What were you doing when Stynes ran across the mark?

Yesterday, Stynes had a bridge at Docklands named in his honour.  The steel arc design is a first for Australia.  The Stynes family was present when the plaques were unveiled.  Jim Stynes is a football immortal.


For all his success, he is remembered mostly for that infamous 15-metre penalty.


Can you remember what you were doing when he ran across the mark ?


In the dying moments of the 1987 preliminary final, a moment of forgetfulness instantly became infamy.  Melbourne led by four points.  They’d led all day.  They should’ve wrapped up the game but in the last quarter the Demons wilted.  They had plenty of possessions, but couldn’t kick goals.


Graeme Yeats missed on the run from thirty metres out, directly in front.  Simon Eishold took a strong mark over Peter Schwab three metres out on a tight angle.  Eishold was five metres out when he kicked like a clown, the ball slewing at right angles off the inside of his boot.


A minute later, Hawthorn’s Gary Buckenara was unattended in the goal square and kicked straight.


From the restart, Tony Campbell gathered a handpass from Greg Healy and fended off Dermott Brereton’s tackle.  He ran into an open goal under no pressure and missed from thirty-five metres out, directly in front.


There was ten seconds left in the preliminary final.  Michael Tuck kicked the ball back into play.  Schwab took a mark at centre half back and handpassed to Chris Langford, who kicked to the fifty-metre line where Buckenara was on a lead.


Buckenara fell over in the marking contest, getting a free kick for tripping.  The ball spilled into the pocket.


Then the siren went.


Buckenara was a decent kick but he was fifty-five metres out.  On the run he might’ve made the distance.  As he caught the football on its return, the siren had been sounding for six seconds.  When Jim Stynes ran across the mark the umpires still hadn’t heard the siren.


Umpire David Howlett correctly paid a 15-metre penalty.


The siren kept sounding.  The crowd had heard it.  Women stood on their seats, mouths agape in horror.  As Buckenara lined up, a man walked up an isle and threw his football record on the ground as he went, his mate trailing behind him.


The siren kept ringing out as Buckenara kicked the goal.  It had rung for 42 seconds before the umpires heard it.


On 19 September 1987, Jim Stynes made the most famous error in VFL/AFL history.  Amazing such a mistake could be made.  Only kids ran across the mark.  Most kids only did it once.  Stynes would never do it again…


Years later, he discussed the incident on Channel 7.  ‘Soon as I darted off the line I was on I knew,’ he said.  ‘Oh no.’


A famous photo of that day is etched in memory, a shattered Stynes being berated by his coach, John Northey in the change rooms.


‘It was horrible,’ Stynes told Channel 7.  ‘My dad was there, my mum was there.  Robbie Flower, it was his last game.  He’d played for Melbourne for sixteen years or something, never played in a grand final.  That was his first final series so, first time in 23 years we were in a final.  It was just a lot of mixed emotions in that room.’


Where were you, as it happened…


The preliminary final wasn’t televised live into Melbourne.  I was with two mates, Russ and Paul.  We listened to the first half in the studio, a room off the garage my father built in the backyard in Oak Park.  The studio had two couches that doubled as beds, a pot-belly heater, desks, book cases and easels.


It was an intellectual, artistic place to listen to football.


At quarter time Melbourne led by five points.  During the break, the wind switched direction, giving the Demons the advantage.  They took a 22-point lead into half time, 6:10:46 to 3:6:24.


At half time, my mates and I walked down Jacaranda Street to visit my grandparents, Rita and Pa.  They were in the kitchen, listening to the game.


Melbourne was sentimental favourites.  They weren’t expected to win.  Despite the sentiment, I was going for Hawthorn.  Personal reasons prevented me from supporting Melbourne.


Two weeks previous, North Melbourne lost the elimination final by 118-points.  I hated Melbourne for it.


‘I hope they lose with a kick after the siren,’ I said.


It was a throwaway line, built on spite.  I could care less about sentiment.


Russ, Paul and I listened to the rest of the game in the studio.


The breeze had shifted again at half time.  The football gods, it seemed, were doing all they could to assist Melbourne.  Both teams kicked four goals in the third team and the margin at three-quarter time remained 22-points.


The final quarter was a classic.  Stynes’s folly adds to the appeal.


At Oak Park High on Monday, using Russ and Paul as witnesses, I relayed my lust, I hope they lose with a kick after the siren.


I felt no pity for Jim Stynes and though people hated Howlett’s decision, it was the right one.  That the siren had gone was irrelevant.

Twenty five years later, when Jim Stynes died from cancer that baleful lust I had in 1987 was replaced by sympathy, finally, for Stynes and those poor Melbourne players who lost the preliminary final by two points.


He played a serviceable game, gathering 13 possessions, 16 hit-outs and kicking a goal.  Then he ran across the mark.


As Ron Barassi famously said, if you’re going to make a mistake, make sure it’s a good one.


Stynes courageously stayed at Melbourne.  It took a courageous club not to get rid of him.  He won a Brownlow in 1991.  That same year he won the Leigh Matthews Trophy as the AFL’s most valuable player.


He set an AFL record of 244 consecutive games between 1987 and 1998.  He won four best and fairest, was all Australian twice.  He was selected in Melbourne’s team of the century and inducted into the AFL hall of fame in 2003.


He was Victorian of the year twice and Melburnian of the year in 2010, and received an OAM in 2007.


Stynes might’ve cost his club a grand final appearance but he left a wonderful legacy through the Reach Foundation, which provides assistance for young people, and the positive and public way he fought cancer.


He was determined to transform his former club.  Unfortunately he died before it could happen.







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…


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I was at the Royal National Hotel in London, the nerve centre for Contiki travellers back then. Mrs Swish and I had just returned from our 30 day European Tour (SE749), before our Britain & Ireland 17 dayer.

    Not recommended for married couples.

  2. I was in the public bar of the late lamented Crown Hotel in Williamstown.

    My Hawks-supporting mate Macca and I were listening to the match on a transistor perched on the bar (no live tv footy back then). When Buckenara kicked the goal, Macca ran out onto Pasco St and whoped for joy, pot in hand.

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