AFL Round 8 – Richmond v Melbourne: The Curse of Norm Smith

By Robert Pascoe

Baseball’s Curse of the Bambino dogged the Boston Red Sox from their sale of Babe Ruth in 1918 until the curse was finally lifted in 2004, 86 years later. Although some Hawthorn supporters mutter darkly about the Kennett Curse, there is really one lasting curse in Australian Football, the Curse of Norm Smith. Nicknamed the Red Fox, he had guided Melbourne to six flags in the 1950s and early 1960s, but was then unceremoniously sacked by the club hierarchy for reasons that have never really been revealed.

At the time of his dumping in 1965, the Red Fox gave an interview in which he explained what happened. For those too young to remember him, conveniently enough it can be seen on Youtube. Smith looked grimly at the camera, and then at Tony Charlton, the interviewer. (It was to become one of Charlton’s most famous interviews.) ‘I think when the Committee failed to support me, or give me the support I wanted…’, was how Smith explained his untimely departure.

‘There’s a ready-made vacancy for you at Richmond…’, suggested Tony Charlton, always the peacemaker. (Smith’s famous brother Len was ceding that role…) The Red Fox gave his famous reply, ‘I’m Melbourne. I am Melbourne; I am Melbourne through and through.’

Richmond has gone on to great things since 1965, with premierships in 1967, 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1980; Melbourne has slumped, with only two embarrassing grand final losses since (1988, 2000).

When will Melbourne break the Curse of Norm Smith? There were some signs in today’s match against Richmond, the club where Norm Smith might have gone. Richmond went into the contest very hot favourites, $1.01 to Melbourne’s $17. It does not get hotter than that.

Richmond’s win came from players who represented the diversity of post-war Melbourne, especially Brandon Ellis, from West Coburg, and the new boy from Eltham, Nick Vlastuin, who showed run and poise. They were joined in Richmond’s best players from Bachar Houli, flying the Muslim flag.

But the Melbourne back-line stood firm, with good performances from the usual suspects, such as Colin Garland and James Frawley. The Richmond forwards got their goals only from trick-shots, rarely from set shots on goal, and their lopsided number of behinds reflected a defence that made goal-scoring tough.

This was a more determined Melbourne outfit than their fans had seen in recent weeks. They out-tackled Richmond and protected their space with more efficiency than had been evident in the earlier matches of the 2013 season.

There were honest workers of whom Norm Smith would have been proud, notably Dean Terlich, Nathan Jones, Matt Jones, and Michael Evans on the wing.

Melbourne won the first quarter, with precise kicking by Dunn and Dawes. During the week the Melbourne coach, Mark Neeld, had Aaron Davey and some of his clan around for a home-cooked meal, echoing the relationship between Norm Smith and Ron Barassi. Davey sparkled in the second quarter with his three goals. But there came a turning point 20 minutes into the second quarter. Davey unselfishly passed in the goal mouth to Neville Jetta, who could not get a clean grab of the ball because teammate Jeremy Howe had enthusiastically got in the way. The ball spilled free, was taken by Trent Cotchin, who passed it to Jake Batchelor, running off hard-back, who spotted up Nick Vlastuin, who in was tackled vigorously by Terlich and accepted a 50-metre penalty to kick his first and only goal.

Minutes later the siren sounded and a melee ensued. This was a new Melbourne, tougher than ever.

Even the third quarter did not see Richmond utterly dominant. The sides traded goals and only a Jack Riewoldt goal just as the quarter ended out his team well ahead.

Midway through the final stanza Jake King put a wonderful shepherd on James Magner and gave the Melbourne boys a valuable lesson in forward pressure.

There was a lot to like in the Melbourne effort. Will the Curse of Norm Smith be lifted one day soon?

Richmond            2.4          7.9          12.14     15.16 (106)

Melbourne         3.0          7.2          10.4        11.16 (72)

Richmond goals: Martin 3, Riewoldt 3, King 2, Deledio, Ellis, White, Vlastuin, Nahas, Morris, Chaplin

Richmond best: Ellis, Vlastuin, Deledio, Riewoldt, Martin, Grigg, Houli

Melbourne goals: Davey 3, Dawes 3, Dunn 2, Nicholson, Howe, Evans, Bail

Melbourne best: Dawes, Davey, N.Jones, M.Jones, Magner, Terlich, Evans

Umpires: McBurney, Hosking, Foot

Crowd: 39,148

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