Roo rivalries: past, present and future

North Melbourne Football Club has been robbed of its traditional rivalries in recent years. But an AFL Gold Coast team presents a unique opportunity for NMFC to capitalise on a very real rivalry.

While rarely acknowledged in the media, North Melbourne has some fascinating traditional rivalries. The Hawthorn-North Melbourne rivalry, founded on the teams’ three Grand Finals in the 70s, has gained momentum in recent years with the clubs engaging in some controversial player trades. The most recent, the Hawk’s sniping of Josh Gibson, should make for an interesting grudge match in Round 5. But as is the AFL’s way, they have ignored the possibility of fixturing a mini-blockbuster, scheduling a twilight match in Tasmania!?!

But it is Essendon who North fans hold the most spite for, a rivalry that is arguably the most enduring in the game. It dates back to the 1890s, when Essendon actively fought against North Melbourne’s inclusion in the newly formed Victorian Football League. This was further inflamed in 1921 when North Melbourne agreed to amalgamate with Essendon in order to enter the VFL via a back door. After taking the cream of North Melbourne’s ‘invincible’ VFA team (including Syd Barker), Essendon decided to scuttle the deal, leaving North Melbourne with neither a VFL birth, nor a full team! Somehow, North managed to re-establish itself and successfully entered the VFL in its own right in 1925, but the team was a shadow of what it might have been.

By 1950, the fledgling North Melbourne club finally managed to build a premiership contending team and made its first Grand Final – against its old adversaries, Essendon. Down by 20 points at the final change, reports suggest that North threw everything at Essendon, including plenty of roundhouses, but ultimately went down by 38 points.

The rivalry gained a new energy in the mid-90s, with the two clubs becoming the dominant forces of the competition. Unfortunately, the salivating prospect of a Grand Final match never eventuated, but the teams’ encounters were no less enthralling, none more so than the Round 16 clash of 2001. Down by 69 points during the second quarter, Essendon dug deep and eventually clawed their way back to claim a famous 12-point victory ­­– dubbed the greatest comeback of all time. Notably, North Melbourne won the next six encounters, and the clashes continue to hold a sense of history about them.

And yet the AFL has only scheduled one match a season between the clubs since that memorable game in 2001. It seems AFL-endorsed rivalries only exist between powerhouse clubs, leaving North Melbourne out in the cold.

While NMFC should continue to press the AFL on the Essendon rivalry, it’s also time for some trademark North Melbourne innovation. I think it’s time to embrace a new rival: the Gold Coast. And unlike some of the fabricated rivalries of recent years (since when were Sydney and Brisbane rivals?), there’s no question that there will be feeling between the two clubs.

And there’s also no question that it’s in the AFL’s interests. With concerns over the size of crowds the GC will attract in Melbourne, a properly supported GC vs NM match could draw more fans than people might think. If scheduled during a marquee timeslot (a Friday night or a standalone match during the split round) and given some well-targeted promotion, 45,000 is achievable. People forget that it was only a few years ago that a similar crowd saw North play its first grudge match against Wayne Carey’s Adelaide.

To the disdain of the traditionalists, theatre is now seen as an important commodity in the AFL. Like it or not, it’s here to stay. And while North continue to receive no marquee fixtures despite repeated attempts (Good Friday, a WA home game), it’s time a bold new plan was put to the AFL. Forging a new rivalry with the AFL’s love-child seems about as good an opportunity as ever.

Make it happen, Eug.

About Reverend Shinboner

Reverend Shinboner grew up in Wangaratta, North-East Victoria, to a football accepting, but not obsessing family. Nevertheless, North Melbourne-supporting lineage dictated the choice in VFL club, who at the time, spent most of their days fighting out the middle-to-lower rungs of the ladder. The brilliance of the Krakouers and regular Friday night coverage ensured interest in the game was maintained. This all changed in 1993, when Rev. Shinboner was sent to boarding school in Melbourne. An introverted and somewhat nerdy Townie, weighing in at 34 kgs, was sent to the wolves. Surrounded by teenage posturing from somewhat over-entitled boys meant fitting in was a day-to-day proposition. At this critical junction two things happened: North Melbourne became contenders and Rev. Shinboner saw his team play at the ‘G for the first time. 25 Friday nights, 3 Preliminary Finals and about 25 kgs later and he could mix it with the best of them. Reverend Shinboner has been connecting with people through football ever since. While the Reverend’s love of North Melbourne has waxed and waned over the years, one incident transformed his relationship with the club forever. In 2002, the North Melbourne players decided they could no longer play alongside the greatest player the club had ever seen. The North officials agreed. Wayne Carey was sacked. Never before had such a statement of principle and character been made by a football club. Anthony Stevens led the team to an inspired victory over a much more fancied Port Adelaide a few days later. For Rev. Shinboner it meant more than the 1999 Premiership. While North Melbourne’s fortunes have since been mired in relocation speculation and a middling team, Rev. Shinboner knows two constants: North Melbourne Football Club will be written off and North Melbourne Football Club will survive. Just as they always have. His love of the club remains at an all time high.


  1. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    I still reckon North missed a golden opportunity to assure itself of a future when it didn’t take up that generous offer to relocate to the Gold Coast.
    The end result is a wonderful outcome for our game – two new interstate clubs!

  2. Richard Naco says

    Having lived in Brisneyland for 5 years during the farcical tenure of the Carrara Koalas on the Gold Coast, I can say for an absolute certainty that Norths will never mean that much at all to the GCFC, and that attempting to promulgate an artificial tradition of rivalry will alienate any potential fans as much as having an AFL team called Brisbane basing itself on the Coast (oh, wait – that’s already been tried, hasn’t it?).

    Gold Coast’s bitterest rivals are already in place, and play their home games as a place called the Gabba. Queensland is a very highly tribalised society with the tribes being delineated almost exclusively by geography, and this well established sense of yobbo snobbery means that localised rivalry is already well entrenched & just waiting for the AFL to exploit it (just as Cairns & Townsville loathe each other, the Coast & Brisbane will take any & every opportunity to gain bragging rights over each other) (in anything!!!).

    Likewise, Sydney will easily shrug off the current NRL/ State of Origin themed rivalry with Brisbane to focus on establishing a localised battle for bragging rights with Western Sydney. It’ll be back to the old thugby league days of the western suburban fibros against the eastern suburban silvertails, and that sort of intense rivalry (already so well set in both Perth & Adelaide) will be manna from heaven for the AFL in this neck of the woods.

    The problem for Norths is that nobody really loathes you (a bit like St Kilda, really). You have every reason to maintain the rage against Essendon, but they carry much bigger chips of their shoulders concerning Collingwood (join the queue), Carlton & Hawthorn. The game with the latter is my idea of a true rivalry round, especially with the depth of their mutual animosity having been so stunningly rekindled in Round 22 of 2009 that it should not – must not – be allowed to go to waste. Carlton & Collingwood are naturals for that round as well, with the rest of us getting some pleasure from the fact that it means that at least one of those two clubs will lose that round.

    For me, Geelong’s most obvious rivals are that yapping mob at the other end of the highway. I don’t hate the Bullies at all, but the linkage between the clubs of the highway & the whole Dogs v. Cats thing is far too obvious a marketing ploy to let slip. Plus, there is potential friction with Geelong having snapped their premiership drought so spectacularly these past three years while the Doggies keep promising salvation for their fans but never quite delivering. And Richmond – Melbourne are also natural rivals (imnsho), as they are the true residents of the MCG (and not some recent blow ins from parklands footy).

    That really leaves the Roos & the Saints as the nice boys who get picked last at the dance. Neither are nasty enough to be hated by the other Victorian clubs, who all tend to damn you both with faint praise (well, I suspect that Cam Mooney gets a special kick out of beating the Shinboners – can I still call you that? – but we can’t base any rivalry on a single player coming to the end of a quite spectacular career).

    Time for Norths & Saints followers to start developing some serious animosity towards each other!

    (For the sake of the game, if nothing else.)


  3. @Rocket – North are doing fine assuring their future in Melbourne right now.

    @Richard – you make a good point about North’s general likability being an issue with building genuine rivalries. And you’re right is suggesting that the AFL’s priority will be pushing the GC-Brisvegas rivalry. But it’s not mutually exclusive to pushing a GC-NMFC rivalry as well. The media will hype the first match between the two senseless, regardless of what the clubs or AFL do. Why not make the most of it and create a mini-blockbuster?

  4. pauldaffey says


    I love the bit about the North and Essendon rivalry, which is all very true. Just like Essendon to cut out of a deal.

    Not many realise how much Footscray fans hate Essendon, either. I doubt that many at the Dogs would hate Geelong (no one hates Geelong); Doggies fans’ hatred is all reserved for the Bombers, who are based only a few suburbs (and several worlds) away. Just ask Chris Riordan (Crio), who’s written about it for the Almanac.

    One of the main points about a rivalry is that it can’t be manufactured. To my mind, a rivalry arises through geography and, more importantly, through a series of tough finals matches.

    North and Hawthorn qualify magnificently on that second criterion. From 1974 to ’78, they played each other in 10 finals – that is, they played each other twice in every finals series for five years.

  5. I agree that a rivalry can’t be manufactured. Who would’ve thought that West Coast and Sydney would ever forge a rivalry, but their meeting through the mid-00s were some of the best footy matches I’ve ever seen.

    Whether a North-GC rivalry would have a manufactured feel to it or not is hard to say. Will GC peeps still be miffed that North shunned them (even if they’re mostly Victorian expats)? Will the media/uninformed public’s constant “… they should’ve take the GC $” line rile North supporters against the new franchise? If so, bring it. If not, it’ll just become another game against an interstate club. But worth a crack I reckon.

  6. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    I always recall a match at the SCG when the Kangaroos were playing “home” matches in Sydney in the Carey era; Swans struggling at the time, but able to beat the high-placed Roos, the crowd started singing, “There’s only one team in Sydney”. Wonderful spontaneous stuff.

    Most Swans fans don’t care too much for North. The 1996 GF defeat is still raw, plus the Shannon Grant defection still burs. Please don’t remind us how NSW boys Carey & Longmire both carved out highly distinguished careers in the royal blue and white.

  7. Pamela Sherpa says

    I was going to say -what Daff has already said. Rivalries can’t be manufactured etc. If the AFL stopped trying to fiddle and fix and thought for a moment-“Hey? Maybe we should just produce an equitable fixture then traditional rivalries might just take care of themselves. As Daff pointed out- great matches bewteen clubs help establish rivalries. There’s hardly a chance for this to happen now with the managed fixture. The whole home ground situation has also been a big factor – there’s no going into enemy territory in Melbourne anymore.

    I think it is a real shame that we didn’t get to see a North Essendon Grand final in the 90’s.

    Going back to 1950 apparently the reserves GF between Essendon and North was a fiery affair as well .Essendon won that and the thirds too. The firsts and seconds went to Tassie for their end of year trip to celebrate! I assume the thirds were too young and stayed at home.

  8. Back in 2007, i was ready to abandon North after it was a near-certainty that they were going to relocated to the Gold Coast. Thank god they didn’t.

    I think North’s main rivals are Hawthorn, and the fiery encounters in the past few years have fueled that rivarly, although i’ve always liked North v Essendon matches, mainly because most of my mates go for the Bombers, but I never really realised that there was an actual rivarly between those two clubs.

    But what i think, is that when two clubs take the field, they are the biggest rivals for that 2-3 hour period.

  9. Pamela Sherpa says

    Josh, there were some great contests in the 90’s. Worth watching .

    I think it’s a shame that North didn’t continue their association with the ACT (because they thought they were going to the Gold Coast).

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