September Stories Part One - Melbourne

"The question you should ask yourself is ‘why not?’. ‘Why not?’ creates a lot of opportunities. Don't ask why are we deserving to hold that cup up? Why not? Why not you guys? We have not won one since 1964 but you guys can do it -- Why not? You guys are on an exciting journey and it won't be there forever. It's sitting right there in front of you” – Former Melbourne coach, the legendary Neale Daniher

When Neale Daniher, one of the country’s most inspiring people, addressed the Melbourne Football Club prior to his extraordinary creation, ‘The Big Freeze’ on Queen’s Birthday, it was about things far more important than football. But the man who last guided the oldest football club in the country to finals and Grand Final action, caused the hair on the back of collective necks to rise, when he forced players to ask themselves one thing – why not? Why can this team be the first in red and blue to deliver a cup – surely presented by Neale himself – since 1964? A year that dully sends shivers down any Melbourne supporter’s spine. 1964.

Fifty-four years ago, the legendary Norm Smith coached Melbourne to his sixt and the Demons’ twelfth and final flag. Four years after the club, under his guidance, almost equaled Port Adelaide’s long-standing Australian record of six consecutive flags, when Melbourne won five flags in seven successive deciders. However, throughout 1964 tensions between Smith and the Melbourne hierarchy began to bubble, especially with Ron Barassi’s shock departure to Carlton at season’s end was viewed by the committee as Smith removing a potential contender to his coaching job. This was a claim Smith denied.

Yet, amazingly the night before a Round 13 game in 1965, the year after coaching another flag, the coach of the VFL/AFL Team of the Century, was sacked by courier in one of the most sensational stories in the history of Australian Football. The media and supporter outcry was overwhelming; so much so that he was eventually reinstated, but by this stage, his relationship with the committee proved too toxic and only lasted another year and a half. However, the year 1964 remains etched in the hearts and minds of many Melbourne supporters as the beginning of the football’s most famous, non-Jeff Kennett related curse; the curse of Norm Smith.

According to the Melbourne Football Club folklore, the curse has plagued the club that predates the sport’s rules, for more than half a century. It took the club a stunning twenty-two years to return to the finals after the Smith, the reigning premiership coach, was first sacked. When you consider the club’s current twelve years finals drought, the enormity of a twenty-two-year finals hibernation sinks in. The curse was there the day Melbourne champion Jimmy Stynes infamously ran through the mark during the 1987 preliminary final against Hawthorn. It has also been ever present throughout Melbourne’s previous twelve years of agony which has seen the club fined $500,000 for being ‘not guilty’ of tanking, ‘win’ the wooden spoon consecutively in 2008 and 2009, and lose by a mind boggling 186 points to Geelong in Dean Bailey’s last game as coach. Twelve years of abysmal failures has coincided with Hawthorn, the club it agreed to merge with, winning four premierships to become the most successful club of the 21st Century.

So, last year when Melbourne celebrated finally breaking their finals drought by releasing self-congratulatory pamphlets, the curse struck again, as Melbourne in fact missed the finals by the smallest margin ever, 0.2%. And what was the West Coast Eagles’ ‘for’ points that delivered this superior percentage? 1964, of course.

Thus, when twenty-two players graced Perth Stadium to face the side who booted them out of last year’s finals series, inflated eagle and all, they were also fighting a winless record against top nine sides, the expectation of failure from their own supporter base, their own ‘choking’ doubts and a fifty-four-year curse that does not actually exist, but is no less real.

When Mark LeCras put the Eagles in front for the first time late in the last quarter, much to the elation of West Coast (and Port Adelaide fans crunching the numbers) watching on, they withstood the ‘not agains’ and ‘here we gos’, and they forgot about some made up curse and twelve years of disappointment.

They just played – and won.

They are playing finals, and despite the critics who have rolled their eyes and uttered words such as ‘overcelebration’, the Demons have got something no one else has – the fairytale factor. Add to that the combined number of games played of the twenty-two who finally secure the Demons their long-awaited finals birth? 1964, of course.

Do not discount the fairytale factor and the force of something that no one else can see. Even if it some bogus curse.

Why not?

 

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