Lunch with Ian Morrison

Never meet your heroes

Dogs’ fans seek no solace, require no comfort and gnash not false molars after a loss. There’s no shattered sense of entitlement  – because there is no trophy room adorned with the spoils of campaigns past leering over our shoulder like an expectant parent. No, we turn boldly, heads held high and impervious to the taunts – for the Dogs’ fan is the perennial whipping boy of the office tipping comp, he’s the lad who gets the jibes from the coach when he turns up to training in his team colours and she’s the lady who must quietly endure the loud “personal” discussions on the tram.

But when we serve revenge, expect the unexpected. My form of revenge is warm and comfortable – served over a beautiful meal in a lovely pub. It is here that I choose to bestow upon my friends insights into the minds of great Bulldogs past while dining and drinking red wine.

And so it was again this year that the assembled neighbors and friends were gathered in the back room of the North Fitzroy Arms around the extensive table listening to another old Dog regale them with tales of great times at the kennel.

Its not an inauspicious crowd – both in terms of the assembled guests and invited speakers: indeed the great John Shultz (Brownlow medalist, Hall of Famer) told us of battles with Polly Farmer while we mixed Hungarian Goulash (now off the menu – a mistake) with Coonawarra Shiraz one year and this year we were blessed with the company of none other than Ian “Morro” Morrison – and blessed we were.

Our annual trip to Melbourne allows us to take time to enjoy one another’s company. Its not a rushed barby or a night on the town where you have to yell a few sentences among some yuppie crowd of revelers. We spend a few days meandering among the coffee shops, pubs and sports venues of this great city and catch up on the year that is past and its attendant ups and downs. So once each year we gather at the North Fitzroy Arms, dine at leisure, drink excessively, and our guest of the day has to endure lengthy tales of greatness from each of us over more and more drinks before being allowed to embark upon a tale of their own. Afterwards, we adjourn to the MCG to watch another glorious battle.

Morro took this in his stride.

Far from the imposing, bullocking forward I recalled, he was not a large man, but nonetheless impressive. Dressed in jeans and a sportscoat, he greeted our rabble politely and warmly, slipping easily into conversations about horses, netball, real estate – even footy. Morro speaks with a quiet and assured tone and uses his massive hands to better articulate his points.

While our meals were digesting, Jeff (my neighbor from Dudley st) finally introduces our speaker: on meeting the ex footballer many years prior, Jeff had noticed that between the folders of Morro’s work notes there was a form guide – and an instant bond was struck. Morro sat and listened politely to Jeff’s hardly flattering introduction, probably wondering why the hell he’d agreed to come, but after a few general comments he was off.

For a long-suffering Dogs fan to listen to his story was not always pretty. Few people have the honesty to tell it like it is. Far easier to gild the lilies, tell the good – and maybe some of the ugly, but leave out significant events and “work the room”. Not Morro. It was a mesmerizing afternoon for its honesty, humor and information. From his comments about Billy Goggin (“He thought I couldn’t play, I thought he couldn’t coach……we were both right”) to his insights into Dempsey, Round and Templeton and countless tales of everything from brown paper bags to motor vehicle insurance, it was an fascinating journey.

Morro’s insights into the Footscray Football Club (and of course Gigs trotted out Morro’s footy cards for a laugh – an old trick but a good one) were amazing.

For me, as a young kid fighting the good fight for the Dogs in the schoolyard of Puckapunyal Primary in the 70’s, his tales of the buildup to that fateful Preliminary Final in 1974 against Collingwood were difficult to hear, but the significance of those events on both our lives was not lost.

I loved Gary Dempsey. Any man who could be so badly burnt in a bushfire and return to win the Brownlow could only be a hero. With the number 24 planted firmly on my back and long sleeves on my arms, I was eager wear my footy jumper (as was the vogue) every day. And so I wore it every day leading up to the Preliminary Final, much to my mother’s disgust, but such was my dedication to the cause and determination to fly the flag.

Sadly my preparations had little effect, and those of the Dog’s were insufficient, as Morro recounted, and the Pies beat us and instead of a glorious week of gloating I was reduced to a week of fending off the barbs of the other kids (one required a decent fend in country Vic).

I’m not sure if Morro completely understood my anguish at his version of the events of this week that binds us, but for him, the tale is even more telling, since victory that week (which should have eventuated) would doubtless have led to the club’s second premiership and to his place in club folklore, perhaps even to greater things for the club and even himself.

But Morro describes a game. What seems a way of life to many of us – the junior dream of playing, followed by the years of thinking “what if”, and ultimately the passionate support that becomes a facet of one’s life. To him it was always (and still is) a game. The wash up of 1974 is history, passed, almost forgotten. He’s moved on, way on. It was a week in a year and a game in a career at the top. Nothing more. Nothing less. No great “life-defining-minutes” there, just some bloody funny stories and then the chapter ends and it’s a new one begun.

We’re left feeling that footy was something that happened while Morro was getting on with his life. I’m wondering if he was the 70s and 80s answer to Bob Murphy, just without the pen and the guitar. The way he tells the story he is never the hero, which probably is the safer option, as the “color” in some of his tales is as fantastic as it is hilarious. But between the lines of his story is some of the greatest depth I have encountered from a sportsman and an incredible insight into the club I have loved for so long.

I know that for my mates, its been another lunch with me gushing in the presence of a childhood hero – its my revenge on them all for as much as they enjoy it, there is suffering for them too. But this time its different. They say you should never meet your heroes, because they turn out to be mortal and destroy the image. This time the image was so much more than I could have imagined.

About Bill Ellis

As easy to read as a Clermont green.


  1. Hi Bill, don’t want to be a pedant, but this finals match of 1974 you”re talking about, was the elimination final, not the preliminary final. The preliminary final saw North Melbourne beat Hawthorn by 5 points, on a wet arvo. If my memory is working Doug Wade brought up his ‘ton’ that day.


  2. Neil Anderson says

    You have just solved the puzzle Glen. I was busy checking my therapist’s notes re ‘Preliminary Finals Lost and the Onset of Psychosis’ and there was no mention of 1974. I didn’t think I’d missed one of those heart-breakers.
    Like Bill, I would have been fired up for an elimination final, any final back in those barren years. I seem to remember going out to Waverley in about 1976 for an EF only to be trounced by Geelong.

  3. You blokes don’t mind breaking hearts over and over, do you? Next I was going to write about the Grand Final we won in 87, but with you guys on the loose I better tone it down!
    No excuses, elimination, preliminary, I stand corrected.

  4. Neil, you’re really bringing out the pedant in me. Trounced ?!? You led by 15 points at 3/4 time, lost by 7, so i’m not sure if i would say trounced. 74, when the Pies beat Footscray, that was a trouncing !


  5. You’re not making this any better.

  6. Sorry, i’m showing my age.


  7. Neil Anderson says

    I stand chastised and corrected. Could be a senility problem on my part. Just remembering the seventies is a good effort at my age. It felt like a trouncing because I was sitting with work-mates who were all Geelong supporters.
    I’ll have another go with the memory and Bill’s piece about Ian Morrison. I haven’t met many footballers or ex-footballers but I did meet Alby Smedts twenty-five years ago when he came to install a gas-heater. He would have been Footscray’s fullback when Ian Morrison was playing. (Be gentle with me Glen if I’ve stuffed that up too).
    Anyway, I was just thinking that young Billy would have been a handy pickup for the Dogs.

  8. Yeah Neil, Alby Smedts came down from N E Victoria in the late 1970’s. He was one of the players Royce Hart purged, finishing up at St Kilda. The son loks like having a promising future.

    Neil, correct me if i’m wrong, but i feel both Smedts and Morrison had stints at full back.


  9. Neil Anderson says

    Yes Glen, can’t add much more about Morrison and Smedts. I go back a fair way but obviously don’t have the encyclopedic player knowledge you do.
    I went old-school and checked the AFL encycopedia of player’s names. A quaint old-fashioned way to research but came up with the following:
    Alby Smedts: Footscray 1976-79 Recruited from North Albury.
    StKilda 1980-81 and then went to Waverley.
    Ian Morrison: Footscray 1973-80 Ex StPats Sale
    Essendon 1981 and then went to Sandringham.
    It said Morrison was lightly built and had plenty of pace so doesn’t seem like he would have stood at full-back. Then again I remember Leon Cameron was given a shot against Wayne Carey. By the way are you as shitty as me about the lack of talls at the Dogs. Just watching Essendon yesterday reminded me once again how deficient we are in decent big men. I see tomorrow we’ve only got Minson in the ruck.
    Anyway nice to talk to you about the Bulldogs Glen.

  10. Well, its been a pleasure to read your thoughts gents, but I still reckon that had we won that final we would have won the flag. Coming from 5th would have made it all the sweeter.

  11. cowshedend says

    Very good player “Van” Morrison, about 6’1″ and reasonably slight, but used to float through the air and take big pack marks,he was also a lovely kick for goal.
    Was very dissapointed when he went to the goat riders.

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