches role, promising a premiership crown at the price of a little jab or two. As well, IMCO, the EFC has to exorcise Hird-the-disgraced-coach from its club milieu, while retaining its admiration for Hird-the-Champion-of-Essendon. (As for the AFL’s latest gaffe – who does CEO McLachlan think he is, the Duke of Edinburgh?)

        PS: EFC CEO Tanner’s performance shows that we have lost a real Labor Oppn Ldr and future PM.

        • September 15th 2017 @ 8:26am
          Horrie said | September 15th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

          Thanks Leonard. I enjoyed your analysis and the alternate tragedy scenario.

          FWIW, I have known Tanner for many decades and always found him to be a good man. He is a vast improvement on Toll, for whom the bell of disreputability finally rung clear.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 12:13pm
      Deano said | September 14th 2017 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

      He seems to be balanced and grounded enough to put the footy world behind him and move on to the next chapter in his life? It was great to come back and be part of a resurrected club and climb back up the ladder into the top eight, clawing back some respect, and make it to finals again! But to expect a fairy tale ending beyond that is pushing the edges of reality. Footy is a mean mistress sometimes, then it’s over. Walk away Tim and enjoy the rest of your life, you deserve it!

      • September 14th 2017 @ 2:26pm
        Leonard said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

        Like your advice of “Walk away Tim and enjoy the rest of your life”, and think twice or thrice or more about not burning bridges.

        Reminds me of one of the Rules of Leroy Jethro Gibbs in ‘NCIS’: ‘When the job is done, walk away’.

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