The common thread running through Mick Malthouse’s 27-year coaching career has not been just the fantastically competitive sides he’s consistently put on the park but, on a personal level, the boiling inner rage that has often proved beyond his control. Occasionally, it just busts out of him like a volcanic geyser.
In the early days, that rage used to explode into a tirades of vein-popping anger against journalists whom he felt had done him wrong. After one match in the early ‘90s, Mick had the Herald Sun’s Daryl Timms up against a wall by the throat for something Timms had written that had upset him.
Then in the lead-up to West Coast’s 1991 Grand Final appearance against Hawthorn — during a tumultuous week at Subiaco because the club had been heavily criticised, even locally, for placing a blanket media ban on all its players — Malthouse had been enraged by an article written by the West Australian’s Melbourne-based correspondent Luke Morfesse.
Morfesse had been to Hawthorn training that week and compared the family-friendly way in which Hawthorn conducted its grand final week, encouraging fans to come along to Glenferrie Oval, have a kick on the oval, get players’ autographs and so on, with the relatively dour and miserable West Coast preparation.
After the match, his first grand final as coach, Malthouse — still angry with the world after the Hawks’ 57-point drubbing — spied Morfesse, made a beeline for him, shoved him up against a corridor wall and began abusing him. Before the confrontation escalated into something more ugly, Malthouse was pulled away by a couple of Eagles officials.
I recall these incidents well because I was the West Australian’s chief football reporter in 1991 and 1992 and witnessed several of them first-hand.
Another flare-up that stood out occurred in 1992 when his West Australian state-of-origin team (he’d been adopted as a Sandgroper by then) had been well beaten by the Victorians at the MCG one night. As Malthouse walked down from the coaches box, then positioned in the MCC Members Stand, he had an altercation with a member. Mick later claimed the member spat at him; the man, when quizzed by the MCC, vehemently denied the charge and said Malthouse had been the aggressor. Who knows who was at fault; what mattered is that Mick had again lost his self-control.
To be fair to Mick, his bark was generally worse than his bite and what terrified most football reporters at the time — including me — was the withering look and contemptuous glare he gave his inquisitors. It was only the bravest souls who took him to task over an issue.
Still, as he’s grown older, greyer and wiser, that temper has been largely kept in check. There are even times now, when the Magpies are racking up the wins and all is well with the world, that the silver-haired fox could charm the birds from the trees.
The transformation in his public image since moving to Collingwood is such that that young reporters on the footy beat often remark about what a nice bloke Malthouse is; they can’t believe he’d ever growl at anybody. Old heads just smile knowingly.
I recall asking him during one interview in Perth why he bore such enmity towards the media, and why he didn’t make an effort to try and embrace them just a little bit. Perhaps some footy scribes might become allies rather than enemies.
Mick was horrified at the suggestion. No, he said, when my losses start to mount up and my time comes, they’ll come gunning for me. They’ll be lining up to have me sacked.
The message was: what’s the point in buttering them up now for it was all going to end in tears later.
So here we are nearly two decades on. Even though he’s reinvented himself at Collingwood as some kind of sagacious eco-warrior, with many of his rough edges neatly smoothed back, still the inner Mick can’t be completely reined in. The rage is being maintained.
Within the space of three weeks early last season, he escaped AFL punishment for approaching the umpires’ huddle at quarter time at the Gabba, standing there glaring at them and then muttering something under his breath. A week later, in round five, he made news when he lambasted his players’ lame capitulation to Essendon in the Anzac day match, saying they had “let the Anzacs down”, a trite war reference which upset some. Then, in round six, he gave his full-forward John Anthony a ferocious public spray when Anthony was on the interchange bench during a match against North Melbourne.
All pretty minor offences but, together, they told a story: the Mt Mick volcano was not as dormant as we’d been led to believe.
So the latest incident on Friday night — in which Malthouse is alleged by at least two reporters to have called St Kilda’s Stephen Milne a “f…… rapist’ (but for which there has been no verification) — comes as no great surprise to those who’ve followed his long and illustrious career.
Yep, another eruption at Mt Mick. The old inner rage just bubbling over one more time. You’d reckon after 27 years he might have learned to put a cork in it.
It doesn’t matter that last night Malthouse apologised (via a club statement) to Milne for ‘’comments I made in the heat of the moment, which were wrong and I retract them’’. It also doesn’t matter that St Kilda later issued their own statement accepting Malthouse’s apology and declaring the matter closed. That’s a convenient whitewash.
Malthouse should be called to account by the AFL for the sort of intemperate and inflammatory behaviour which, at another time and place, might have incited a brawl. And told that after nearly three decades in the caper, maybe it was time he set an example and learned some of the self-control he preaches of his players.
*Back Page Lead is a new sports opinion website that provides sports content to Crikey.