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The Age


Date: 20/07/2001
Words: 1200
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 8
20 YEARS ON (so what's new?)

GIVEN that Malcolm Blight has always liked a punt, it is probably fitting that he and St Kilda enjoy their first full day of "divorce" today on the anniversary of a remarkable moment in sport.You see, it was on this day 20 years ago that Ian Botham led England to its famous against-allodds Ashes Test victory at Headingley, when two cagey old Aussies named Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh struck it rich by taking the 500/1 odds on offer about the Poms winning. More to the point, however, that stunning cricket result was to keep a rather big footy story off the front pages of Melbourne newspapers - Blight's resignation as playing coach of North Melbourne. And while a lot has changed in footy since July 20, 1981, if you go back to clippings from that time, you will also discover that a lot hasn't. Blight makes no secret of having become frustrated in all of his four coaching roles - at North Melbourne, Geelong,Adelaide and St Kilda - but there seemed to be an eerie Moorabbin ring to it all when he first tried his hand at the caper at Arden Street."There are a lot of players that I put my trust in and they didn't really come through," he said at the time. No suggestions of the Roos' culture being "500 per cent worse than anywhere else" (his recent assessment of St Kilda) but it was evident that he still didn't like what he saw back in 1981. In fact, two months after quitting the North Melbourne job, he called for a "whole rethink about the playing structure". Said Blight:"I remember playing with blokes and listening to them whinge about (former coach) Ron Barassi. I thought perhaps the way I might handle the situation would bring something else out of them, but that didn't happen because they are all kids themselves.They kidded when Barass was there; when I was coach; now Cabes (his replacement, Barry Cable) is finding the same thing with the same blokes."

End of an era

MALCOLM BLIGHT'S resignation at North Melbourne in 1981 was significant from a historical perspective because it also virtually signalled the demise of the playing coach in league footy. At the time, St Kilda's Alex Jesaulenko was left as the sole survivor of the clan, although injury and his age restricted him to only eight matches for the year, which was to be his last as a player.

Said Blight at the time:"I am absolutely convinced that the day of the playing coach in VFL football is over. At first, I thought it could be done. Having experienced it, I now know to the contrary." To prove the point, Blight once talked about his last game as North Melbourne coach, when the Roos were beaten by Fitzroy by 34 points. On that day, he abandoned the normal practice of leaving decisions during a game to his assistant, John Dugdale, in the coach's box, and decided to call the shots himself. Said Blight:"I was playing in the centre and when I saw someone make a mistake, I'd go to tell him.All of a sudden, the bloke you're playing on is off like a shot."

Going balmy

INDEED, it was in 1981 that Malcolm Blight made probably the biggest on-field blunder of his career, providing clear evidence that coaching was affecting his playing. Having found himself at the end of a chain of handballs and just a metre out from goal, instead of scoring a gimme goal, he ran between the right-hand goal post and behind post and kicked a behind."I've never done that before," he said later. "I'm probably going balmy." The Roos lost that day to Richmond by 43 points. He was to hand the reins to Cable less than a month later.

Mr 250

IF Malcolm Blight never coaches a league side again (and four clubs would have to be enough for any man, wouldn't it?), remarkably his record will show that in all he coached exactly 250 games.And despite having won two premierships with Adelaide, his matchwinning percentage there (55) was higher at Geelong (61), where he reached three grand finals but didn't win a flag. Overall, he won 139 of those 250 games for a career winning percentage of 55.6 per cent.

Got 'em covered

IF AFL players and coaches are concerned about how they are treated by the press, they should consider the plight of two Japanese baseballers playing with the American Seattle Mariners team. Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki this week ended a five-day media boycott after a series of off-field encounters that included reporters stalking them at home. In one incident, two pressmen tried to bribe a guard at Sasaki's apartment complex to allow them into the relief pitcher's flat and in another incident, reporters staked out rookie Suzuki's apartment and blocked his car so they could snap pictures of him behind the wheel. Suzuki (pictured) and Sasaki are such big news in Japan that 20 to 30 Japanese reporters cover every Mariners' game, and four times that number have appeared for bigger events such as Suzuki's debut game.

Bad old days

THE world changes so fast that sometimes we forget to look back.

Which was why we liked legendary golfer Gary Player's comparison of golf in his younger days to what it's like now. Player, who won at Royal Lytham in 1974, is now 65, and is competing in what will be his last British Open at the invitation of the tournament's organisers. "How things have improved," he told a hushed news conference just hours before the Open started overnight. "All the guys fly to tournaments in their own jets, then 20 minutes later you see the single engine plane come into the airport and it is the caddies.You offer them $250,000 to play somewhere and they say they are busy, they're going fishing. Me, I get in a rowing boat and row. Things have changed ... how (Jack) Nicklaus would have played if you had given him metal heads, all these grooves in the club faces, lightweight shafts, beautiful condition courses, your own jet, $3 million a week.We had to win the damn tournament to break even.With six children, it is a different deal, you know, three bedrooms, 33 pieces of luggage, a nanny and no prizemoney. And the kids all ate like hell."

Who said that?

"Malcolm Blight did not fully embrace our football club." - St Kilda president Rod Butterss.

EDITED BY GEOFF McCLURE EMAIL: TELEPHONE: (03) 9601 2317 FAX: (03) 9670 0856. AGE SPORT TELEPHONE: (03) 9601 2255

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