Dual premiership coach Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson says he now holds no grudges towards anyone in football as he opened up on his lowest point of the past decade.
Thompson, who coached Geelong to the 2007 and 2009 flags after claiming three premierships as a Bombers player, will return to the AFL sphere on Grand Final day after accepting the league’s invitation to present the Jock McHale medal to the premiership coach.
It’ll be Thompson’s most notable public return to the game since his conviction for drug possession in 2019 that had been the culmination of a period of drug abuse he linked to a downward spiral following his stint as an assistant coach at the Bombers during the supplements saga. During that trial, Thompson gave evidence in a Melbourne courtroom that he was a broken man.
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Speaking on Channel 9’s Footy Classified on Wednesday night, Thompson said he’d forgiven himself and forgiven others, which had helped him make the call to help the AFL out on Grand Final day.
“It’s been a while … I was really aggressive and I was really defensive and trying to honour your name and get your name cleared and everything else. But then it goes to a point where you just lose interest in footy – which I did – and now I’m starting to come back.
“Time heals everything – and it’s all healed for me now. You still talk about it, it’s still there, I can’t get rid of it. But it’s not as if I hang onto it now. You just let it go. It is what it is.
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“I haven’t got a grudge anywhere. I love Essendon, I still love all the people there. It’s not a problem with me and football. I didn’t want a role in football, but I’m happy to watch it … and show people that I have forgiven and tie a knot with the AFL to say we’re back on track.”
Asked if he had any ill-will towards anyone stemming from the Bombers drugs saga, Thompson said: “You can’t have ill-will. We’re lucky to be alive, you know? There’s a lot going on in the world and we’re all getting a bit older … You just get on with it.
“Who would I have to make up with? Andrew Demetriou? Well if I saw Andrew, I’d say hello to him. Gill McLachlan? Same.
“I’ll be normal (on Grand Final day). Go in and say hello … Bring your camera there but you won’t see anything. There’ll be nothing for the news.”
Asked about his lowest point over the past decade, Thompson said: “I reckon the night I heard ‘Hirdy’ (James Hird) tried to take his life was probably the one.
“That was really where I said: ‘Why does the game need to get to this point?’
“That was a bit of a wake-up call for everyone I reckon. That was a wake-up call for me: Don’t take it so serious.
“Hirdy and I are mates. We don’t talk to each other that often, but we’ve had each other’s backs and we’re going to continue to do that and support each other.
“But I’m not the sort of bloke that hangs around too many people. I’m a bit of a loner and introvert. I just like to muck around and do things on my own.”
Despite the terrible fallout of the supplements saga, Thompson said he could “look in the mirror and know that what I’ve done was ethical and OK”.
“The most important person you have to please is yourself – and I’ve never had any self-doubts about what I did,” he said.
“I don’t have to get back to (being) Mark Thompson. I’m Mark Thompson. Just go out there (on Grand Final day), enjoy a game of football and shake the hand of the man who’s just joined the premiership coach’s club.”
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Thompson earlier this year reconnected with former Essendon teammates for the 30-year reunion of the 1993 premiership side at the MCG.
While he said he wasn’t too close with many current Bombers staff, he said there’d been some signs of cultural change but that more needed to happen.
“You hope every year there’s change, especially with a new coach. I think Brad (Scott) did have a little bit at the start, but it looks like Essendon absorbs the people coming in and try and not change the culture where it should be the other way round a bit. It should be that the new people come in do change the culture, because it probably needs to be fixed.
“I’m not sure whether the culture is fixed or not – I don’t know enough of the people around the football club – but that’s what needs to happen. It needs to start respecting the game and looking at other clubs and what they do and how they stack up against them.”