Former Melbourne captain Garry Lyon and media doyen Tony Charlton last night delivered stirring addresses at the inaugural Norm Smith Oration in the Members Dining Room.
In what is destined to become a hallmark event on the football calendar, last night's joint initiative by the MCC and Melbourne Football Club to reprise the legacy of the ten-time premiership player/coach was roundly applauded.
The night began with the MCC announcing that Norm Smith would be the next statue in the Australia Post Avenue of Legends.
In proposing a toast to football Lyon, one of the Demons most feted and loved players in a 15-year career from 1986-1999, spoke passionately about his love of football and the significant moments that changed his life.
He recalled as a 15-year-old an MFC contingent comprising Ray Manley, Ray Jordan and Cameron Schwab arriving at his Kyabram home to convince he and his family to become a Demon.
Although Garry's father had played 16 games for Hawthorn, it was not enough for Garry to quality under the father-son rule and he became a Melbourne player.
"I loved footy so much that the enormity of the challenge that lay ahead never occurred to me."
Despite Hawthorn playing in 10 finals series, five grand finals and winning four premierships during his own career, he said he has no regrets about not playing for Hawthorn.
Lyon described arriving home from training at midnight because senior coach Ron Barassi "wouldn't let the under 19s train until the senior blokes had finished."
He passionately recalled his first game which he played, ironically, with a back injury, as well as early games as a teenager on his idols Trevor Barker and Paul Roos and the honour of being selected for Victoria.
"Being selected to wear the Big V in that famous State of Origin game involving EJ Whitten's farewell lap of the MCG moved me in a way that only the birth of my three children could move me."
"Is my affair with football still going as strong?" Lyon pondered. "It is never as intimate as when you play. Sometimes it consumes me and I can never get enough. At other times I simply accept that it is a relentless mistress that demands more time than I am able to give."
"I am content to be a passive observer of the greatest game on earth."
Charlton recalls "The Sacking"
In response to Garry Lyon's toast to football, Tony Charlton delivered an as-ever articulate, informative and thought-provoking tribute to Norm Smith, including his recollections of Norm's sacking as Melbourne coach in 1965.
In reliving the events that led up to the infamous sacking Charlton, a member of the MCG Media Hall of Fame and one of the first voices heard on Australian television, described Smith as “…a leader of men. He gave everything to the game he loved.”
“Melbourne had won eight straight in 1965, but tensions had grown,” Charlton recalled. “It was a recipe for trouble when a committee of men who were born to rule came up against a working class man who had learnt how to rule.
After Round 4 of that year, Norm heavily criticised umpire Don Blew, who was so incensed he instigated legal action against Smith.
According to Charlton, the MCC Committee “decided to let him fight it on his own,” which did enormous harm to an already tense relationship between the coach and committee.
Smith was given his marching order by courier to his Pascoe Vale home before the Round 13 game against North Melbourne – and Charlton was there.
“It was as if they'd ruled Phar Lap out of the Melbourne Cup,” said Charlton, incredulously. “Norm Smith, sacked?”
Although he was reinstated four days later, “the magic was gone” and a premiership still awaits the Demons, 46 years later.
“Norm Smith remains the most fascinating subject in my time in the game,” Charlton said. “Very few of his players were great stars of the game, but he was able to mould a great side.
He was innovative, inquisitive and a learner. He was a strategist in an era when strategy was not a big part of football. He was a fearless player himself, and was a great admirer of courageous players.
He influenced an entire generation of footballers and was the architect of a success which might never be equalled.”