The sacking of Norm Smith & Interview “Tony Charlton’s Football Show” – Round 13 1965

The thirteenth round of matches for season 2010 commences this weekend with five games, the remaining three fixtures taking place the following weekend. The corresponding round forty five years earlier produced one of the largest controversies to hit our city for quite some time – Norm Smith’s removal as coach of the reigning VFL premier, Melbourne.

Major news stories of July 1965 included Lord Casey becoming only the third Australian born Governor General, Alec Douglas-Home resigning as leader of the Opposition in the UK – Reginald Maudling, Edward Heath & John “Enoch” Powell being named as the contenders for the Conservative Party leadership – Heath would eventually win the ballot, and Lady Chatterley’s lover, Lolita & Borstal Boy were removed by the Federal Government from the list of banned books. Such enlightened times.

However, when Melbourne travelled to City Oval Coburg to take on North Melbourne on July 24, the story that captured the attention of Melburnians was the dismissal of Norman Walter Smith, then in his 14th season as coach of the all conquering Redlegs. During his tenure as coach they had won 6 premierships, the most recent only 10 months earlier when it defeated arch rival Collingwood by 4 points. On the evening of Friday July 23 Smith, who was watching television with his wife Marjorie at their Pascoe Vale home, was informed by a courier delivered letter that his services as senior coach of the Melbourne Football Club were no longer required. The dismissal letter read in part:

“Obviously you don’t intend to honour your word & the committee is not prepared to allow your disrupting tactics to continue, so your appointment is cancelled from this date”

1965 – The first 12 rounds.

Melbourne commenced its premiership defence without its on-field general of the previous decade, Ronald Dale Barassi. Barassi shocked the football community following the 1964 season by leaving the team he had served so magnificently for 204 games to take over as Captain Coach of Carlton. His departure, along with the retirement of six time premiership winner Frank “Bluey” Adams, were huge losses. One highlight of the opening dozen rounds was the senior debut in Round 7 of Stan Alves. Alves would play 7 games that year, and go on to represent the club for a total of 226 games during a marvellous 12 season career with the Demons.

Melbourne started the season well recording victories in its opening 8 games. Looking at the results, one could suggest that apart from the first meeting between the master coach Smith & former charge Barassi in Round 8 which saw a comfortable 37 point win to Smith’s men, its form had been patchy and it was somewhat lucky to be sitting at 8-0. Four of their eight victories had been by a goal or less with another two by the narrow margins of 8 points over North Melbourne in Round 2 and a 14 point win at Kardinia Park in Round 5. Following the win at Princes Park the Demons suffered a dramatic loss of form. Over 72,000 fans filed into the MCG on Queens Birthday Monday to see the Round 9 clash with St Kilda. The Saints doubled Melbourne’s score, winning by 61 points, 18.14 to 9.7. Essendon continued to add to the misery by recording a comfortable 29 point win over the reigning premier in Round 10. A 58 point win over Hawthorn, the eventual wooden spooners in Round 11 temporarily halted the slump, only to be followed by a 6 point loss in Round 12 to Richmond. The Tigers had entered that game with a 6 win, 5 loss record.

The game – North Melbourne v Melbourne – City Oval Coburg, Saturday 24th July 1965

Prior to their journey to Coburg, Melbourne players had been called to a meeting at the MCG. They would be coached that day by club legend Frank “Checker” Hughes whose previous game in charge of the Demons was the Grand Final replay of 1948. This game had ended with the same result as had his last as coach of Richmond in 1932 – with a premiership.

North held a 15 point lead at quarter time 3.3 to 1.0. Melbourne reduced the margin to just 11 points at the major break NM 4.8-Melb 3.3. North’s 5 goals to 2 third quarter put the game beyond the Demons reach, as they took a 33 point lead into the final quarter 9.12 to 5.3. Despite outscoring the Roos 4 goals to 2 in the final term, North would prevail 11.15-81 to 9.6-60. It was the Kanga’s first win against Melbourne since May 9 1953, the Demons 20 game winning streak against the Roos beginning on 1 August 1953 (Rd14). Noel Teasdale was at his (retrospective) Brownlow best with a 20 kick BOG performance. Brian Dixon was the best for the visitors with 26 touches. Frank Goode would notch 5 goals for the winners and was well supported by Mick Dowdle’s three majors. John Townsend & Barry Vagg (father of champion baseballer Richard) were the major goalkickers for the losers with two each. Of the 20 who represented the MFC at Coburg that day, 14 had been members of the team that won Melbourne their 12th flag the previous September.

The fallout – Interview “Tony Charlton’s Football Show” GTV 9 – 12.00 noon Sunday July 25 1965

Norm Smith, as did most coaches/players of his era, appeared regularly on the many football panel programs that saturated weekend television in Melbourne at the time. His appearance and subsequent interview on Tony Charlton’s eponymous television show remains incredibly dramatic television. Whilst the production values were basic (smoking was obviously encouraged amongst the members of the panel – how else could you explain the maverick plumes of smoke appearing frequently during the program) this 60 minute sports chat show proves good television is not reliant on pretty faces, vapid narcissistic talking heads or any amount of computer generated “whizzbangery”.

In his introduction Charlton described Norm Smith’s great qualities- his drive, enthusiasm, an outstanding personality, a friend who was always great company. Charlton asked Smith were he believed the problems between coach & committee commenced. Smith said he thought the problems started two years earlier when he felt he received no support from the committee in a legal problem stemming from a comment he made during the 1963 season about field umpire Don Blew. Smith called Blew “a cheat”. Blew sought legal remedy, and Smith believed he received no support from the committee during his legal battle. Smith said his support of Ron Barassi’s move to Carlton “added fuel to the fire”.

Smith spoke of the simmering tensions at Melbourne that came to a head earlier that week when he was ordered to appear before the committee on Wednesday night (July 21). Smith said he thought he was to be sacked at that meeting. He told the committee that it was his intention to resign as coach at the end of the current season. At the meeting Smith undertook to (1) refrain from speaking against the committee, (2) Co-operate to the fullest extent with other members of the match committee and (3) Inform the players of his full support of the committee. Smith asked Jim Cardwell, secretary of the MFC, to type the minutes of the meeting and provide him with a copy of them as soon as possible.

On Thursday night (July 22) Smith and his players were asked to attend a short meeting. Smith believed the briefing was to update the players on the best way to get to the Coburg for Saturdays game, and a quick update on the end-of-season players trip. At the end of the meeting Smith was asked if he “had anything to add”. Smith said he didn’t have anything to say. After the players filed out of the room Smith was asked why he hadn’t taken the opportunity to inform the players of his full support of the committee at that time. Smith said he wasn’t aware that what was meant when asked if he wanted to say anything.

Charlton asked Smith what his first reaction was when he received the letter on Friday evening.  “Shocked” was his reply. He said he considered resigning immediately after the Wednesday night meeting but after a heart-to-heart talk with his brother Len, who at the time had stood down as coach of Richmond due to illness, was talked out of it. When Charlton posed the question whether he would return to Melbourne as coach, his response was “only if those responsible for his sacking would offer themselves for re-election”. He then added that was highly unlikely they would stand for re-election. Charlton mentioned his brother Lens illness and the fact there would be a vacancy at Richmond at the start of the 1966 season as the caretaker coach Jack Titus has stated he wouldn’t return. No – “I’m Melbourne” was his defiant response. Charlton suggested the option of going interstate – “No I’m Victorian through and through”.

Ray Dunn, the president of Richmond had been interviewed earlier that morning. He was asked if the Tigers would be interested in talking to Smith about taking over as coach the following year. He said the committee hadn’t discussed the coaching role for 1966 as yet. He believed his club had a good relationship with Melbourne, highlighted by the recent move of home games from Punt Road to the MCG, and they didn’t wish to jeopardise the good will between the two teams. He said Richmond were wary of making approaches to people under contract with other clubs.

Other interviews included one with Norm’s brother Len Smith. He too was shocked at what had happened over the previous two days. He thought the allegations against Norm were “false”. He had broached the subject of the Richmond position, but Norm informed him he wasn’t considering it whilst he was coaching Melbourne. Three former Melbourne champions Jack Mueller, Fred Fanning & Laurie Mithen had been interviewed the previous evening. They were asked for their opinions of the dismissal of Smith. Responses included “Shocked” “Calamity” & “irreplaceable”. Panel member Brendan Edwards took to the streets asking people their opinions of the dramas of the previous two days, with opinions ranging from “disappointing” and “wrong” to “he should be kept on”.

Later in the program Smith’s former captain, and the man he mentored for all but the previous few months of his football career, Ron Barassi, appeared to offer support to his friend Norm, a man he said was “like a father” to him. Charlton asked him his opinion of what had taken place over the previous 48 hours. Barassi responded that he’d “like to say a few things, but there wasn’t enough time for him to say all he wanted”, and that he “wasn’t happy with the allegations that the committee accused Norm of”. He added that the tremendous amount of success Melbourne had enjoyed in recent years was due to Norm Smith.

The most telling moments of the program involved the appearance and interviews with three of Smith’s senior players, Hassa Mann – his current captain, Brian Kennealy & John Townsend. When you consider the action taken by the committee over the previous two days, the appearance by these players on the program to speak in support of their coach was a brave gesture indeed.  All players reiterated their total support of Smith, with captain Mann stating Smith had spoken in support of his committee, informing the players that whilst he & the selection committee would on occasions disagree on matters of team selection, when the final decision was made they were united. Townsend was asked of the rumour that players had considered not taking the field the previous day at City Oval, which he said wasn’t true, and all players wanted to play the day before.

The aftermath

Amazingly Smith was re-instated the day after a meeting between the committee & players, held on Tuesday night (27/7). It was suggested in some press reports earlier that day that players would be asked to pledge their full support to the committee at the meeting and that those who chose not to would be offered an open clearance. This was not the case.

An interesting article appeared the following day, Wednesday 28 July, in the Melbourne Herald penned by their leading football writer Alf Brown. Brown reported that County Court judge Trevor Rapke and barrister A Gillespie Jones were the men responsible for the reconciliation between the club and its estranged coach. Rapke had managed to talk Smith into a more conciliatory frame of mind. The meeting took place in Rapke’s chambers which, according to Brown, were located immediately above the dock in which Ned Kelly had been sentenced to hang by Redmond Barry nearly 85 years earlier. Gallows humour indeed!

Smith would return to coach Melbourne for the remainder of the 1965 season, a hard fought 2 point victory against a struggling Fitzroy at the MCG in Round 14 being the only win the Demons would register in their remaining five games. It finished the season with a 10 win 8 loss, eighth place record. It was the first time since the 1953 season that the Demons would take no part in finals action. He would remain coach of the MFC for the following two seasons, finishing eleventh in 1966 with a 3-15 record, improving marginally to 8-10 in 1967 for a seventh place finish in his finale as coach of the Redlegs. Smith would take over the coaching reigns at the Lake Oval at the start of the 1969 season, leading South Melbourne to their first finals appearance in 25 years the following season. A wooden spoon would be the Bloods prize in 1971 and Smith’s 3 club, 23 year coaching career would end with a disappointing 11th place finish in 1972. Sadly Norm Smith would die the following year of a heart attack. He was 59 years of age.

A Big Thank You

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Mr Angelo Cristoforo for providing me with the DVD of “Tony Charlton’s Football Show” – it’s much appreciated mate, any time you come across gems like this don’t be shy in passing them on to me

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Michael, that’s brilliant.

    Would it be possible to do a sport’s show like that in today’s age of spin?

    Have the Dees ever really recovered from this period?

  2. Mic Rees says:

    John #1

    Many thanx John.

    Not a chance. The panel knew what they were talking about. Wouldn’t wash the Fox Sport exec’s in Sydney.

    Whilst the Northey coached teams from the late 80’s- early 90’s had some pretty handy players (Flower, Wilson, Lyon, Stynes), and Danihers team in 2000 made the big one, it would be almost impossible for any team to replicate that run they had under the current conditions (cap/draft).

  3. Damian Watson says:

    Great work Michael,

    Whenever I see vision of that interview I am struck by Smith’s facial expressions, it was clear he was understandably shattered by the decision and he conveyed those feelings on the panel show.

    It was probably the most deplorable sacking in Australian Sporting history.

  4. Mic Rees says:

    Damian #3

    Many thanx.

    Hard to believe but Smith was only 49 when that interview took place – he looks an old man in his 60’s

    Rale Rasic’s sacking after the 74 WC was pretty ordinary. Not sure what was expected of him at the finals.Perhaps the ASF thought we should’ve knocked over E & W Germany

  5. pauldaffey says:

    That’s riveting, Mic.

    I heard Tim Lane say on radio the other day that he believes the 1958 grand final is the biggest story in footy history.

    This one wouldn’t be far behind, especially as it took Melbourne 20 years to recover from it.

  6. Mic – interesting read. I’ve always felt there was more to that story than meets the eye, though I was far too young to remember it actually taking place. Was it really just politics and egos totally out of control?

  7. Martin Reeves says:

    Thorough, as always Mic.

    Football chat shows of today could do with maverick plumes of smoke for effect.

    Was surprised to note Borstal Boy was written so long ago.

  8. Andrew Fithall says:

    A good read Mic. It is somewhat surprising given the lack of premierships since that date, that there has not been a name given to the situation – something equivalent to “the curse of the bambino”. It is eluding me. Perhaps because the names “Norm” and “Smith” fail to inspire. Any ideas anyone?

  9. John Butler says:

    #8

    The Fox’s Bite? Red’s Revenge?

  10. pauldaffey says:

    Mic,

    By the way, the term “maverick plumes of smoke” is inspired.

    It certainly places the event in a previous era.

  11. pauldaffey says:

    Marty,

    Brendan Behan, the author of Borstal Boy, died the year before the Norm Smith scandal. He wrote the book very early in his career.

    I love the words of Behan’s long-suffering wife Constance at his death bed. “We had our two days.”

    I can highly recommend Ulick O’Connor’s biography of Behan.

  12. Martin Reeves says:

    Cheers Daff, I might revisit Behan via the bio you mention.

    For further reference, there is also Shane McGowan’s tribute to Behan, ‘Streams of Whiskey’, and Paul Kelly’s ‘Laughing Boy’, masterfully covered by Weddings Parties Anything.

    I’ll never forgive Ross Lyon for removing the jukebox from the Lord Newry Hotel.

  13. pauldaffey says:

    agreed, one of the great juke boxes.

    in fact the best.

  14. Dave Nadel says:

    Great article Mic. I don’t think I have ever seen the Charlton interview although I remember reading summaries of it in the papers next day.

    #8, #9, I think the curse of Ingratitude will do. Norm Smith’s coaching record was second only to Jock McHale’s and he established it in less than half the time. What sort of moronic committee thinks that they are more important than a coach like that? The curse of the Bambino lasted 86 years, so the Dees may have a few years more to wait before the ghost of Norm Smith forgives them.

    #11, #12 Borstal Boy tells the story of Brendan Behan’s experiences between 1939 and 1941. The book wasn’t actually published until 1958. As Mic says, it was taken off the banned list in 1965, which was the year I read it. (I had already read Lady Chatterly’s Lover in 1963. It was still banned at that point but my 70 year old Grandmother had brought it back from overseas. It was possible that she didn’t realise that it was banned in Australia.)

  15. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    I always recall the Melbourne FC secretary Jim Cardwell telling the audience at a Kyabram junior footy presentation function in the 60s that the reason the Demons had been so successful was because of morale – clearly they lost that with the sacking of Norm Smith.

    I reckon Norm Smith should have been the Swans Coach of the Century. The team that he got into the finals in 1970 was very ordinary, but they were inspired by Norm Smith.

    You often hear Melbourne players that played under Smith speak of his profound influence on them as people. I have heard Bob Skilton and Rick Quade make similar comments.

  16. smokie88 says:

    A riveting read, Michael.
    I reckon I read an article last year (by M Flanagan possibly?) which implied that many Melbourne people think the club is yet to recover from those tumultuous events.

    #11 & #12 There is a line in a Pogues song called “Thousands are sailing” which never fails to move me, a wistful tune about lonely Irish immigrants: “…And in Brendan Behan’s footsteps, I danced up and down the street..”

  17. Mic Rees says:

    Dips #6 – Not sure Norm’s “State school” education (he makes reference to this in I/V)sat well with some.

    Martin #7 Paul #11 & Dave #14 – I must acquiant myself with Mr Behans work. I do remember Brendan Behan who played in the ruck for Port Melb in the 70’s – I’m a philistine!

    Andrew #8 – Chicago Cubs still have the “Curse of the Billy Goat” from 1945 and “Bartman’s Curse” from 2003. Actually they’re not cursed, they suck

    Paul #10 – Maverick plumes of smoke – also appeared in closing credits of Antony Quayles “Evil Touch”

    Rod #15 – 1970 – great year for South. Massive QB Monday win against Pies at Lake Oval, Stevie Hoffman kicked the winner

    Smokie 88 #16 – Maybe this squad can right the ship

  18. pauldaffey says:

    Mic,

    #10 always claim such brilliance as your own. Who did Antony Quayle play for, anyway?

  19. Mic Rees says:

    Paul #18

    His bio says he was born in Southport. Southport lost their League status in the late 70’s – replaced in the league by either the original Wimbledon (Plough Lane)or Wigan Athletic

  20. Mic

    For those who haven’t seen the DVD (and I have) Mic has given a brilliant account of how this travesty of justice unfolded. Puts to shame some of the so – called “sports journalists” in this country (many of whom wouldn’t even know the story let alone Smith)

    As for Brendan Behan – another in the long line of great Irish writers. I remember seeing the Pogues in Dublin and Shane MacGowan trying to explain how he was influenced by him – surprisingly MacGowan was drunk

  21. Mic Rees says:

    Shano #20

    Many thanx for your kind words. Cheques in the mail.

  22. cow shed end says:

    In the words of the chaps in the smokers stand “Well done young Rees!”

  23. Martin,
    While on the subject of Weddings Parties Anything, I saw them sing a song once that I have not been able to find – seemed to be about violence and football and there was a theme of “black and white…there’ll be a hot time in the old hotel tonight” (or some such), mentions of Carringbush. Does this ring any bells with you and if so any directions to the piece? Just assuming you’re better versed than I! I’m interested in getting to the bottom of it.
    Cheers
    Bill

  24. Martin Reeves says:

    Bill – ‘Under the Clocks’ could be the song you are looking for? Available on iTunes no doubt.

    Hey, hey, I see a Melbourne girl on a rusty Malvern Star,
    Through the spastic Northcote streets at dawn
    See the way her hair’s tied back,
    Her cheeks so red, a grey coat ragged and worn.
    Picture this, a paper boy,
    He stands outside a Collingwood hotel
    On his back black and white,
    He hums a tune I’ve learnt to hate so well.
    But oh oh, won’t you meet me
    Under the clocks, we’ll go walking by the river
    Through the mud and through the slime
    Are you so surprised,
    That I am here, full of cheer
    In this fair city, in the Winter time.
    Well I’ll tell you what, it’s such a lark,
    We’ll take a walk down Fawkner Park
    And check the health fanatics,
    See them, they go jogging there.
    Could buy some chips, a piece of flake,
    Drive down and eat them by the lake,
    I know a shop in Chapel Street
    Where nothing could compare.
    But oh oh, won’t you meet me
    Under the clocks, we’ll go walking by the river
    Through the mud and through the slime
    Are you so surprised,
    That I am here, full fo cheer
    In this fair city, in the Winter time.
    We could find a pub where it is warm,
    Study up our racing form,
    Hit the TAB, we’ll blow our money there, tell me this –
    Is there anywhere you’d rather be
    Than with me at the MCG,
    And if the Saints get done again,
    By Christ, I couldn’t care.
    But oh oh, won’t you meet me
    Under the clocks, we’ll go walking by the river
    Through the mud and through the slime
    Are you so surprised,
    That I am here, full of cheer
    In this fair city, in the Winter time.
    In the Winter time, in the Winter time
    In the Winter time, brrr!

  25. smokie88 says:

    Billy / Martin,
    As a Weddos fan from way back….the song you are looking for is a track called
    “Tough Time (in the old town tonight)” From memory, it is about a Collingwood
    supporter who comes home from the footy (having watched his team lose), the
    kids are frightened, and the wife cops some abuse. The lyrics mention Viccy Park
    and the pubs in Johnson St.
    Cheers
    Smokie.

  26. Martin Reeves says:

    Cheers Smokie, I stand corrected.

  27. Brendan Joyce says:

    This was one of the greatest Coaches if not the greatest coaches in any sport.
    It was a disgrace that someone that did so much for a cub for so long a period had his character questioned and assinated. This was a decision obviously made by a group of imbeciles and a jealous and treacherous bunch.
    Unfortunately their have been and will continue to be many successful coaches that will be knifed for various and manipulated reasons.
    There might be some time of curse that is hanging over the club because of the way this great man was treated.
    I think he has been the greatest ever Australian Football Coach!!!
    I would have loved to have met him.

  28. Barny/Josh's dad says:

    Norm Smith was a guest speaker at a mens night at the Waaia RSL back in the mid 1960;s and he came back to the Waaia pub the next day. I was 15 and my father took me there to meet him. We among others were there most of the day listening to his stories while he enjoyed many ales. Another young guy was there that day and it turned out it was Francis Bourke who was to travel back to Melbourne with Norm for pre-season training with Richmond. I met Francis a few years ago and reminded him of that day, he said Norm ran out of petrol near Craigiburne and they had to walk for ages to get some petrol. Norm Smith encouraged me to play football for the friendships I would make out of it.

  29. John Butler says:

    Good to hear from you Barney

    A great little story.

    Francis Bourke ran the newsagents just down from my parents’ business years ago.

    Seemed like such an unassuming bloke compared to on the field.

    Cheers

  30. Harry Watts says:

    A great read Mic and the varied responses bring back many terrific memories. I was lucky enough to meet Norm Smith (and Ronald Dale) on the night of the 1964 Grand Final. A mate (and teammate) of mine at the time Kenny O’Connor (from South Bendigo) was being wooed by Melbourne and they invited him and a mate to be their guests for the day – luckily for me Kenny asked me along.
    I can vividly remember Norm and Ron shaking our hands – Norm of course was elated about winning another premiership but took the time to talk to us and showed a genuine interest in both of us. However I remember saying to Kenny later that I thought Barassi seemed a little bit down considering he had just captained a premiership team – I was later to read somewhere that he said that he felt a bit deflated after the game because he hadn’t played well – I wonder that it may have been because he knew it was the last game he would play with the Redlegs!
    Thanks again Mic for a great article which has triggered some terrific responses.
    A footnote for John Butler: Francis Bourke owned the Canterbury Newsagency and was certainly an unassuming bloke – most of the time he delivered the papers to his customers himself – and always on time!

  31. Harry – That’s a great story, getting to meet RDB & Smith hours after their last triumph together. Thanks for your kind words.

    Harry/John – Any chance of talking St Francis into purchasing our local newsagency ? Our current one has a very poor strike rate in delivering on time.

    MCR

  32. Skip of Skipton says:

    There is still the Norm Smith Medal to celebrate this great man of our game. Fittingly the inaugrual editon in 1979 was presented by his Wife to his Great-Nephew Wayne Harmes.

    That club certainly failed to appreciate and capitialise on Norm’s legacy. Who are they? walking the desert for the last 45 years like some lost tribe of Israel? Where is their home? The Junction Oval when the cricketers don’t require it? Some soulless paddocks near Philip Island in the summer? An office at the new soccer/rugby ground? Where are their 12 premiership cups on display along with #31 guernseys and the like? They have been a facsimile for a long time.

  33. Timelord says:

    Hopefully the writer will see this, and if not someone else who knows can answer this one…..

    What ultimately happened to Don Blew’s lawsuit?

  34. John Marsicovetere says:

    As a long time Melbourne supporter i am always interested in moments that altered the clubs history. Your article Mic Rees, provides a great insight into one of the most dramatic events in VFL/AFL history. Because of the small amount of video available very little is known about the events leading up to and following the Smith sacking. I remember watching the Tony Charlton football show and vaguely remember some of the panelists – ken hands, super kick – and segments.

    cheers!!

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