General Footy Writing: Durable Simmo gave everything for the Roos

By Mark Wallace

The first moment I can clearly recall of Adam Simpson was in the final minute of the 1996 Grand Final. Wearing the No.37 guernsey, Simmo swooped on a loose ball and kicked around his body on his non-preferred right boot from 45m for a goal which put the Kangaroos six goals up.

North had well and truly won the game and the Centenary Premiership by this stage and this was a time for celebration. The first teammate to rush to the youngster and hug him gleefully was Darren Crocker, the man who would coach him in his 306th and final match as a champion of the North Melbourne Football Club.
No more than 30 seconds later in that ’96 finale the ball was propelled back towards the North goalsquare and landed in the arms of the Williamstown fisherman, Ian Fairley, who went back and put the final stamp on a famous victory by kicking truly from 15m out for the last score of the match. This was Fairley’s last game and the perfect end to a solid and proud career in the blue and white.

Unfortunately many sporting heroes don’t get the fairytale ending afforded to Fairley, and Adam Simpson’s last moments in the AFL fall into that category. With a dodgy calf and a team in the doldrums, Simpson had chosen the big stage of Friday night football against a finals-bound Carlton to say his goodbyes, hoping against hope that the young team around him could muster a fitting send-off .

As history now shows, this wasn’t to be, as a mixture of errant goalkicking and inexperience from his teammates conspired against him in a 10-point loss.

But if ever the new breed representing his beloved North Melbourne want to search somewhere for inspiration, they could do worse than turn to their former captain’s decorated career and look at what he has achieved over 15 seasons with his underrated, though less-than-elite, skills.

And that’s not to denigrate the great man in the slightest. He wasn’t in the Buckley, Judd or Hird category when it came to silky ball-delivery, and that was often held against him when it came to judging the great midfielders of his era, but it must be noted that he had an exceptional leap that was used to full effect in the role he pioneered as the third man up in ruck contests and he regularly out-marked opponents well in excess of his own 185cm in height.

He was also a remarkably reliable shot for goal, despite his reputation for mongrel left foot floaters, and North supporters were always pretty comfortable seeing the ball in his hands when a crucial moment in a game presented itself. His in-and-under work, creative use of handball, vision and tireless running was second-to-none.

But what set Simpson apart was his fierce desire for victory, his extraordinary durability (he missed only six games from his debut in 1995), a determination to never be beaten and, above all, the love of his jumper, his club and his teammates.

It’s these qualities that define his wonderful career more so than individual highlights. But if Simpson’s goal in the dying minutes of the ’96 Grand Final provided a memorable moment at the beginning of his journey, it was an incident in his final year that will live longer in my mind than any other.

It was Round 11 and North were up against an unbeaten St Kilda. Simpson was brought down while trying to run the ball out of defence and the ball spilt to the Saints’ Jason Gram, who turned towards goal. Simpson, still on the ground, threw himself over Gram’s boot and effected a remarkable smother, saving a certain goal. It was an effort that encapsulated the essence of the man and his selfless attitude towards his own safety and his dedication to the cause.

I don’t know what happened to Ian Fairley post-AFL. I like to imagine he’s lazily lounging back in a nice little runabout somewhere in Port Phillip Bay with his mates, beer in hand, fishing for King George Whiting and telling tall tales about his “premiership-winning 60m bomb” .

I can’t imagine such follies would appeal to Adam Simpson — not just yet, anyway. He is intent on a coaching career and you get the feeling that his story has some chapters yet to be written.

North Melbourne’s next premiership coach? Stranger things have happened.


  1. Great read Wally

  2. Thanks KN – Much appreciated.

Leave a Comment