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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

An ugly set of numbers. Melbourne walk in after losing to Essendon, 6th April 2013. 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!''