The ANZAC Day “tradition”

“If you have the same sort of thing the night before, it’s like having Christmas twice. People will think I’m talking through my pocket at Collingwood, but part of having something significant is the exclusivity of it”.

– Eddie McGuire 2014

“Back in 1980, blockbusters weren’t the manufactured all-ticketed contrivances of a manipulated draw that ensures the biggest drawing sides play each other at the biggest venues….blockbusters happened by chance. But when they did, they were organic and visceral. Melbourne footy followers were acutely aware of games of real significance and descended on them en masse”

– Stainless 2012


I guess the ANZAC Day Eve and Day games were both a bit like Christmas. Monday night was like the exciting, fresh part of Christmas – full of eager anticipation of an array of prezzies, the first glasses of bubbly and a beautifully presented feast spread before us. Tuesday felt like Christmas too, but more like the late afternoon part of it when the same old group of rellies turn up like they always do to pick on leftovers. Yeah, Aunty Thelma’s Christmas cake is pretty damn good, but she’s made it for the last 20 years and it’s got to the point where we keep doing it because we’ve always done it that way.


Eddie, as a master of promotion and marketing, should know that even the best brands grow old and tired.


Frankly, this is where the Collingwood-Essendon ANZAC Day game has got to. After 23 years of holding exclusive rights to this day, what possible justification do these two clubs now have for retaining their duopoly? They certainly can’t claim to have the predominant fan bases or best playing lists. As Melbourne and Richmond showed on Monday night, respectful links with the ANZAC tradition can be readily forged by other clubs and bumper crowds will turn up to big matches, whoever’s playing. The problem with lucrative traditions is that they show up as pretty important line items in the annual budget. They’re not something you happily give up for the greater good.


The significance of ANZAC Day football itself is unquestioned. But that is purely due to the association of football with what we truly commemorate on the day itself. It certainly has nothing specific to do with Collingwood and Essendon. Millennials might be intrigued to know that ANZAC Day football was played for 35 years before the Collingwood-Essendon “tradition” was born. ANZAC Day footy has a proud history of monster crowds, memorable games, and, most importantly, participation by all clubs. But current AFL PR protocols seem to require that this ancient history is expunged from the record.


What made last night’s Richmond-Melbourne game so special in a football sense was that it was a genuinely, unscripted blockbuster. There was a fresh vibrancy in the atmosphere about the unexpected prospect of two clubs on the rise after years of disappointment. The punters realised it and nearly 86,000 turned up, 10,000 better than any previous meeting of these two clubs. The game itself was a cracker, certainly the equal if not better than Tuesday’s.


This is not an argument for establishing another “traditional” game. Every time a fixture is carved out for exclusive use by two teams, the draw is further compromised, and we hear further hypocritical rhetoric about “growing the game” from the competing clubs whilst they quietly line their pockets. And how long should these “traditions” last anyway if the matchups lose their original appeal over time (Carlton-Richmond opening round, anyone?)


In my opinion, the ANZAC Day eve concept has worked impressively and respectfully in its short history, but I don’t see why that even with the spectacular success of Monday night, Richmond and Melbourne should hold any greater claim to it than any other clubs. My point about its specialness is all about the elusive quality of the genuine blockbuster. And that’s my point about ANZAC Day itself. Despite what the marketing gurus will tell you, the 1995 ANZAC Day game has never been bettered in the subsequent 22 years in terms of game quality, atmosphere, crowd or any other KPI they might throw up. It was the best by unique, amazing accident. Making the fixture a “tradition” , featuring the same two clubs might work for a while but all traditions eventually become stale, hidebound and, often, masks for entrenched self-interest.


If the AFL is serious about growing the game through the use of ANZAC Day then it’s time to share the occasion amongst all clubs. Even with careful selection of appetising matchups, there’s no guarantee that this approach will produce great, memorable blockbusters each year. But it would reinvigorate the occasion and would enable all footy fans to experience this special mix of sport, history and national identity from time to time.


Now that would be like Christmas.

About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!


  1. Sam,one of the best Anzac day games i can recall was in 1972 when you chaps played Melbourne. Not too different to this year. Melbourne led for the bulk of the game before being over run in the final term.

    I watched that Fox footy show the greatest the other day. They spoke about the greatest Anzac Day clashes, aka Collingwood V Essendon. WTF !!! For 35 years prior to 1995 there was footy on Anzac day.

    Sam it is well overdue for the AFL to share the occasion amongst all clubs. Despite what Eddie McGuire might think the day is no more Collingwoods,or Essendon, than any other team.

    Looking forward to Anzac Day 2018, with two teams competing.


  2. Well written and pointed out Sam.
    Self interest is the key term here.

  3. Stainless says

    Spot on about that Fox show. It was one of the triggers for this piece. Talk about selective history.
    E.g. Doggies fans might recall Anzac Day 1983 when Footscray played Richmond at the MCG. Quarter time score Footscray 10.3 Richmond 0.3. The Tigers mounted an astonishing comeback to hit the lead two or three times before eventually falling short by 2 points. If that doesn’t rate as one of the greatest Anzac Day games ever – I’ll go he.

  4. Interesting argument, Stainless.

    The AFL will never countenance changing the two competing ANZAC Day clubs, quite simply because they do not have the cojones to do so. This is too hard for them, in large part because they fear the resulting negative publicity from Maguire and co.

    I found it instructive that the AFL did not guarantee a) another Good Friday match next year, or b) that the same two clubs would compete if it was fixtured.
    It seems that in the AFL, some clubs are still more equal than others.

  5. Stainless to say I agree with you is a massive massive understatement.The SANFL previous years grand finalists play on Anzac Day it is a tradition and it is one if the Afl were fair dinkum of it being a national competition ( cough cough ) it would have happened well before now

  6. Paul Spinks says

    Precisely, Stainless:

    There’s a myth bandied about that Collingwood and Essendon created Anzac Day – I always felt they hijacked it. Can’t blame the clubs, though – they asked, the AFL delivered.

    One of my most memorable days at the footy was at Princes Park when the Blues and Saints battled it out one Anzac Day. Plugger was playing. The ground was packed, as was every other match. Now, when the Diggers and family come to Melbourne for the march the only game in town is sold out.

    No clubs have a divine right to own part of the fixture, including my Cats on Easter Monday against the Hawks – though of all the marquee games that’s probably the only one to evolve naturally. Don’t think exclusivity has ever been officially designated, however. In any case, the Hawks probably have a bigger rivalry with the Bombers.

    If all clubs had a marquee game it would be more palatable (I always liked the Battle of the Bay concept between the Cats and Saints, but it never took off), but until then …?

  7. So once in 40 years Richmond plays a decent game of footy around the time of ANZAC day and that association is considered a sufficient basis for changing the current winning formula?


  8. Punxsu..and-the-rest-of-it Pete says

    Great work Stainless. Always enjoy your stuff

    On the 1983 game between the Tiges and Dogs, that was the day I became a Dog. I was a Tiger to that day. I wrote about my chrysalis in this years Doggies Almanac. Here’s part of the piece.

    ‘I didn’t *choose* to be a Bulldog, I felt betrothed to the red white and blue.

    Up until I was eighteen, I was a Tiger. As a kid, I was seduced by the powerhouse Richmond teams of the 70s. I bled yellow and black. Footscray, however, were my second team because I came from St.Albans and they represented The West. If fact, you might say they were a little bit more than that, as in my teens, I went to the Western Oval as often as I did the MCG.

    Going to the Western Oval in the late 70s and early 80s was a bleak experience for Dogs fans, even for someone like me who was only partially invested in the club. We were perennial cellar dwellers and on the receiving end of countless thrashings. Adding to my misery, I had an unhappy knack of not turning up on the rare occasions we won. Happily, under Bluey Hampshire’s stewardship, Footscray emerged from this grim chapter in 1983 and this was the year I emerged from my chrysalis to a Dog. Though I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, a game at the MCG that season resonates as more pivotal than most. Perversely enough, it was a match against my beloved Tigers. The Dogs jumped Richmond in this Anzac day fixture, and by quarter time had kicked an astonishing 10 goals. I’d never seen a team representing Footscray play with such bravado and polish. It was wholly intoxicating and mesmerizing and, as the Tigers than came back hard, I found myself hoping the Dogs would hold on. They did, by a very small margin, and I guess in that moment I became a Dog.

    On feeling betrothed to the Dogs, I used to kid it felt like being in an arranged marriage with a homely girl. Where Richmond were my Farah Fawcett, the Dogs were my Jane Eyre. When I finally became a Dog though, I dutifully fulfilled that promise: I’d honored the calling to support the local team.

    And it was just as well too, because sticking with “Farah” would have had me on the bottle!’

    Stainless, it was a magical day. And as a Tiger / Dog fan, I loved being part of the ANZAC experience. The duopoly should be addressed.

    PS Still love the Tigers, and they are more than just a second team to me. Still every inch my Farah

  9. Winning formula for whom?

  10. PP and Stainless, on that theme, have a look at this piece by Joe de Petro for Balcony Banter.|2017&category=

  11. Punxsu..and-the-rest-of-it Pete says

    John, Joe’s piece is absolutely wonderful. He should be contacted to submit it for this years almanac, me thinks.

  12. Jock Edmond kicked five goals in ten minute blitz during the Dogs 1st quarter onslaught in ’83.

    Terrific game.


  13. “A winning formula for whom” ?

    I don’t want to be too grandiose and at the same time not to put too fine a point on it: for person-kind; for humanity; for world peace; for ending world poverty; for solving the middle – east conflict; for reducing the price of gas to Australian consumers and solving the riddle: to compensate Collingwood for not winning enough premierships let alone not featuring in enough finals of late.

  14. Stainless says

    Thanks for the comments, all. Glad my memories of that 1983 game has triggered a few other recollections of when Anzac Day was shared around.
    Smokie – definitely a whiff of “Animal Farm” about the AFL, I agree. North and the Dogs have lobbied hard for their Good Friday game and deserve a shot at it. But my argument is that no fixture should be set in stone, and there’s actually a strong case for mixing them up to keep the whole thing fresh.
    Rulebook – I’m not sure why a GF rematch hasn’t been factored into one of the early season holiday slots. It seems a no-brainer and would certainly be more equitable than the current arrangements.
    JTH – love Joe’s piece, although the only “angelic ” behaviour I saw on Monday night was the joyful send-offs to the “demons” as they fled to the exits!

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