Round 23 – Brisbane v North Melbourne: The wooden spoon – a useless utensil

 

My wooden spoons. One has never been used.

 

Never in the history of football has there been a more despised indication of failure.  The wooden spoon, used for stirring ingredients during cooking, is awarded without hype but much derision to the team that finishes last.

 

The bottom team never actually receives a wooden spoon in recognition of their uselessness. It is bestowed imaginarily. The players of the worst team in the competition don’t need a trinket. There will be a wooden spoon waiting for them in the top drawer in their kitchen, or in a loose assemble among eggflips and soup ladles in the second drawer.

 

The players will look at the wooden spoon and hate it.

 

Every kitchen has a wooden spoon. They’re cheap, about $2 each. Kids make them at school. Preferred by some chefs because they don’t get hot like metal utensils, wooden spoons are also safe to use on non-stick surfaces because they don’t cause any scratches.

 

The wooden spoon is a tool that doesn’t get hot or leave any marks. Just like the team that finishes last.

 

Wooden spoons aren’t exactly a spoon. They have a small dip or are flat like an oar.  Mostly, they’re too big to fit into your mouth. A dessert spoon is capable of capturing more liquid than a wooden spoon.

 

I have two wooden spoons in my kitchen drawer. One has never been used. The other carries a faint brown hue and looks like it has been used once.

 

I never use the wooden spoon. I think they are useless. I have spatulas, mashers, sieve spoons, large plastic spoons and skewers. I don’t need the wooden spoons. There is no need for something that pretends to have potential.

 

North Melbourne won the wooden spoon in 1970, the year I was born. But I was delivered six weeks after that inglorious season. Two years later, when I was almost two, North Melbourne found the bottom for another wooden spoon. It happened before I even knew about football.  I don’t remember it.

 

It has been 45 years since North Melbourne won the wooden spoon. In that time, North has played in 26 finals series for nine grand finals and four premierships. I’ve had a good time following my club.

 

Since 1972, the closest North Melbourne has come to winning the wooden spoon was in 1984, when they finished eleventh to St Kilda on percentage. The previous year, North played in a preliminary final.

 

I have never seen North win a wooden spoon.  I’ve never had to wear the stigma of the ultimate loser. Last. Hopeless. Terrible. Dreadful. Whatever the adjective.  Awful isn’t a bad one.

 

As this season wound down, reality arose.  Every team gets a shot at the wooden spoon eventually.  The game between Brisbane and North Melbourne at the Gabba would decide the spoon.

 

No one knows who first decided to award the looser a wooden spoon.  It might’ve been a chef, who looked at a raft of utensils and threw the wooden spoon in the bin.  It could be because the wooden spoon is ugly and useless compared to a premiership cup.

 

However it happened, the bottom team wins the wooden spoon. Winning the wooden spoon is absurd.  It is an antonym to winning.  Football teams win the wooden spoon by losing. It is ridiculous to associate the wooden spoon with a win.

 

In this era of equality, the draft creates its own emphasis on the wooden spoon.  It gives the losers the first and best pick at the next great talent.  Losing to win, tanking, has become the potential in the wooden spoon.

 

Opposition clubs look upon the losers with envy.  That envy has everything to do with equality. But the number one draft pick is not remedy to failure.  Clubs finishing last need more than one player to boost their fortunes.

 

Wooden spoon records

 

St Kilda, with 27 wooden spoons, has more than any other club.  Geelong hasn’t finished last since 1958.  Their 59-year wooden spoon absence is the current AFL record.  Hawthorn is next, having last won the wooden spoon in 1965.

 

Carlton holds the record of absence, going 106-years from inception before their first wooden spoon.  The drought broke in 2002.  They’ve added another three since.

 

Only two teams, Essendon (1907-08) and Collingwood (1976-77) went from winning the wooden spoon to playing in a grand final the following year.

 

Essendon finished last in 1921 and won the premiership in 1923.  Their two season rise from last to premiers remains a VFL/AFL record.

 

Adelaide and Port Adelaide are the only clubs who have never won a wooden spoon.

 

When Collingwood won the wooden spoon in 1976, they also won six games, which remains a record for a team finishing last.

 

The mock-buster

 

The build up to the game was subdued.  The Brisbane fans I know were wary.  Favouritism left them anxious.  I expected to lose.  I wanted to see the game, regardless of the outcome.  Andy, a Brisbane fan, reassured me.

 

‘Brisbane will win the wooden spoon,’ Andy said.  ‘They can’t back up two weeks in a row after a win.’

 

Russ, also known as the Curse, was nursing an injury in Melbourne and couldn’t make the trip.

‘I’m disappointed I won’t be there to watch history,’ Russ said.  Like me, he expected North to lose.

 

North fans I know opted to stay home.  I respected their decision.  Watching any loss is hard enough.  To see North win the wooden spoon was unpalatable.

 

Before the game, I vowed to retain my dignity, win or lose.  I decided not to talk about the game as it played out.  I watched impassively with Andy and the Pole in the cheap seats.  At quarter time, I was worried.

 

As the game went on, I clapped once or twice when North kicked a goal.  I smiled a couple of times.  Brisbane fans started leaving early in the third quarter.  I cheered once, a stifled yes, early in the last quarter when it was clear North was going to avoid the wooden spoon.

 

Ten minutes into the last quarter, Brisbane fans were streaming out in despair.  North fans stayed silent.  Fans from both clubs respected each other.  It was one of the quietest games of football I’ve ever seen.

 

As North’s lead extended beyond eight goals, there was no feeling of elation.  It was pure relief.  Proof North wasn’t tanking.  I didn’t think Brisbane were.

 

Twenty minutes into the last quarter, Andy’s disappointment was obvious.

 

‘Do you want to go?’ I asked.  He nodded.  We gathered the Pole and went back to my house.  Later, we chatted about the wooden spoon, that Brisbane will get the first draft pick.  It was consolation Andy didn’t want.  He expected a close game, but his pre-game fear ended up being right.

 

With the exception of Hawthorn, North Melbourne has been one of the most successful clubs, in terms of premierships, in my lifetime.  I am thankful for that.  I am thankful I can’t remember any of North Melbourne’s 13 wooden spoons.  I don’t care about the first draft pick.  North has never had one.

 

I don’t care if we never get one.  I’m going to get rid of my wooden spoons. Does anybody want them?

 

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…

Comments

  1. Paul Young says:

    Good read Matt. Apart from St Kilda finishing bottom the most of all teams and Carlton finishing last for the first time in 2002, I didn’t really know much about the wooden spoon. So thanks for the research.

    I’m glad North avoided it.

    I’m not so concerned about draft picks, I’d rather not have the stigma of finishing last and officially being the worst team in the League.

  2. In regards to Carlton winning the dreaded spoon for the first time, I recall a funny story about Craig Bradley being in a supermarket shortly after the season finished when some whacky prankster got on the PA and said ‘price check, wooden spoons, aisle 2’

  3. Matt ,1972 the final year of Brian Dixon coaching the Kangaroos. I’m trying to ascertain if he was the only person to be an MP whilst coaching a VFL (AFL) team ?

    I recall 1972 reasonably well; showing my age. In R 10 you were given a good chance of beating Melbourne at Arden Street. An 11 goal first term by Melbourne finished that. The following week you played Geelong @ VFL Park. Both sides were 0-10 going into the clash. Geelong proved too steady in the end, helped by the class of players like Doug Wade, who turned out for North Melbourne the following year.

    You beat South Melbourne: do you remember them ? This match at Arden Street saw Phil Doherty get amongst the goals for your team. He was handy full forward from Wangaratta Rovers ,who appeared in the 1973 foot ball cards, however the arrival of Doug Wade drew his career to a swift end.

    Glen!

  4. That was an entertaining history lesson on the wooden spoon, Matt. St Kilda’s record of 27 is quite damning really.
    I am relieved North Melbourne put in a very impressive effort against the Lions and avoided the spoon (ended up as high as 15th!). I look forward to next season when our kids get another pre-season in and hopefully we secure a couple of big recruits.

  5. matt watson says:

    Paul,
    Thanks for reading. I thought a few people might get a kick out of the spoon’s history.
    Gerry, that’s a great story about Craig Bradley. I’m sure he had a laugh.
    Glen, I think you might be right about Dixon being a coach and MP.
    You taught me something about Paul Doherty. I looked him up. I’d never heard of him. Of course, I’m wondering what happened, aside from the recruitment of Wade.
    Matt, I remain hopeful like you.
    I said earlier this year that North is the best second last team I’ve ever seen.
    That remains to be seen, next year…

  6. Matt, a most enjoyable read.

    I must say that, given recent form, I tipped Brisbane to win the match; but I am a great believer that no AFL player crosses the line hoping to lose a match. Team selection is another matter entirely.

    Re wooden spoons:
    My mother would regularly use the wooden spoon on my arse (and deservedly so). Until one day, when I was about 13, she whacked me and I laughed. We both knew the jig was up.
    An electrician I worked with, years ago, was the most one-eyed St Kilda fan. But the Saints kept finishing on the bottom of the ladder. With the inevitable consequence that the nickname bestowed on him was “Spooner”

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Liked this Matt.

    There’s four in my kitchen utensil receptacle. They’ve all got their own special use (breaking up mince, scooping out contents of a can, soups)

    Smokie – my mum did that too.

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