A sorry tale of grovelling sporting teams
Sport’s weird, we all know that. In sport, men get paid to sit on benches and square enclosures are called rings. That’s just kooky. But something ultra, ultra weird has crept into Australian sport lately. I refer to the gratuitous apology.
On Monday, Western Bulldogs president David Smorgon took the bizarre step of apologising to fans and members for his team’s 123 point weekend shellacking at the hands of the West Coast Eagles – the club’s fourth worst loss in club history.
As extraordinary as this measure appears, it was not unprecedented. Hawthorn boss Jeff Kennett spent half of 2009 season apologising for the defending premiers’ woeful form. If only the nurses and teachers he sacked as premier were afforded such civility. Meanwhile, in Sydney last week, the NSW Waratahs Super 15 rugby team submitted themselves to the mother of all grovelling acts…
The Waratahs are the basket case of Australian rugby. Each year they start with a strong, highly-paid roster. They then play like docile spoilt brats who can’t be bothered going the extra yard to justify their exorbitant pay cheques.
Even worse, they are boring. Actually they’re beyond boring. They are wasteful. They commit Australian sport’s cardinal sin, which is not to back their ability. Instead, they relentlessly kick the ball away and hope the opposition will make a mistake, which they usually don’t.
Fans aren’t stupid, and have deserted the ’Tahs like pelicans fleeing the evaporating waters of Lake Eyre. The Waratahs used to pack 30-odd thousand into the SFS. Now they struggle to attract 15,000. And those fans have been booing them mid-game, even when they win.
So how do the Waratahs react? They grovel. They beg. They hold a love-in session which is the sporting equivalent of an AA meeting.
“Hello, my name is Phil Waugh and I have a problem with ball retention… My name is Berrick Barnes and I’m over-rated. My name is Chris Hickey and I’m not the crappest coach going round, I promise.”
OK, so we’re paraphrasing, but the session really was an embarrassment.
Admittedly, Sydney is an exquisitely tough sporting market, which demands not just success, but entertaining play from all its sporting teams (a notable exception was the 2005 Sydney Swans). But this year, the Waratahs have won eight and lost four, and are in finals contention. Save the navel-gazing for the off-season, fellas.
In any sport, some teams just don’t play pretty. That’s just how it is. It’s your sporting DNA. Not everyone is good looking either, but you don’t see them holding an intervention to apologise for their lack of George Clooneyness.
Meanwhile, David Smorgon’s grovelly letter has spawned much debate. Fans are angry, but you sense the letter has done the opposite of placate them. Instead, it has given them the chance to vent.
That’s the thing with these snivelling requests for forgiveness. They invite scorn. They actually make people angrier. So why do clubs do it?
Money, of course. Fans means dollars, dollars mean better facilities and better facilities mean a greater likelihood of attracting top players who’ll stop you having to grovel in the future. Nice theory. Shame it doesn’t work.
You can’t help thinking there’s a bit of karma at work with these teams that feel the need to apologise in public.
With the Waratahs, it’s years of arrogance coming home to roost.
And the Bulldogs? Well, despite several years of relative success by their standards, you could argue they’re paying the price for ditching the word Footscray from their team name.
Forget the fallout from the Aker sacking. Forget the fact that coach Eade is stale. Their real problem is that losing the word Footscray was like losing their soul. Where exactly is “Western” anyway? Western Melboune, we presume. So why not just say that?
Great teams are nouns, not adjectives. That’s why the Bulldogs train at the EJ Whitten Oval, not at “Some Dude Who Played Footy Once Park”.
And by the way, old Ted Whitten never said sorry for anything. He just went out there and unapologetically won the club’s first and only premiership way back in 1954.
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