Professional sport in Australia was again thrown into complete and utter turmoil late yesterday as the Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority dropped the biggest bombshell yet in their on-going 16 month investigation into alleged supplement misuse. Late yesterday evening, ASADA issued “Show Cause” notices to 34 past and present players of the Essendon Bombers of the AFL. With the handing down of these notices, strong rumour abounds that up to 17 players associated with the 2011 Cronulla Sharks NRL side will be issued similar show cause notices as early as next week.
The notices handed down to Essendon players marks yet another chapter in an already overly-long and extremely convoluted and controversial process following the February 2013 “self reporting” of the club to the AFL. The notices surround the alleged usage of the substance Thymosin Beta 4 – a banned substance on the World Anti Doping Authority master list. The players have 10 days to respond – effectively, to prove their own innocence.
Essendon’s reaction has been one of great shock. The club as late as yesterday afternoon was preparing media in preparation for the return of suspended senior coach James Hird. The delivery of the notices throws some grey cloud over that event.
How the players manage to respond on the field to this is another issue altogether; the fire, piss and vinegar of 2013’s remarkable galvanising wins is long gone, and now with captain Jobe Watson potentially sidelined for the rest of the year with injury, it’s hard to see them bouncing back from yet another body blow.
Speaking as a much beleaguered and, frankly, exhausted die-hard Essendon fan, it’s hard to put into words the emotional toll this continued assault on one of the few things I truly, unabashedly love has taken. Attending games now has a much different feel to it than I’ve ever encountered in my football-loving life. Behind the eyes of fellow Essendon fans; behind the bellowing roars – or perhaps in spite of them – there is a quiet, reserved sense of despair that permeates through the sea of red and black. Through sixteen long, torturous months I’ve sat – we’ve sat – and endured an event unprecedented, not just in Australian sport, but in world sport. The jeers and uncompromising words from opposition fans have always been expected – they lambast because they can, and because a small part of them is relieved beyond word that it’s not happening to them.
They say the night is always darkest before the dawn, but throughout this ordeal there’s been a very real chance the sun may never rise again. But to give up now, on that which I – which we – hold so dear would be foolish. It would be to give up everything I know to be true about loyalty, about grace under fire, about a childhood so intrinsically linked to this game and these colours. So no matter what the outcome, and no matter how long it takes, my heart will always beat red and black. Because the journey we – as individuals, as a supporter base, as a football club – are on does not end in a courtroom through legal victory or defeat. It does not end in the presses. It does not end with suspensions or appeals. It ends on the day, maybe not this year, maybe not this decade, that a victorious Essendon Football Club side hoists a Premiership Cup aloft on Grand Final day.
And on that day, the footballing world will hear the greatest sigh of relief it’s ever likely to hear.
Photo: Matt King via Getty Images.