Category Archives: Sport

The greatest team in history, or just the greatest ever season?

When we talk about the history of Australian football we know that the game has been around since at least 1857. The Premiership race is younger, having being contested since 1897, and it remains the yardstick, by which success is measured.

Even then the game was like a bower bird, collecting bits and pieces from other games, like rugby, soccer (football) and other forms of ‘football’, including the fore-runners to Gaelic football, and even an Aboriginal form of a ‘ball’ game.

The early administrators were constantly searching for a better spectacle. The match ball itself has been through many different iterations, but probably began life as a round ball, replaced by differing sizes of a rugby ball until 1880, when the oval ball was designed by Thomas Sherrin. As those who love the game will agree, the administrators will never rest in their quest for that better spectacle.

When searching for the best team, or even the best season we need to turn to the statistical record, because many of the most successful eras have passed from living memory. From Collingwood’s four in a row in the 1920s, to Melbourne’s dominance in the 1950s, even to Hawthorn’s dominance of the 1980s, we are no longer able to rely only on eye-witnesses.

Some contenders

So there is much to be compared, over the years. Carlton did not win its first premiership until 1906, but followed up with wins in ’07 and ’08. They also made the Grand Final in 1909 and 1910, but lost both games. So Carlton played in five Grand Finals in a row, and won three flags, in a row. This was the first such achievement by a VFL club. By 1916 Carlton had won six premierships. The side of 1908 lost just one game for the year, in a competition where there were 10 sides.

They were ‘managed’ from 1902-1909 by Jack Worrall, although his role was more like that of the current head coach. He had been an Australian test cricketer, and an outstanding footballer for Fitzroy. He left Carlton after eight years, due to a player revolt about player payments, and his strict discipline. Worrall was also staunchly opposed to alcohol consumption, which did not help his relationship with his players.

Many older followers of the game still talk of Collingwood’s team in the late 1920s and 1930s as the greatest team ever. Between 1927 and 1930 they won four successive premierships, with a winning percentage of 86% of their games over the period, and an average winning margin of around five goals.

The team became known as “The Machine”, mainly for their ruthless efficiency. They were coached by Jock McHale, and the team boasted the likes of Sid and Gordon Coventry, and Albert and Harry Collier. Sid Coventry and both the Collier brothers won Brownlow medals while accruing their-four-in-a-row flags. Their 1929 team also managed to win every game for the season, a feat no other team has equalled.

Melbourne won three successive flags, from 1939-1941. Coached by Checker Hughes, Norm Smith was at full-forward; Percy Beames in the forward pocket. Fred Fanning was added to the 1940 team, which gave it awesome fire-power. They then quickly dropped down the ladder, and stayed there until their next great era.

That period of dominance was when they played in seven consecutive grand finals, from 1954 to 1960, winning five premierships, including three in a row from 1955 to 1957. If Collingwood hadn’t stopped them in 1958, they would have won six in a row, but football is an unforgiving game. There are no second prizes.

The 1980s belonged to the Hawks. Hawthorn won flags in 1983, 1986, 1988 & 1989, and 1991. They appeared on the last day of September seven times straight, from 1983-1989, winning four, with 1991 the fifth of the period.

Players like Leigh Matthews, Dermot Brereton, Chris Langford, Gary Ayres and Michael Tuck racked up premierships like there was no tomorrow. Essendon won two in a row in the mid eighties, but Hawthorn’s dominance re-asserted itself at the end of the decade.

The 1990s was not dominated by any one team, although Adelaide’s first two flags, won in 1997 & 1998, were surprising. They showed us how good players like Darren Jarman and Andrew McLeod were, although many fans had not seen much of them, before the big games. Adelaide’s premierships were sandwiched between two North Melbourne premierships, in 1996 & ’99. North Melbourne boasted the presence of Wayne Carey, judged by many to be, if not the best player ever, then thereabouts.

Essendon had been the outstanding team for 1999, leading the ladder for the last seven rounds. They were beaten by a freakish tackle in the dying seconds of the Preliminary Final, which saw them crash out of the finals. Their 2000 season is considered by many to be the most outstanding season ever played, but on looking at their record, the ‘best ever’ team only managed one flag, from three years of dominance. Not really comparable with the teams already mentioned, so no cigar for the Bombers.

The Brisbane Lions beat Essendon in the 2001 Grand Final. They then followed up, making it a hat-trick. Their seasons were not particularly impressive, but they managed to be there on Grand Final day, and they managed to beat all comers. Their fall from contention was quick and ongoing. While the Lions at their best were the equal of any teams we might have seen, they lasted at the top for four years, achieved three flags, and dropped off the radar for fifteen years.

Their team was coached by Leigh Matthews, and it had Alastair Lynch, Jonathan Brown, Michael Voss and Simon Black in their ranks. While they were a truly formidable team on their day, it is still surprising that they fell away so suddenly, and for so long.

Geelong won in 2007, 2009 & 2011. They were the form team of the era, and never really went through a rebuild, but Geelong did not dominate the competition. They did inspire it.

Hawthorn did become a genuine force, and they did dominate the competition. Under Coach Alastair Clarkson the Hawks took all before them, winning the 2008 premiership and gradually building to the “three-peat” of 2013-2015.

Clarkson is seen as a master coach, and his teams over the years has included Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli and Jarryd Roughead. The Hawks have since fallen out of contention, but he has taken them from the depths to four Premierships in 15 years.

The Richmond team of the past five years has managed to transform how the game is played, with the term ‘chaos football’ a popular descriptor of their style. The Tigers have dominated the finals in those years, winning three flags along the way. At the moment, Richmond are not convincing anybody. They look to be ‘done’ for this year, and so a reign of three or four years does not a dynasty make.

Although it grieves me to say it, and with only the statistics to support them, the Collingwood team of the 1920s has probably edged the Melbourne team of the 1950s. They lasted longer, at or near the top, than the other teams. And they won four in a row. No other team achieved that. Ever. And no team has gone through a season undefeated, except for Collingwood, in 1929. They must have been a fairly handy team.

Booing Adam Goodes was disgraceful

Some perspective on our beautiful game

In VFL/AFL football there is a time honoured tradition of the crowd being vocal during matches. Most of the watchers know the game, many have played the game, or aspired to do so. Many who watch, or listen, know the intricacies of the game, and how demanding and merciless it can be. Many consider it a game which requires extreme courage to play it, and it is seen as being a test of the character of the players.

Many consider the game to be peerless amongst football codes, because as it has evolved it has retained its high level of physicality, it has if anything become inescapable in the scrutiny of its players, and it is relentless in the level of competitiveness between the clubs. This is replicated throughout the AFL states.

Elite football does not exist without the non-elite, players of all levels of ability, striving for excellence, and tales of the gifted country footballer still resonate, because those young men, and women, do occasionally turn up, often from country towns, but also from the city, or wherever the game is played, and display heroic capabilities. State that someone played one game and most of us are still in awe of such an achievement. And the game has been played for so long now that it has its own history, with its own legends and myths.

Every country town last century boasted a footy team, and its companion, a netball team. These days many of the women who would have played netball now embrace women’s football. Many towns have the footy ground, with its four posts at either end, and somewhere close by, a netball court. It’s Australia, mate.

Football demands, above all else, commitment. The kids who are seen with a football constantly in their hands, grown men wearing their team’s colours in public, the answer to the question “Who do you barrack for?”

Those who have played at the highest level often note the level of noise at a game, the oohs and aahs of the watching crowds, the sheer numbers who attend games. This vocal quality often had a tinge of humour attached, as when Val Perovic, a Carlton player, kicked the ball. He could kick it a ‘country mile’, the crowd would erupt, shouting “woof” whenever he sent a long left footer out of defence. Shouting “woof” was a joy on a Saturday afternoon, back in the 80s, along with 30,000 other lunatics.

There have been others, of course, but always within the spirit of the game. Roy Cazaly was cheered every time he went for a mark, where the crowd roared “Up there, Cazaly”. Passionate commitment, from all, until the siren sounded. And then the most appealing part of our game; families and friends, or even strangers, supporting opposing teams, walking away without conflict, immediately after games, because the game is over. No barbed wire, no armed police, no segregation of opposing fans.

Adam Goodes is a true champion

In recent times, however, there has arisen a really ugly addition to our beautiful game. Adam Goodes, a true giant of the game, was driven from the field of battle by opposition fans, mainly fully grown adults, actually booing him. People who were not fit to lace his boots actually demeaned our game with this behaviour.

His record is huge. Two Brownlow Medals, two premierships, All Australian four times, he played 372 games. Not one. Three hundred and seventy two! If not hounded from the game, who is to say if he would have reached the magical number of 400 games?

There was a sinister reason for the booing, however. It was simple racism, tinged with jealousy and envy. Goodes had called out racist language in a couple of games, and in an act of defiance one night, he performed a short version of an Aboriginal ‘war dance’ at a section of the crowd which had been booing him mercilessly. Some of them actually called his gesture “intimidating”, although he was a lone black man, being publicly vilified by thousands. He had just scored another inspiring goal, by the way.

Boo. It is a stupid word, which describes a stupid act. “Booing is an act of showing displeasure for someone or something, generally in response to an entertainer, by loudly yelling boo! (and holding the “oo” sound) or making other noises of disparagement, such as hissing.” Wikipedia.

Wow. I took a straw poll last weekend, and I could not find one person who admitted to booing, ever. Some expressed the free speech argument, though that is a false equivalence. Booing caused a modern master of our game to retire, prematurely, because the weight of the crowd was too much.

Booing is for babies.

You boo when you are watching Punch and Judy shows. That is the only acceptable use of the act of booing, and it should be discontinued when you attain school age. If you continue to exhibit this behaviour, you are suffering from arrested development, and you need help.

Adam Goodes left the game, and he has never attended any function related to the game, since his retirement. Now that is a crying shame.

Adam Goodes was today voted unanimously into the Australian Football Hall of Fame as part of its 2021 intake but he has rejected entry. June 8, 2021

This post was corrected to include news of Adam Goodes’ refusal of a place in the AFL Hall of fame.

Team Australia-some key players

2020 has been a tough year. Let us take a look at the list, where they are at, what they have produced in 2020, and what we can expect in season 2021.

I want to take a look at the players first, and leave the evaluation of the coach to last. Obviously he has a huge impact on the players, and as a playing coach, there are questions about his ability to coach, and also play. Has he been trying to do too much?

Michael McCormack – elevated to vice-captain last year. A real ‘smokey’ from the bush. Appears to lack much in the way of natural ability, but is a great advocate of team spirit. Many struggle to understand why he is even in the team, but he does bring a folksy type of earnestness, with an amateurish vaudevillian ‘shtick’ to the post-match press conferences. Will probably stay, and play in the back pocket. A leader of sorts – of a small group of players who are somewhat lost in the ‘big smoke’.

Josh Frydenberg – a flashy forward type, he started the season strongly, very confident, much hype about being ‘back in black’. Has a tendency to ‘mouth off’ early, and often, in games, and rue his words later. Had a couple of real shockers during the season, especially when he came up against Dan Andrews. Andrews seemed to spook him, causing some unnecessary own-goals. Josh follows the game plan to the letter; which can cause a lack of creativity. Has leadership aspirations.

Mathias Cormann – has retired from the game, although he is angling for a spot on the Commission. Seems to have enthusiastic backing from the team, from the coach down, but not a fan favourite. Led the backs; a dour, miserable type. Not able to accommodate changes in the game plan. Particularly evasive on the need to adapt to renewable aspects of defence. Stolid defender of the indefensible.

Peter Dutton – the enforcer of the team. A towering, cadaverous type. Learnt most of his moves in the Queensland Police Force, so no stranger to questionable tactics. Rumoured to still harbour leadership aspirations, after unsuccessful tilt last year. Also known as a keen sledger, especially if his opponents wear green jumpers. Still able to unsettle the opposition. Dutton will continue to project menace.

Christian Porter – something of a strategist, known to play and to work hard. Can be a force when the going is good, but retreats when under attack. Something of a showy front runner. Treads a fine line with the umpires. He knows the rules, and he often plays outside the spirit of the game. Once touted for a future leadership role, but off-field issues have set his ambitions back. Expect a red-hot pre-season next year.

Greg Hunt – small, rover type, light and quick on his feet. Quick to pile in on opponents, if someone else starts it. Involved in an unseemly mass attack on Dan Andrews, when he was down, earlier in the season. Known to go where he is sent, no real commitment to a particular position. Swapped his style of play in climate arena, when told to. Apparently an expert in mitigation, prior to being elevated to the Firsts.

Angus Taylor – a likely looking type, but given to unforced errors. Known to be extremely selfish around goals, and to play for his position, rather than the team. Came in as an early round pick, with a decorated early career, but he has consistently misfired in the big league. Some think that he had it too easy, too early, and that he will improve when he acclimatises to the level of the competition. He seems to lack basic judgement, however. Does not read the ball well, and the fans have given up on him.

Alan Tudge – an unassuming half-back flanker type, he has shown a real desire for the contest, but an unsettling level of aggression towards opponents. This can spill over to members of the crowd, and his outbursts of uncontrolled aggression have him in the umpires’ sights. He causes damage wherever he goes, and the coach must be careful where he plays him. Known to have off-field issues, but not a contender for the leadership group, so not crucial.

Scott Morrison – Captain-Coach, centre half-forward. Looks more like a rugby player, but certainly an adaptable type. Many consider him to be an all-rounder, someone in the mould of a Ted Whitten, or a Ron Barassi. Unlike those legends of the game, however, he seems to have risen to leadership with not much to show us in the way of skills, strategy, or tactical nous. He has, however, been a tremendous survivor.

Traded out by several other teams previously, he landed with Team Australia, just as it began to disintegrate. He was a member of the leadership group under Captains Abbott and Turnbull, and was lucky to be ‘last man standing’ when the dust settled. He led the team into 2019, and won the flag, against all expectations.

Morrison is religious, and attributes the win to a miracle. Most rational judges reckon it was lucky, and that the other team failed to show up on Grand Final day. Whatever the reason, Morrison’s team won, and he has been hailed as a genius ever since.

Anyway, he plays all over the ground, showing no particular level of skill, but a determination to dominate every aspect of every game. He is intensely tribal, and you know that he brings full commitment to winning. He is known for his powers of evasion, and his slipperiness in a tackle. He seems to be able to change tactics at a moment’s notice, and to change the game plan to suit the mood of the day. He has been accused of debasing the game, and lowering standards.

At the moment he is unchallenged, however, because the team continues to win. He seems to be able to hang on, even when he personally puts in a shocker. He and his team have been accused of flouting the rules openly, but he has managed to evade being brought to account.

In today’s winner-take-all environment, he is leading a team of poorly performed players, almost single handedly, to what looks like another flag. The commentariat is asleep, and he will continue to dominate the game until the fans rise up, and demand change.

Wouldn’t life be marvellous, if it was as simple as a footy game? Sadly, it is not.

Footy – A Richmond Tale

I have a confession to make. I was an Essendon supporter until I was fourteen. My maternal grandfather starred for Essendon in two premierships in the 1920s, so I was a ‘sworn’ Bomber. But then I went to the 1967 Grand Final with my father, who was a Tiger tragic. I blame the drama of the day, but by nightfall I had changed my allegiance. I was now a Tiger. Just like that! No-one does that, at least not in Melbourne.

Tigers’ first golden era

The game was the 1967 Grand Final, and Richmond won. I was taken into the players’ rooms after the game (an extremely rare honour, even then), and I was introduced to the players. Most of them were just out of the showers, but those were curiously decorous times. The players, to a man I think, tolerated the social task of shaking a teenager’s hand, as I was led through the room. They were mostly wearing towels.

This incident, though slight to my reader, changed the world for me. The Richmond Tigers went on to win another four premierships over the next thirteen years. Did I look back over my shoulder to re-consider my decision? Never. I gloried in the Richmond way, the ruthless Tigers who gave no quarter, who trained harder and played harder, with an assurance that they had no friends, just opponents.

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Carlton was our natural enemy, later to be Collingwood, but they were all loathed, except for Footscray, who were everyone’s second, other team. That’s because they were never a threat.

My commitment never really wavered, though there were times when footy was not ‘top of mind’. Life sometimes intervened, but the Tigers were dear to my heart .

The wilderness years

After 1980 there was less to be interested in. As the years rolled on, Richmond stopped being a power, and became something of a joke. Years and years of power struggles within the club drained momentum. Beloved figures from the past ran nasty, personal campaigns to wrest control back from whomever; sometimes they were outsiders, sometimes they were old team-mates.

These were the years when the enemies of the club prospered. Even the Bombers, discarded so many years ago, won several flags with an ex- Tiger champion coaching them. Essendon’s 2000 season was probably the greatest season ever played, where they were virtually unbeaten, and unbeatable. And coached by Kevin Sheedy. Oh, the horror, the horror.

But I found an interest again. As my children arrived, they were inducted. We suffered the slings and arrows of the Tigers’ outrageous fortune. We heard Collingwood touted as the club with the biggest membership, but I knew the Tigers were a sleeping giant.

Even Hawthorn, latecomers to the big dance, came to shine. And shine again, many times over. If Richmond gloried in its proletarian beginnings, the Hawks represented Middle Melbourne. They even played at Waverley, bang in the middle of Middle Melbourne.

The new century brought no relief. Richmond gained a reputation for finishing ninth, just out of the final eight, stranded. The others jeered, but redemption was close, perhaps. There are many riffs able to be played on finishing ninth. Ask me, I’ve heard them all.

The Tigers have always been distinguished by their supporters. No matter how dire the season, or the game, there was always someone in the crowd, or the bar, who could spot reasons why the latest performance was showing positive signs. Green shoots could be determined in the ashes of another unsuccessful season. And once a true-blue Tiger, you are doomed to share their fate. One of my children cursed her luck, to be born with the Richmond stain.

Gradually, however, the new five year plan began to take shape – finally spelled out by club President Brendon Gale, it stated:
”By 2020, we aspire to have won our 13th premiership; consistently provide the most exciting and powerful match-day experience in the competition; once again have the strongest support base in the nation, and enjoy the strongest emotional connection with our members and fans”. Spooky.


The 2017 season started auspiciously. Five wins, no losses. Then a run of four losses. Adelaide crushed us by 76 points – another blighted birthday for me, but who’s counting? I’ll cut this scintillating tale of redemption short; Richmond became a frenzied football machine, tackling and passing the ball, tall players and short suddenly as good as, and then better than, their opponents. Richmond pressure, ninety percent chaos, was suddenly the blueprint for success. Goals were expected now, rather than prayed for.

The finals were absolutely nerve-wracking. Geelong had had a particularly successful period when they had routinely sent us back to Richmond in the foetal position – not any more. Crushed comprehensively. Next, to the Giants, seen as young, but hugely talented. They were tossed aside the following Saturday. That game left us only one mountain to climb – the Grand Final, the first since 1982. It was against Adelaide, the power side, the raging favourites.

Suffice to say, chaos ruled. Richmond won by 48 points. The crowd was 90% Richmond. Delirium took over, after 37 years in the wilderness. Adelaide had come to the MCG, feared for their skill and confidence. They were reduced to a rabble.

So the hordes took to Richmond to celebrate. Our first stop was to a back street in Richmond, where a giant mural of Dustin Martin had appeared, as if by magic. We joined a queue, to be photographed standing in front of Dusty. My daughter Lucy (an innocent child I had introduced to a lifetime of watching Tiger teams crash) and I then went to the All Nations Hotel, to celebrate the life – changing premiership. The night was completely and absolutely mad, but no-one was hurt. Except for the staff, whose faces were a sight to see, as every forty seconds the Tigers’ theme song was sung, and they were exhorted to sing it, again, and again.

The streets were awash with hysterical fans. Young men danced on the roofs of taxi cabs, Bridge Road was blocked by thousands. A drought of 37 years had broken. Caroline Wilson wrote an article in the following days explaining how, although only a game, Richmond’s win had elevated our spirits and reaffirmed our love for life. We weren’t to be pitied any more, because we had won a premiership.

Melbourne is seen as the serious city in Australia, where people take great issues seriously, and where political passions run on the slightly puritanical, progressive path. But a serious Melbournian can be distracted. Just ask them who they barrack for.