Round 9: Richmond v Essendon: Dream land gives way to dreamtime victory

By Rod Oaten

When you follow the Essendon footy club for more than 60 years  you have a store of great memories, and in the first half of this match at the ’G the Dons were playing lacklustre, indecisive and error-prone footy, while Richmond were too good at getting the ball out of the centre and should have been further in front but for some bad misses.  So how to relieve the pain of seeing Nathan Brown outplayAdam McPhee and Mitch Morton demonstrate to the crowd he could kick agoal?  Delve into the Memory Bank.

It must have been 1951. Halfway through the season the only player on the Essendon team whose autograph I didn’t have was Bert Harper. Bert was what they used to call a “utility player”; not good enough to have a regular spot in the team but he would play eight or nine games a year. Somehow he must have escaped my eagle eye at previous home games.

On this day at Windy Hill, we had laid out our rugs on the wooden planks that served as seats behind the goals at the “Essendon” end and put under the seat our picnic basket, which contained sandwiches and hot drinks for the half-time break. We always got to the ground early to get this position; how else could you see the high-flying and goalkicking skills of John Coleman, the speed of Bill Hutchison, the spoiling tactics and superb drop-kicking of Bill Brittingham when an opposing team scored a point? So when we were all settled I rushed down to stand by the old iron turnstile and watch for players, autograph book and pencil in hand.

Giant players would come in every now and again towering  over us kids. “There’s Roy McConnell,” someone would shout out. “Got him,” I would say to myself and watch the group besiege him. “I can see Bob McClure and Wally May coming in,” someone would call out, and the kids moved in.

But the autograph that I wanted was No.8 for Essendon, Bert Harper.

“Good on you, Norm,” someone would call out as the great Norm McDonald came in through the gate. Little did we realise that some sixty years later, Norm McDonald look-alikes would be weaving their special indigenous skills not only at Essendon — without doubt the forerunner of enlightened thought — but all the other AFL clubs as well.

And then to my absolute delight in walked Bert Harper. I sped across to him and told him that his was the last autograph I needed and would he please sign? He thought it was a great joke, asked how old I was, and what was my name. He signed. I felt overjoyed, like I’d kicked a winning goal in a grand final. I told all those near me how prized this autograph was and how long I had been waiting for it. I couldn’t wait to get back to the family with the news and show them the prized autograph, heart pumping with joy.  At last I could take it easy.

I settled down to watch the rest of the curtain-raiser, which in those days was the thirds match, and we watched the young Dons playing their hearts out for a future with the club.

So here I am at the ’G, it’s half-time, and the Dons don’t look good.  We can’t get our game together, we can’t get the ball out of the centre, and apart from Jason Winderlich, Paddy Ryder and Jobe Watson, the team looks out of sorts. Things don’t look too much better early in the third quarter, but we are more competitive and creating more of the play and looking more like the footy team I think we are.

Just before three-quarter time it’s all happening for the Dons.  Andrew Lovett, his cousin Nathan Lovett-Murray and Matthew Lloyd are getting the ball to great effect and I have a feeling things are turning around. With improved team work and a higher work-rate we get a couple of well-deserved late goals to hit the front. The big question is: can we maintain it? I watch Matthew Knight get to them at the break and I feel the mood is on the up. I’m certainly feeling better.

It’s the last quarter. The Dons are harassing Richmond all over the ground. No matter what the Tigers try to do, nothing can stop the Red and Blacks, who, despite wearing a pretty average away strip (thanks a lot AFL), have at last hit their straps. Brett Stanton, Alwyn Davey, Sam Lonergen and Angus Monfries (great name Angus) have all decided to help the ones mentioned earlier, and the game is beyond doubt halfway through the final term.

A bit of a downer at the end is an ankle injury to Courtney Dempsey, and Jason Winderlich copping a bad hit on the head, but at least he’s OK enough to be awarded the Yiooken award for best on the ground.


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    Rod, what a lucky person you are to have seen Coleman, Hutchison and co play. My father spent a season at Essendon in 1950 so I only heard about those great players. Would have loved to have seen them.
    We have a great batch of youngsters now who are a treat to watch.I only saw hightlights on the news however as the game wasn’t on til 10.45pm in NSW.
    By the way, why did we need to wear that ridiculously widened strip?

  2. Sam Dowdle says

    Hi Rod,
    I read your message with interest. Bert Harper was my grandfather and I always keep an eye open for old footy stories about him etc.
    Thanks for the insight. Go Bombers!

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