20 September 2018, SEN radio, Melbourne, Australia
This stunning radio monologue was aired on Andy Maher’s Afternoons show on SEN, 20/9/18, before Melbourne’s do or die Prelinminary Final against West Coast.
Thinking about you Tom Wills and how it started with you 160 years ago, the oldest football club in the world still playing in the elite competition of its code.
Thinking about you Ivor Warne Smith, the best player my grandfather, a working man, ever saw. That was in the early 1920s – you were playing with Latrobe in Tassie. Later, you won two Brownlows with Melbourne. Still later, as chairman of selectors, you were the steady hand behind the volatile Norm Smith as Melbourne powered to six premierships.
Thinking about you Ron Barassi, how you were brought up by Norm Smith after you father, a Melbourne premiership player, was killed in action during World War 2. You were the game’s great moderniser and after you left Melbourne for Carlton in 1965 the Dees never won another.
Thinking about you Brian Dixon, how you played on the wing in five Melbourne premierships and then spent the next 50 years working to make Australian football an international game, how you were dismissed as an eccentric, just like Tom Wills was.
Thinking about you Ron Barassi, about interviewing you and raising the oft-told football legend that you invented handball as an offensive weapon at half-time in the 1970 grand final and you smashing the table with your big fist and crying out, “That is not true! Len Smith invented handball at Fitzroy in the 1960s!”. Part of what made you great was that you had a blazing inner truthfulness.
Thinking about you Robbie Flower, and going to the footy late in your career with Paul Kelly and seeing you get caught with the ball - Robbie Flower never got caught with the ball! – and Paul Kelly writing a piece on mortality and how the end comes to us all.
Thinking about you Sean Wight, wrongly called Irish by the Melbourne fans when you were actually Scottish, thinking about your epic clash with Dermott Brereton in the 1987 preliminary final, of the mark you took over Brereton in the first quarter, of the headlock you slapped on him when it got nasty.
Thinking about you, Jimmy, running across the mark in that game and the morgue-like silence that followed Buckenara’s goal that gave Hawthorn victory after Melbourne had led most of the day. Thinking how you told me you fled to Paris and on the Metro a man lent forward and said, “Aren’t you the bloke who ran across the mark in the preliminary final?”, and you knew you could never escape it, you’d have to go back, and you’d have to do better than you’d ever dreamed of doing to atone for your error. Four years later, you won the Brownlow. You told me you won the Brownlow because you ran across the mark. That’s how your mind worked, Jimmy. Each obstacle was an opportunity.
Thinking about you Jimmy - when you were dying – going to Yuendumu and the Warpiri tribal lands five hours north-west of Alice Springs because Liam Jurrah came from Yuendumu and, as club president, you’d told the Melbourne players you wanted to see the place every one of them was from. Everyone knew you were dying. The Warlpiri people were in awe of your act and I saw how whitefellers can pass into the dreaming of this land.
Thinking about you Liam Jurrah, taking the 2010 Mark of the Year, tumbling over the top of a pack in Adelaide, up so high you took it on the way down as you fell head-first to the ground and the commentator crying that one name, that one word, so that it reverberated around Australia: “JURR-A-A-H!”
Thinking about the night in the Long Room at the MCG when Liam Jurrah’s grandmother, who had come down from Yuendumu, addressed a club function in Warlpiri. Her language. Thinking about Liam telling me that, once when he had an injury, his grandmother and some other Warlpiri women elders sang it away.
Thinking about just how low Melbourne were at the time when Jimmy came back as president, thinking about their courageous captain James MacDonald, a slight man who seldom spoke but could knock you into next week with his hip and shoulder.
Thinking about you Andrew Mamonitis. The Dees were in serious debt and struggling for sponsors and Andrew Mamonitis was in a Kazakhstan restaurant in Moscow attending a meeting being run by the Russian internet company Kaspersky and a senior executive with the Oriental name of Harry Cheung invited ideas from the floor and Andrew Mamonitis made a pitch on behalf of a club playing a game no-one had heard of, saying it was a way for Kaspersky to enter the Australian market, and Harry Cheung got Kaspersky's Asian representative, a Swede called Povel Torudd, to ring the club and the club put Povel Torudd through to membership inquiries but Povel Torudd persisted and, eight days after Andrew Mamonitis made his pitch, Harry Cheung flew to Melbourne and clinched the deal.
Thinking about my friend David Bridie, about his steadfast support of the Melbourne Football Club and the people of West Papua and how I know this side of the grave he’ll never give up on either. Thinking about his daughters, Winnie and Stella. Feminist Demons.
Thinking about the woman in the cheer squad I sat behind and the kindness she showed the young man with the intellectual disability she was sitting with. Thinking about her offering me biscuits and a cup of tea.
Thinking about the Melbourne woman supporter I know who was taken from her mother at birth and adopted out. All she knew about her past was that she came from Melbourne so Melbourne became her team and in no-one does the heart beat more true for the red and the blue than it does in Penny Mackieson
Thinking about you Arthur Wilkinson, the Melbourne doorman who came to the club as a friend of Checker Hughes and was still there in 2008. As a youth, Arthur carried his swag outback and worked in the bush. All he carried with him was one set of clothes and a book of poetry. At his funeral, his son Mark said , “My father loved 3 things - the bush, my mother and the Melbourne Football club”. Thinking about you Mark Wilkinson, yours father’s successor as Melbourne doorman, standing alongside Barry King.
Thinking about you Nathan Jones and the joy in seeing a young player grow like a tree and become a champion.
Thinking about you Neville Jetta and a session I sat in on that you and Jeff Garlett ran, introducing your team-mates to Aboriginal culture, and afterwards your team-mates saying, “Why weren’t we taught this at school?”
Thinking about the match in 2015 when the Melbourne team wore wristbands in the colours of the Aboriginal flag as a gesture of solidarity with Adam Goodes.
Thinking about a day last year when Melbourne brought back Liam Jurrah, Aaron Davey and Ozzie Wannameira to launch their reconciliation action plan and they’re standing with Neville Jetta when Nathan Jones enters the room and the sound like a joyful clap of thunder as the five men embraced.
Thinking about you Big Max Gawn, how Jim Stynes spotted you early, saying you brought something special to the club, you like Jimmy being an outsider, Jimmy an Irishman, you from a Kiwi background bringing All-Black grit to the team.
Thinking about the book I wrote on the Bulldogs in 2016 and the injection they got from having fresh players return at the start of the finals and then seeing how young Jack Viney is playing, thinking about this Melbourne team and how strong and settled it looks.
Thinking about a photo I saw on Twitter of the spot in the Dublin mountains where Jimmy’s ashes are scattered, seeing a boulder with a plaque bearing his name and, draped over it, a Melbourne scarf. The red and the blue. It made me want to shout: “You’re still with us, Jimmy!”