Balcony Banter: Ghosts of the Game

It starts with a slow realisation that it’s quiet here, even though there’s a crowd.


Our game is in a different world right now, and when there’s only 19,414 present to see Melbourne take on and win against Essendon, it is almost like a jolt back to many seasons past.


Melbourne and Essendon; two of the originals, two of the essentially suburban sides, once were neighbours – when Essendon called the East Melbourne Cricket Ground home – fierce adversaries, compatriots in the competition.


Memories of games past emerge whenever you think of the red and the blue taking on the red and the black. Most recently momentous, of course, is the 2000 Grand Final, with Melbourne coached by an Essendon great in Neale Daniher, and a sell out of red balloons and streamers for that one day in September.


Melbourne at the MCG against Essendon; it’s a muddy Grand Final day in 1948, before one captain says to the other that they won’t meet again that season, and the other chuckles ‘unless it’s a draw!’ A draw it is, and a win to Melbourne on replay the following week. The first week, 86,198 see Don Cordner’s Melbourne draw with Dick Reynolds’ Essendon. The second week, it’s 52,226 in attendance as the Demons triumph by 39 points.


Other encounters on that one day in September draw the focus of the football world, with special features marking their passing. Wartime is the backdrop for some, with Melbourne’s triple in 1939, 1940 and 1941 sealed by a 29-point victory over the red and black in 1941. It’s the last game at the ground until resumption in 1946. Just like the years have folded in on themselves, Melbourne meets Essendon in the 1946 Grand Final, but this time with a different result, as Essendon romps home by 63 points.


But there’s more to come, as the stories layer on themselves, year after year, season after season, here at the MCG. In 1959, John Beckwith holds the first premiership cup, still shiny and still waiting for its ultimate home. Soon, it would signal Melbourne’s redemption after the horror of loss to Collingwood in 1958. Redemption and another flag against Essendon, following up on victory in 1957, when Melbourne led all the way to a 61-point thumping, highlighted by five goals to Barassi and four to Ridley. There were 100,324 here that day.


Some of the spectators of then are surely still set for the next brilliant encounter; the next glorious era. They will have seen good times and bad, gathered memories of what was, and wondered what will be next. Right now, we all wonder that. But, when we look back, we can recall some amazing episodes. Troy Broadbridge’s last game was against Essendon, we remember with heavy hearts. It was the 2004 Elimination Final, when the Bombers took charge after quarter time, and eventually held on by just five points. The next season started against Essendon with silence and remembrance, and ended with Melbourne winning by 46 points.


It’s what the game does, and it’s what it does best at the MCG, after all. It takes sorrow and celebration, silence and uproar, and sits them side by side. It’s ghosts of the early 1900s, small crowds reminiscent of the 1920s, life in the round. It’s that uncanny comparison that shows that in Round 15, 1922 – so exactly 99 years ago since the round just gone – Melbourne played Essendon at the MCG. There were just 19,206 in attendance on that late August Saturday, and only Edgar Dunbar, House and Tulloh kicked a goal for the home side, in what dribbled out to a low scoring 16 point loss.


The attendance may be a faint echo of what is happening now, but the circumstances are an interesting contrast. Melbourne of 1922 was a team and a club in recovery from wartime decimation. Melbourne of 2021 is a team at the top of the ladder, with its best start since 1964. The ghosts of 1922 would no doubt delight in what is happening now, from last round’s 11-point win over the Bombers to the upcoming encounter with Greater Western Sydney.


After all, no matter what season, no matter what the result, these are the times to remember. The ghosts of the game are ever present, whether it be ten or fifty seasons removed from our experience.


Read more from The Balcony Banter Here


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