LIKE his club, North Melbourne chairman James Brayshaw must have felt for some time that he just can't win. Off the field, anyway.
More than four years ago, the Kangaroos were all but packed up and with the removalists at the door to head off to the Gold Coast. Brayshaw quickly became the rallying point around the resistance to the move. He, and they, prevailed, keeping the Roos in Melbourne, and at Arden Street, which was soon transformed from a dilapidated laughing stock into a state-of-the-art AFL facility, the likes of which the Roos could previously only dream.
North Melbourne is in a considerably better place as a club, and team, than four years ago...
Two huge wins, surely. But victories that seemed to annoy a large army of sceptics, with the consequence that any time the Roos have subsequently suffered any sort of reversal, financial, on-field or otherwise, the sledgehammers have come out, and a tiresome mantra repeated.
Record a loss? ''Should have gone to the Gold Coast''. Membership down? ''Should have gone to the Gold Coast''. A few bad defeats? ''Should have gone to the Gold Coast''. Brent Harvey tears a hamstring? ''Should have gone to the Gold Coast''. And so on.
When North attempted to improve its financial and membership status by exploring the prospect of some home games in Tasmania and in Ballarat, the cynics pulled the ''hypocrisy'' card. That conveniently ignored the fact that creating a new support base while maintaining its true spiritual home, not to mention its own identity and jumper, was a far cry from moving 1500 kilometres north.
And so to the latest bout of North and Brayshaw bashing, and sadly, one launched from supposed friendly quarters.
The Roos recently announced a community partnership with World Vision, similar to that which the charity organisation has with the juggernaut that is FC Barcelona, contingent upon the club turning its back on gaming revenue.
Admirable, right? Well, apparently not to some. North was smart enough not to attempt to picture itself as an AFL version of the soccer colossus. That would only have prompted derision. It also knew it had to tread warily around the political sensitivities of the gambling issue given the ongoing dialogue between that industry, the government, and the AFL.
The result was not one single media inquiry. Until, that is, former North Melbourne directors Peter de Rauch and John Nicholson decided to smack their club, and its chairman, around the ears for pursuing a path that put community and social responsibilities first, and dollars second.
Now everyone got interested. North couldn't survive without pokie money, apparently. Except it has for the past four years. The Roos were supposedly condemning other clubs for their acceptance of gaming revenue. They weren't. North just chose, not for the first time, to go its own path. And rightly, with heads held high. As Brayshaw put it: ''It's a pretty sad state of affairs if a club needs pokies to survive.''
As for that alleged missed opportunity to buy into the Cross Keys Hotel; a club with a $5 million debt was being asked to plough $5 million on top of another $1.2 million to buy gaming machines. Had it borrowed a necessary $6.2 million, North faced the prospect of a $12 million debt and paying $100,000 more per annum just in interest than even the most generous estimates of any profit it could count on from those machines, which have done so much for families and mental health. Yes, I'm being ironic.
Let's see … another $100,000 loss per year and a prospective $12 million debt. Is it any wonder the Roos said ''no thanks''?
But, of course, the real headline grabber in this was de Rauch's remark that ''James Brayshaw is like a teddy bear you put on your bed - it doesn't do anything. It's just a decorative thing''. It made for a cute do-up of Brayshaw as a fluffy teddy, which isn't a huge deal. All media outlets do it. But, sorry Peter, the analogy was complete crap.
How can anyone, apart from those intimately involved at board and administrative level (even former directors) really judge the effectiveness of a club chairman when 90 per cent of their work is behind closed doors and confidential?
The 10 per cent on which they're usually judged is the symbolic public relations stuff, and on that score, Brayshaw bats a lot better than average.
How many club chairmen can most people name off the top of their heads? He's one of a few. Here's a quick question: name Brayshaw's predecessor in the post? No, didn't think so. For the record, it was Graham Duff.
You actually see Brayshaw at Arden Street, too. At training, talking to supporters, and supporting the coaches and staff. Anyone who doesn't think North Melbourne is in a considerably better place as a club, and even as a team, than four years ago, when Brayshaw jumped on board a seemingly sinking ship, is kidding themselves.
There's nothing surer than at some stage in 2012, the ''should have gone to the Gold Coast'' line will get another workout. The Roos will, as usual, suck it up and get on with business, hoping that, after two years of narrowly missing finals, they might get there, increasing exposure, and attracting more crowd and corporate interest.
I, for one, really hope they can. Nothing would look better than some digitally altered images of North Melbourne's myriad detractors with egg on their faces.
Follow Rohan Connolly on Twitter: @rohan_connolly