The full extent of Tim Watson’s falling out with former Essendon teammate James Hird has been revealed.
The bitterness between the pair of Essendon club legends is one of many broken relationships yet to be mended 10 years after the club was brought to its knees by the infamous ASADA drugs scandal.
The football club remains fractured — as was made brutally clear when club legend and director Kevin Sheedy took a public swipe at his fellow board members when Hird was overlooked for the job of senior coach last year. Former North Melbourne coach Brad Scott was handed the job.
Watson, a three-time premiership player, in September said on his SEN Breakfast radio show the football club should not give Hird the job and declared Essendon did not need a “saviour” like Hird to unite it.
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While Watson’s comments were balanced, calmly presented and included praise for the “courage” Hird showed in applying for the job, the backstory shows the truth of the ill-feeling between the pair.
As first reported by The Herald Sun, Hird and Watson have not been on speaking terms since Watson’s son, Jobe, was sensationally stripped of his Brownlow medal as a result of the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s verdict into the drugs saga.
The ruling ultimately resulted in 34 Bombers players being banned for 12 months, with the court satisfied there was enough evidence to be satisfied that players were injected several times with the banned substance Thymosin Beta-4.
Hird was ultimately suspended for 12 months as part of the league-imposed sanctions which saw the Bombers excluded from the 2013 finals series.
Jobe Watson was one of those players to have had his career rocked to its core and his true feelings about the situation were best shown when Hird himself said the 37-year-old could lay blame at Hird’s feet “to a certain extent”.
Hird said after speaking to Watson in 2016 the former captain was “very angry”.
It left Tim Watson very much in the thick of the club’s greatest scandal and it ultimately proved too explosive for his friendship with Hird to survive.
“The friendship between Watson and Hird right now at least is beyond repair;” The Herald Sun’s Mark Robinson wrote on Monday.
“That’s not to say it can’t be saved, and Danny Corcoran (Essendon’s former football operations boss) is endeavouring to fix what is ‘broken’. But it’s the coldest of cold wars between the pair.”
Both Tim and Jobe have continued to be critical of the club in the years that have followed with Jobe in August tearing strips off senior Bombers figures for the club’s shambolic sacking of Ben Rutten and its desperate attempt to lure Alastair Clarkson to coach the team.
The report also reveals Hird’s relationship with former chairman David Evans was torn to shreds during the saga and they have not spoken for more than decade, having previously ben close friends.
Club legend and former coach Mark “Bomber” Thompson repeatedly attacked Evans in the aftermath of his departure from the club, claiming the former chairman and the administrations that have followed failed to support Hird and himself.
Thompson at one point also suggested Evans was former AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou’s “puppet” as the league went to war with the football club.
Thompson was ultimately fined $30,000 for his involvement in the drugs scandal, but was promoted to the position of senior coach in 2014 following Hird’s suspension.
Hird returned, but quit the role towards the end of the 2015 season.
Hird and Thompson were reported to have briefly fallen out when it appeared they both wanted the head coaching position — but they were able to salvage their relationship, according to previous reports.
Thompson repeatedly spoke out in support of Hird as they fought accusations of an organised doping system at Essendon during the 2012 season to the bitter end.
When Hird in January, 2017, spent five weeks in a mental health facility after an overdose on sleeping pills, Thompson went public with a savage swipe at the club and the league.
In a leaked email, Thompson appeared to hold Evans personally responsible for the club’s lack of support to the coaching staff and players caught in the ASADA storm.
He said the lack of support was “killing James Hird”.
It had a devastating impact on Thompson’s mental health as well.
His anger about the way the saga played out has never been quelled.
Thompson in 2016 spoke of his ongoing bitterness about the scandal and its aftermath.
“It just sits in my guts and churns and it still does and it’s going to probably end up killing me because I can’t let it go,” he said.
Thompson was in 2019 convicted on charges of possessing illegal drugs after his Melbourne home was raided by police.
He said he hit “rock bottom” in the aftermath of the drugs scandal.
He admitted to smoking ice and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I was completely lost,” Thompson said. “I was hating everything.
“(Drugs) took away my pain. It took away the pain. Let me get through every minute of every day.”
Thompson was a wildly successful footy player and coach, captaining Essendon to a premiership in 1993 and also winning flags in 1984 and 1985.
As a coach, he took the Geelong Cats to premierships in 2007 and 2009 before returning to Essendon and served as James Hird’s assistant.
He has since become a football recluse — a tragic symbol of the club’s rollercoaster ride and its fall from grace.
Hird’s own future remains more cloudy than ever after he quietly left the GWS Giants this summer and does not currently hold employment in the football industry.
— You can read the full details of News Corp’s special investigation into the Bombers drugs saga here