John Worsfold is seen as an outsider by some at Essendon. Pic: Getty Images
John Worsfold is seen as an outsider by some at Essendon. Pic: Getty Images

Malthouse: Why Woosha is public enemy No.1

What is it with John Worsfold being public enemy No.1?

He was deemed a club saviour when he was appointed Essendon coach after the club's supplements scandal, but that quickly wore off when the banned players returned and things went back to "normal".

In the past season or two it seems that when the Bombers won the team was brilliant, and when they lost it was the coach's fault. This appears to be driven by Essendon supporters and further fuelled by social media and the press.

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John Worsfold is often blamed for a Bombers loss. Pic: Getty Images
John Worsfold is often blamed for a Bombers loss. Pic: Getty Images

Worsfold is a West Australian through and through. He was the golden boy of WA football when he starred for South Fremantle in the WAFL and his popularity increased when he was appointed West Coast captain in 1991 at age 22.

He is a two-time premiership skipper and West Coast premiership coach. He also represented WA in State-of-Origin five times.

As captain he was totally driven and his teammates followed without hesitation. He found conflict difficult and often relied on his vice-captain to be the disciplinarian. He was as mentally tough as he was physically courageous on field. He was stoic and fiercely loyal.

In the Perth community he was the gentle, shy and softly-spoken pharmacist, from a strong football family. Clark Kent and Superman.

But the Essendon faithful don't care about any of that.

Not in the way they cared about dual Bombers premiership player, five-times club best and fairest and Brownlow medallist James Hird.

Nor how they cared for club legend, three-time premiership player and former captain, Mark Thompson. And not how they cared for Kevin Sheedy, eventually, after he won them four premierships in 26 years as coach.

 

Worsfold isn’t a fan favourite like James Hird and Kevin Sheedy were during their Essendon rein.
Worsfold isn’t a fan favourite like James Hird and Kevin Sheedy were during their Essendon rein.

 

To Essendon fans, Worsfold is almost an impostor. He isn't a club great. He hasn't bled for the red and black. He isn't even from Victoria. That makes him an outsider.

And when you're an outsider in charge of a football club, you are always in the crosshairs.

Worsfold is Bambi in Perth. At Essendon, he's a sitting duck.

Once upon a time when the VFL was created from suburban teams and zones, coaches generally came from within the ranks and many even played as captain-coach. It was a natural progression for a good on-field leader to become a club's coach.

Over time many men had great success coaching at the club they played for:

- Jock McHale (Collingwood), great player, extraordinary coach.

- John Coleman (Essendon), exceptional full-forward, remarkable coach.

- John Kennedy (Hawthorn), club captain and four-time best and fairest, first premiership coach.

- Allan Jeans (St Kilda), ordinary player, extraordinary coach. St Kilda's only premiership coach.

- Tom Hafey (Richmond), tough player, coached through the golden era at Richmond.

- John Nicholls (Carlton), brilliant player, Carlton premiership captain/coach.

- Alex Jesaulenko (Carlton), premiership player, premiership captain/coach.

 

Worsfold captained the Eagles to two premierships.
Worsfold captained the Eagles to two premierships.

 

Heritage has always mattered in football.

But as times change and the league changes with it, the introduction of new teams has altered history. Perhaps where you come from isn't as important.

Do football fans associate Leigh Matthews more with Hawthorn, Collingwood or the Brisbane Lions? The answer would depend on the club loyalty of that supporter.

Damien Hardwick won premierships as a player at Essendon and Port Adelaide before he took the coaching reins at Punt Rd.

He came close to losing his job after seven years in charge, but guided Richmond to a drought-breaking crown the following season.

He's now in his 10th year at Tigerland and his playing career has all but been erased from his CV as the Tiger Army claims him as one of their own.

Only success earns a coach some sort of acceptance by the supporters at a club they didn't play for.

I was reminded of this during the week when I received a letter from a West Coast Eagles fan. The author stated that he had questioned my appointment as coach in 1990, asking: "How dare they replace a club great (John Todd) with a Victorian?"

He then wrote, "but all was forgiven" when we won the premiership in 1992!

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Regardless of the letter, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Eagles and sincerely treasure the friendships formed, I remember feeling like an outsider during my 10-year tenure. I still do, to a degree, because I don't have a West Australian heritage to intrinsically bind me to the club.

I can almost guarantee that Fremantle will appoint its next coach from one of only two candidates, both of whom are WA men with strong links to the club - Peter Sumich and Justin Longmuir.

The Dockers have had Victorians - Damian Drum, Chris Connolly, Mark Harvey and Ross Lyon - as coach for 21 of the club's 25 seasons. Lyon took Fremantle to its only Grand Final in his second year (2013), and finals campaigns in the following two seasons, but he has departed.

There is no pressure like external pressure when supporters and the media decide you're not the person for the job.

It is a terrible feeling when you are busting your guts to get a win and you are being potted from every angle. No matter what you do or say, you are savagely and relentlessly scrutinised until it almost distracts you from your job. No one is immune to that level of scrutiny.

It has an adverse effect on the players who don't care where you came from, but just want to be coached.

 

WA product Worsfold hasn’t been embraced by the Bombers faithful. Pic: AAP
WA product Worsfold hasn’t been embraced by the Bombers faithful. Pic: AAP

 

Brad Scott was regularly criticised by former Kangaroos players who said he didn't coach North Melbourne with enough "Shinboner passion". Really?

Don Pyke is constantly referred to as a West Australian in the South Australian media and is under immense pressure.

Even when I was at Collingwood for 12 years, I had a running joke with a kitchen volunteer who always referred to me as "the thug from Richmond".

Like Hird at Essendon, Nathan Buckley is pure black and white and backed to the hilt by the Magpie faithful. Likewise Paul Roos at Sydney, even though he began his career at Fitzroy before playing at the Swans.

At the Richmond-Brisbane Lions game two weeks ago, I was asked by someone sitting nearby who I was barracking for. I was horrified she didn't think I was supporting the Tigers. I am a life member at three clubs and my interest is with the clubs I've served.

Yes, that means multiple allegiances. I won't yell and scream in the stands, but I am still barracking for them.

You lose a part of your identity when you move clubs, but that new club and its players, and people and supporters form a new part of your recognition that remains beyond your time there.

In the past 20 years, only one premiership has been won by a coach who also played at that club - John Worsfold with West Coast.

Going into Thursday night's elimination final against his old club that premiership would have been far from his mind as he focused all of his attention on coaching the Bombers.

He has history with Essendon now after four years in charge as coach, with or without a future at the club.

News Corp Australia


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