On Wednesday, Essendon champion Jobe Watson announced 2017 will be his last season. Having grown up and played alongside Watson at the Bombers, close friend Ted Richards penned an exclusive column about the former Essendon skipper.
Jobe has been a close friend for many years now. We first met at Sacred Heart primary school in Sandringham and despite me being two years older, he always looked two years older than me.
Our families are good friends, the Watsons used to live close by and our mums still go for walks together regularly.
It’s quite funny to think how similar our paths were, as children, to teenagers and early adults — same primary school, same secondary school, same local football team, same part-time job, then ended up playing together at the same AFL club.
For a few years as a teenager, I had a part-time job packing shelves in a bottle shop on Chapel Street, Windsor. I needed to give up the job to concentrate on my studies in Year 12 so I handed the job onto Jobe who held onto it for a few years, too.
Someone created a Hall of Fame in the bottle shop cool room of AFL drafted employees and we both made it onto the wall — which is pretty much the extent of the list.
We once even took the same university subject of macroeconomics together. It seemed like a great idea but ended up being one of the worst academic decisions I ever made. If my memory serves me correctly, we both failed that subject.
Some of my fondest memories with Jobe were carpooling together to Windy Hill from Sandringham each day to save money on road tolls. At the time, both of us weren’t getting along too well with Kevin Sheedy, so we’d spend the majority of the trip either venting about how we shouldn’t have been dropped, or how we should’ve been picked that week.
After becoming too familiar with the drive from Essendon to Bendigo for games with the VFL team, we finally played our first AFL game alongside each other in Round 1, 2004 against Port Adelaide. We got pumped by nearly 100 points that day and sure enough we were both dropped the following week — you can only imagine what the conversation would’ve been like in the car ride home on the Thursday after hearing the news.
We may have only played a handful of AFL matches in the same side, but we made up for it with the amount of VFL football we played together.
By the end of 2005, Jobe was one of the first people I broached the subject of moving clubs to. He’s a mate first and always understood the reasons for me pursuing the dream elsewhere. He would have been within his rights to try to convince me to stay at Windy Hill but the selfless person within him saw the opportunity for me (and no doubt the new opportunity for him to have a house to stay at in Sydney).
We were actually in San Diego with Chris Heffernan, Mark Bolton and David Hille when the trade to Sydney went through. I was excited for what was ahead but sad that my time at Essendon with them was coming to an end. Those four would end up being my groomsmen at my wedding 10 years later.
Watching his press conference on Wednesday brought a sense of pride and sadness from my perspective.
First and foremost, I’m proud of what he’s achieved. I’ve seen him make the sacrifices, such as doing hard running sessions on cold, dark Russian mornings during end of season trips to get ahead for the next pre-season.
He worked incredibly hard to be the player he became and at the peak of his career he took on relentless scrutiny and challenges that would break many down — and through it all he not only stood tall, he helped those around him stand, too.
After years of doing all the heavy lifting, the hard work has been done and that’s his ultimate legacy now — he kept the club together through it all, and I think Essendon fans appreciate how lucky they were to have Jobe through those hard years.
As proud as I am of everything he has achieved, there is a real sadness from knowing the AFL dream is over for him, which is something I can relate to. I remember seeing him as a five-year-old with that dream of playing for Essendon, right through to the age of 32. Knowing the dream had run its course was something I found quite hard when I retired.
Former NBA player, Isiah Thomas once said that “if all I’m remembered for is being a good basketballer, then I’ve done a bad job with the rest of my life.”
Jobe is already respected by the AFL industry as being more than a great footballer. He’s a role model for kids and an inspiration to teammates, but I have a great feeling that as much as people talk about Jobe’s football career, the next chapter will be even more exciting for him.