There’s little doubt that most observers of AFL football consider St Kilda to be the biggest disappointment of 2018.
At certain points in life, it becomes necessary to enjoy something you love on a different level.
As a St Kilda supporter this year, watching football ironically has become a necessity. To put it simply, not only are the Saints losing constantly, they are not playing an attractive brand of football.
They are panicky, low skilled, slow and look to be completely out of their depth for great portions of games. The optimist in me says that this is still a symptom of the worst goal-kicking of any team in recent memory and that if they were to somehow straighten up, a lot of the problems would go away.
The cynic however, realises that the problems at Moorabbin must run a lot deeper than that.
But rather than dwelling on this debate during the game, it’s much easier to watch the game for what it has become – a comedy. For that reason, I can quite easily laugh at my TV as Tim Membrey misses from five metres and smile as Rowan Marshall misses three quite simple shots in a single quarter.
I can even smirk and chuckle as it’s announced that Ben Long, the only player seemingly capable of kicking straight, is injured and will miss eight weeks. That’s what St Kilda is now – a comedy, but one that will soon turn very serious.
At one point in the first quarter on Sunday, St Kilda were 1 – 4. Melbourne at the time were 4 – 1. In this situation, what pressure were the Melbourne players under? They know that even if they do lose the ball, they probably won’t be punished much on the scoreboard.
And they also know that they can quite easily rebound out of St Kilda’s attack quite easily. This must be a liberating thought for players. If there is no scoreboard pressure on them, then really there is no pressure on them at all.
If the Saints could just straighten up, then at least it would allow everyone to see how deep the problems actually run.
This season is much worse because of the stated aims of the rebuild at the end of 2012 that were reiterated at the start of this season – that is to make finals this season and to win a premiership by 2020. Had these predictions been downplayed by the club at the start of this season, then the current situation would still be bad – but could be explained away to an extent.
Bad seasons happen and sometimes things don’t quite work out the way clubs plan. Richmond in 2016 are a prime example of this. But for a club to come out in the pre-season (as seemingly everyone at St Kilda did) to announce premiership aspirations, and then to play as they have so far this season, means that this season appears even worse than it actually is.
No club can afford to become a comedy, but St Kilda can afford it least of all. Having been warned by the AFL to improve their financial situation this year and with massive government and AFL investment involved in the move back to Moorabbin, the Saints sit on a precipice.
Crowds have fallen rapidly, which means the new deal at Etihad will not be the financial windfall that was predicted. Memberships (that were sold on hope this year) will fall next year, further eroding St Kilda’s finances. You can only sell hope for a limited time, results are needed to consolidate the record membership numbers that St Kilda has experienced recently.
Sometime this season, St Kilda will pick up another win; they may even win five or six. But it is almost impossible to imagine that they will match their results of the last two seasons.
Realistically, the retirement of Nick Riewoldt was always going to have a large impact on the list, and really the board should not have sold the dream of a premiership to the long-suffering support base. But since they did, and since Alan Richardson himself bought into the hype, they have opened themselves to criticism and the future of the coach and the board itself is now being openly questioned and debated on forums, which is never a good sign for a club.
To some, the Saints are bad, to others they have switched to being a weekly dark comedy show. But if they are to survive long-term in the crowded Melbourne market, they must become something which they have not been since 2010 – relevant.