An unbreakable Bond behind Freo’s revival
Despite a public persona akin to that of a secret agent, a one-time Fremantle discard has reinvented himself as a key plank in the club’s rise.
The name’s Bond. Chris Bond. One of the AFL’s true survivors.
Forced to leave Carlton in 1992 because of a lack of playing opportunity, traded by Richmond in 1997, sacked as Fremantle captain two years later and then overlooked for two senior coaching positions, Bond has never let disappointment determine his destiny.
But in his latest incarnation, as Fremantle football operations manager since 2009, it has been his passion for process which has helped the Dockers drive their way out of an often shambolic past.
The 42-year-old Tasmanian is known in some football circles as “Ferocious”. It is that trait on which he has traded heavily when defending Fremantle’s bold 2008 restructure – a moment in time which will ultimately grade him, chief executive Steve Rosich and coach Mark Harvey for their impact on the club.
The creation of Bond’s current role, which also includes him being chairman of the club’s list management committee, and the promotion of recruiting boss Brad Lloyd to general manager of player management, were key focuses when Rosich replaced Cameron Schwab in 2008.
Bond declined this week to discuss the reasons why he decided to again offer his hand to the club that bit him by returning to Perth in 2008 to be Fremantle’s opposition analyst under Harvey, a role that also included some list management duties.
But it was clear in his comments at the time that after unsuccessful bids to become a senior coach at St Kilda and Carlton, the chance to further his career in football operations with the Dockers had provided the olive branch.
“This role will also give me the opportunity to extend my experience and professional development in other key areas within the football department,” he said.
Bond was said to have been shattered by his 1999 sacking, a train of thought strengthened by the fact that he returned to Melbourne the following year to coach the Western Bulldogs’ VFL affiliate Werribee, when the Dockers wanted him to stay in WA.
“The decision to part company with Chris is distressing. We are hoping to keep him at the club in some capacity,” then Fremantle chief executive David Hatt said at the time.
But another former Dockers captain, Peter Mann, described Bond’s axing at the hands of then coach Damian Drum as one of the club’s great failings.
Mann, who played under Bond’s captaincy in 1999 after handing the leadership to his teammate of just one previous season, said Drum erred in not retaining the tenacious on-baller as support for new co-skipper Shaun McManus, who shared the role with Adrian Fletcher in 2000.
“The people who made the decision to axe Bondy would have believed it was the best thing for themselves and the club at the time,” Mann said yesterday.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing, however at the time, in the case of Bondy, I did not think it was the right decision. As it played out, taking his leadership out of the club did not benefit anyone involved with Freo.
“I rate Shaun Mac as highly as Bondy, and ahead in wit, and I believe he has contributed as much to Freo as anyone. But if Bondy had remained, even if it was not as captain, he would have provided great support to Shaun, who had to shoulder a lot on and off the field.
“Bondy was a very professional leader and you have to remember this was before clubs invested in leadership training the way they do today. He was ahead of his time in the approach he took. I for one am glad he is back – he is a great asset for Freo.”
After a disastrous 117-point thrashing by Adelaide in 2009, Harvey’s job was on the line with his team on the bottom of the ladder and Bond ominously claiming the coach had the full backing of the Fremantle board – traditional footy-speak often followed by a sacking.
Some critics then believed he was positioning to finally realise his senior coaching dream at the expense of Harvey. While it is known the pair have had several heated exchanges behind closed doors, that claim has been proven spurious.
“With what we did last year, losing 1500 games of experience, that’s the model we are taking, we won’t change our model and that’s the direction we are going in,” a typically defiant Bond said after the horrid loss to the Crows.
Rosich said Bond’s return to Fremantle clearly reflected his character.
“In terms of Chris’ personal attributes, it is clear he is a very resilient character,” Rosich said.
“That coupled with his passion to succeed and dedication to the job has seen him move with ease from the role of assistant coach into a general management role in an important area of football operations.
“He’s been absolutely integral to our progress in footy operations over the past three years.”
Strangely, given his demise at Richmond, two framed action photographs of Bond remain on the wall in the club’s boardroom where very few other players are featured. He was even once touted as a potential replacement for Terry Wallace for the Tigers job now held by Damien Hardwick.
Former Essendon coach Matthew Knights, who played in 74 of Bond’s 100 games for Richmond, said the way his former teammate was operating under the radar at Fremantle, mirrored the way he played for the Tigers.
They were part of the Richmond team that earned a five-point win in the Dockers’ first AFL match in 1995 and the Tigers surged to a preliminary final that season.
Knights said he was shocked and bemused as captain when he was told Bond was being traded to Fremantle at the end of 1997 for national draft pick No.2, which was used to secure now two-times Geelong premiership player Brad Ottens.
Like Mann’s claims about Fremantle, he said Bond’s loss took away some of the glue that had made his club stick.
“That group of players who went through at that time were willing to acknowledge players like Bondy … desperate, committed to the contest, solid team players,” Knights said. “Chris Bond was a major part of why our team was successful and it was a shock when he left.”
Earl Spalding, a Fremantle football department colleague of Bond as ruck coach in 2008 and 2009, said his 1992 Carlton teammate’s keen sense of humour was often overshadowed by his uncompromising will to succeed.
And Mann recalled a perfect example of that. “I remember playing against Richmond when I decided I would try to kick a torpy goal from outside 50 in the rain,” he said.
“Bondy provided some clear advice with regard to my aspiration which is best not printed. When it sailed through for a goal I turned to give him a bit back and was met with a genuine smile and acknowledgment that I had done OK.
“He may be ‘Ferocious’, however he is also a genuinely nice fella who appreciates the good in people and football. A great mix.”