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Author Archive for Jonathan Horn

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Cyril Rioli: the champion with a killer instinct is a huge loss to the AFL | Jonathan Horn

Better Hawthorn players have departed recently but none left a hole the way his retirement willHemmed in by the Monash Freeway and the lawns of Kooyong Tennis Club, Scotch College is tucked away in one of Melbourne’s most affluent suburbs. Its alumni p…

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‘Black and proud’: remembering the day Nicky Winmar changed footy | Jonathan Horn

The player’s defiant gesture at Victoria Park 25 years ago also changed the country that obsesses over AFLIn 1993 it was the international year of the world’s Indigenous peoples. The Australian High Court had recently abolished the legal fiction of ter…

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The Joy of Six: AFL club theme songs

From the spine-tingling chant of ‘Yellow and Black!’ to the tragic demise of the Boys from Old Fitzroy, an historic overview of the AFL’s love of brass and banjos

As those inexorable Fanatics remind us every January, Australian sporting crowds can’t, won’t or shouldn’t be allowed to sing. If you’re sufficiently enamoured with football however, chances are your team’s rollicking brass and banjo ensemble is a major, if daggy, staple of your life’s soundtrack. Most were recorded in 1972 by The Fable Singers, which included Ivan ‘Mr Movies’ Hutchinson and local jazz legends Frank Traynor and Smacka Fitzgibbon. Fitzgibbon was said to be as Melbourne as the Yarra. He died seven years after recording the dozen songs that still feature at funerals, as ringtones and at football stadiums around Australia. He was just 49. His epitaph at Brighton Cemetery reads “What joy you brought us all.”

1) Richmond – ‘Oh We’re From Tigerland’

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Australian football is meant to be hard. But the way we talk about it needs to soften | Jonathan Horn

The constant scrutiny and criticism of AFL players, as well as the stifling nature of being a pro footballer, is creating some very anxious and depressed young men

In recent times, a number of high profile Australian rules footballers, including Mitch Clark, Lance Franklin, Travis Cloke, Alex Fasolo and Tom Boyd, have absented themselves from the game to deal with mental health problems. Each time, the reaction is the same – “Look after yourself son”, “Thanks for starting the conversation.” But each time, there’s an underlying cynicism, a certain snark that reveals itself on footy forums, in safe company and in monumental gaffes.

Every time one these stories comes to light, I ponder those heroes of my childhood, men who played with a certain joy that is conspicuously missing these days. They were the last of the part-timers – granite jawed stars who were indestructible in my eyes and probably theirs as well. Did they simply bury their demons? If so, at what cost?

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Forget about great stories and prevailing public sentiment – Hawthorn don’t care | Jonathan Horn

As the Hawks’ relentless push for another flag continues – effectively sucking the romance out of this season’s competition – hope for an AFL fairytale is dwindling

Wrapping up his book, Footy Ltd, Garry Linnell reflected on the 1994 grand final, and the seismic shift the newfound dominance of the West Coast Eagles represented. “Excess was out,” he wrote. “If Geelong was a team of entrepreneurs still playing by the old rules, then the West Coast Eagles were the chartered accountants sent in to clean up and rescue the old, debt-laden companies of the 1980s.

“You eliminated the variables. You only took a chance when the odds were with you, when the likelihood of success outweighed the pitfalls of failure. West Coast played grim, methodical football. And won by 80 points.”

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Bomber Thompson’s new book reveals a surprisingly organised coaching mind | Jonathan Horn

Former Essendon and Geelong coach Mark Thompson’s new book, Bomber, sheds light on a great coach and a genuine oddball of the AFL world

Over the decades, footy has thrown up all sorts. We’ve had war heroes, petty thieves, Rhodes Scholars, drug addicts rogue biochemists, tribal leaders, members of parliament and also Mark “Jacko” Jackson. These days, as Hawthorn’s Will Langford demonstrated, it doesn’t take much to be deemed “a weird unit”. In Langford’s case, a couple of philosophy textbooks and a surplus of camping gear in his car did the trick.

In recent years former Geelong and Essendon coach Mark Thompson has strayed into genuine oddball territory. On Fox Footy panels and in his post-match press conferences, he has cultivated one of the more intriguing TV personas – the tics, the fidgeting, the way he punctuates his sentences with a “hmmm”.

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Nathan Buckley might just be too normal to succeed as an AFL coach | Jonathan Horn

He was fanatical and driven as a player, but Nathan Buckley’s recent coaching efforts show that he might be too sane and unimaginative to succeed

David Parkin once said that coaching attracts “aggressive, dominant, autocratic pricks”. He cautioned Paul Roos against going down that path. “You’re too good a bloke,” he said. “It’ll ruin your life.” Tim Boyle, who played under the premier coach of our generation, wrote recently, “I’m convinced football coaches have to be fanatics, indeed some part lunatic, to succeed in football.”

Being part lunatic is certainly no impediment to AFL coaching success. Clarkson and Ross Lyon have a healthy dose of it – that mix of rat cunning, belligerence and foot-on-the-throat ruthlessness. Mark Thompson had it. On TV these days, he is an utterly baffling figure. As a coach, he would blink, fidget, talk in fits and spurts and go off on tangents during interviews. He’d punctuate his sentences with an unnerving ‘hmmm’. At Essendon’s 2013 AGM, he eschewed all the usual corporate-speak. “I know the system,” he said. “I know how to coach … hmmm.” And he did. When it came to spotting and nurturing talent, few were better.

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Richmond’s faithful don’t just want a win, they want a normal football team | Jonathan Horn

It was another ‘only Richmond’ night in Perth on Friday, but on current form the Tigers might not even be in a position to conjure more finals heartbreak in 2016

Every year. Richmond do this every year. Every year there is some sort of biblical crisis, some last-minute calamity, some eye-crossingly inept passage of play that resembles the closing credits on Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. Every year, the press comes down hard.

In an industry always looking for an angle, Richmond never disappoints. The reporters and camera crews converge, the players slink in, the coach gets antsy. Last week, one of their many former coaches, who is at least partially responsible for this whole mess, was on radio taking pot shots.

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The rise and rise of Hawthorn – AFL favourites once more this season | Jonathan Horn

Having lifted themselves off the floor and won four premierships in eight years, there is little to suggest the modern era’s most successful club can be stopped

Just over a decade ago, the most successful football club of the modern era was on its knees. 11,000 people turned up to the MCG to watch them lose to Port Adelaide. The impossible Don Scott was spoiling for a fight. Ian Dicker broke down several times during a president’s lunch speech. The players, many believed, were a bunch of posers. Their facilities were dreadful. Adrian Cox ran out with a mowhawk. Shane Crawford released a ridiculous “day in the life” type documentary. The team won four games for the season. Crawford relinquished the captaincy. Peter Schwab was sacked. They didn’t have a coach, a captain or a chief executive.

Related: AFL grand final stays in daytime slot as commission rejects twilight proposal

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Few in our lifetime did it better than retiring AFL star Chris Judd | Jonathan Horn

After 279 games, the former West Coast and Carlton captain has brought down the curtain on his football career. The game will be all the poorer for his absence

The 13-year-old Ryan Giggs made an instant impression on Sir Alex Ferguson. “He just floated over the ground, like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind,” the momentarily lucid Scot later reflected. My introduction to Chris Judd, though sadly less poetic, was equally vivid. We attended the same school and his reputation preceded him. The ear benders, coat tuggers and clipboard wielders were unanimous – this kid was in a different orbit. And indeed he was, playing out of the goal-square with two, then three and finally four opponents hanging off him. The teenage Judd was the biggest of fish in the smallest of ponds. Conserving energy and avoiding injury seemed to be his priorities. Occasionally, he deigned to get out of second gear. But when the ball hit the ground in his vicinity, the mouthguard flashed and the eyeballs whitened. You heard the authoritative thump of ball on boot and you saw the future. If you were willing to overlook the wallpapered shoulders, everything about him screamed professional footballer.

Draft prospects rarely come so ready-made. Even the most iridescent talents tend to be half-formed. They’re barrel-chested but chicken-legged. They have all the tricks but eschew hard work. They can read the game but drift in and out of it. They sprout muscles in all the wrong places, cultivating physiques for Schoolies Week, rather than centre-square stoppages. Another member of that side was truer to type. Brendan Goddard looked like a primary schooler – mop-headed, all arms and legs, hurl and burl. He would chastise himself, backchat umpires and blow his top at team-mates. He would chase the ball like it owed him cash. The skills were there. The poise would come later. Some champions – Brereton, Ditterich and Coleman spring to mind – swing into league football on a chandelier. Thirty minutes into his career, Judd resembled a 100-gamer.

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AFL record-breaker Mick Malthouse: as batty, brilliant and belligerent as the best

The game of footy has changed over the years but Mick Malthouse has not; he remains indefatigable, indefinable, impossible – and, say it quietly, likeable

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AFL record-breaker Mick Malthouse: as batty, brilliant and belligerent as the best

The game of footy has changed over the years but Mick Malthouse has not; he remains indefatigable, indefinable, impossible – and, say it quietly, likeable

If you live in inner city Melbourne, chances are you’ve seen Michael Malthouse walking to work. A creature of habit, he packs his lunch, juts his jaw, nods to passers-by and strides as briskly as a grown man can without straying into power-walk territory. Whether he’s leading 18-year-old rookies over mountain passes at high altitude, storming onto the MCG or traversing the leafy streets of East Melbourne, the gait is instantly recognisable. It’s the walk of a man steeling himself for the next skirmish, the general who never found a war.

On Friday night, he’ll break the VFL/AFL record for the most games coached. He is, by any estimation, one of the most significant figures in the history of the game. But it will be no love-in. Mick Malthouse is on the nose. The media can’t stand him. Collingwood supporters haven’t forgiven him. Carlton fans are losing patience with him. The ‘footy industry’, whatever that encompasses, seems fed up with him.

At an age when most Australians are considered deadwood in the workforce, he remains at the forefront of the game

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Protectionist wins Melbourne Cup 2014 but two horses die

Melbourne Cup the race as it happenedProtectionist becomes first ever German winnerPre-race favourite, Admire Rakti, dies in stableAraldo dies from breaking leg after race Continue reading…

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Has horse racing lost its way in a changing Australia?

The Melbourne Cup is as popular as ever but the sport seems at odds with an increasingly urbanised and risk averse society Continue reading…

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1989 and all that: remembering the greatest grand final

Australian rules football peaked on a sunny day 25 years ago, and the contrast with the modern game is striking Continue reading…

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Sport is brutal but let’s not equate players with Anzacs

War is war and sport is sport. Despite the tendency to frame both in analogous terms, please dont get them confused Continue reading…