Tulip’s gone. Damn it. I have never met a more friendly bloke.

We spoke twice for the book I’m writing. Either side of heart operation, and several times on the phone. On each occasion we talked for an hour before I even pressed record. That was how he was. Genuine, interested, engaging. I got the impression he loved people, and loved life. And loved his family no end. All up, the recorded bits of our chat went for over three hours, from earliest childhood, to teen and playing years and beyond. Always laughing, always taking the piss out of himself. Everybody loved Robbie, because it was obvious: What you saw was what you got. A no-frills, ripper bloke.

He was also a great footballer.
In his prime he could get Best On with just 13 touches. Because he ran, because his skills were so sweet, because he knew key times in a game. In the days of holding position, the thought of Tulip on Hawkins or Greig or even a boofhead like Dippa would always make me drool. Champion on champion. All day. Each week.

The way several coaches instructed the entire team to lead to the left on kick-outs, leaving Robbie one-on-one on the other wing, is football legend. Barassi, he reckoned, did more for the club in his second stint there than people game him credit for. We talked about teammates, supporters, the MCG, and above all else, the Melbourne Footy Club he adored.

But his earliest stories stuck with me most.

“Dad was a mad Collingwood supporter. Mum Melbourne.”

“Civil War in the one house!” I laughed.

“Nah,” Robbie smiled. “There were absolutely no problems in our family. But Dad said: The first one’s mine. Haha! My older brother was a Pie.”

“You were second, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, and my other brother was third, so it was Dad’s turn again. Every night in the back yard it was Collingwood vs Melbourne for the Premiership.”

“That explains so much!” I told him.

Why him and the Demons were fate. His baulking skills. Two on one all arvo, every arvo, for years. For the glory of Melbourne.

“Brother vs brothers…” I said, dreamily, trying to picture it. “Did you ever mix it up? The two youngest on the oldest?”
“No. Melbourne vs Collingwood,” he repeated, with a grin. “Always. Always for the Flag!”
I asked him about kicking the footy, before ambition. About where he got his skills.

He smiled over the lunch he had shouted us both.
“Our house used to have a thin walkway down both sides. I’d put a bucket on one side, go to the other, kick the ball over the roof, then, as it was sailing through the air, sprint around the other side to see if it landed in the bucket. Time and again.”

And that explained even more. We just sat there, grinning like we were both kids again.

Tulip was proof you don’t have to be arrogant, or an arsehole, or outwardly intense to be a champion. You can be driven, relentless, yet still give up none of your humanity or warmth.

Every one of his opponents spoke well of him. How could they not? Growing up, I remember every fan, no matter who they barrack for, barracking for him. A champion bloke who could also play football.

Good luck, Robbie Flower. Thanks for your skills, and that great smile. My heart goes out to your family of red and blue and black and white and the greater football world.


  1. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks Matt. I have fond memories of Robbie in an era of great wingers with Turner, Greig, Shimma, Hawk, etc.. I am not sure if my Swans ever had anyone of that stature to match him.
    Way to young to leave us with just memories.

  2. Fantastic. Thanks Matt. There is something about watching Robbie Flower that brings out the “ooh ah gee wow” innocent child in all of us.
    Your book is going to be amazing. Needs to be in 20 folios like Dickens originally published. One volume won’t do justice to the men and the times and the memories.
    And it needs to be multi-media with a music and video DVD of them in their prime to flesh out the memories.
    I thought I remembered how good Robbie Flower was until I saw the video. Then I realised he was twice as good as I remembered.
    And if you tell the kids of today that ………………….they woooooon’t believe ya.

  3. And he looked like Keith Richards’ healthy younger brother. Same hair, same eyes, same skinny physique. The one that stayed away from guitars and girls and drugs. Stuck with footy and his mates. And lived 20 years less for his troubles. Only the good…………..

  4. Thanks Matt. You are right, his childhood backyard days do say a lot about what we saw from him as a footballer. He played footy the way kids dream (or at least when I was a kid) of playing footy, constantly weaving in and around opponents.

  5. Also – did his brothers end up Dees supporters in the end?

  6. Malcolm Rulebook Ashwood says

    Thanks Old dog I remember in state games having the sheer pleasure and being in awe of Robbie Flower there are very few people where there is never a bad word spoken
    A true legend of the game

  7. sean gorman says

    Nice one.

  8. Some players just ooze class when you watch them.
    Some people ooze class when you speak with them.
    Few people do both and Rob is one of those few. He brought so much joy to a Melbourne tragic growing up in household of cats and tigers.
    Vqle Rob Flower!

  9. So many great games, so many great memories, so where do we start?

    One in particular dates back to R 3 in 1981, at the Western Oval. It was Melbournes sole victory for the season, a one point wn over Footscray. What really epitomises it, was that Robbie Flower took a strong mark within kicking distance, inside the last minute. That kick, that goal saw Melbournes only victory of 1981. He was their sole shining light in a long dark period, and remains the best player i ever saw represent the Dees.

    Vale Robert Flower

  10. Well played Matt.
    Love your presentation of people.
    Always portrayed as people.

    All the best to friends and family of R Flower.

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