Obituary: Season 2013

I’ve known North Melbourne ever since I was six, about 36 years.  In that time North has been a great club, winning four premierships.  They will always be known as battlers, a club who took 50-years to win a premiership, but a regular finals contributor since 1973.


In fact, only Hawthorn has played more finals than North Melbourne since 1970.


There was never a suggestion of any kind of money at Arden Street.  Until a few years ago, their facilities were the worst in the AFL.  Some suburban clubs had better facilities.  Still, North was named the team of the nineties by playing seven consecutive preliminary finals and winning two premierships from three grand finals.


The moniker, team of the nineties, was well-deserved.  North carried the honour well for a few years.


I have spent a lot of time and money on North Melbourne.  The relationship is hardly social.  It is all-encompassing, a love developed before I knew what love was.


We are together in life, through success and failure.


North has a defining spirit I admire, especially in soup.  The Shinbone Spirit carried the club through pitiful decades and into defining eras.  It was most recently alive for about twenty years, from the nineties onwards.


Our current coach Brad Scott has tried to kill it.


At our peak, North boasted players like Wayne Carey, Glen Archer, Mick Martyn and Anthony Stevens.  Four men ably backed up by Corey McKernan, Brett Allison and Craig Scholl.


Simply, we were a terrific club in the nineties.  That magnificence eroded, year by year, into the new century.


In the past decade, our finals failures have defined our club.


When season 2012 ended with a 96-point defeat against West Coast in the elimination final, my enduring thoughts were about recovery.  North were a different club to the halcyon days, and very few clubs recover from a loss like that.


North, I feared, was content to make the finals.  It was seen as success.  With a club fourteen years on from their last premiership, who could blame them?


Season 2013 was hyped as the next step, when all those young players feted by the media would mature, gel, and start to win.


But Brent Harvey and Drew Petrie, both on the old side of 30, remain our best players.  The kids aren’t developing quickly enough.  The worry is they won’t develop, ever.

As the season went on, every game provided hope and lust.  When the games were over, the headlines in the media blared about wasted chances and mental fatigue.


Blowing match-winning leads hit our confidence hard.  In every game this year, aside from the Fremantle game, North has had a lead.  Then panic sets in.  We were never far enough in front.


So we lost, five times by less than a goal.  It has been reported that no club in the history of the VFL/AFL has been punished like that.  Our record of six wins and ten losses could be so different.


North Melbourne’s season officially died at the weekend.  Truthfully, the one-point loss to Carlton was pointless.  Our season was already over.  North will be remembered, this year at least, as the team most likely that couldn’t.


Lindsay Thomas and Scott Thompson have been good, but there are no great heroes.  That, among other things, will grate at the psyche of Brad Scott, who has been heavily, and rightly some would say, criticised for a flat out game plan without brakes.


At the weekend, Scott said the narrow loss would make or break the club.  It’s the first time I’ve ever heard him use the word break.  It wasn’t in the context I wanted.  Brake would’ve been better, especially in the third term when Carlton ran out to a 33-point lead.


North might score heavily, but we’re too easy to score against.  It reminds me of another era, under Wayne Schimmelbusch, when North would kick 20 goals and lose by forty points.


Schimmelbusch eventually got sacked.


Our current game plan is the same, based on forward motion.  It suits a free-flowing era, when footballers played on direct opponents and there were no zones or presses.  It is simple and uncomplicated.


Unfortunately, the modern game is infinitely complicated.  Game plans are built around defence.  No one at the club seems to understand this.


That North fought back against Carlton was admirable, but let’s kill the hysteria.  Carlton is ninth, with eight wins and eight losses.  They’re not Hawthorn, Geelong or Sydney.  The Roos should’ve been competitive against Carlton.


They were favoured to win.  At times they dominated the game.  As always, when the opposition attacked, there were no brakes to stop it.  It is no surprise we lost.


North Melbourne supporters are collectively mourning a woeful season that was brilliantly predictable.  Fear of 0-3 record after three rounds proved reality, as did fear of consistent losses against the top sides.


We are much worse than last year, and no one should forget we were hammered in the finals.


Not qualifying for September is best for all concerned.  There is no point limping into eighth spot, we did that last year and wasted it.  Another repeat would have been soul destroying.

Last year’s elimination final defeat takes me back to 1987, and a 118-point loss to Melbourne in the elimination final.  North didn’t play finals for six years following that defeat, and we didn’t win a final for seven years.


Ultimately football clubs get what they deserve.


What the supporters get is never deserved, unless it is success.  The love remains though…



About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Matt,
    This has been one of the toughest seasons I have ever had to endure as a North supporter, and boy have there been some tough seasons.
    As mentioned in previous articles and posts, I have been really disappointed in Brad Scott and the coaching panel this year: strategy, selection and training (what is the point of Utah?) all now have big question marks.
    And, by the way, I must say that I found his decision to publicly kill off the notion of “Shinboner spirit” in his first season somewhat surprising.
    In a way, I am glad that we have not won the close ones this would only have masked problems bound to be exposed in the finals.

  2. Andrew Starkie says

    Matt, Smokie,

    This has been the toughest season in my memory. We know why – the results speak for themselves. We are a shell of a team the moment and Scott’s refusal to listen to advice is a typical male response to criticism. Previous losses this year have been shattering; Friday night was simply sad. When challenged, North surrendered. Carlton are very ordinary, but dominated for 3 quarters. There’s no belief, soul or purpose. Last year’s EF debacle devastated the club. But I have faith we will bounce back next year. We are NMFC, not Richmond or St Kilda. The coach must change and our underdog culture must go. Inferiority complexes do not win flags. I believe the Shinboner Spirit is part of that. Sadly it must go as well.

  3. Starks,
    I just reckon that the Shinboner thing was a point of difference.

  4. Matt, blokes like Tarrant, Hansen and Goldstein have all promised for the last few seasons. When do they go beyond flashes of good form, and promise to become consistent contributors? Similarily Zeibel, good player, but issues re his on field discipline. How/when is that adressed?


  5. Paul Young says

    As a North supporter since 1971 (has it really been 42 years?) I’ve bee fortunate to follow a club that has given me some of the best & most exhilirating moments in my life (75, 77, 96, 99). I’ve also endured some tough times, but never have we been a laughing stock of the AFL. North Melbourne developed a fantastic reputation for its initiatives such as exploiting the 10 year rule in 1973, coloured shorts, Arden street pre-game entertainment (never forget the big speakers….the circus elephant etc) the move to the MCG, night football, and other strategic moves to keep North Melbourne relevant in a national competition.

    In my 42 years I can’t recall ever being embarrassed to be a member of the Shinboner clan. In some ways I’ve often hung my hat on it.
    “I’m tough, I don’t give up – cos I’m a shinboner”……it’s not the shinboner way to not have a go – WE go down fighting”.

    This is the first season I can recall where I’ve been frustrated to the point of feeling embarrassed for my club. Many of the losses have hurt because they simply should not have happened. I’ve actually turned the TV over before the final siren, in the last minute, three times because I did not want to hear the siren, knowing we’d lost in such traumatic circumstances.

    I’ve tried to remember when I have been so pissed off as I was during the last few minutes of the Adelaide game……that was the pits. That’s when I thought of what it must be like to follow Melbourne or Richmond. I have never ben so angry as a North man thatn I was then. Before the siren went I was out the door with the dog’s lead in my hand.

    In the past I’ve stomached poor results because deep down I thought we might have lacked the talent. BUT as we have so often showed this season – in 2013 WE DO have the talent. We just fricken waste it.

    There’s a lot of players at North who will leave this club without making it to at least prelim final day. And that is sad, because this current group is certainly good enough to contest the last four, if not play in the grand final.

    I’m not close enough to the inner sanctum of the NMFC to know what is causing the problems nor what the solution is, BUT the shinboner spirit is a critical part of our club history, our culture, it’s who we are; and to dismiss it may lead to our peril.

  6. Essendon lost 5 games in 1980 by less than a goal. They finished 7th with 10 wins. Those 5 games would have given them 15 wins and mostly likely 3rd spot.

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