Thompson’s bizarre double life
IN light of recent events it was perhaps the worst joke Mark Thompson has ever told. At the time, you had to wonder why he thought it was funny in the first place.
"I might just retire and go and do something else like sell frozen water or something," Thompson joked, in an interview with Fox Footy in 2009 that has been widely shared of late. "Ice. I just bought into an ice business."
Here was an AFL legend, a premiership-winning captain and coach, a man responsible for changing the way football is played with his "kamikaze" run-and-gun Geelong teams, appearing to make a wisecrack about a devastating drug that is ripping apart communities, particularly in regional areas of his home state.
It was bizarre, and as a host of people who know him have revealed since Thompson was charged with seven drug-related offences, including trafficking and possession, not funny at all. Because it pointed to hidden darkness.
Former Cats president Frank Costa has detailed the "miserable trifecta" of life-shattering events which saw Thompson begin to unravel around the same time as that interview.
A marriage breakdown, an anxiety-riddled property deal and a cloak-and-dagger approach from his former club Essendon combined to produce some worryingly erratic behaviour in Thompson towards the end of his decade-long reign at the Cats.
"I saw it (erratic behaviour) towards the finish at Geelong, in 2010, and more since," Costa told afl.com.au.
"I think that's happened because his mind has been badly scrambled. I think those three things that I mentioned that happened to him in 2010 were too much for him."
A man apparently already teetering on the edge was then plunged into one of the most traumatic episodes in football history.
The Essendon supplements scandal - that tore apart the Bombers and saw Thompson fined $30,000 for his involvement - took a heavy human toll.
Careers were lost. Relationships were fractured. Coach James Hird was suspended for 12 months and a few years later would end up in hospital after a drug overdose.
Thompson coached his heart out to guide the Bombers to a finals appearance in Hird's absence in 2014, but behind the scenes he continued to fray.
The Australian reported the Bombers were so concerned about his increasingly erratic behaviour in his final year at the club that they kept a record of a number of bizarre incidents, including a time he was missing an hour before a game he coached and the day he was found sleeping in his car.
"I know that in the time he was at Essendon as one of the assistant coaches when he first arrived, they were concerned about his behaviour," Essendon legend and former Thompson teammate Tim Watson told SEN.
"People say all these problems started when he went to Essendon, that's not true. The Geelong people will tell you they were concerned about components of his behaviour.
"They never really went into detail, it was just his lifestyle choices that he was making around that time.
"When he arrived at Essendon during that period of time, they quizzed him, they asked him direct questions about things that were going on and he denied everything at that time."
Both The Australian and Herald Sun have reported Essendon made the extraordinary step of asking Thompson if he was using drugs - which he denied.
"I never saw him doing any drugs," football journalist Martin Blake, who ghosted Thompson's autobiography, wrote. "We only talked about that topic once, and that was when he mentioned a person in the industry (whom he said he knew) had spread rumours during 2014 about him having a drug habit. I asked him how he felt about that, and he talked about how vicious the world was. He said it had hurt him, and we put that in the book. But it was his story to tell, not mine, and I could tell that it was the last place that he wanted to go."
Thompson left Essendon at the end of 2014 but his transition to life after football was problematic as he began a media career that never felt comfortable.
He appeared regularly on AFL 360 but host Mark Robinson said those visits were punctuated by more troubling behaviour.
"Some nights, smoke in hand, he would be jovial and joking, half crazy with enthusiasm, and that was Bomber at his best," Robinson wrote in the Herald Sun.
"Other nights, and they became frequent, he would be angry and disillusioned, crazy with rage ...
"Smoke in hand, he'd talk about his marriage troubles, how he would hound the internet at 4am for information to help try to clear his name, and of people at the AFL and at Essendon who he felt had been treacherous."
Even in the wake of his arrest, which came after quantities of methamphetamine, ecstasy, LSD and MDMA were allegedly found in plastic bags during a January raid on Thompson's Port Melbourne home, the eccentricity persists.
We've seen him running from a media pack outside court. Continuing to answer questions from journalists that wait outside his door when surely his legal advice would be to keep his mouth shut.
Even the pictures of him jumping on his pushbike, at age 54, just feel bizarre.
Thompson has this message for his supporters. "Just tell them that I'm sorry that they've had to put up with this and put up with me," the 54-year-old said. "Hopefully we'll get through it."