In the early 70’s I didn’t realize what I was walking into. As a kid growing up in Tasmania through the 60’s we had to make do with a quarter VFL replay every Monday night at 10.30. Ron Barassi, the biggest name in football had gone to Carlton, and St Kilda had ‘The Doc’and ‘Stewie’. Their teams dominated the replay.

My life changed when as a 17 year old in January 1973 I got on a plane from Hobart and landed at Essendon Airport. They parked me at the Mount Alexander Motor Inn and Sandy Talbot and Barry Grinter slid a note under the door. Apart from family of course, the most significant moment in my life was walking into Windy Hill. It still remains the most significant influence on my life. Essendon with its deeply entrenched ‘Same ‘Olds’ culture, its centrality to its people and its isolation in the North West corner of metropolitan Melbourne. Cricket was just as significant in my early years. To play in a team alongside John Grant, keith Kirby and Johns Swanson was a magnificent introduction into the Essendon way. ‘General ‘ Grant was tough and uncompromising.


Over a 13 year period, it was Essendon cricket and Essendon football. My first president was Alan Hird Snr. My first secretary was Bill Cookson, my first good mate was Ron Andrews and my first chairman of selectors was Jim Carstairs. My first job was with a wonderful family at Diggers Rest. Jim Matthews was vice president. Both he and his wife Dulcie are special people in my life to this very day, even if Jimmy’s dam has no fish in it. My first pre-season was at the Showgrounds under ‘Tuddy’. I reckon I swallowed more sand than Lawrence of Arabia as we carried sandbag after sandbag. I still have great early memories of ‘Rattler’ (Greg Perry), Bronco’ (Gary Grainger), ‘Lurch’ (Alan Noonan) and ‘Whimpy’ (Barry Grinter) from those times. The ‘sheds’ had still not changed since the days of the great Dick Reynolds. Jack Atkinson was property steward ably assisted by the memorable Kenny Betts . We took our girlfriends to the Essendon Drive In and our first cars, mine being an EH Holden.Before the social club was built, all players went to a hotel known as ‘De Marcos’, a local institution for anyone growing up in Essendon. I had to be smuggled in as I was underage. From there it was back to Alan Noonan’s every Saturday night. I think I know by heart, every Credence Clearwater Revival song that Alan owned. In later years at the social club, after matches at Windy Hill, we mixed comfortably with opponents, supporters and the umpires. This was not only my first journey into the VFL, but fortunately for me at such an early age, I realized I was walking in a museum, a library and a walking, talking, breathing record of a famous great club and its heroes. Our jumpers at the time were black with a red sash. No logos no nothing. An original Essendon Football jumper and we loved them. About this time, I started to read about Essendon. I continue to read. The history of this great club continues to intrigue and inspire. It is no secret to me as to why the likes of David Evans, Mark Thompson and James Hird have put their hands up.

Essendon were once known as the “Same Olds” (as in “the same old Essendon”) in order to distinguish the Essendon VFL side from the VFA version. Because the City of Essendon mayor of the day, James Taylor, considered the Essendon Cricket Ground “to be suitable only for the gentleman’s game of cricket” Essendon moved to East Melbourne. In the absence of the VFA team, there was , sadly, no need for the “Same Olds” distinction and, by 1922, the other nicknames “Sash Wearers” and “Essendonians” that had been variously used from time to time were also abandoned. The team became universally known as “The Dons”.. We have made this walk before. We will do it again.

They talk about “The House That Ruth Built” which was derived from Babe Ruth, the iconic baseball superstar whose prime years coincided with the stadium’s opening and the beginning of the NY Yankees’ winning history. Essendon was never ‘built’ by one man (maybe Reynolds)but when I arrived at Essendon I was immediately influenced by connected people. I was surrounded by blokes like Don McKenzie, Alec Epis, Charlie Payne, Kevin Egan and Barry Capuano and Ted Fordham. I had the privilege to meet Barry Davis ,Jack Clarke, Hutchy , Bluey Shelton and Ken Fraser. They were all coached by John Coleman My under 19 coach was Alan Thaw who was coached by RS Reynolds and played alongside john Coleman and Bill Hutchison. My seconds coach was Bob ‘Swampy ‘ Syme , the enforcer who rode shotgun for Coleman.It was pairs contested work of the fence with ‘Swampy’ and a swig of Stones green ginger wine at ¾ time. Swampy would come up to you with a brown paper bag and say;’git this into ya’!!!In 1972-3 the brilliance of Neville fields and the passionate spirit of john Cassin and Kenny Roberts led a finals revival.I wore number 26 and was reminded many many times that it was ‘Swampy’s jumper’. It was a great thrill to see Bomber Thompson wear it. He grew up in airport west around the corner from where my wife grew up. I played in an under 19 grand final on the MCG in my very first year. I was taught from a very early age what it meant to be Essendon and the responsibilities that go with that. I have always tried to pass the message down. The modern day Y Gen may not be that interested, but they should. The need to understand that that black bit of modern day material with the red sash really is culturally and historically significant.

In the early hours of 5 April 1973,(my first year) John Coleman died suddenly of coronary atheroma . He was 44.The Essendon family was stunned and saddened. On Saturday 7 April 1973, a John Coleman memorial match was held at Windy Hill in front of a record 34 293 fans/mourners. Essendon beat Richmond by 47 points that day. I stood for a minute silence as those around me cried. I have only one disappointment in and involvement with Essendon that has stretched for over 35 years. I never got to meet John Coleman, but I’ve never forgot John Coleman. Our former CEO Peter Jackson often spoke of ‘aura’.It meant intimidation, respect and power. It meant when you run onto a ground the opposition turns to look at you….you never turn and look at them. Kevin Sheedy grew up following Essendon. Despite becoming a Richmond mongrel he had a sharp understanding of Essendons history and culture. It was a very strong point in his coaching and leadership. No door of our club was ever closed.

So we will pick up the pieces of our Hall of Fame,our flags our history and above all our heart and our jumper We will ‘re-sew’ the thousands of pavers the that bear the name of past players, family friends , coaches and presidents and we will take them out to our new home. There we will sew a seed and from there will grow a new beginning. When the rains fall in the desert life is born.

Before the current ‘See The Bombers Fly Up ‘ became Essendons theme song there was a wonderful song sung in the Essendon dressing room, and wherever Essendon supporters gathered on Saturday night. It was called the “Essendon Song.” The words were written by Cr. Wally Crichton, Essendon Football Club president, and they sang it to the tune of “There’s a Goldmine in the Sky.(1938)” Here are the words:

There’s a premiership this year, not far away, And our boys are after it, out Essendon way; Goodnight Tigers, Blues, and Demons when we play For we’re the ‘same old’ Essendon today. CHORUS: We’re ever to the fore, since days of old. We will win that premiership, as sure as gold; And that flag, next May, we’re going to unfold When the glories of the premiership are told.

It is a milestone and significant moment in our history. We moved to Windy Hill after the 1921 season. We have been strong, proud, united and successful in the heart of our homeland and people. It will equate to 92 years in 2013.To me nothing will change; “for we are the ‘same old’ Essendon today.

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