If One Curse Ends, Hopefully Another Doesn't Form
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
"As my memory rests, but never forgets what I lost; wake me up when September ends."
As a Melbourne tragic, all too frequently Green Day's song would strike a chord with the Melbourne faithful. The team would rarely make finals and after a long 22 week season, we'd go into hibernation for September then focus on next season, hoping for improvement with the words "next season is it!".
Now Melbourne finds itself in the extraordinary position of being Minor Premiers and straight through to a Preliminary Final. Season 2021's performance had the statisticians frequently saying "the last time they had this stat was 1964 and you know what happened that year!" The frequent comparisons and highlighting of Melbourne's lack of success also bring up another footy myth. The Norm Smith curse. Channel Seven's coverage on Saturday night during Neil Kearney's introduction even alluded to it. The fact that potentially the Dees might finally have a chance to shatter the curse in season 2021.
For those that don't know, Norm Smith's fingerprints are on ten of Melbourne's twelve Premierships. Six as a coach and four as a player. Including Melbourne's last Premiership in 1964. But a year later, in 1965, the club sacked Norm Smith. Following the sacking, the club would take decades to reach a finals series again and there lay the birth of the Norm Smith curse.
So anytime Melbourne finishes in the Top Eight and makes finals its fans just embrace it because they're starved of being there in any form. As any footy fan knows, finals action is a new time of year. The air is electric and warmer. You enjoy being in the stands in short sleeves, with the pollen in the air, the sun out (or a balmy evening) and soaking it in whilst you ask yourself "what if?"
In 2018 Melbourne made the finals for the first time in 12 years. The celebrations in the lead up to the Elimination Final against Geelong was just an ecstatic atmosphere, whether Melbourne won or lost. It was just the feeling of knowing we were there and could savour the moment we could say "Melbourne is playing football in September". When Melbourne won that night, like any team's supporters would do, we celebrated long into the night. But a week later when we wiped the floor and beat an arch-enemy in the Hawks, the celebrations were very tame. I firmly believe we all thought that night . . .
The philosophical outlook of just being in September was replaced with shock. We didn't just make September action but we were down to the last four teams and now just one win away from the final dance. The celebrations of last week's excitement now replaced with everyone asking, what has just happened?
During the week we had to enter a ballot for tickets to the Grand Final in case Melbourne won their next game. An area that Melbourne fans are rarely in a position to enjoy. Needless to say, a week later, those hopes were instantly dashed within the first ten minutes of the game against the Eagles. Since then many said the club didn't recover from the shellacking the Eagles dished out during that Preliminary Final.
Yet here in 2021 Melbourne finished top of the tables, have won the first week of the finals and are straight through to a Preliminary. Statistics usually say that more often than not, the teams that go straight through to a Preliminary will make the final dance. At the end of Saturday night's game, a Port friend messaged me and said:
"It's going to be a Port v Melbourne Grand Final."
I responded with:
"Until it's announced it will be played at the 'G I'm somewhat mixed about that".
Why am I mixed about it?
At present, anyone reading the play would see that the Grand Final is headed to Western Australia because of the COVID restrictions in Victoria. Hypothetically if the Dees were to make the Grand Final, it would be their first in two decades. With a chance of breaking the Norm Smith Curse and the faithful won't be there?
That's why I have mixed emotions about it.
All Melbourne fans are long-suffering supporters. We all wish for the day we can be in those stands on the last Saturday in September, watch our beloved team win and lift the Cup and can regale for years to come how our emotions got the better of us and not be ashamed to tell everyone "I couldn't stop crying that day." It's exactly why we go to the footy each week, it's why we sit in the cold, wind and rain during a long season. It's that moment that we pine for. As Greg Champion's song goes:
"Show me the crowd and I'll take my place. I'm hungry, I'm hungry for the taste of it."
In the 1990s when a lot of clubs, including the Dees, discussed mergers with other clubs it summed up where the AFL saw the future. It was a business model, now the AFL has to run as one, but its highest commodity is its fans. The fans have emotional ties to their clubs. It's all about being there with your side during the highs and lows and there is no such higher mountain than your side winning a Grand Final and being there with your fellow supporters. As a tagline often used by the AFL in September goes:
"Be there to witness greatness."
If that greatness occurs for the Dees this year, with the breaking of the curse and the drought, none of the faithful will have a chance to witness it. It sums up the fact that the fans are being forgotten in this game now for the sake of keeping the show running.
If Melbourne, dare we say it, was to break the drought this year, for all of us, it will be nothing more than a hollow celebration. It would be similar in style to Steven Bradbury's Gold Medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. You take it and let it stand for your suffering and emotional investment, but in the back of your head, you'll always have a reminder that there was something missing in that victory. For Melbourne fans, it will be the fact that they were robbed of being there for it. Potentially weren't even allowed to watch in a group of your fellow supporters at a bar or at a footy field. I can assure you that will burn deep in Melbourne fans eventually.
The Grand Final must be in Melbourne for this reason. Not just in the event, the Dees make it, but the City needs it as well! Fans from interstate should also be permitted to fly to the MCG for that day as well. The city of Melbourne is downtrodden and in the dumps, it needs a spark and having the Grand Final in their town will boost the spirits once again, even if only for a few hours.
Former Collingwood President, Eddie McGuire produced a bold plan to keep the Grand Final in Melbourne and I applaud Eddie's plan. It involves having a ring of steel around the MCG with checkpoints that would conduct the following:
Temperature checks and swabbing in that ring of steel;
Linking test results to tickets;
Testing to be done via rapid testing on the day as results take 10-20mins;
A COVID test would also be required on the Wednesday prior to the game.
It's a great plan that gives Melbournians a chance to have a sense of normalcy in September. Sadly, I don't see it occurring, but I hope it does, especially if the Dees are there and break the curse. Melbourne fans know that this can be a once in a generation type moment. Therefore we have to be there at all costs and be given the chance to do so. A chance that is going to be robbed if the Grand Final is shifted to Perth.
If Melbourne were to break the Norm Smith curse out West, I can only hope there will be a multitude of chances to see a Grand Final victory again over the next decade. One can only hope that a breaking of the Norm Smith Curse doesn't result in the development of a new one dubbed the "COVID Curse" which sets off another 57-year wait.