Round 6 – Melbourne v Sydney: Stretching the memory

Stretching the Memory

Never meet your heroes, they’ll only disappoint.

LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy was horrified when he met Morrissey, the miserable one sneeringly taking him to task on his grammar.

While Morrissey is an anti-hero of mine, your real heroes are developed as a child and I wasn’t listening to the Smiths as a 7 year old. And luckily Morrissey didn’t play on the half-back flank for Melbourne in the late 80s.

On one hand time has stood still this week with Dustin Fletcher turning 40; he was playing when I was a kid. But then on another hand, something has reminded me of my age – Billy Stretch named for his debut on Saturday.

After a period of free agency I settled on Melbourne as my team in early ’88 and I then quickly settled on Steven Stretch as my favourite player. I doubt many people wore 18 on their Dees’ jumpers but though it seems a leftfield choice now, at the time Stretch was a seriously classy player in a top team.

So much so he’d just come off a year when he’d been best and fairest in the club’s first finals appearance in 23 years, and named in the equivalent of today’s All-Australian team.

He wasn’t an obvious choice but the beauty (and the downfall) of those workmanlike Melbourne teams were that we were bereft of obvious choices for a favourite player. The most obvious was the emerging Garry Lyon, aside from that Jimmy Stynes was still a second ruckman to Steve O’Dwyer and pre-Darren Bennet we didn’t have a Full Forward. So Stretch it was.

Sadly Stretch is linked with an incident of him ‘pulling out’ when confronted with a charging Robert Dipierdomenico in the 1988 Grand Final that may have symbolised the Demons day.  What is forgotten is that Stretch as an attacking half back/winger was moved to play full-back on the century goal-kicker Jason Dunstall that day after a knock-on effect of Steve O’Dwyer being suspended. Stretch actually did reasonably well on Dunstall despite the obvious size and strength until he was moved back to his customary role and then Dunstall cut loose.  As Melbourne fell behind early commentators talked about Stretch’s move as robbing Peter to pay Paul; if they had any hope of getting back into the game Stretch needed to drive off half-back.

I don’t have any recollection of the Dipierdomenico incident but real football fans should instead remember him as a standout piece of silk in a very blue collar team, someone who could run and take on the game and then deliver long and exquisitely with either foot. If there was distance-gained statistic Stretch would have led the league,  he consistently sent the ball in excess of 50 meters to advantage.  He was also capable of a spectacular high mark, one against Collingwood on the Members wing looms large in the memory as he surfed a pack.

So it’s with a vicarious sort of pride that I’ll watch Billy Stretch. I’ll  feel a bit old, but also have a warm nostalgic glow for that almost Melbourne era that didn’t get the ultimate but sure as hell gave you your money’s worth as a supporter with an unfashionable, unsociable, scrappy style.

So I’ve never shaken hands with Steven Stretch but in the last few years the world of social media has given me an introduction of sorts to my hero, and he gave my crowning moment of social media. Steven Stretch, the man I idolised and wore his number on my back, a few years back spammed me on Twitter with a link to a computer virus….and he then apologised to me.

Good luck Billy Stretch. Unlike Morrissey, your dad is a charming man.


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Stephen Stretch was the canary in the SANFL coalmine.

    He was (I’m pretty sure), the first SA player in my time to make the move to the VFL without having first represented SA (apart from the occasional games while on National Service eg Lyle Skinner)

    The floodgates opened after that.

  2. SS was a West Torrens Eagles boy. Fine heritage.

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