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When the Bombers were great


Essendon stalwart invokes the passion that once helped his now-embattled club soar.

Bill Jennings, who gave an impassioned speech at Essendon's annual meeting.

Bill Jennings, who gave an impassioned speech at Essendon's annual meeting.

About 15 years ago, I spoke at an education conference on the challenges facing young men today. When I finished, a man of moderate height with red hair strode out of the audience, marched up to me and said: ''Will you come to my school and speak to my kids?'' I'd met Bill Jennings.

Bill is an Essendon member and, apart from a spell overseas, has been since 1981. His first footy hero was Des Tuddenham (in his time as Essendon captain-coach), followed by Ron Andrews. Tuddy was as direct as a footballer can get, and Ronnie also had a straightforward approach to the game.

Bill is straightforward. He goes in like Tuddy did. On Monday night, at the Essendon Football Club's annual meeting, he stood up and said he remembered when the Bombers were a great club and that some of their recent ''behaviours'' had made the club look ''small''.

This is an edited version of his remarks: ''Through the '80s and '90s, I saw our club surge beyond its suburban name to be something large and good. In 2000, the school I was at was having a big year celebrating reconciliation. I rang then board member Beverly Knight and she helped me organise the first Welcome to Country in AFL history for the Essendon v St Kilda game on Sorry Day, May 26, 2000.''

It's a fact that a measure of public cynicism surrounds the subject of reconciliation. But it's also a fact that when moments of genuine reconciliation occur, people's lives can be deeply touched.

Bill went on: ''A kid from year 10 at my school took a package of information to his dad, who was the coach of St Kilda at the time. The kid's name was Jobe Watson. Kevin Sheedy also had a son in the same year level. Tim Watson rang me about the planned event; Kevin Sheedy spoke to me about it outside my office.

''So that night, Joy Murphy Wandin, a Wurundjeri elder, and her brother, Juby (Jimmy) Wandin - who played for the Saints in the 1950s - offered a gumleaf to Essendon captain James Hird and St Kilda's Nathan Burke. Essendon wasn't just a leader in the AFL, it was leading in a way that made Australia a better place.''

I agree. Through Essendon Football Club, particularly Michael Long and Sheedy, the culture of AFL football was transformed. That, in turn, significantly affected the larger culture surrounding the game.

Bill says he noticed Essendon start to change three or four years ago. He particularly recalls receiving in the post an ad for a gambling organisation the club had partnered with.

''Now I'm no wowser, but it was the sloppy wording that got me. It said 'Bombers Bet - You Can't Lose'.'' His point is - gamblers can lose.

Bill says the supplements saga came as no surprise to the Essendon supporters he sits with at the footy. He cited ''shifty letters in the shadows of 2011 squeezing Bronze members to become Silver. Inducements of petrol vouchers if they changed in 2012, but by this year, if they didn't change, they would be moving to an inferior seat''.

''My mate from Bendigo who sits next to me has a son who is on the autism spectrum. He runs a small business and he didn't need to be shelling out more money, but he wanted to stick with the club.

''Consider the recent donation procured from members for the 'Flight Plan' - members had to 'opt out' if they didn't want to donate.

''Consider the statements this month about James Hird's pay arrangements - our suspended coach is being paid $750,000 for a year in which he is not doing his job. How do you reckon that news was received last week by Essendon members who work at Holden?''

Hird was in the room when Bill spoke. The AGM, at the Clocktower Centre in Moonee Ponds, was packed. A voice behind him told him to get to the point when his speech went past four minutes. The woman beside him didn't speak when he sat down, but a few people approached him afterwards to say they agreed with what he had said. Bill will talk to anyone, and there are Essendon people who now want to talk to him.

Bill's suggestion, which he tabled at the meeting, was that board members forgo a chairman's lunch to come outside and talk to the members who follow the game from the seats around the ground. I doubt the practicality of his suggestion. You need to be Jimmy Stynes to be treated with respect by a footy crowd when these sorts of politics are swirling around. But if there's one Essendon person who could do it, it's newly appointed board member Simon Madden.

Bill has footy politics like everyone else. When I say he's genuine, I'm not saying others at the club aren't. But it's a fact - he is. He grew up with a certain image of the Essendon Football Club that was central to his view of Australia. He thought the Bombers were truly great. An Australian icon. And that's why he's trying to ignite a discussion about their present state.


  • A good article, Martin, and I commend Bill for his comments. I've recently had the need to explain to my club that having a marketing department as the face of their club is not such a wise move. Their desire to crunch numbers (and members with it, if they choose a different path) before everything else (by hounding them with marketing even when asked to stop) will see a backlash eventually. Whilst I can kick Essendon again, and I have, it's all about integrity and honesty, and values. And it's not just the clubs - the AFL has lost major ground this year. This rubbish about the AFL ensuring Hird doesn't get paid in 2014 is just too much of a stretch (he gets the benefit now of advance payment) and shows once again that the management of the code is not genuine. Whether that's the culture of footy clubs/women, mates looking after mates, ASADA or WorkSafe inaction or whatever, it is rotten. Jeff Kennett for AFL President - he'll sort out the governance rubbish!!

    The Commentator
    Hawks Nest (maybe not for long)
    Date and time
    December 21, 2013, 3:09PM
    • You were going well until you mentioned Jeff Kennet.

      Date and time
      December 21, 2013, 3:39PM
    • Good comment, also agree regarding Kennett.

      Mr Environment
      Date and time
      December 21, 2013, 3:41PM
    • Great article Martin. But 'The Commentator' who mentioned Kennett has a short memory. Wonder if he still thinks Jeff could organise anything each time the power bills.arrive.

      Date and time
      December 21, 2013, 11:00PM
    • Hey @johnn, at least you don't have to pay your power bills a year in advance and then go without whilst the power is suspended for 12 months.

      The Commentator
      Date and time
      December 22, 2013, 10:58AM
  • I don't follow AFL, but Hird was always going to get paid for his year off- Because Hird thinks he is the poor scape goat.

    Essendon is just the epitome of what's wrong with AFL, because they have the biggest budget.
    My days of watching AFL, was seeing real men like Michael Tuck play for Hawthorn. These days it's all show.

    Date and time
    December 21, 2013, 3:17PM
    • Yes, when I watch Jobe Watson all I ever see is a show pony. Never gets his own ball, never puts his body on the line, shirks body on body play and contests. Never gets the contested ball. Just a handball receiver, right?

      Date and time
      December 21, 2013, 6:07PM
  • Great comments from Bill. But the problems at Essendon go back further and deeper. Coteries believing they were more important than the club. Political factions trying to split wedges between club officials rather than building a team. Apathy at the senior coaching levels in Sheedy's later years. Club management divorced from the Football department. And doing whatever it could to make a buck, usually by screwing members or people who could least afford to lose money on the pokies.

    And yes, James should be ashamed of taking money from the club when he is not working. It's become pretty obvious his pride and hubris are more important than the club and the members. But hey, he has lived in a bubble of adulation all his life so in a sense, we made him that way...

    Ian A
    Date and time
    December 21, 2013, 3:20PM
    • No Ian, the vast majority of Bomber members wanted James to be paid in 2014. We believe Hird took a bullet for us and would like to see him back as soon as possible. EFC is acting in accordance with our wishes, which is exactly how a club should behave.

      Windy Hill
      Date and time
      December 21, 2013, 4:45PM
    • Very appropriate comment from somebody named Laki. I'm not sure if its the majority or noisy minority, but Essendon supporters do not seem to want to acknowledge what has been going on at their club this year due to their devotion to the club and it seems an even more overriding devotion to Hird.

      Date and time
      December 21, 2013, 5:53PM

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AFL 2016

Round 1
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RIC vs CAR 19:20MCG
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
MEL vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
NTH vs ADE 19:25ES
SYD vs COL 19:25ANZ
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
PTA vs STK 15:20Adelaide Oval
WCE vs BRI 19:40Domain Stadium
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GEE vs HAW 15:20MCG
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Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
COL vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
ADE vs PTA 13:45Adelaide Oval
ESS vs MEL 14:10MCG
BRI vs NTH 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:25ES
FRE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
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GWS vs GEE 13:10SO
HAW vs WCE 15:20MCG
CAR vs SYD 16:40ES
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Round 3
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
PTA vs ESS 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs COL 13:45MCG
RIC vs ADE 14:10ES
SYD vs GWS 16:35SCG
GCF vs CAR 19:25MS
WCE vs FRE 19:40Domain Stadium
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NTH vs MEL 13:10BA
WBU vs HAW 15:20ES
GEE vs BRI 16:40SS
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Round 4
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GEE 13:45MCG
HAW vs STK 14:10AS
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
CAR vs WBU 19:25ES
ADE vs SYD 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs PTA 13:10SO
COL vs MEL 15:20MCG
NTH vs FRE 16:40ES
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Round 5
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ADE 19:50MCG
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD vs WCE 13:40SCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs BRI 19:25ES
PTA vs GEE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs GWS 13:10ES
FRE vs CAR 16:10Domain Stadium
MEL vs RIC 19:10MCG
Mon, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
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Round 6
Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs WBU 19:50ES
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL vs STK 13:45ES
ADE vs FRE 14:10Adelaide Oval
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
RIC vs PTA 19:25MCG
GEE vs GCF 19:25SS
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs SYD 13:10G
CAR vs ESS 15:20MCG
WCE vs COL 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 7
Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
GEE vs WCE 14:10SS
SYD vs ESS 16:35ANZ
GCF vs MEL 17:10MS
WBU vs ADE 19:40ES
FRE vs GWS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs NTH 15:20ES
PTA vs BRI 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 8
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 13:45ES
HAW vs FRE 14:10AS
GWS vs GCF 16:35Spotless Stadium
BRI vs COL 19:25G
RIC vs SYD 19:25MCG
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs STK 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 9
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs SYD 19:50MCG
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 13:45MCG
GCF vs ADE 14:10MS
PTA vs WCE 16:35Adelaide Oval
NTH vs CAR 19:25ES
FRE vs RIC 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
GWS vs WBU 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs ESS 16:40ES
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Round 10
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NTH 19:50SCG
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs HAW 13:45G
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
STK vs FRE 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:25MCG
ADE vs GWS 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GEE 13:10ES
COL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs GCF 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 11
Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 19:50BA
Sat, 04 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs MEL 13:45MCG
CAR vs BRI 14:10ES
GEE vs GWS 16:35SS
GCF vs SYD 19:25MS
FRE vs ESS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs PTA 13:10MCG
WBU vs WCE 15:20ES
ADE vs STK 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 12
Fri, 10 JunTimes shown AEST
ESS vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 11 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs WBU 13:40Adelaide Oval
BRI vs FRE 16:35G
GEE vs NTH 19:25ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
STK vs CAR 13:10ES
RIC vs GCF 15:20MCG
GWS vs SYD 16:40Spotless Stadium
Mon, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
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Round 13
Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WCE 13:40G
FRE vs PTA 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs MEL 13:10SCG
ESS vs GWS 16:40ES
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Round 14
Thu, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs NTH 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs FRE 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs BRI 13:40MCG
GWS vs CAR 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 15:20AS
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Round 15
Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
WCE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
GCF vs STK 13:40MS
SYD vs WBU 16:35SCG
CAR vs COL 19:25MCG
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs ADE 15:20MCG
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Round 16
Thu, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs SYD 19:50SS
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs COL 13:40Spotless Stadium
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
WBU vs RIC 19:25ES
MEL vs FRE 19:40TIO
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:10MCG
WCE vs NTH 15:20Domain Stadium
ESS vs STK 16:40ES
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Round 17
Thu, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs HAW 19:20SCG
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE vs GEE 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs ESS 13:40MCG
NTH vs PTA 16:35ES
WBU vs GCF 19:25CAZ
ADE vs COL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs WCE 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 15:20ES
BRI vs GWS 16:40G
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Round 18
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 13:45ANZ
GCF vs FRE 14:10MS
WCE vs MEL 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs STK 19:25ES
GEE vs ADE 19:25SS
Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
HAW vs RIC 15:20MCG
PTA vs GWS 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 19
Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 19:50SS
Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs RIC 13:45SO
HAW vs CAR 14:10AS
COL vs WCE 16:35MCG
BRI vs PTA 19:25G
NTH vs STK 19:25ES
Sun, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs GCF 13:10MCG
FRE vs SYD 15:20Domain Stadium
ADE vs ESS 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 20
Fri, 05 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 13:45SCG
MEL vs HAW 14:10MCG
GCF vs GWS 16:35MS
WBU vs NTH 19:25ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs STK 13:10MCG
GEE vs ESS 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 21
Fri, 12 AugTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 19:50ES
Sat, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CAR 13:45G
HAW vs NTH 14:10MCG
GWS vs WCE 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs SYD 19:25ES
PTA vs MEL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GCF 13:10ES
RIC vs GEE 15:20MCG
FRE vs ADE 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 22
Fri, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
WCE vs HAW 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs SYD 13:45BA
RIC vs STK 14:10MCG
GWS vs FRE 16:35Spotless Stadium
COL vs GCF 19:25ES
PTA vs ADE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs MEL 13:10MCG
BRI vs GEE 15:20G
ESS vs WBU 16:40ES
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Round 23
Sat, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs COL 12:00MCG
STK vs BRI 12:00ES
ESS vs CAR 12:00MCG
GCF vs PTA 12:00MS
SYD vs RIC 12:00SCG
NTH vs GWS 12:00ES
GEE vs MEL 12:00SS
ADE vs WCE 12:30Adelaide Oval
FRE vs WBU 14:00Domain Stadium
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AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Adelaide Crows 0 0 0 0 - 0
Brisbane Lions 0 0 0 0 - 0
Carlton 0 0 0 0 - 0
Collingwood 0 0 0 0 - 0
Essendon 0 0 0 0 - 0
Fremantle 0 0 0 0 - 0
Geelong Cats 0 0 0 0 - 0
Gold Coast Suns 0 0 0 0 - 0
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