A one-sided rivalry

By Daniel O’Sullivan

Question: Can a fierce rivalry still be considered a fierce rivalry if one half of the fierce rivalry is blissfully unaware of its existence?

This sounds like it could be one of those “if a tree falls in the forest” questions with no definitive answer asked by men sporting turtle neck sweaters and questionable facial hair. And it would be just that if the answer wasn’t so obviously a “no”.

This is a hell of a shame for the hoards dozens of North Melbourne supporters that will be squeezed in amongst the red and black army at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night, because in the build up to Round One it seems us Kangaroo fans have been busy partaking in a passionate hate-affair with a partner that couldn’t even be arsed remembering our names in the morning.  As far as a relationship based on mutual hatred goes, this one is bloody unsatisfactory.

The main problem seems to be that Essendon is a powerful club that is so busy cultivating hatred with almost every other team in the competition it can hardly be expected to keep track of every single grievance. It would be an impossible task, like Kyle Sandilands attempting to sift through every single item of hate mail.
Firstly, there are the marquee match-ups against traditional foes such as Carlton, Collingwood and Richmond to worry about. Then there’s the recently re-invigorated dislike of the Hawks. And after their decision to charter a private plane for a 20-minute flight they can count the entire town of Wangaratta against them as well. There’s probably a bowls club or two thrown in there for good measure.
With Dons fans so preoccupied with this endless parade of grudge matches they can be forgiven for being genuinely surprised by the intensity at North games. The reaction is usually a bemused “Wow you guys are really pumped about this game hey? Weird”, it’s almost as though they’ve just noticed a new flavour of chocolate milk in the fridge, “wow, Big M brought back Honeycomb flavour hey? Weird”.

Sure guys, I understand its hardly Celtic-Rangers, India-Pakistan or Bret “the Hitman” Hart-Shawn Michaels, but our rivalry at least has some legs. Our distrust can be traced back to your mob first blocking North Melbourne’s admission into the VFL in 1897 – a few years before Honeycomb-flavoured milk was even on the radar.
When we did finally get accepted into the VFL we grew up alongside each other, don’t you remember? Sure, you enjoyed most of the success and made most of the money, nevertheless we continued to toil away nearby. You must have seen us, we’re just past Flemington, beyond the commission flats. If you squinted hard enough on a clear day  I’m positive you could have seen us giving you the finger.
Surely you remember our titanic battles under lights at the ‘G in the nineties? The Marshmallow game? You stealing Derek Kickett from us after one season, just so you could not play him in the 1993 Grand Final? And what about the second half of that game in 2001 when you came back from 69 points down to win? You must remember that one? It’s been described as one of the greatest home and away games of all time. Not ringing any bells? Shit, I would rather sit through a marathon of The Circle in the company of Joseph Kony if it meant never having to watch that game again, but Jesus Christ, I still remember it like it was yesterday!


Alas, to Bomber fans who are more concerned with ANZAC Day epics and stopping Buddy Franklin, we barely merit a second thought and arguing the fact is as pointless as screaming swear words at a computer.


Yet even despite all the indifference, the scheduling of an Essendon v North Melbourne game in Round One remains a masterstroke by the AFL.  There’s a rivalry there, North fans know it. And Bomber fans will come to understand it. Sometimes all it takes is a little push in the right direction. A gentle reminder of days gone by to jog the memory. And I reckon that subtle nudge will happen just after 7.40pm on Saturday night. Alas, to Bomber fans who are more concerned with ANZAC Day epics and stopping Buddy Franklin, we barely merit a second thought and arguing the fact is as pointless as screaming swear words at a computer.
So when the big boys begin to circle each other and the siren sounds and there’s the niggle and the pinch and the scrag and the subtle beginnings of a game-breaking Kangaroo run-on, Dons fans will hopefully experience a sudden flashback to a time before “the flood” and “the press” and “the cluster”, when footy was just played on a paddock. Pagan’s Paddock. And the memory of all that wide open space will send a chill down the spine of Essendon fans like they were a pack of pant-wetting agoraphobes. Because out in those wide open spaces is where a colossus named Carey fed on the carcass of Dean Wallis in the name of entertainment. Only then, when those forgotten Friday nights come crashing back like a Mick Martyn fist to the jaw, will the realisation come that given half a chance we are a bunch of Shinboners you Essendon bastards will absolutely love to hate.



  1. Michael Parker says

    Hart V Michaels was one intense rivalry!

Leave a Comment