Why history suggests Melbourne will lift 57-year AFL 'curse'

·4-min read
Melbourne Demons players are pictured here reacting to a goal in their preliminary final win.
The Melbourne Demons will snap a longstanding 'curse' if they can beat the Western Bulldogs in the 2021 AFL grand final. Pic: Getty

It’s been the era of the drought-breakers.

In 2005 Sydney ended a 72-year premiership drought. Two years later, Geelong’s 44-year wait was over. The Western Bulldogs’ 62-year drought was finally ended in 2016, and the following year Richmond returned to the promised land for the first time in 37 years.

It says something about the AFL’s equalisation policy that in the first two decades of this century, when the full-time professionalism of players and the explosion among coaching ranks has really taken full effect, that these agonising waits have been brought to an ecstatic close.

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It augurs well for Melbourne, whose faithful has been waiting patiently and impatiently for 57 years.

But a win in Saturday’s AFL grand final wouldn’t just end a drought, it would finally put an end to one of the most painful chapters in VFL/AFL history.

Other droughts have been longer, but none have been as torrid as Melbourne’s.

They won’t just break a drought, they’ll lift a curse.

The Curse of Norm Smith has hung over Melbourne since the legendary coach’s sacking – and quick reinstatement – in 1965, the year after the Demons’ most recent flag.

Smith led Melbourne to six premierships and two other grand final losses in a run of 11-straight finals appearances after taking over in 1952.

But after a string of undesirable performances midway through 1965, Smith’s fractious relationship with the club was cut. A legend was sacked.

It didn’t last long. Another poor result the next week saw Smith reinstated, and he stayed at Melbourne until the end of 1967. But the golden era was over.

After Melbourne’s 1964 flag, Melbourne didn’t make the finals for 22 years, and its wait for another premiership continues.

Whether or not you believe in such things, the Curse of Norm Smith has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Seen here, Melbourne Demons players celebrate their preliminary final win over Geelong.
The Melbourne Demons are hoping to win their first AFL premiership since 1964 in Saturday night's decider against the Western Bulldogs. Pic: Getty

It has at least put a name to a period of bad management, self-destruction and tragedy, and shown that poor decisions football clubs make aren’t just isolated incidents, but that one bad decision begets another, until suddenly you’re staring at a 57-year premiership drought.

So dire did things get, in 1996 Melbourne members voted to merge with Hawthorn. They’d essentially given up on the future of their club as they knew it.

The only reason we don’t have a Melbourne Hawks today is because of the fight put up by a Hawthorn group led by Don Scott and Ian Dicker.

Melbourne Demons out to life the 'curse'

For decades Melbourne has lurched from one crisis to the next.

"The curse is a real thing, in a weird way, but it has been around the club," former captain David Neitz, Melbourne’s games record holder and greatest ever goalkicker said last week.

"As a club, we haven't been able to get the stability right across the board since Norm's departure.”

But it’s not just footballing catastrophes that have marked Melbourne’s long wait – most notably the tanking debacle that tore the club apart more than a decade ago.

There has been genuine tragedy that goes beyond the gimmick of a curse of a sacked coach half a century ago, and speaks to the pain and suffering this club has endured.

Troy Broadbridge was killed in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand, eight days after his wedding, aged 24.

The two great Irish imports, Jim Stynes and Sean Wight, both died of cancer aged 45 and 47 respectively in 2011 and 2012.

Wight joined the board after his playing days, while Stynes isn’t just a club great, but a legend of the game. 

He was a Brownlow medallist, a community champion, a man who gave his heart and soul – even amid deteriorating health – to turn the fortunes of his beloved club around.

Colin Sylvia, a talented and sometimes troubled former No.3 draft pick, died in a car accident in 2018. His funeral was held the day after his 33rd birthday.

Dean Bailey, the coach who felt ‘bullied’ into tanking in 2009, died of lung cancer in 2014, aged just 47.

The man Bailey took over from as senior coach, Neale Daniher, has been battling a public fight with motor neurone disease since 2013.

It’s an unusually long, grim and tragic list.

It’s why a win on Saturday would mean more than just the end of a premiership drought. 

Curse or no curse, Melbourne is overdue due for a change in fortunes.

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