Coach: Ron Barassi
Captain: Robert Flower
Finishing Position: 12th
Best and Fairest: Steven Smith
Leading Goalkicker: Mark Jackson (76)
Best First Year Player: Mark Jackson
Major Sponsor: Mayne Nickless
|Matches||Ladder||Playing List||Best and Fairest||Reserves||Under 19s||Tribunal||Draft|
Despite showing some improvement under Carl Ditterich during 1980, the playing coach announced midway through the year that he would retire at the end of the season. Having purchased the rights to his coaching services if he ever left North Melbourne several years before Melbourne's committee were happy to assist in the fairytale homecoming.
Before the deal was done Barassi sought to prove that there were no hard feelings about his departure after 1964 but putting an ad in the paper seeking the support of fans for his return. Not surprisingly the long suffering Melbourne faithful jumped at the opportunity.
Barassi had been linked to the Demons as early as 1979, but after beating Carlton, Collingwood and Richmond for his signature the committee got their man and Barassi returned as senior coach.
One of the new coach's first moves was to employ Australian lightweight boxing champion Barry Michael as a sparring partner for the players. New recruit Mark Jackson was reported to have cut him above the eye, but Michael Young and Greg Hutchison were less successful and suffered a battering. Another early edict was to ban his players from wearing beards. He also managed to lure his old mate John Nicholls to the club to help as a specialist ruck coach. His famous #31 was reserved in case his son Ronnie made the list in 1982, with Richard Seddon saying "It's Barassi's number and it belongs to the club. Only a Barassi will wear that number." It was eventually given out again in 1983.
In February the club sued Carlton over the clearance of Alan Mangels. They claimed that as part of the Greg Wells deal the Blues had to pay $70,000 if Mangels didn't sign with the Demons. Eventually they settled for the $35,000 which had already been paid plus clearances for Vin Catoggio and Michael Young.
In March the first sign of the impending dispute concerning over-use of the MCG saw the MCC request that the Demons only train on the MCG once every week when winter kicked in. Until then they were allowed to use the ground on Thursday night only when the weather was fine. Yarra Park was the alternative training venue. Barassi lamented the loss of atmosphere training in a park rather than inside the ground itself.
Celebrity fan Derryn Hinch backed the Dees to make the finals for $5000 to win $25,000, but he couldn't have been any more wrong about the side's fortunes. Despite the return of the great Barassi, and the emergence of the enigmatic forward "Jacko", who kicked 76 goals, the Demons went perilously close to suffering a winless season. A one point victory over Footscray in Round 3 would be their last until Round 2, 1982 - the longest losing streak in club history.
Another major signing who was touted before the season was the supposed new #1 ticket holder Rupert Murdoch. Sir Billy Snedden had been forced to give up his position when he assumed the club presidency. A report in The Age of March 11 announced that Murdoch was set to come on board as "one of the name recruits at Melbourne Football Club" this year. Chief Executive Richard Seddon said Murdoch "is the great Australian as far as we are concerned". The deal never went through and Murdoch would later turn his attention to moving South Melbourne to Sydney.
Barassi-Mania swept the club. Fans flocked to watch him take training and fundraising efforts were at their most successful in years. The coach tried to take the long handle to the losing mentality at the club and immediately ordered that the words "Just how long do we wait before coming winners?" painted on the walls of the changing rooms.
88 players began the season trying to find a place on the list, and the first training session saw 200 fans cheering them as the crossed the bridge to Yarra Park on their first run of the year. His old sparring partner Brent Crosswell called their reunion "comic tragedy" and suggested that it wouldn't be long until the fun and games ended and the tough stuff started. The initial optimism faded 20 minutes into the first training session when Barassi confronted Chairman of Selectors Barry Richardson to say "Jesus Christ, they are bloody hopeless".
Mike Sheahan, always sympathetic to the Dees, declared in his newspaper column that the experiment was a certain success and cited the excitement at the club over the summer break as a key factor. The coach and his loyal assistant Ray Jordon weren't so sure though. Their first training sessions showed just how far behind the players were.
Back on-field, while Jackson was booting big bags in losing sides at one end of the ground, the backline was struggling to contain opposition forwards and conceded over 150 points six times across the year, and held opponents to under 100 points just twice. The wheels started to fall off after the Round 4 loss to St Kilda when Barassi channelled his embarassment into tough training. On Sunday morning they were were told that their Easter break had been cancelled and that they would do three laps of the Tan.
When only six players showed up on time he told them that they'd be on the track on Easter Monday too and forced them to watch the Saints match again before a four hour punishment session. He continued to thump his troops on the track throughout the year as the losses kept mounting.
Despite the thumping the Demons ended up taking the points from the match when the VFL decided that the Saints had played Doug Cox without an appropriate clearance. Until the league returned the points from two games to the Saints in the week of round 18 Melbourne were credited with two wins. The decision dropped the Demons from equal points with 11th placed Footscray to a game and percentage last.
The lowpoint of the Demons defensive calamaties was Round 10 when North Melbourne had a day out with a 129 point victory, including a then career high 9 goals to Kangaroo forward Kerry Good. Good would only ever better his tally once more - with 10 against the Demons in Round 20 of the same year.
By the middle of the year the comedown from the highs of Barassimania was starting to wear thin on fans. A number of influential supporters were invited to a $100 a head cocktail fundraiser but only four turned up.
By conceding 100 points in 20 of 22 games they tied a club record from 1978 which still stands today.
Barassi used 46 players - the equal most of any Melbourne season - including ten newcomers. In a shining light of an otherwise awful season the Under 19's won the premiership under 'Slug' Jordon. Adrian Battiston had earlier won the Morrish Medal for best player in the competition.
In July it was revealed that the Demons executives had conducted informal talks with both North Melbourne and South Melbourne officials about a potential merger. The club lost $130,000 for the season. This, and his own club's pitiful on-field record, didn't stop secretary Richard Seddon from suggesting that the league should let South Melbourne go to the wall if they were unwilling to move to Sydney. In voting against a loan to South he said: "Everyone has been saying Melbourne cannot support 12 league clubs, and one will go broke. Well here's one going broke so let it go to the wall." THe other clubs voted to grant South the loan anyway.
Best and Fairest
Redlegs Trophy - Gerard Healy
RDB Leadership Award - Michael O'Sullivan
Special Award - David Cordner
|Escort Cup Round 3||Brent Crosswell||Striking||2 matches|
|Round 1||Tony Martyn||Striking||2 matches|
|Round 9 Reserves||Tony Dullard||Striking||Unknown|
|Round 11 Under 19s||Scott Sutcliffe||Striking||Unknown|
|Round 13||Jim Durnan||Striking||2 matches|
|Round 17 Reserves||Glenn Giles||Striking||2 matches|
|Round 17 Reserves||Glenn Giles||Striking||1 match|
|Round 18||Peter Keenan||Striking||Not Guilty|
|Round 18||Brent Crosswell||Charging||4 matches|
|Round 18 Under 19s||Peter Tossol||Striking||Unknown|
|Round 21 Reserves||Gary Hardeman||Striking||Unknown|
1981 Reserves Season
Best and Fairest - Peter Maynard
Leading Goalkicker - Dave McGlashan
1981 Under 19s Season
Best and Fairest - Adrian Battiston
Leading Goalkicker - David Cordner
Another practice match may have been played in Terang
Age - 04/02/1981
Age - 06/02/1981
Age - 11/03/1981
Age - 13/03/1981
Inside Football - 19/03/1981
Inside Football - 26/03/1981
Inside Football - 09/07/1981
Age - 27/03/1981
Age - 02/12/1981
Age - 07/03/1993
Herald Sun - 14/04/2001