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Haunted Demons fans are ready to give up the ghost

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Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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The bigger issues at the Demons

Rohan Connolly and Michael Gleeson believe Melbourne's disappointing performance on the weekend highlights bigger issues at the club.

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It was 20 minutes into the last quarter, and Essendon was a hundred and plenty points ahead, but its supporters still were not sated. ''Ball,'' they howled. Hearing this baying, David Bridie thought to himself: ''I know how the Roman Colosseum must have felt.''

Bridie, a singer-songwriter and lifelong Melbourne devotee, was in the Grampians but forced himself to listen to the bitter end, hoping his suffering would act as a kind of burnt offering. It is not in him to deny his Demons faith.

Demons fans look on during the round two match against Essendon.

Demons fans look on during the round two match against Essendon. Photo: Getty Images

In the Melbourne Cricket Club committee room, the evening had begun well enough, with a typically wry gag from president Paul Sheahan, who hoped that the Bombers at least would make a game of it. Now, though, there was funereal silence. Not everyone on the MCC committee is Melbourne, nor necessarily are their guests. But it is a Melbourne haunt, and now a haunted haunt.

Elsewhere at the ground, supporters abandoned the game, some for the first time in their lives. A few vowed to return their membership, including one who claimed on a fan forum on Monday that he had been a member for 30 years and a gold Redlegs member for more than 10.

''I felt sick to the stomach having to call the club,'' he said, ''but I felt that I needed to make a stand, as opposed to ranting and raving on social media.''

An ugly set of numbers. Melbourne walk in after losing to Essendon, 6th April 2013. Click for more photos

Demons in hell

Commentators call for drastic measures after Melbourne hit a new low with a 148-point loss to Essendon. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Social media, talkback radio and letters to the editor were wrung through with this mix of seething indignation and empty desolation.

Every football club ends up in the wars, sooner or later, but Melbourne's dog days are distinct in two ways: its slumps, when they come, are more horrific than most, and its fans appear to divide more sharply between those who give up in despair and those who rally round in defiance.

Despite Melbourne's parlous position, Long Room and balcony passes for what became Saturday night's debacle were sold out well in advance. Some were Essendon supporters knowing they could not lose, but more were Melbourne fans hoping for a miracle, or even to contribute to one. They were sorely disappointed.

In its support profile, Melbourne Football Club often is portrayed as a split personality, divorced from its rich past, with no geographic base and no sustainable constituency, leaving it vulnerable in bad times.

This is simplistic. Certainly, Melbourne in 2013 lacks presence as a club. Less than 3 per cent of Auskickers in Victoria register as Melbourne supporters. They will be wearing their jumpers inside out this week. Barely 3 per cent of AFL members nominate Melbourne. These are frail numbers.

Certainly, too, Melbourne suffers from the MCC dichotomy. About 21,000 of the MCC's 100,000 members are Melbourne supporters, but only half also take out MFC memberships.

But the football club's membership stands - or stood - at just more than 35,000, favourably comparable with St Kilda, North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. With the AFL's help, it should be enough to underwrite a competitive football club. It does not explain this disaster.

But it becomes self-fulfilling. Bridie thinks of a committeeman who in the ructions of 1996 enlisted employees to vote for a merger with Hawthorn, and curses him still. The merger was aborted, but Bridie thinks that Melbourne fans ever since have been unfairly characterised as fickle. At a time like this, it is an easy charge to re-lay.

Everyone wants answers, but few have even one, and so they lash out. At coach Mark Neeld: ''His speech was embarrassing - fancy telling a team mistakes don't matter,'' said one on a blog. At reluctant president Don McLardy. At chief executive Cameron Schwab, especially and militantly.

But Bridie cherishes belief that a club with such a history will find its vocation again. ''We have no choice but to keep going, support our team,'' he said. ''We will, cos that's what we do, and we're f---ing proud of it.''

Meanwhile, there is the archetypal Australian prop, humour. ''I saw a Melbourne membership nailed to a tree, so I took it,'' said a correspondent on one blog. ''You can never have enough nails.''

And Bridie, remembering that the conqueror was Essendon, and grinning: ''We'll get the four points back anyway!''

27 comments so far

  • When Neeld said mistakes don't matter,I think he was referring to, don't be afraid to take risks because sometimes they don't come off and it looks like you've made a mistake. The players understand what he's saying. Right now supporters of Melb aren't thinking straight and are baying for blood. If someone's head doesn't roll,it's only going to get worse. For the sake of the club,Cameron Schwab can do the right thing and sacrifice his own.

    Commenter
    Nick
    Location
    Melb
    Date and time
    April 09, 2013, 9:32AM
    • Connolly should go too. I can't see how anyone at the club could still respect him.

      Commenter
      andyl12
      Date and time
      April 09, 2013, 10:32AM
    • Nick, appreciate the sentiment but I have to agree with the blogger who said the pre-game speech was 'embarrassing'. It was a bright light shone on a coach clearly out of his depth. He's got to go.

      Commenter
      Ab
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      April 09, 2013, 1:06PM
    • I agree Nick. When Hardwick took over at Richmond he had the same philosophy. The biggest mistake is handballing in circles because you're too scared to take a risk and never getting anywhere.

      Commenter
      Mick
      Location
      Mornington
      Date and time
      April 09, 2013, 2:18PM
  • Let's just hang on for one minute when it comes to feeling sorry for Dees supporters..... don't forget they are the only set of members IN HISTORY to vote for their Football Club to merge. They didn't even want their Club to survive on it's own - and that's less than 20 years ago.

    One day the door will be closed at Melbourne and never opened again.

    I can't wait.

    Commenter
    Karma Bus Driver
    Date and time
    April 09, 2013, 9:57AM
    • The fact that Melbourne fans cheered after losing to Richmond in 2009 makes me wonder if they share the club's view that losing is the way to go.

      Commenter
      andyl12
      Date and time
      April 09, 2013, 10:28AM
      • andyl12 - back for another crack the MFC? Got much going on in life? I am interested to see how you can prove your alleged fact? Not fussed either way, just interested. Sting when you lost ten in a row........just a bit maybe?

        Commenter
        salty
        Location
        benders
        Date and time
        April 09, 2013, 11:04AM
      • No, it didn't sting at all. In fact we just got on with our season and had a 50-point win last week. That is what professional sides do, not that anyone at Melbourne would know.

        Commenter
        andyl12
        Date and time
        April 09, 2013, 11:35AM
    • There are heaps of Melbourne supporters around. The ones that get hysterical and make the most noise like Neil Mitchell are pretty average types of supporters - ie not the ones that turn up every week. Life is more about him, for him. I do go every week so I know who we are. Re the comments on this blog about the merging vote I doubt it would have stood up in the supreme court. The numbers were way anti-merger even with the director and sponser block proxies running into huge numbers. Even I didn't get my no vote in! And I was there at DBH that night. People need to better research that whole event it was a debacle. Even legends like Barassi didn't know what was going on and swung like a dunny door in the breeze. No one I know actually put a vote in. I agree with Bridie - I loathe that director and what he/they did, more than anything. I also loved Bridie's Danny Boy at the G last year. Beautiful. And like him I will never 'give up the ghost'. Ever.

      Commenter
      fuschia
      Location
      edenhope
      Date and time
      April 09, 2013, 10:47AM
      • Yes Neil Mitchell is getting some of his own medicine back, what i mean by that is that he deserves what he gets because of the way he treat the world game football. Sorry that the Demons are in such a mess and i hope that you people stick with the club that you love, never abandon a sinking ship is the saying. Good luck to you and all Demons supporters from a Melbourne Victory supporter.

        Commenter
        Charlie
        Location
        Melbourne.
        Date and time
        April 09, 2013, 2:05PM

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