'Bloated and arrogant' Bombers cost themselves Clarkson, but it could yet work out

Alastair Clarkson as coach of North Melbourne is the proverbial "good for football" story. The best coach of the modern era is back where it all began as a player, and the Roos immediately walking taller as a result.

Funnily enough, though, that doesn't also necessarily mean a big loss for Essendon, one of two clubs (the other being GWS) which missed out on his services.

Make no mistake, Clarkson as coach would have been a coup for the Bombers. But it would also have been, through sheer necessity, a continuation of the sort of quick-fix, lack-of-process decision-making which has marked so much of Essendon's behaviour in recent years.

Just how late in the piece the Bombers even entered the marketplace for Clarkson and how scantly he even considered the possibility was underlined by the man himself in his first media conference as North Melbourne coach.

"I didn't really want to have ongoing discussions with the Bombers to be fair," Clarkson said.

"I met briefly with David Barham on Tuesday and then I knew I was going to be away on Wednesday and Thursday. We were just so far down the track with the North Melbourne and GWS decisions that that whole process just came far too late to give it really serious consideration."

Why on earth didn't Essendon move quicker? Simply, because until power at board level changed hands last weekend, those effectively running the show -- former chairman Paul Brasher and chief executive Xavier Campbell -- weren't interested.

Why not? Well, chiefly because they had hitched their wagons to Ben Rutten as coach. Campbell, already under enormous pressure to keep his job after a series of failed football appointments -- several overseen without due process -- needs Rutten to work out.

Ego effectively meant Essendon didn't pursue the Clarkson possibility until it was way too late. That is an indictment on the club, but just typical of the self-serving, bloated, and arrogant way the Bombers have handled themselves now for a long time.

Barham has recognised that. He found enough board numbers to have assumed the presidency and done something about it. He did the right thing by the club having a crack at Clarkson, despite the awkwardness it has caused for Rutten. Not to do so, as he said on Friday, would have been negligent.

But had Clarkson come aboard, the inescapable irony would have remained, of Essendon indulging more of the same practices that have caused the club so much grief.

So what now? Missing out on Clarkson now makes the path very clear. And that is in the direction of a thorough, forensic, independent review of an entire club's operation, just as much off the field as on it.

The failure of former chairman Paul Brasher and chief executive Xavier Campbell to embrace the desperate need for external eyes and ears to wade frankly and fearlessly through the mess the Essendon Football Club has become was the reason Barham's group assumed power.

That must not be forgotten now, however loud grow those voices pining for yet another favourite son in James Hird to return as senior coach, voices that by the very nature of that call, still don't seem to comprehend the extent of the club's issues.

Essendon Football Club is just as unhappy a place off the field as on it. Employee discontent is high, symbolised by the departures of five senior female executives from the club with the past eight months - even, ridiculously, from the VFLW program which only recently went through a season undefeated and won a premiership.

Its VFL program is still picking up the pieces after having been unforgivably effectively left to wither on the vine when COVID forced the cancellation of the competition at a time Essendon didn't have a football manager. Before appointing Josh Mahoney to the role, Campbell picked up that portfolio briefly after having sacked Dan Richardson.

Essendon as a club has the most disillusioned fan base in the league, and it's not just about performance. It's about a club which regularly appears to treat its supporters with contempt, reacting to rare wins or bits of good news with emails offering cheap merchandise.

One of its first communications when Michael Hurley announced his retirement during the week was to offer fans an 18% (Hurley's guernsey number) discount at the "Bomber Shop".

The club's entire media and public relations strategy this wretched year has been to effectively hide under the doona. It didn't even bother live tweeting Barham's press conference on Friday - his first appearance as Essendon's new head.

The Hangar as a headquarters is luxurious for players and coaches, but sparse and uninviting for fans. There's not even any seating for supporters to watch their players train. It is windswept and soulless, quite the metaphor for an organisation which for some time now has felt more like a corporation than a football club.

No wonder supporters, who have continually this season been served up inadequate, disinterested and lazy performances by their team, then repeatedly asked to empty their pockets for this facility extension or that overpriced gala dinner, have had a gutful.

Essendon needs to show them far more respect. It needs to gets its own house in order to stem the steady flow of good people from within its midst. It needs to make sure decisions are being made for the right reasons and by a club and board, not an effective two-man executive (Campbell and Brasher) treating the place like a personal fiefdom.

These are the sorts of issues which aren't as sexy for the media to focus upon when compared to 'who'll be coach?'. But unless they're attended to, any coach will be starting behind the eight ball. Dealing with too much interference, too much messy politics, and not nearly enough support.

I felt that Clarkson was perhaps the only candidate who could take on the job, stare down all those influences and still prevail. Now that he isn't part of the equation, Essendon has no choice but to finally start doing things properly, and in doing so actually give Rutten -- or whoever does end up with the job -- at least some sort of chance.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY.