People and Memories: John Raleigh

The King and John Raleigh

For John Raleigh, lifelong North Melbourne supporter, the mid-1990s were strange times. He developed an attitude he’d rarely shown in his football life. An attitude usually associated with followers of larger, more successful clubs.


‘The ’90s were great,’ he says in the front room of his St. Helena home. ‘From ’94 onwards, for the first time in my North life, I went to games expecting to win.’

John, an articulate and gentle grandfather, wears a Kangaroos polo shirt, while a life-size cut out of Wayne Carey leans against the couch. Outside, John’s royal blue Mazda hatchback pays permanent reverence to the club’s first VFL premiership with ROO – 075 number plates.

‘Carlton and Essendon mates always expected to win and I had it in the ’90s. That arrogance!’

John attended every North grand final during this period. In 1996, he entered the season decider feeling confident, but admits to a few nervous flutters when the Sydney Swans led early.

‘Glenn Freeborn was in the right place at the right time. Three Times!’ he laughs referring to Freeborn’s goals that got North back into the contest.

For John, the enduring memory is defender Ian Fairley’s last quarter goal with the final kick of his career.

‘The joy on his face as he ran back to the centre… he was a true servant of the club.’

He’s philosophical about losing to Adelaide two years later, blaming it on North’s poor kicking – 2.11 in the second quarter.

‘Never give a sucker an even break.’

It was that loss that steeled the club for redemption in 1999.

‘I was more concerned about Essendon, but they were knocked out by Carlton in the prelim [Preliminary Final].’

‘Once the game got going, I was confident it [defeat] wouldn’t happen again. I was back to my arrogant ’90s best.’

Naturally, conversation turns to Wayne Carey – the player, not the cut-out.

‘He had everything. He’d turn a game and you’d know he was turning it. The bigger the crowd and occasion, the better he’d play.’

But Mark Roberts, Glen Archer and Ian Fairley are John’s favourites from those premiership years.

‘Their greatest attribute was their endeavour. I suppose I identified with them. I was never the most talented player, but you’d get in there and do your best, ‘ John explains referring to his junior career at East Brunswick YCW.

Born in 1946, John’s football allegiances were inherited. Aged two, he spent a year living with his grandmother, uncle and aunt in Chapman Street, North Melbourne, while his mother recovered from a serious car accident. The uncle, Kevin Hayes, played a handful of games with North, while his aunt’s father made his own contribution to the North Melbourne story by hanging meat bones outside his butcher shop, in reference to the club’s nickname during the 1940s, ‘The Shinboners’.

John grew up in East Brunswick and was educated by the Marist Brothers, Fitzroy. For North home games, he and a few mates would catch the Lygon Street tram, then a bus, and watch the game from the Arden Street terraces. He recalls the change rooms situated under the solitary grandstand, while betting sheds for mid-week greyhound meetings held at the ground, were out the back. The famous gasometer stood opposite the grandstand, on Macaulay Road.

He watched North’s first premiership on his grandmother’s colour television.

Marriage, young children and a burgeoning career with Vic Roads meant fewer trips to Arden Street during his twenties, however, John started attending games regularly again from the early 1980s.

His dedication runs deep, through years of volunteer work, including membership drives, labouring work during the reconstruction of Arden Street, and more recently, with ‘The Huddle’, North’s education program for local school students.

Concerned members weren’t being consulted in decision making, John ran as an Independent for the board in 2007. Never expecting to win, only to shake things up, after the vote, he shared a conciliatory beer with those he sought to depose.

He was also part of ‘We are North Melbourne’, a group opposed to the move to the Gold Coast, that saw through the AFL’s so-called $100 million offer, believing it much less in actual terms.

‘Relocation is the spindoctors’ term for the death of one club to enable the creation of another.’

Could he have supported the Gold Coast Kangaroos?

‘No. I wouldn’t have had the same emotional attachment.’

‘Footy’s a very important part of my life. If it was taken away from me, I’d be very bitter. It’s been the one constant… the solid pillar in my life.’

While his children haven’t followed in the family tradition, John has his grandsons on board and they regularly accompany him to games. This season he expects big things from North Melbourne.

‘We’ve got to make the Eight and win a final. And build from there.’

And maybe get a bit of attitude back.


  1. I like a good cardboard cut-out sportsman.

    My faves:

    1. Bundy Bear
    2. Allan Border and ? bread
    3. Alfie Langer

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