By way of background: my father and his three brothers played for the Melbourne Football Club in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and my three uncles – Ted, Donald and Denis ‑ all featured in premiership teams for the Club during that period. In the 26 seasons from 1939-1964 the Demons would secure 10 premiership flags, and play in another three losing VFL Grand Finals; an almost unprecedented era of success for any Australian Football club.
Although I was born in 1963, I have no memory of that 1964 premiership victory. What I do remember is that Melbourne did not play in a single finals match between 1964 and 1987, and they were subsequently soundly beaten in both of the VFL/AFL Grand Finals in which I saw them appear (in 1988 and 2000).
On the last Saturday in September 2021 I imagined what it would be like to have the opportunity to speak to the team I had followed all my life before they took the field in the 2021 AFL Grand Final - in an attempt to re-write history, and overcome what had by then become known as The Norm Smith Curse
Below you will see what I came up with, a speech that incorporates a poem I had written some years before in the fervent hope this day would eventually come.
Well boys – the moment has finally arrived. The moment we’ve been talking about for some time now, when we define who we are, and what we stand for.
And as we’ve said, it’s a moment we’re going to embrace. We’re not going to be intimidated by it. Just like we’re not going to be intimidated by the opposition, or by things that might go against us, as some things inevitably will. And especially, today, we’re not going to be intimidated by history.
We’ve talked about the curse haven’t we? The hoodoo. Because we agreed didn’t we, that you can’t defeat what you don’t face head-on? But there are two very good reasons why this is the Melbourne team with the best chance in 57 years to win this Club’s 13th flag.
The first reason is very simple. Because you’re here. Those other 56 teams have had their go. Their time has passed. Your time is now.
And the second is just as simple. None of those other 56 teams was the best in the League. None of them truly deserved to hold up the Premiership Cup. But this team. This team is the best in the League. This team does deserve to hold up that Cup. That’s not hubris talking. That’s not bravado. That’s just fact.
And tonight you’ll go out there and prove it. Not because I say so. But because of who you are, and what you represent - as players, and as men. And because of the character and the resilience that you embody as a team.
I’m so proud of you boys. As proud as a man could possibly be. But in two and a half hours’ time, I know I’m going to be even prouder.
Now before you go, there’s one more thing I want you to think about. And it’s this. Tonight, this match, this occasion, this opportunity – it’s not just about us, is it? I know you know exactly what I mean by that.
So I just want to read you something written by one of our members that I hope articulates it in a way that will allow you to carry that thought with you through the next 120 minutes of football, and beyond – not as an additional burden to bear, but as a star to guide us to where we want to go.
There’s a man in the stand, and he’s looking at you
And he’s wanting to know if you’re feeling it too -
The pride in the guernsey that means so much more
When you wear it for all those who’ve worn it before.
There’s a duty that comes with the honour bestowed
To respect the ideals of the MFC code;
So with the passion and courage of teams of the past
Play each quarter, each minute, as if it’s your last.
There’s a man in the stand, and it shows in his face
He’d give anything just to be there in your place
To lace up your boots, and to feel what you feel
When you pull on the armour of red and blue steel,
To be able to tell the young boy on his knee
Of the day that the fans roared for him at the ‘G.
So one thing you must say as you walk from this shed
Is you’ll never let this privilege go to your head,
You’ll never take for granted what you’ve been allowed -
The chance to play footy in front of this crowd.
There’s a man in the stand, but he’s not on his own,
There are thousands beside, and behind, and at home
Those who wear the Club colours, and whose welfare depends
On whether their team is in front at the end.
And though between them they haven’t a stat to their names,
They are the very heart and the soul of this game,
And the question those people are asking of you
Is “If you get cut today, will you bleed red and blue?”
It’s a Grand Old Flag, but in this brave new world
If you want to see another flag being unfurled
Then don’t waste your time on the papers or news,
Because games aren’t determined by media views
Nor do crowds or the umpires decide who prevails,
It’s young men with big hearts just refusing to fail
With heads over the ball, and their bodies on the line
Who when knocked down get up again time after time
And who know that there’s always some more they can find
Even when the board says that they’re five goals behind.
Winners don’t play three quarters, or give into fear
And they don’t play for money, or backslaps or beer
No, they play for each other, standing shoulder to shoulder,
When the other team’s brave, then you have to be bolder
And the thing you’ll reflect on one day, when you’re older
Is the man you became as a red and blue soldier.
There’s a man in the stand, and like those who surround him
He smiles as he turns to the faces around him
He smiles in the knowledge this team shares his pride
That this is a group who will not be denied
And he roars himself hoarse as he cheers for that team
He believes that these men can deliver that dream
And he knows that the prize they have sought all these years
Will be well worth the blood, and the sweat, and the tears.
That’s all I’ve got for you boys. It’s up to you now. I know you know what’s required, and I know you’ll deliver it.