Season 2021 – Look Out, Here We Come!

January 23, 2021 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: NSW Demons, Our history, Our stories 

Nigel Dawe

Neither a monkey or even a dust mite on our backs this year!

I don’t know if you’d call it hard core, committed, neurotic, fanatical or just ridiculous, maybe it’s a swirling, churning one-eyed combination of all five, but ever since I was a kid I have ‘occupied’ myself during the final credits of every film with trying to recognise or fleetingly pick out any famous Melbourne Demon last names.

As such, I don’t think I’ve ever spotted a ‘Barassi’ or a ‘Warne-Smith’ represented in any capacity of a matinee film; however, the other day after having sat through near on 3 hours of ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ with my 7-year-old daughter, I spied (and I’m not making this up) a ‘Lyon Beckwith’ in the film’s credits!

Not sure about you, but having a first name after perhaps the best player we’ve had at the club in the past 50 years and a last name after a two-time premiership captain from the ‘50s, would have to be an absolutely one-off celluloid occurrence, not to mention a red and blue referential miracle.
Needless to say, with me there is no pre-season, post-season or outright season in itself when it comes to the Melbourne Demons figuring, or pardon the pun ‘featuring’ in some daily way in my heart and mind. But that said, this pre-season is shaping as one of the most promising and talent crackling affairs that I can ever personally recall.

Our bounding, fit and seemingly balanced mix of players aside, it’s the cast that we’ve managed to assemble (almost by stealth) in our coaching and administrative quarters, that has me daring to believe and now menacingly murmur – “Yes, this will be our year!”

At some point over the passing of seasons, I remember hearing and retaining a comment made by the great (now in his 95th year) dual-premiership captain – Noel McMahen along the lines, “not until you fill the four heads [being Chadwick, Warne-Smith, Norm Smith and Cardwell] in the famous ‘Architects of Five Premierships’ photo, will you see anything like the success of what we saw in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Without lumbering the calamitous weight of expectation on the shoulders of our current ‘equivalents’, I’m looking so forward to seeing the collective effects generated by Alan Richardson, Mark Williams, Simon Goodwin and Gary Pert, add on a seasoned Adem Yze for good measure, and you have that aforementioned photo recreated, and then some.

While there’s quite a lot of talk around the traps about our club having the longest current premiership drought (57 years of silver-less Septembers to be precise) I don’t see this as being either a monkey or even a dust mite on the back of anyone associated with the club.

Football is a game played in a stand-alone, year-by-year fashion by players that live and die (without sounding too gladiatorial) by their exploits in ‘real-time’, such things as ‘seasons without a premiership’ are light years away from the realm of any footballer’s direct sphere of influence or control. That our oldest current player in Nathan Jones was born in 1988, puts into perspective the illogical chronological conundrum of holding anyone physically accountable for an overall inter-generational lack of success.

As for ‘premiership windows’, I always cringe when I hear this modern-day dupe of a phrase, for mine, like the best of budding cat burglars – every year is a premiership ‘window’ to be scrambled into in red-hot pursuit of the ultimate loot. If you don’t agree, then refer to the ‘Baby Bombers’ of ’93 or the marauding Hawks of ’08, to name just two supreme groups that came from the clouds to pull off the ultimate of ‘steals’.

I’d love someone to have mentioned such a ‘cute’ inanimate concept like a ‘premiership window’ to the game’s brimstone coaches of by-gone eras like Norm Smith or Checker Hughes; the notion of not having the troops committed or competent enough to win the competition in any given season would’ve absolutely confounded them.

Similarly, in the words and rollicking ‘Ocean’s 11’ spirit of perhaps world sport’s most celebrated and successful coaches of all-time, Vince Lombardi once ‘unpacked’ his approach to such things, by matter-of-factly saying, in his very concise ex-school teacher way (and something that could now well suffice for a rallying catchphrase for our primed Dees of ’21):
“Want it; desire it; earn it; take it.”

Architects of 5 premierships - Chadwick, Warne-Smith, Norm Smith and Cardwell

Percy Beames – the game’s first three-time Grand Final best on ground performer

October 27, 2020 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: NSW Demons, Our history, Our stories 

Percy Beames

Nigel Dawe

The celebrated German thinker Georg Hegel once said: “Philosophy is a gallery of heroes of thought” and if he’d have grown up in Victoria at any time after 1858, then I dare say he may well have come up with the equally fitting line: “Footy is a gallery of heroes of sport.”

But humour aside and that said, I was prompted on a serious note to draft up something today to honour not just this season’s, but the game’s outright forgotten Demon, and inaugural triple Grand Final blitzing trail-blazer.

Not to take anything away from Dustin Martin, because his performance the other night in Brisbane was something all footy fans may well never forget; I say ‘may well’ because that is exactly the fate that awaited our fleet-footed boy from Ballarat, Percy Beames – the game’s first three-time Grand Final best on ground performer (in the consecutive Melbourne winning teams of 1939-40-41).

I’m not sure if it’s a simple case of oversight or just plain over-exuberance on the part of the footy community to extol the performances and virtues of a contemporary player (and ours wouldn’t be the first generation to fall into the same wide-eyed and appreciative trap) but I can’t imagine the same snub of a player’s efforts (irrespective of how long ago they ‘took place’) occurring in a sport like American baseball. That country’s ‘national sport’ is unlike any other in terms of the reverence they ensure is afforded ‘recollecting’ the memory and exploits – to a fact and stat, of their greats.

Not that it’s ever a safe or even a wise thing to compare the performances of players from different eras, though it is a fascinating undertaking: one not unlike wading into a thick smoke-filled house lined with a thousand haphazardly placed mirrors. But where the blur clears somewhat, enough to gain a glimpse of clarity for the purposes of an informed opinion, is in the basic tale that the stats tell.

Of the three Grand Finals Percy Beames and Dusty Martin left every other player in their tenacious wake, it’s worth first mentioning that Beams scored a total of 12 goals (as a rover) to Martin’s 10 goals (having played on the half-forward line in two of his three Grand Finals).

Again, this article is not about proving who performed better or is more earning of ultimate bragging rights, but the incredible ‘given’ of Beames’ big dance outings, was the fact he lined up against the white-hot calibre of captain and Brownlow medallist of both teams in 1939 (Harry Collier) and 1941 (Dick Reynolds). The 1941 heroics of Beames are made all the more extraordinary when you consider that Reynolds was an absolute all-time great, not to mention a triple-Brownlow winning trojan!

Then factor in Richmond’s Captain Blood, who literally prowled the turf for opposition scalps in the ‘hit-out’ of 1940, and you have the gleaming stage upon which Beames rose to stamp his authority on the toughest game of all, three times-in-a-row.

So as to clearly establish the standing and place that Percy Beames occupies at the club (he was the first Melbourne player to reach 200 games, as well as being a handy cricketer, and the only player in the entire post 1897/VFL-era to captain both the MCC and the MFC) you have to look no further than the fact there is a ‘Percy Beames Bar’ in the members section of the MCG. I don’t know about you, but that would have to take the cake, albeit eternally warm the grand old spirit of any former great!

Red in the Shade of Invincible White

June 27, 2020 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: NSW Demons, Our history 

Red in the Shade of Invincible White

Nigel Dawe

Well, put it down as a sign, or dare I say a ‘symptom’ of the times, a game canceled at the 11th hour because of an occurrence of the Corona virus (on that note and most importantly, sincere best wishes to the entire Essendon Football Club and that everything pans out okay for all at Windy Hill).  But the more things change, the more they stay the same, albeit return to a point where they began. And so, it occurred to me, Australia’s national game both symbolically and literally looped a full 16 decades back in time to its origins last Sunday.

That being an intra-club match on the MCG between the gents of the Melbourne Football Club. If our boys were wearing all white (which was the club’s original playing attire, keeping in mind they were to a person – cricketers, that merely wanted to keep themselves fit during the winter months) then the journey back to our beginnings would’ve been made complete.

Thus the team’s first nickname ‘The Invincible Whites’, and if you think that’s a little tame or perhaps quaint in some way, then reconsider, because apparently the matches back then were of a highly competitive and take no prisoners nature (rather like our spirited ‘hit-out’ on the weekend) only no-one had to replace their torn shirt four times in the course of ‘play’ like one of our pioneers did in the early days.

I can’t help thinking how the ghost of Tommy Wills was in some way watching or pacing the boundary line, perhaps wishing he were able to once again physically enter the fray.

So, without an official game last week, I dug out my hen’s tooth copy of my favourite Melbourne match, which might come as quite the surprise to some fans, as it’s not even a first grade game, but it’s one that has enabled me to say – “yep, I’ve actually seen a Demons team win a big dance on the last Saturday of September at the MCG.”

It was of course the Greg Healy-led reserves grade Premiership of 1993, and if you haven’t ever seen this match, it is an absolute spirit-churning corker for the ages. Not only did Melbourne kick the first 9 goals of the game, it was an outing that was almost clinically executed from start to finish by our boys, some of whom played their last game in the red and blue. Darren Bennett was one such trooper, who kicked 3 absolute sound barrier breaking big ones (all in the first quarter) before he headed to the States to teach them a thing or two about punting like you really mean it!

My highlight (and it may be out of sync with the central tenets or tone of the modern game, and I’m certainly not condoning violence, but ‘flying the flag’ for your club in a Grand Final is an exempt-able matter as far as I’m concerned) was the Graeme Yeats instigated goal-square melee at the city end just before half-time.

To say it made last week’s Bulldogs-Giants tangle look like a meek night on Dancing With the Stars, would be an understatement. But the real throw-back for me was the ‘delighted’ reaction of the commentators (Drew Morphett, Bernie ‘Super Boot’ Quinlan and Dennis Cometti) whom each dissected the fracas with an analytical-tilt you wouldn’t see anywhere beyond the labs that are now trying to concoct a cure for Covid! They even managed to somehow get it shown later in the match in slow motion (“for those that may have missed it!”).

Different times, yes, but to this day it remains a game and a club for those willing and wanting to test themselves and have a red hot go, as Norm Smith himself once said: “League football is 70 percent guts. Split the other 30 percent any way you like.”

Demons Nation – Connected Where it Matters the Most

June 20, 2020 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: NSW Demons, Our history, Our stories 

Demons Nation – Connected Where it Matters the Most.

Nigel Dawe

It’s no exaggeration to say that I’m a fanatical Demons fan, but one thing that forms a keen intertwining feature in this one-eyed fanaticism of mine is the fact that we truly live in a Demons nation. I know, you’re probably thinking where’s he going with this, but one thing I bet you haven’t known prior to now is what our iconic little foot-soldier of Lucifer has in common with so many different places across this wide-brown land.

From Surface Paradise to Mildura, Moonta to Pennant Hills, Alice Springs to North Hobart, Corryong to Casey, Perth to Canberra, Koo Wee Rup to Yarram – they all have a local Demons football team.

And that’s just to name a few, not to mention we also have red and blue coloured demon sides raising hell with their leather projectiles in cities as far-flung as Toronto, Boston and London. So on the topic of keeping exaggeration to a minimum, it’s fair to say that on any given weekend during winter – ‘A Grand Old Flag’ is being sung by a bunch of 18 sweaty combatants, somewhere in not just this country of ours, but right across the entire globe. And I can’t tell you how much the thought of this brings me an outright deep-seated peace and relief.

But the interconnections don’t just end there, the Perth Demons (even though they wear red and black) are coached by none other than Earl ‘Duke’ Spalding, the lovable bloke we all held our collective breaths when he took his set shots at goal back in the 80s, to say he had one of the more ‘interesting’ or outright elegantly wasted kicking styles, would be an understatement.

Then there’s our 2013 runner up best and fairest winner – Col Garland doing his bit to make the North Hobart Demons the best team in Tasmania, not that they need all that much help, seeing they’ve notched a whopping 27 premierships and finished runners-up 17 times in their overall club history.

One of the more little known cross-overs in the game is the fact a former Melbourne player, Lou Suhard answered a call to meet up at a pub in Adelaide one Thursday night in 1878 to form the Norwood Football Club. And of course, Lou suggested what an aesthetically pleasing and no less formidable combo of colours red and blue were for a football team, not to mention the moniker ‘Redlegs’, as Melbourne were then also known, and thus the rest is history.

Whilst in South Australia, I have to make mention of a little town and a football team very dear to my heart – Moonta and their Moonta Demons, who have quite possibly the most sublime red and blue guernsey you’ve ever seen, it actually features a pitch-folk wielding demon on the front.

As some background, my entire family and I used to holiday for three weeks at a time each Christmas in the early 80s in this beautiful old Cornish influenced mining town, come idyllic tourist mecca.

So recently, I got in touch with Mark Durin, Moonta’s club president and Andrew Pearson, the secretary to find out what impact the Covid period has had on their town and club. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have reached them at a tougher time and yet they were the last to complain, as their entire league has been canceled for the first time ever, and the whole region has suffered quite a down-turn.

Having grown up in a small country town I know how devastating this would be, and so on behalf of the broader Demon community I’d like to extend our heartfelt best wishes and sincere hope that come next season the Moonta Demons go on to claim their 14th premiership, the most recent coming in 2018.

For a club that boasted an evergreen (ex-Brownlow medallist) Gavin Wanganeen in their team last year, the boys are surely well placed to do themselves and us all proud. As an excellent and ever-apt promo from the Norwood Football Club hammered home in the early 90s – ‘Times don’t stay tough forever, but tough clubs do!’

Mr September – Who is the greatest September specialist of all-time?

June 10, 2020 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: NSW Demons, Our history 

Jack Mueller – The Unrivalled Colossus

Nigel Dawe

The early Greek, pre-Socratic thinker Heraclitus once said: “No man ever steps into the same river twice.” Well, he never met the #12 wearing Jack Mueller, the greatest big game player in the history of not just our club, but the entire sport. (A claim that won me an Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers about 20 years ago, when Inside Football magazine ran a competition under the banner: ‘Mr September – Who is the greatest September specialist of all-time?)

Thus, in one of the most incredible feats in football, Mueller kicked 8 goals in both of the prelim finals of 1946 and 1948 against Collingwood (both times), the following week (that being the Grand Final of each season) he kicked 6 goals against Essendon (both times), while Melbourne fell short of victory in ’46, they eventually triumphed in ‘48 (after the first game was a draw) and to script, Mueller put through 6 goals the following week in the Grand Final ‘replay’. Amassing a club record 20 majors in the one finals campaign.

And so, that’s the numbers caroled and crunched for just these two seasons, the bigger picture paints an even more breath-taking fresco. Overall, Jack Mueller scored 62 goals in the 18 finals he played for the club, which is nearly twice as many as the next placed player and teammate Norm Smith, who kicked 36 majors in finals matches. It was also a rather ominous sign, not to mention poetically fitting, that Jack Mueller was born on the 9th of September, 1915.

If all the above were not enough to score me that encyclopedia, then comparing Jack’s record to anyone you want to name in the history of the game in finals, practically addressed the envelope from Inside Football for me.

Because Mueller, incredibly featured in Melbourne’s top two best players on nine occasions in which he entered the finals fray, no-one comes even close to this level of impact or dominance: to say that he was a big game player borders on an outright understatement.

Keeping in mind, that the Echuca-born Mueller, who debuted in 1934 was an absolute linchpin in the Melbourne premiership sides of 1939-40-41, and had club best & fairest winning seasons in 1937, ‘39 and ‘46, proof that he was performing consistently high at an elite level for well over a decade; all with two fingers practically missing and a third badly damaged as a result of a work related accident that he sustained after having only played his first season of senior football.

To put Jack Mueller and his playing era into full context and perspective, no less than Norm Smith is on the record as having stated the Melbourne side of 1940 was the greatest team he ever saw (having grown up a magpie fan and seeing the record setting 4-peat Collingwood sides of the late ’20s and of course coaching the Demons in the ‘50s and ‘60s, such a call from Smith is perhaps the most definitive and informed of anyone in the history of the game).

Little wonder then, Mueller played in all 21 games of that history making 1940 season, a year that also saw the team score over 100 points in a club record 16 games, one of which – the round 10 match against Geelong remains our team’s highest ever ‘losing’ score. Incredibly that day the Demons lost (given the chance of winning with a kick after the siren by Ron Barassi Snr that unfortunately drifted through for a behind) but the final score was 22.19 (151) to Geelong’s 24.10 (154).

From a numbers perspective, the ultimate reflection of the Demons of Mueller’s day can be gained when you see how they stack up against the club’s golden boys of the ‘50s; and incredibly of the 61 games Melbourne played between 1939 and ‘41 the side kicked a score of over 100 points on 46 occasions, compared to the 42 times during the entire 141 games played between 1954 and ‘60.

If that weren’t distinguishing enough, then consider the club record statistic of six consecutive finals match wins between 1940-46 and you start to get a sense of just where Mueller and the sides he played in, reside within the overall history and soul of the club.

It’s also quite heart-warming to think that right up until the end of his life, apparently every time Jack Mueller walked into the MCG his eyes would fully light up and he’d always say something along the lines: “Ah, I’ve arrived home again!” If that doesn’t say how much this man utterly belonged on the big stage, then I don’t know what does. Relatedly, he earned the nickname ‘Melba’ (after the opera singer Dame Nellie Melba) because like her, he’d keep coming out of retirement for that ‘one final performance.’

And so, when it comes to conveying the legend and gleaming legacy of the one-out and one-off type of player that Jack Mueller was, it is quite the tension-fraught task to know exactly where to either start or finish; but an insight that best suffices for the later is a comment, albeit glowing endorsement made by Richmond’s ‘Captain Blood’ Dyer, whereby he once simply said:
“Mueller was the colossus of the football field. Many of the greatest players the game has produced have declared him the most outstanding player Australian Rules has seen… Big Jack was the devil himself. You could search the world and not find a better Satan. He personified arrogance, an easy going self-confidence by which he radiated authority over all he surveyed.”

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