The Melbourne Demons finished second last on the AFL ladder in 2019, amassing just five wins for the entire season.
It was three-quarter time and Mark Neeld was on the verge of losing to GWS and the precipice of dying in early childhood as an AFL coach. He told his players to “do it for the supporters”.
I hope he wasn’t talking about the same ‘supporters’ who abused them after the thrashing by Port Adelaide.
Or especially those who, seeking the publicity given to the former, made their way down to the players’ race the following week to join the festival of vitriol after the even bigger annihilation at the hands of Essendon.
And surely Neeld wasn’t referring to the so-called fans who were jeering him as he spoke.
Neeld may have to be moved on but not before those supporters who have become abusers.
The abuse after the Round 1 debacle was partially understandable given it was believed the Power were basket cases, which we now know they’re not.
The realisation during the Essendon game that Melbourne were no good, rather than not trying, didn’t prevent the appalling spectacle of further supporters putting their verbal boots in.
An underperforming worker can be compensated for ‘stress’ and ‘humiliation’ caused by being taken into an office and politely reminded of the fact. It’s possible for a travelling public servant engaged in ‘vigorous’ sex to receive a payout for pulling a motel light fitting down upon themselves.
The WorkSafe TV ads showing bosses asking employees to attempt tasks that may cripple them and the workers agreeing to perform them are meant to be comical but footballers agree to such conditions every time they run out to play.
Players have to bear never-ending abuse from opposition supporters without compensation or the freedom to retaliate because that is the unique lot of footballers.
But abuse from your own supporters is another matter. If I was a Melbourne player all bets would be off.
“It’s been difficult to be a Melbourne supporter,” said Neeld, but not more difficult than being a Melbourne player, or the coach.
The confidence Neeld exuded on his appointment has gone forever it seems. Clearly, he can’t be faulted for lack of effort. In fact, his trying to be a successful AFL coach seems to be killing him.
The club’s membership promotion stresses the tribal nature of its supporters. Aren’t those who were caught – especially those wanting to be seen – screaming at the players guilty of disloyalty to the Demon tribe?
The AFL protects its umpires by penalising criticism of them. The clubs should do the same for their players and coaches.
The Melbourne cheer squad should examine the footage and expel the offenders or, in the Ecuadorian tribal tradition, have their heads shrunken and mounted on the MCG goalposts.
Or better still, let the players return fire.
The coach’s message at three-quarter time should have been: “Let’s do this for our real supporters!”
And while walking off the ground, the players could have searched for those scowling faces that hurled abuse a fortnight ago, looked them in the eye, and shouted: “This one’s not for you bastards!”