Illustration: Mick Connolly

Illustration: Mick Connolly

Nothing is more guaranteed to make a dyed-in-the-wool St Kilda person sigh with exasperation than the mere mention of the ''c'' word. Culture, that is.

It's a football buzzword which seems to have accompanied any discussion of the Saints virtually their entire modern history.

A broad brush explanation for the miserable years and four straight wooden spoons of the 1980s. Pivotal in the attempt to build a more professional and successful ethos, a constant work in progress during the headier days of the 1990s.

It was integral to Ross Lyon's famous ''bubble'' which took St Kilda so desperately close to two premierships only three to four years ago. And it's a word you're going to hear a lot again in discussion about Scott Watters' ill-fated stay as Lyon's replacement and his dramatic axing on Friday.

St Kilda fans have had a gutful of the often condescending dialogue about their club's culture, and fair enough, because the difference between one which might well now be the envy of most rivals and the sorry mess that once again appears to have enveloped the club has been in their case an incredibly fine line.

A couple of straight kicks more in 2009-10 and they'd still today be feted as one of the great teams of the modern era, more than likely still coached by Lyon and, who knows, perhaps still contending for a third premiership in a golden age.

The culture surrounding St Kilda wouldn't need to be mentioned. Its strength would be a given, the cliche about nothing succeeding like success never more apt.

Instead, the Saints' albeit narrow failure to reap the game's ultimate reward appears to have been the catalyst, not for the first time, to turn incredible frustration to impatience, impertinence, selfishness and a whole host of other negative forces, as if all the club's demons temporarily put to rest have been awakened once more.

That's not just the view from the outside. ''It's a cultural thing, and people hate that word, but I'm telling you I've had a long association with the St Kilda footy club that dates back to 1974,'' former coach Grant Thomas told the AFL website on Friday.

''I think I understand the place as well as anyone and we make these decisions on a monotonously regular basis and we become the laughing stock. We've either made poor decisions in terminations or poor decisions in appointments. All I will say is that St Kilda tends to make more of these [poor] decisions than most other elite AFL clubs.''

Obviously, enough disaffected coaches, staff and players will attest that in Watters' case, it was about a poor appointment.

But the continual rumblings over recent months from within the St Kilda camp, a review which, however hesitantly, reaffirmed Watters' position, the dramatic about-face two full months after the season had ended, and Friday's very unconvincing press conference about the sacking offer their own evidence about how well this termination was handled, too.

And it's hard to dispute Thomas' point from a historical context over the last quarter century. Particularly when it comes to the disturbing trail of coaching stints curtailed for reasons beyond merely wins and losses.

Since club legend Darrel Baldock stepped down from the coaching post at the end of 1989, St Kilda has had seven coaches. Every single one of them has left the job in a blaze of controversy and ill-feeling. Ken Sheldon was sacked just one season after taking St Kilda to a finish of fifth and then fourth over 1991-92, the Saints convinced they were capable of more. It took his replacement Stan Alves into a fourth season to extract that better result. Yet, after a grand final berth then a finish of sixth, he, too, went the same way, accompanied by some conveniently spread whispers about his relationships with players.

The Tim Watson ''experiment'' backfired, but not as spectacularly as the one which followed with Malcolm Blight, the Saints so in awe of the man they'd asked to help choose a new coach that they decided not to bother and threw him the clipboard instead. Blight was sacked within half a season, amid a catalogue of stories about dysfunctional relationships and various bizarre behaviours.

Thomas himself got St Kilda to two preliminary finals and another September campaign, but was sent packing against a backdrop of a fractured relationship with president Rod Butterss and complaints about micro-management.

It makes Watters the fourth of those seven coaches since 1990 whose departure went way beyond the win-loss ratio, as is still the case with the vast bulk of coach sackings, and into the realm of relationships, personalities and club politics. Can that really be just coincidence?

Where does culture fit into all that? Tragically for St Kilda, given just how close it has been to the mountain top so recently, it's perhaps primarily simply just about lack of tangible achievement.

It's no great surprise that the voices of the senior players at St Kilda in recent times have been disproportionately loud. They've come a lot closer to giving the club what it has sought in vain for well over 100 years than any predecessors since Baldock and co of 1966.

Its administrations have been marked by restlessness, the near misses not a cue to remain steady as she goes, but to tinker, fiddle and plot that little bit more in search of the missing few per cent. Might it have been that tendency which ultimately cost them the services of Lyon, a moment now looming as a more disastrous flashpoint in the club's history?

A club with a more successful historical legacy might have coped more serenely with the sort of shift of headquarters from Moorabbin to Seaford that three years on still appears a source of discontent.

More success might also have engendered the sort of example which prevented even some of that cavalcade of off-field incidents which have caused such embarrassment.

And it might have left more people around the place more inured to the harsh words spoken to them by Watters and his predecessors, whether or not those comments were justified.

All hypotheticals now, of course. But the shenanigans of recent times have underlined again the special sort of resilience it requires to be the senior coach of the St Kilda Football Club.

A strength of character which can adequately withstand the push and pull of the various factions and power blocs within the club.

A club whose culture is always seemingly just one incident away from bubbling over and enveloping everyone in a seething, swirling rip, Watters merely the latest casualty towed out to sea.