Red Fox extract: Ron Barassi v Albie Rodda

One Autumn afternoon before the start of the 1948 season, Melbourne Football Club held a picnic for players, officials and their families at Park Orchards. The Demons’ annual report later described it as ‘a happy affair’, adding that
‘the sporting events’ had been ‘a pleasure to watch’.[1]



The event that took Norm Smith’s eye was the goalkicking contest. One of the competitors was Ron Barassi junior – the 12-year-old son of his late mate.



In the seven years since his father had passed away, young Barassi and his mother Elza had remained in contact with the Demons, and the Smiths. In fact, young Ronny – as the son of a premiership player, and a popular one at that – had been given the rare privilege of being able to wander around the changerooms on match-days. Barassi admitted he probably took the situation for granted, but that he didn’t know any different either. ‘It was obviously a thrill for me but it wasn’t such a big thing; not as big as it would have been for a kid who’d just come into the club for the first time,’ Barassi said. ‘I was very lucky, but it just felt natural, and that probably meant I wasn’t overawed when I started league football myself later on.’[2]



From the age of about six, Barassi had lived with his paternal grandfather, Carlo Guiseppe Barassi, and his Aunt May on the family farm at Guildford. His mother, who ran the canteen at Miller’s ropeworks, had sent him there with his best interests at heart after he had become too difficult to handle for another aunt – the wife of Elza’s brother Arthur Ray. ‘It became a bit much for my aunty in her small house in Footscray, and I suspect I was also causing trouble with my cousins,’ Barassi admitted.[3] Elza Barassi would visit her son every six or eight weeks.



Barassi was now attending Castlemaine Technical School and was, he conceded, ‘a rough-’n-tumble type of kid; a bit accident-prone’.[4] But he had also started to develop his football skills to a point where he could kick with real purpose – a fact to which all who witnessed the goalkicking competition at Park Orchards would testify.



It was a light-hearted event – even Smith said: ‘I don’t know if we were all flat out or not’.[5] But like any contest – serious or not – between red-blooded, competitive males, pride was on the line.



While the Demons senior players lined up from a considerable distance, Barassi was allowed to shoot from about 25 or 30 metres – the limit of his own kicking power. As his big-name opponents dropped out of the competition after muffing their attempts, young Barassi continued to hold his nerve. Eventually it came down to two – Barassi and Albie Rodda. That year Rodda, 27, was to play the best football of his career, representing Victoria, winning the Demons’ best-and-fairest and playing a starring role in the finals. A raw 12-year-old didn’t appear much of a match. ‘Alby was one of my favourites,’ Barassi said, ‘even though he had kept my father out of the side on a few occasions during their careers because he was a rover/goalsneak too.’[6] But the youngster was not overawed.



While Smith recalled that Barassi ‘dead-heated’ with Rodda,[7] Barassi believed he finished second. Regardless, it was an attention-grabbing effort. Smith was pleasantly surprised. ‘Ronny impressed me with his determination to win the prize,’ Smith later said. ‘There was something in the boy’s make-up that made me want to do something more for him.’[8]



Smith did do something more for him. When Barassi came down to Melbourne during his school holidays or on weekends away from the farm, Norm and Marj would often keep him company and offer to assist his mother in any way they could. It was during these times that Barassi discovered that Smith was ‘rather quiet and retiring away from football’.[9]



[1]74            Melbourne Football Club Annual Report, 1948.


[2]75            Ron Barassi. Interview with the author.


[3]76            Ron Barassi. Interview with the author.


[4]77            Collins, Ben, The Champions: Conversations with Great Players and Coaches of Australian Football, GSP, 2006.


[5]78 Melbourne Truth series, 1962.


[6]79 Ron Barassi. Interview with the author.


[7]80 Melbourne Truth series, 1962.


[8]81 The Sun series, 1967.


[9]82 Ron Barassi’s speech at the Australian Football Hall of Fame dinner, July 19, 2007.



The Red Fox – The Biography of Norm Smith



  1. And on another page:

    “The 1941 Grand Final showcased one of the gutsiest triumphs in the long and decorated history of the Melbourne Football Club. The Demons were severely depleted – they were missing about 12 players due to war service and injury – and faced a full strength Essendon, and were on the end of an astonishingly lopsided free kick count, which favoured the Bombers 52-20. But the Bombers posed no threat to the Demons, who put the premiership beyond doubt with an 11-goal to two first half. As Smith simply stated: “We won the premiership easily.”


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