Moving Forward to the Past

It’s Grand Final time!

After decades of disappointment the Dogs will play in their second Grand Final in 6 years.

I’m reminded of a line from Virgil’s Aeneid

Not one drop of blood is left inside my veins that does not throb: I recognise signs of the ancient flame

There are great stories from each of the teams in the Grand Final. These same teams played each other in the Bulldogs first ever VFL Grand Final in 1954. On that day the Bulldogs were victorious. Will history repeat itself?

I remember attending the 50 year reunion of the 1954 premiership team. The surviving members sat on the stage and regaled us with stories of the day and the events leading up to that day.

These stories are important as there is no TV footage of that Grand Final. There is only a few short minutes of news reel footage but that is all.

I recall watching some of this footage and seeing spectators sit on the ground inside the boundary. This was necessary as the MCG was being renovated for the 1956 Olympics. There is footage of players crashing into spectators.

Of the Bulldog players present at the reunion, none had attended a Grand Final before that day.

The Bulldogs ruck man arrived at the G and was horrified not to find his boots in his bag. There was then a scramble to find a supporter with a car to take him back to Williamstown to pick up his boots and return. Most of the players had arrived at the ground by public transport.

One player was stationed at the army base at Puckapunyal. He had used up his leave during the home and away season and the finals. In order to play in the Grand Final he had to go AWOL. He planned with his brother to jump the fence and get away in a car his brother had borrowed. However, his brother was not familiar with the car and crashed en route to Melbourne. The two then hitched a ride to the MCG.

The Bulldogs captain-coach Charlie Sutton told a story of his tussle with Melbourne legend Ron Barassi. During the home and away season, Sutton managed to run around Barassi by pushing the ball in one direction and side-stepping in the other direction. These days we call it “selling him candy”.

After that game the teams shared a beer and the young Barassi expressed embarrassment at having been out-manoeuvred by the older Sutton. Sutton grabbed him by the shoulder and drew him close saying “Son, forget the ball, in those situations always run at the man.”

As fate would have it, on Grand Final day the same situation presented itself to Barassi. Sutton was streaming down the wing with the ball and Barassi found himself the sole defender in his vicinity. Remembering, Sutton’s advice, Barassi focussed on the man and ran at Sutton with all his might … only to be left flat on his back as Sutton raised his elbow at the oncoming Melbourne player.

The Bulldogs won that day but would not see another premiership for 62 years.

The Bulldogs contested the 1962 Grand Final under captain-coach Ted Whitten, however they lost to Hawthorn. Until now, Ted Whitten is the only Bulldog player to play in two Grand Finals. This year up to 9 Bulldog players may break that record.

History tells us that Melbourne went onto win the 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1964 Grand Finals. Their legendary coach Norm Smith coached them to victory in these six premierships. In fact, Melbourne won 10 premierships in the 25 years between 1939 and 1964.

Melbourne contested the 1988 and 2000 Grand Finals but lost both. They have been chasing a premiership for 57 years.

Along the way they have had their disappointments. In the close 1987 Preliminary Final, Jim Stynes ran across the mark of his opponent giving Gary Buckenara a 15 yard advantage and a shot at goal. Hawthorn were behind when the final siren sounded but Buckenara kicked true and put them into the 1987 Grand Final.

Years later the club mourned Stynes’s passing from cancer.

Then there was the “tanking” scandal with Melbourne accused of deliberately losing matches to secure more favourable draft picks.

More recently their much loved coach Neal Daniher has contracted MND but to his credit has fought back to run a very successful public campaign against the disease.

Despite over a decade of spectacular success, coach Norm Smith was sacked mid-season in 1965. Tensions had been brewing for some time.

In 1964, Barassi left Melbourne to coach Carlton. Many Melbourne committee men believed Smith was protecting his position in not planning for Barassi to replace him. Smith offered the Melbourne coaching position to Barassi but he declined.

Smith was later sued by an umpire for defamation. In 1963, Smith called umpire Don Blew a cheat. When Smith approached the Melbourne committee for financial assistance with the litigation, they turned him down.

Smith’s dismissal made headlines and after a personal plea on television he was reinstated but Melbourne was never the same. Melbourne went onto to win one more game that season and to miss the finals, the first time in eleven years.

Some say Melbourne has since laboured under the Norm Smith curse.

The Curse of the Bambino. plagued the Boston Red Sox for 86 years after they traded Babe Ruth to the NY Yankees in 1918.

Will Melbourne break the Norm Smith curse on 25 September 2021?

Both teams have had significant hardships since they played each other in 1954. In 1989, the Bulldogs avoided a merger with Fitzroy. In 1996, the Demons avoided a merger with Hawthorn.

Both teams have come a long way since those dark days. Both teams are now led by female Presidents which adds further history to the 2021 Grand Final.

It is a shame that long suffering fans will not be able to attend the Grand Final in Perth but no doubt, Melburnians will find novel ways to enjoy this spectacle from the comfort of their homes.

All I can say is may the best team win… and may that team be the Bulldogs.

Lawyer with varied interests including politics, technology, religion, business management, literature, coaching, social justice, sport, education and humour.