People and Memories – Part 6: Joan Etherington, Melbourne FC


Joan Etherington

Joan Etherington has her feet up in front of the TV when I arrive at her Blackburn unit, in Melbourne’s east. Her Melbourne scarf hangs on the coat stand and the living room walls are covered with family photos. Beautiful grand-daughters smile out at her from exotic European and African settings.

Over cups of tea and homemade biscuits Joan reminisces about life as a Melbourne supporter.

During the Great War, her future father, Stan Brownbill, left the family farm near Bendigo, for Melbourne, and a job at the State Savings Bank. He adopted Melbourne as his team, becoming involved with the second eighteen in a variety of off-field roles. His involvement would last the remainder of his life.

Stan married Lorna Pooley and Joan was born in Surrey Hills in 1928. She inherited her father’s love of the Demons, however, sister Judith, was less interested.

‘I used to go down [to the MCG] with my father when I was seven or eight to watch the games,’ Joan recalls. ‘I just loved the footy on a Saturday afternoon.’

Father and daughter shared scoreboard duties in the Harrison Stand.

‘We stood on the back of a seat and put these square numbers up on hooks… it wasn’t difficult, I knew what a point was.’

During this time, seniors and reserves played at home on alternate Saturdays and Joan fondly remembers the empty, echoing MCG grandstands.

‘Not many people would watch the seconds. But I loved the old grandstands. Like Adelaide Oval, with the church in the background.’

‘I enjoyed trips to Collingwood and Footscray and Essendon. The fellas going around the boundary selling peanuts… You got the best meat pies at Footscray, but you never bought a pie at Carlton! Terrible!’

The family’s devotion to Melbourne extended beyond the football field, with Lorna hosting functions in their home. Ron Barassi attended one Christmas break-up.

‘He was very unassuming. Yes, we had marvellous times.’

When Stan was killed in a car accident, the second eighteen Best and Fairest award was named in his honour.

Joan completed her Metriculation at Fintona Girls’ School in 1944 and started work as an apprentice pharmacist, making tonics and medicines, in rooms at the Oriental Hotel, top end of Collins Street. Each morning she travelled by train through semi-rural outer suburbs, alighting at Flinders Street into the city’s bustle and glamour. Joan marvelled at the contrast.

‘It was fabulous… some people don’t like the city, but I loved it. The people, the sounds.’

Joan recalls the MCG being converted into Camp Murphy for American troops during World War Two, and later, cheering crowds on Swanston Street when victory was achieved.

She met Bruce Etherington at her local Methodist Church. After a lengthy courtship consisting of Sunday dinners and walks through Wattle Park, they married in their mid-twenties – ‘a very sensible age’. Originally a South Melbourne fan, Bruce had little option but to change allegiances.

‘He had to come over to Melbourne when he met me.’

They had three children together and Bruce died of a heart attack in his fifties.

‘That’s him up there,’ Joan points to a black and white photo of a handsome, debonair man. ‘I was lucky to have him that long.’

Joan’s love of Melbourne has survived life’s challenges. Since the club’s golden period of the 1950s, she has sat on the MCC wing, first as guest and later as member. She has missed only one Melbourne Grand Final, 1964, the club’s last premiership win over Collingwood, when ten year old son Graham needed driving to a birthday party. These days, Joan needs a walking frame to get to the footy where she is joined by sons, grand-daughters and friends, and a packet of tim tams is shared at half-time. She appreciates how football brings strangers together and how the female security guard on the gate always greets her with a smile.

Joan has seen Melbourne’s greatest players – McMahon, Smith, Barassi, Ridley – but her favourite is Robbie Flower.

‘He was a team man. And graceful. Absolutely fabulous.’

Joan hopes through the work of the late Jim Stynes – ‘that incredible fella’ – new coach Mark Neeld and a young team led by Jack Watts, the club’s recent tough times will soon be behind them.

‘But they have to get rid of old fuddie-duddies like me. It’s up to the new generation.’

When asked what football has meant to her, Joan pauses at length as if thumbing through the pages of her life.

‘It’s helped me through life’s ups and downs. It’s a great diversion. You completely lose yourself in it.’

Our football chat over, Joan leans on her walking frame and takes me on a tour of her home. A glass cabinet contains pill boxes, an antique lady’s boot fastener, snuff box and spoons – bounty from her travels to Nepal, Bhutan, St. Petersburg.

‘Everything’s got a story to it,’ she says. ‘They’ve all got memories.’


  1. What a great story, thank you. These are the football-related-stories-about-people I remember :-)

  2. Andrew Fithall says

    Well done AS. A beautiful story.

    One comment – to all the traditionalists crying out for a return of the reserves playing as a curtain raiser to the main game – that arrangement was not the tradition.

  3. Alovesupreme says


    That’s a beautiful story, and well played that woman!
    It summons memories of my mother – a dedicated Fitzroy fan – who like Joan loved the city of Melbourne. Mum was traipsing after the nomadic Lions to Victoria Park, Princes Park, Waverley and the Western Oval, until well into her 80s; a little bit of Mum died the day of the last “supper” at the MCG against Richmond.

    I also have my personal memory of playing just the final quarter (I was very properly on the bench, reflecting my skill levels) at an empty MCG. We (under 17s) were the visiting team playing the pre-match to the Under 19s, who by that time were playing there in the off-week – a year or two before Richmond moved to the “G”. I reckon there were fewer people in the stands than on the field.

  4. Great stuff Starkie, love the painting of Norm Smith teaching the boys.

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