DOB: 21 November 1914
Died: 29 July 1973
From: Westgarth Central School/Dennis/Northcote Juniors
Number: 4 1935-1948
Premiership Player - 1939, 1940, 1941, 1948
Grand Final team - 1946
Best and Fairest - 1938, 1943
Victorian state player - 1941, 1945 (2 games)
Victorian state coach - 1958
Seconds Premiership Player - 1934, 1935
Life Member - 1944
Australian Football Hall of Fame Legend - 2007
MFC Hall of Fame - 2001
MFC Hall of Fame legend - 2001
AFL Team of the Century - Coach
Melbourne FC Team of the Century - Coach/Full Forward
150 Heroes selection
Games: 210 (227 total)
Goals: 546 (572 total)
The Demons might never have had Smith. When Percy Page and Checker Hughes visited the Smith household to sign Len Smith, the boys father Vic suggested that they might want to have a look at his younger son as well. Once Len joined the Demons, his brother followed. It was Vic's wish that both his sons play for the same team and Norm gave up on his boyhood dream of playing for Collingwood.
Inviting him to training, the Demons were soon impressed by a player who they may have originally only looked at to make sure they got Len. He had played 44 games for the reserves before breaking through for the seniors in 1935, and only played three games in that first year, but better things were to come.
After his first season Essendon showed interest in recruiting Smith and using him as a full-forward. He refused to deal with them unless Len was part of the deal, and when Checker Hughes played him up front in a practice game soon after Smith was a big hit and the master-coach made sure Essendon knew there was no chance of him leaving.
It took seven rounds for Smith to make into in the side in 1936, as Hughes continued to prefer Ron Baggott in the seniors while Norm learnt his trade in the seconds. A Baggott suspension gave the coach the chance to try his new project - and Smith delivered. He kicked 26 goals in the next eight matches and gained a reputation for setting up his teammates. He suffered a late season form slump and was dropped for the finals series - the second and last time in Smith's career that he was ever confined to the seconds. He had kicked 28.36 for the season.
By now one of the rising stars of the competition Smith was approached by Collingwood at the end of 1936. He turned them down, even though it meant a move closer to home and the chance to play alongside legends like Gordon Coventry. The Demons were delighted that Smith stayed with them, in 1937 he kicked 45.55 twenty games. The Demons were dumped out of the finals in straight sets but Smith's combination with Baggott (51 goals) was fast becoming recognised as the most dangerous in the VFL.
Smith often played as a decoy for the bigger full-forwards, but he was still a potent scorer himself and had 7 or more goals in a game nine times. By 1938 he kicked 80.53, in 1939 he got 54.72 - including 1.6 in the Grand Final and 86 in 1940. Despite Ron Todd reguarly kicking more than 100 goals in that era, debate raged as to whether he or Smith were the best full-forward in the competition. More often than not journalists, fellow players and league coaches would select Smith based on his ability to set others up for goals.
Smith again topped the league charts in 1941 with 89 majors. He got four in the Grand Final and won most newspaper awards for the season. Had the Brownlow Medal not been suspended due to the war there's every possible chance he could have won it.
In a lethal combination alongside Ron Baggott and Jack Mueller, Smith was renowned for giving off almost as many goals as he kicked. If it weren't for his dedication to teamwork and the gameplan of Checker Hughes he may very well have been the first - and as it turns out only - Demon to kick a hundred goals.
Percy Beames took over as coach in 1942 and the war-wracked Demons tumbled down the ladder. Saved, possibly against his will, from military service by working in a protected industry Smith was one of just seven 1941 premiership players available only two years later. 1944 saw him move into the centre, and despite only kicking three goals all year he had his best season. No Brownlow Medal was awarded at the time, but he won the highly regarded Herald 'League Star Footballer' award.
In 1945, Hughes returned as coach and Smith was made captain. He earned life membership after ten years as a player, but with the emergency of Fred Fanning his influence was diminished. Replaced as captain by Donald Cordner, Smith's body began to fail him in his last season but he still managed 35 goals. He ended his playing career with the Demons with victory in the Grand Final replay.
Smith applied to replace Checker Hughes in 1949 but when Allan La Fontaine was preferred by a single vote he accepted an offer to join Fitzroy as captain/coach instead. Smith retired from playing in 1950 and stuck to the bench the next year but was lured back to coach the Demons in 1952 after they had finished last the year before.
|Round 1, 1942||Jostling||Not Guilty|
|Round 7, 1948||Obscene language||4 matches|
Smith first applied for the coaching position at the end of 1948, but was beaten to the role by Allan La Fontaine when the committee favoured La Fontaine by a single vote. Smith may have won, but his ally Francis Vine was absent and the casting vote of the chairman Bill Flintoft won the day for La Fontaine.
Smith took the coaching job at Fitzroy and transformed the side from disasters to contenders, but couldn't get them into the finals. When invited to apply for the Demon job again at the end of the 1951 wooden spoon season he jumped at the opportunity. Once more pitted against La Fontaine, this time Smith prevailed by one vote and was appointed senior coach.
Smith's trademark was discipline, but he was rewarded with a fierce loyalty by his players.
Not surprisingly he was selected as Victorian coach in 1958, beating out Essendon's Dick Reynolds for the job. The side beat South Australia, the VFA and Tasmania by 118, 49 and 102 points respectively before facing, and defeating, Western Australia in the interstate series decider.
Near the end of 1964 after a match against St. Kilda, Smith suggested umpire Don Blew had been "subconsciously biased" towards the opposition. and was forced to settle out of court when the umpire sued him. His side still won the flag that year, but Smith harboured a resentment that his committee hadn't given him more support in his dispute with the umpire.
He had engaged prominent lawyer and Richmond president Ray Dunn as his lawyer, fuelling speculation that he would soon join the Tigers. Then the club was further rocked by the defection of Ron Barassi to Carlton.
His side continued on as if nothing was different for the first eight rounds of 1965 - winning every game before suffering a ten goal loss to the Saints, their biggest loss ever under Smith's reign. Twice more in the next three matches they would lose and in what constituted a crisis for such a successful team Smith was called into a special board meeting.
Believing he was about to be sacked, Smith wrote his resignation but his brother Len talked him out of it and convinced him to stay on. He agreed not to criticise the board in the future. However the next night when Smith refused secretary Jim Cardwell a chance to talk to the players, saying he had already made his position clear, the board saw red.
After six premierships in a decade, and ten as a player and coach, the club sacked Smith by letter in July 1965. Relations between coach and committee had been strained for some time. The last paragraph of the letter read,
"Obviously, you do not intend to honour your word, and the committee is not prepared to allow your disruptive tactics to continue. Your appointment as coach is cancelled as from this date."
Checker Hughes was lured out of retirement to coach that one game, a loss to North Melbourne in Melbourne's only ever game at the Coburg Oval. Hughes had been one of the committeemen to speak at length against Smith's sacking. Frank Adams was set to be appointed permanent coach.
Players and trainers gathered at Smith's house that night, and the next day an interview he had filmed on the Friday for Channel Nine aired, where he put his side of the story. Smith said that Melbourne officials had accused him lying and blamed them for the downturn his side had taken that year.
"It was unacceptable to me to work with men who wouldn't back me, men who would expect me to get the utmost from the players and demand from players loyalty and support, and then at the other end of the line were not prepared to give me their support," he said. Asked by interviewer Tony Charlton if he was interested in the Richmond job - vacated by his brother Len - Smith simply replied that he was Melbourne through and through.
With an revolt by supporters imminent the club relented and re-hired Smith on the Monday. He was pictured shaking hands with president Donald Duffy, but from there on the season fell to pieces and Melbourne won just one more game.
Former club runner Sam Allica told a story about Smith's attempts at introducing modern technology to the game,
"Norman implemented the use of phones between the coach and the runners. Now everybody uses them. We first tried them in a practice match. I was approached by the policeman in charge at the game who wanted to know who was using the phones. The copper said it must cease immediately as we were being broadcast to all the taxis in the area and that some of the drivers had complained about the language being used."
Smith resigned on his own terms at the end of 1967 after battling against bad health. He was co-opted onto the board as a non-voting member pending an election at the end of the year. Amazingly the fans rejected him, and Smith failed to be elected to the board. He severed his ties with the club.
After a year out of the game he re-emerged to coach South Melbourne, who in 1970 he led into their first finals series in 25 years. The Swans fell back down the ladder, and Smith resigned with further diminishing health when he was asked to reapply for his job in 1973. His last footballing act was to be at North Melbourne as Chairman of Selectors with Ron Barassi at North Melbourne, but he didn't stay healthy long enough to go to Arden Street.
In 2009 a biography of Smith, The Red Fox was published.
Some sources suggest Smith's comments about umpire Blew came after a match against South Melbourne.
Age - 22/10/1948
Argus - 11/02/1949
Weekly Times - 13/09/1941
Argus - 06/10/1951
Age - 26/07/1965
Age - 27/07/1965
Age - 28/07/1965
Age - 28/08/1967
Inside Football - 16/09/1972
Age - 05/10/1972
Age - 22/11/2003
Age - 20/07/2007