In the illustrious shadows of Fred Fanning

December 23, 2022 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history 

Fred Fanning

Nigel Dawe

For the past few months, I’ve been meaning to draft up a tribute piece to commemorate the 75th anniversary of a feat that may never be beaten, let alone ever remotely challenged.

I’m of course referring to Fred Fanning’s haul of 18 goals, 1 behind in the last round (30th August) of 1947, a game that would also be his last (at 25-years of age) for the Melbourne Demons.

Fittingly, a movie released in the very same month of that very same year was called ‘Brute Force’ and starred an equally young ‘take no prisoners’ Burt Lancaster.

Another omen of sorts just one month prior to Fred Fanning’s final round goal feast against the Saints, was something equally otherworldly in the form of what’s become known as the Roswell Incident, in which debris of not just a UFO spacecraft was found, but allegedly the bodies of its alien pilots as well.

Relatedly, I have a number of framed pictures of Melbourne players in my house, but none feature more prominently than the one I have of Fred Fanning in ‘full flight’, having just launched one of his right foot rockets: it reminds me of an ancient statue of the god Hermes. For those that might not know, this fleet-footed deity with his be-winged sandals was apparently able to move between the worlds of the mortal and the divine, in addition to being the god of athletes, speed, thieves, magic and dreams.

While time lends many a feat the ‘quality’ and gleaned quandary of exaggerated myth and fable, the legacy of Fred Fanning is one that has shone confirmably, albeit unrepeatably from the very day he hung up his boots in the VFL at the Junction Oval, some 75-years ago.

If the 18 goals, with just the one ‘poster’ that came in the third quarter, in front of the sticks in his last outing (which totals 109 points alone) is not enough to make you shake your head in disbelief, then how’s the story Don Cordner would often recount about how running onto the field that day, Fred apparently turned to him with a grin and said, in Babe Ruth fashion: “I’m gonna bag 18 today!”

And that he did, after threading 10 goals the week before, taking his tally to 33 majors in the last three matches he played for Melbourne, that being an average of 11 goals in each of those games. No one in the history of the sport has gone even close to matching this ‘hidden’ statistic.

Magpie great, Gordon Coventry bowed out with 16 goals in his last three outings; even arguably the game’s greatest sharpshooter of all – John Coleman (who debuted with 12 goals in his first game and kicked a neat 100 majors in his first season) finished up his career with 21 goals in his final three appearances.

Seemingly, there was nothing diminutive about our burly #6 wearing Demon forward. That he couldn’t do anything by halves, constitutes Fanning’s most defining trait: as his mention in the Guinness Book of Records testifies – you’ll find him listed next to the longest kick (in any code of football) in the world. A young Fred Fanning dobbed a goal on the full from the very centre of the MCG (or exactly 105.5 mts) in the reserves Grand Final of 1939, the same day he kicked a lazy 12 goals for Melbourne!

Add to Fred Fanning’s footy CV – the most goals by a Demons player in one season (97 in 1947) and the highest average goals per game by anyone to wear the red and blue (3.95) in 104 games; the club best and fairest award in 1945, and you get a glimpse of what it takes to become an all-time great at a club like the Melbourne Demons.

After seeing a newspaper article written by Tony De Bolfo, 12-months before Fred Fanning passed away in 1993, a young Dees fan sent the legendary spearhead a self-addressed envelope with a myriad of questions and a card for him to autograph.

To this day, it’s one of my most prized possessions, and creates a direct mercurial link for me to one of the game’s most enigmatic figures. Interestingly, in Fred’s hand-written response, he made mention amongst other things, that his toughest opponent was South’s Jim Cleary; that kicking the first goal from the boundary line in the 1940 Grand Final was ‘unforgettable’, before rounding out with: “I was aware of Coventry’s record (of 17 goals).”

Which you can just imagine our red and blue colossus, fathoming how he was about to play his last game in the big league, thus set himself the challenge of bowing out with a bag that no one would ever forget, let alone come close to ever replicating again.

With that fantastically said, and signing off now for the last time in 2022, on behalf of the NSW Demons, whether or not you support the grandest team of all – have a wonderful festive season.

After claiming last year’s men’s premiership and this year’s women’s silverware (along with the men at Casey ‘flying the flag’) here’s to the thought of a bountiful, truly beautiful, red and blue hued 2023!

Spring has sprung… Melbourne Demons are the AFLW Premiers!

December 3, 2022 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLW, Daisy Pearce, NSW Demons, Our history 
Tayla Harris goals in grand final

AFLW – Grand Final Brisbane V Melbourne

Nigel Dawe

Watching, and then trying to convey something about a team winning a grand final at any level, let alone your own team’s inaugural premiership, at the most elite level – is like seeing a pinata torn wide open from a great height, and then trying to determine which goodie you want to find and explain first.

Well, after seven seasons the AFLW crown has finally gone to the Daisy Pearce-led Melbourne Demons, at a location that few of us had even heard of little more than a fortnight ago… but one now, that none of us will ever forget – Springfield.

Heading to the game by car, I knew it was going to be a good day when the first turnoff from the highway to the ground heading north was #31, and the second was #11, all we then needed was a turnoff #2, and that would’ve been the most famous three guernsey numbers in the club’s history.

There was no turnoff #2, but once we arrived at the ground it became quite evident that the numbers were stacked in the Lions favour… to the tune of 20 (Lion fans) to each of our 1.

Which only meant the barracking had to be more vigorous and committed than at any other time or at any other game we could ever be in the attendance of (as such, I’m hoping I get my voice back at some stage between now and Christmas!)

Having watched footy my entire life, I can’t recall a game (let alone a grand final) that was more on a knife-edge for the whole duration of play, than this one. Throughout the day I kept pondering a comment Norm Smith once made along the lines, “Football is one hundred minutes of agony, but it’s an agony I love.”

Never did solitary acts and singular, selfless deeds across the entire field become so consequential and determining of a final result. As such, if Hanks’ lunging contested mark on the outer wing with 20-seconds of the game to go, didn’t seal the win, then her next possession – a laser-like pass to Purcell, forward of the centre square – certainly did.

With little more than one straight kick in it all day, the final result provided an eerie parallel with Melbourne’s first ever VFL premiership, 122-years prior – which was by the same margin against the same team – a four-point win against the then Fitzroy Lions!

But that said, November 27th, 2022 will eternally belong to the women in the team of the red and the blue, they clocked and thoroughly locked in this day as their very own, forever! With grit and a steely-eyed will to win, they took the grand old flag to a place – against all odds, it has never been before – the Premiership dais of the AFLW.

As a doting Dad who took his own 9-year-old daughter to her very first game of footy on the weekend; the beauty and lasting resonance of this occasion wasn’t lost on me for a second. It’ll be something I tuck away at the back of my mind in highlight fashion, like the day she was born and handed to me wide-eyed and curious of her surrounds. Or the day I wrote her the haiku poem: ‘Every daughter is a rainbow across the sky of her father’s soul.’

But it’s thanks to the women, both on and off the field last Sunday, like Daisy Pearce and Kate Roffey who have paved the way – so my own little girl might one day share the big stage (of whatever forum) without any constraints caused by gender, or because of any subsequent preferential bias given to boys.

Thus, leaving the stadium, holding my daughter’s hand and both of us singing A Grand Old Flag, I couldn’t have been more chuffed; at not just the game our team had won, but what it represented for my own little girl, and girls like her across the country – for the dreams and opportunities it now makes infinitely possible.

That my Alina was the happiest and most delighted I’ve ever seen her, is a measure and gleaming testament to something I just can’t wait to see much more of.

Que Sera, Sera… What will Dee will Dee.

September 16, 2022 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history 

Nigel Dawe

Twenty-four times since 1930, the Premiers of one season have failed to make the cut of the following season’s finals. As such, the Melbourne Demons of 2022 did not add their name to that ignoble list.

OK, we may have been bundled out of September in two-straight sets thanks to the Swans and the Lions (who deserve praise for grounding our juggernaut to a halt, on our very home turf). But to say our Dees have lost their way would be a gross misrepresentation of the season we had, and where the club is at right now.

Referring to 2022 as ‘one that got away’, certainly – but any assessment more scathing than that and you need to brush right up on your history and your overall understanding of the game.

For starters, the worst slide ever experienced by a premiership team belongs to the Adelaide Crows, who put back-to-back winning campaigns together in 1997-98, all to tumble, if not free fall to 13th in 1999. Richmond limps into second place on the all-time hangover list with finishing 12th in 2021, after performing their own back-to-back treat in the seasons of 2019-20.

The less I dwell on seasonal slides, blame or blanks that can’t be filled, changed or ever made otherwise, the better and quicker I can cut to the positive chase (that has always been footy, and more to the point, the Melbourne Demons, for me).

There is always something to celebrate and cheer about when you are blessed (and perhaps cursed) with having a one-eyed affiliation, albeit deep affection for anything like a passion-fueled, group-willed and pride-driven entity, that is a football club.

As such, the Charles Brownlow medal is my healthy distraction right now – which our number 13 wearing Clayton Oliver is looming as a clear favourite to claim. Should Clarry be declared the winner on Sunday night, he will become our seventh recipient of the award, representing the eighth time it has been given to a Melbourne player.

Being twenty-two years since someone in the red and blue has taken out the award, we are due. Previous winners being: Ivor Warne-Smith (1926, 1928), Dr Don Cordner (1946), Brian Wilson (1982), Peter Moore (1984), Jim Stynes (1991), Shane Woewodin (2000).

One of my favourite lesser-known points of trivia when it comes to the Dees and the competition’s highest accolade, concerns the 1987 MFC team photo. It is the only time in the club’s history that three different Brownlow winners (for the club) are in the side’s line up. They being the number 30 wearing Peter Moore, the number 7 wearing ‘Wilo’ Wilson, and of course, the number 11 wearing ‘Dublin’s Jim’ Stynes.

Intriguingly, Clarry’s third-place in last year’s Brownlow count (with 31 votes) would’ve been more than enough for him to win the award in just about any other season. As it was, he finished six votes clear of the best ever tally registered by a Brownlow winner for the club. Jim Stynes polled a then tear away 25 votes back in 1991 to dominate the competition.

Should Clayton Oliver not lay claim to the club’s eighth Brownlow medal this week, there is still the distinct possibility that he’ll collect his fourth ‘Bluey’ club best and fairest award. Which would elevate him to equal first (alongside the great Allan La Fontaine and Jim Stynes) as the only players to do so. Being 25-years old, with surely a good six to seven years of football left in him, who knows how illustrious this ‘Barassi-like’ Shepparton-born gun will go on to be.

Oh so sweet September

September 1, 2022 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history, Our stories 

September…. My favourite month of the year

Nigel Dawe

Before commencing this piece, I made a point of closing my eyes and taking a deep breath through my nose… and you can smell it… September that is – oh, so sweet September! There is nothing that stirs my inner 12-year-old to life than the thought of the Melbourne Demons headed to the finals.

Ironically, a book I was recently gifted by my sister called ‘Footy Banners’ sits at my elbow, and it has a snap on its cover which I figure in as a dot. It is the 1989 State of Origin at the MCG with the Vics streaming through their banner, and way up in the background between the major and the behind post (above the ‘M’ of the second Myer sign to the left) I’m there taking it all in as a then wide-eyed 12-year-old seeing his very first game at the ‘G.

As for that beautiful, mad 9th month of the year we call September (doubly so, seeing ‘sept’ stood for the numeral seven in ancient Rome) originally there were only 10 months in a calendar year. January and February weren’t added until quite some time later, and when they finally were, no one bothered to correct the other month names to reflect the ‘addition’.

Ancient history aside, our team is about to embark on its 41st September campaign, to hopefully net a 14th premiership, and if we do, it will be the 37th time in VFL/AFL history that a team has gone all the way after finishing the regular season in second place. Incredibly the Melbourne Demons have played in 90 finals matches, the exact same as the South Melbourne/ Sydney Swans. The ledger changes when you factor in the win/loss record though, the Demons having won 54 games to the Swans overall 40.

That’s the backstory, the one surging towards us concerns our third ever final against the red and white wearing Swans. For two foundation clubs, it is incredible that we’ve only met so few times. Who could forget the last time though? It was the second week of the finals in that magical year of 1987, a day in which our Demons left the field 76-point victors with Robbie Flower having kicked a game high four goals.

The first and only other time our two sides have met in September was way back in the preliminary final of 1936. That day we were beaten to the tune of 26-points by a then all-conquering team that won the flag three years prior, and were known as the ‘foreign legion’ because of the sheer number of players they had ‘acquired’ from abroad to bolster their ranks.

Back to the present day, and good luck Dees for our upcoming 91st finals match against the Swans, a wonderful omen – that being Jimmy Stynes Brownlow winning year. And let’s hope Simon Goodwin’s incredible post-season record continues, which currently reflects an 83% winning return.

Even the great Norm Smith claimed a 69% winning average in finals (mind you that was for 23-games in 11 different finals campaigns, compared to Simon’s six-games in his two post-seasons so far).

And ‘finally’, come what may, keep a quiet eye on the Geelong-Collingwood match, as there is an absolute potential hidden treat. Should our arch combatants in the black and white go down to the more favoured Cats, it will be their 100th loss in a final, making them the first team in the history of the league to notch up such a ‘wobble-some’ feat.

Our memories of Noel McMahen

July 22, 2022 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history 

NSW Demons Legends Dinner – Noel McMahen – 2004

Michael Peters

Noel McMahen, one of the fine players of Melbourne’s greatest era, has died aged 95. Demon supporters in Sydney will remember Noel for his visit to us in 2004, when he spoke to us in the Sydney Cricket Ground Members Dining Room.

Noel played 175 games with Melbourne from 1946 to 1956. This included membership of the Melbourne Premiership teams of 1948, 1955 and 1956. Noel was a Victorian State representative in 1952 and 1954. He was Melbourne Captain in 1955-56.

Noel was a magnificent Melbourne back man, who repeatedly drove Melbourne into attack from the back line after fierce tackles and with long driving kicks, I had the good fortune of seeing Noel and the team win the 1948 premiership, one would have to say in part because of Essendon’s woeful kicking for goal (7 goals 27) in the first drawn Grand Final; Melbourne comfortably won the replayed Grand Final against the favourite Essendon.

Noel McMahen’s fierce tackling is best exemplified by the his famous “shirt front” tackle of the Collingwood champion Bob Rose in the 1955 Grand Final, which remains one of the best-remembered tackles in the history of the. Game.

Noel was named in the Melbourne Team of the Century in 2001 on the. Half Back Flank. He will be remembered always as one of our All Time Greats


Vale Noel McMahen: from Mordialloc boy to a Melbourne Immortal

Nigel Dawe

GREATNESS, in a game like Australian Football, or more specifically at a club like the Melbourne Demons (the world’s oldest football club) resides not in the retrievability or conciseness of mere statistical facts; in spiffy, well-worded player bios or tables of match possession tallies and totals.

If it did, history would recall the number 35 wearing Noel McMahen as simply the 667th player to appear for the Melbourne Demons in the post-1897/ VFL era; or merely the man to have played the 32nd most games for the club with a tally of 175 between 1946 and 1956.

Even the dictionary definition of Greatness: “the quality of being extremely good in ability or quality and therefore admired by many people” doesn’t really come all that closer to capturing the essence or mercurial quintessence of what true greatness means.

‘Bulldozer’ as Noel McMahen – the feared halfback flanker (and future club hall of famer) was affectionately known, weighing in at 86kg and 184cm as a player, became one of the most revered heart and soul figures to embody and iridescently bleed red and blue, the club has ever seen.

Perhaps the most famous of all snapshots of McMahen is drawn from the opening stages of the 1955 Grand Final. The second of seven-straight Grand Finals the club would appear in; and the first they would win of the overall five premierships from this era. In his first year as club captain, Noel flattened – in fair but brutal shirtfront fashion the magpie star and playmaker Bob Rose, it resulted in a free kick and the first goal of the game. But it also set the tone for a win that went on to forge not just success that day, but the sport’s greatest dynasty, lasting the best part of a decade.

Ironically, it is often not the gleaming periods of success that define or shed the truest light on someone’s career or mettle, but the dark moments of defeat and struggle – dealt with and then surmounted, that tell a tale that can’t be gleaned from amidst the halcyon glare of ultimate triumph and victory.

What makes McMahen special, from a club stalwart perspective is not just the premiership successes he enjoyed (the first as a fresh-faced newbie in 1948) but also the barren seasons he endured in between, where wins were few and the hardships many. One such season was that of 1951 – Melbourne notched just the one solitary win to finish last by a full three games. But it was a year McMahen finished with a club best and fairest, gaining mileage for the rest of his life: “This pretty much meant I was actually the competition’s ‘worst and the dirtiest’, seeing our team were playing so poorly.”

The self-effacement aside, who could ever hope to lead a team in the AFL to premiership glory (as McMahen did) twice in the only two seasons they were made team captain (not to mention that second year, 1956 – an Olympic year – being considered by many as the club’s greatest ever season) is something that will surely remain an unrepeatable feat, for as long as football is played.

As the sun brightly sets on the life of Noel McMahen – a life that commenced in 1926, the very year of the Melbourne Football Club’s most famous premiership win of all, and the same year a young Ernest Hemingway appropriately released his first novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’. It would be no exaggeration to say, the game itself, not to mention the team of the red and the blue, will ever see the shining likes of a Noel McMahen again.

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