Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Melbourne Football Club
The Melbourne Football Club, nicknamed The Demons since 1933, known in their early days as "The Redlegs", is an Australian rules football club playing in the Australian Football League, based in Melbourne, Victoria. Prior to this they were known as "The Fuchsia's". Founded in 1858, it is the oldest football club in Australia and is one of the oldest in the world. It is also distinguished by the fact that it was members of the club who wrote the rules of their game. Melbourne plays in red and dark blue colours, and its club song is It's a Grand Old Flag.
Some sources claim that the MFC is the oldest professional sporting club in the world. There is no doubt that it was formed just before other clubs in Victoria, such as Geelong. However, the claim of "professionalism" is contentious, as the Victorian Football League did not officially allow professional players until Rule 29 was passed in 1911 and for many years Melbourne was a proudly amateur club.
The MFC was an offshoot of the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC), occupiers of what many consider to be Australia's finest sporting arena the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG, known as "The G"). The group which became the MFC came together informally on August 7,1858 and the club was formally established in 1859. On May 17 that year, at the Parade Hotel in East Melbourne, Tom Wills, W.J. Hammersley and J.B. Thompson (some sources also include Thomas Smith and/or H. C. A. Harrison ), wrote the first set of written rules for Australian Rules Football. By 1866, several other clubs had also adopted an updated vesrion of Melbourne's rules. In 1877, the club became a foundation member of the Victorian Football Association. The MFC joined the breakaway Victorian Football League (later Australian Football League) at its formation in 1897, and has been a part of the competition ever since.
In 1889 the MFC was reincorporated into the MCC, and for many years the two organisations remained unhappily linked. The MFC's close association with the MCC allowed it to claim the MCG as its home ground and have it access to a wealthy membership base, but Melbourne's reputation as an "establishment" club has not always been an advantage. The MCC members' automatic right to attend all events at the ground, including Demons' games, also means that many potential members have no actual need to so do - thus, Melbourne's membership is currently amongst the lowest in the competition.
Melbourne's greatest player of these years was Ivor Warne-Smith, who in 1926 won the club's first Brownlow Medal (the League's annual award for the best and fairest player). In that year Melbourne won its second flag. Warne-Smith won the Brownlow again in 1928.
Age of greatness
F. V. "Checker" Hughes became Melbourne's coach in 1933, and under his leadership the club entered its era of greatness. In 1939 Melbourne won its third flag, against traditional rivals Collingwood, and in 1940 and 1941 it went on to win two more.
In 1946 Melbourne finished second and Don Cordner became the second Demon to win the Brownlow. In 1947 Fred Fanning kicked a record 18 goals in the last game of the season. The following year Melbourne played in the first ever drawn Grand Final, against Essendon. The next week they came back and won the replay.
Norm Smith became Melbourne's coach in 1952, and the following year Ron Barassi played his first game. These two were to take Melbourne to new heights in the coming years. The Demons won the flag in 1955, 1956 and 1957, narrowly lost to Collongwood in 1958, and then won again in 1959 and 1960. With Smith as coach and Barassi as captain, Melbourne dominated the competition.
In 1964 Melbourne won its 12th flag, and seemed set for a new era of domination. But at the end of the season, in one of the greatest shocks in the history of the game, Barassi left the club to become capitain-coach of Carlton. The following year Norm Smith was sacked after a dispute with the club. Things were never the same again for the Demons.
Decades of disappointment
Through the 1970s Melbourne, under coaches John Beckwith, Bob Skilton, Tiger Ridley, Denis Jones and Carl Ditterich, Melbourne languished at the bottom of the League ladder. In 1980 the MFC finally legally separated from the MCC, becoming a public company, in an effort to attract more members and improve the club's finances.
In 1981, under the chairmanship of Sir Billy Snedden, Ron Barassi returned to Melbourne as coach. But although Brian Wilson won the Brownlow in 1982, and Peter Moore in 1984, Barassi was unable to get the club back into premiership contention. In 1986 he was replaced by John Northey.
Under Northey Melbourne made the finals in 1987, for the first time since 1964, losing the Preliminary Final to Hawthorn on the last kick of the game after the final siren when future Brownlow Medalist Jim Stynes walked over the mark after Rod Grinter was penalised allowing Garry Buckenara a reletively simple opportunity. The following year the Demons did even better, reaching the Grand Final, only to be defeated, again, by Hawthorn.
Thereafter things went downhill for Northey, although Jim Stynes won the Brownlow in 1991. In 1992 the club finished 11th, and Northey was replaced by Neil Balme as coach. Balme got Melbourne into the finals in 1994, but by 1997 Melbourne was at the bottom of the ladder. In 1998 they bounced back and reached the Preliminary Final. But the following year they finished 14th.
At this point the club was also in dire financial straits. The board decided on the desperate step of a merger with Hawthorn, but the Hawthorn members rejected the merger. This was the final straw for many of the MFC members, after years of continual failure. In 1999 an unlikely rebel leader, Orthodox rabbi and mining tycoon Joseph Gutnick , became president, put $3 million of his own money into the club, and sacked Balme as coach.
In 2000 the new coach, Neal Daniher, took Melbourne to the Grand Final, where the Demons were soundly beaten by Essendon, but the members expected a new era of success. But in 2001 it was same old story: Melbourne finished 12th. In 2002, although Melbourne again made the finals, Gutnick's autocratic ways provoked another revolt, and he was voted out by the members.
In 2003 Melbourne plunged into a new crisis, winning only five games for the year and posting a $1 million loss. President Gabriel Szondy resigned and it seemed that Daniher's tenure as coach was under threat.
But, continuting the recent trend, in 2004, Melbourne climbed the ladder again, winning 14 games and leading the competition, albeit for one round only, in Round 18. And although the team lost their remaining four games, they still made the finals, only to lose that match also, by five points to Essendon. On a bright note, young-gun Jared Rivers was the winner of the National Rising Star Award .
The underlying problem for Melbourne and the other older clubs is that the new Australian Football League, a 16-team national competition, has left too many clubs in Melbourne, a city which despite its great tradition of passionate support for Australian Rules Football, cannot financially support ten clubs competing against wealthy and successful interstate newcomers.
Some observers wonder about the long-term future of the club, with its thin membership and supporter base, political instability, and lack of consistent on-field success. The AFL's current TV deal requires a 16-team competition and thus it is highly unlikely a team will be allowed to fold in the next few years. If such a guarantee disappeared and clubs were left to survive on their own resources, the Demons, along with the Western Bulldogs and Kangaroos, look the most financially vulnerable. Melbourne has an additional vulnerability, in that it is yet to establish a permanent home base, with current administration, training and social bases scattered around various venues of the MCG, Junction Oval and the Bentleigh Club.
But in 2004, as they had done for 145 years, Demon fans' "Hearts beat true/For the Red and the Blue." The most profound truth about Australian football is that "there's always next year." As the Melbourne Football Club entered the 41st anniversary year of its last premiership, its supporters recalled the words of the club song: "Keep your eye on the Red and the Blue."
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