Almanac (Footy) Book: A copy of Peter Lalor’s ‘Ron Barassi’



I picked up a copy of Barassi by Peter Lalor. The volunteer at the local op shop cheerfully told he how she liked Barassi because he once left her a tip when she was a housekeeper at the Holbrook Motel, when Barassi was staying en route to Sydney. But she also didn’t like him because he started the ‘handball’. I assumed she meant that she liked Barassi – the humble, generous man, but not the overuse of handball in our game (incidentally Barassi denies that it all started in the second half of the 1970 Grand Final. He reckons Len Smith the Fitzroy coach actually invented the handball in the 60s.)


To say Barassi had a competitive streak in him is like saying ultra-marathon runner Cliffy Young had a bit of stamina. Barassi and EJJ could each lay claim to the title Mr Football (at least in the VFL). But who would dispute that Barasi is the more significant figure, with that famous statue and imaginary line named after him? Barassi was a lot like his fellow Italian David Campese; everyone, no matter what code they followed, knew of the Union player’s deeds. The image of Barassi gritting his teeth and executing a kick under physical pressure is as easily identifiable as the famous Campese goosestep.


His father, a Melbourne player, died fighting in WWII at just 27, when young Ron was just five years old. From then on, the Melbourne Football Club became indebted to Ron Senior’s widow and her boy.


Ron boarded with legendary coach Norm Smith and inherited his late father’s number 31. It’s a cliché, but he had red and blue running through his veins. The father-son rule was even invented so the Castlemaine-born Barassi was tied to Melborne. Perhaps to allay any perceptions of favouritism, Smith was especially critical of young Ron, a trait that he, in turn, inherited in dealing with gifted players like Keith Greig, Brent Crosswell (who he coached at Carlton, North Melbourne and Melbourne) and the sublimely talented Robbie Flower at Melbourne. The mercurial Malcolm Blight was another of his whipping boys; once being dragged for executing a check side goal instead of following team rules and centring the ball.


Barassi the player was tough, dynamic and a team-lifter. If Norm Smith Medals were awarded when Barassi played, then he may have won three. Barassi was not the most skilled player, but he made up for it with sheer determination to be the best.


Barassi actually changed the game as a player before becoming an innovative coach. He was a bull-at-a-gate type with good endurance – an asset to any team. But where was his position? The opposition then had a following division of two genuine ruckmen and a rover. The second ruckman took a few hit outs, but the 5 foot 10 Barassi developed the role and became a rucking rover, eventually shortened to “ruck rover”.


Barassi’s defection to Carlton was like nothing before it. Loyalty was dead. It was extraordinary. The modern-day equivalent would be Dusty defecting to Collingwood and replacing Bucks as playing coach, and even that is stretching it.


Barassi the coach was demanding, driven and a perfectionist (“perfect practice makes perfect” was his favourite motto). Barassi’s coaching record was mixed, with two flags at both Carlton and North, a barren five years at his spiritual home at Melbourne, and no finals action at Sydney (although he was see as  a code ambassador in the Harbor City, not the messiah, and the Swans rose up the ladder shortly after suggesting the Barassi influence was felt).


The legacy of Ron Barassi is still very much alive. He still follows the Dees and meets up with old teammates. His opinions are as strong as ever and the combative spirit was on display one New Years’ Eve in St Kilda, as written by Martin Flanagan in The Age. It sums up Barassi’s toughness the best.


‘Barassi’s memory of the incident on New Year’s Eve is that a man attacked a woman who fell into his wife as they were eating at an outdoor cafe. He chased the man and pulled him down. A number of other men then set upon him. He thinks he was lucky they were wearing soft shoes. If they’d been wearing hard boots, he would have been in trouble. He says he’s over it now physically and scoffs at the suggestion the blows took something out of him.’


Barassi The Braveheart, Martin Flanagan The Age




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  1. RDB is one of my footy heroes, Dan.
    Along with Tiger Crosswell.

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