Essendon Football Club

Essendon Football Club
Essendon logo 2010.png
Full name Essendon Football Club
Nickname(s) Bombers
Motto Suaviter in Modo, Fortiter in Re (Gentle in manner, resolute in execution)
2011 season
Home and away season 8th
Pre-season Cup Runners up
Leading goalkicker Stewart Crameri (34)
Best and fairest David Zaharakis
Club details
Founded 1872
Colours      Red
Competition Australian Football League
Chairman David Evans
Coach James Hird
Captain(s) Jobe Watson
Premierships AFL/VFL: 16 (1897, 1901, 1911, 1912, 1923, 1924, 1942, 1946, 1949, 1950, 1962, 1965, 1984, 1985, 1993, 2000)
VFA: 4 (1891, 1892, 1893, 1894)
Ground(s) Etihad Stadium (capacity: 55,000)
MCG (capacity: 100,018 incl. standing room)
Windy Hill (Training) (capacity: 15,000)
Other information
Official website

The Essendon Football Club, nicknamed The Bombers, is an Australian rules football club which plays in the Australian Football League (AFL). Formed in 1871 as a junior club and as a senior club in 1873, it is headquartered at the Essendon Recreation Reserve (Windy Hill) in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon, Australia but match day home games are played at Etihad Stadium or the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Essendon has won 16 VFL/AFL premierships which, along with Carlton, is the most of any club in the AFL.



Formation and early years in VFA

The Essendon Football Club was formed sometime between 1871 and 1873. It was held at a meeting at the home of a well-known brewery family, the McCrackens, whose Ascot Vale property hosted a team of local junior players.[citation needed]

Robert McCracken, the owner of several city hotels, was the founder and first President of the Essendon club, and his son, Alex, its secretary. Alexander would later become president of the newly formed VFL. Alex’s cousin, Collier, who had already played with Melbourne, was the team’s first captain.[1]

The club's first official match was played against Carlton on 7 June 1873, with Essendon winning by one goal. Essendon played 13 matches in its first season, winning seven, with four draws and losing two.[citation needed]

At first Essendon was regarded as a junior club, and even after the formation of the VFA in 1877 the side was sometimes allowed 'odds' of, for example, twenty-five players as against twenty, when confronted by the leading teams of the time. Essendon finished their first year in the VFA playing 19 games for eight wins and a finish in fourth place.[citation needed]

During its early years in the Association, Essendon played its home matches at Flemington Hill, but moved to the East Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1881. 40 years later the club returned to the Essendon district, playing its home matches at the Essendon Recreation Reserve.

In 1878, Essendon played in the first match on what would be considered by modern standards to be a full-sized field at Flemington Hill. In 1879 Essendon played Melbourne in one of the earliest night matches recorded when the ball was painted white. In 1880 they also became the first metropolitan club to visit Geelong and in 1883 the team played four matches in Adelaide.[citation needed]

In 1891 Essendon won their first VFA premiership, which they repeated in 1892, 1893 and 1894. One of the club's greatest players, Albert Thurgood played for the club during this period.[citation needed] Essendon was undefeated in the 1893 season.[citation needed]

VFL (1897–1989)

From the formation of the VFL until World War I (1897–1915)

At the end of the 1896 season Essendon along with seven other clubs formed the Victorian Football League. Essendon's first VFL game was in 1897 was against Geelong at Corio Oval in Geelong. Essendon won its first VFL premiership by winning the 1897 VFL finals series. Essendon again won the premiership in 1901, defeating Collingwood in the Grand Final. The club won successive premierships in 1911 and 1912 over Collingwood and South Melbourne respectively.

"Same Olds"

Essendon were known as the "Same Olds" (as in "the same old Essendon") in order to distinguish the Essendon VFL side (that played at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground) to which this article refers, from the separate and unconnected Essendon VFA side (that played at what was then the Essendon Cricket Ground), which existed from 1900 to 1921.[2]

Having already moved from its ground at Kent Street, Ascot Vale ("McCracken's Paddock") to Flemington Hill, the club was again forced to move in 1881; and, because the City of Essendon mayor of the day, James Taylor, considered the Essendon Cricket Ground "to be suitable only for the gentleman's game of cricket",[3] Essendon moved to East Melbourne.

This move away from Essendon, at a time when fans would walk to their local ground, did not go over well with many Essendon people; and, as a consequence, a new team and club was formed in 1900, unconnected with the first (although it played in the same colours), that was based at the Essendon Cricket Ground, and playing in the Victorian Football Association. It was known firstly as Essendon Town and, after 1905, as Essendon "A" ("A" for association). Known as the "Dreadnoughts" [sic], the team continued to play at the Essendon Cricket Ground until the expansion of the Jolimont Railway Yards into the East Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1922 meant that the "Same Olds" were looking for a new home.[4]

Returning home

Fred Baring during the 1920s

Having played at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground from 1882 to 1921, and having won four VFA premierships (1891–1894) and four VFL premierships (1897, 1901, 1911, (1912) whilst there,[5] Essendon were looking for a new home, and were offered grounds at the current Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, at Victoria Park, at Arden St, North Melbourne, and the Essendon Cricket Ground. The Essendon City Council, offered the (VFL) team the Essendon Cricket Ground, announcing that it would be prepared to spend over ₤12,000 on improvements, including a new grandstand, scoreboard and re-fencing of the oval. The Essendon VFL club returned to Essendon, and the Essendon VFA club disbanded, with most of its players moving over to (then VFA club) North Melbourne.

In the absence of the VFA team, there was no need for the "Same Olds" distinction and, by 1922, the other nicknames "Sash Wearers" and "Essendonians" that had been variously used from time to time were also abandoned. The team became universally known as "The Dons" (from EssenDON); it was not until much later, during the War years of the early 1940s, that they became known as "The Bombers" — due to Windy Hill’s proximity to the Essendon Aerodrome.[6]

In the 1922 season, back at Essendon at last, they reached the final four for the first time since 1912, finishing in third place.

In the 1923 season the Dons topped the ladder with 13 wins from 16 games. After a 17 point second semi final loss to South Melbourne defeated Fitzroy (who had beaten South Melbourne) in the challenge final: Essendon 8.15 (63) to Fitzroy 6.10 (46). Amongst Essendon’s best players were half forward flanker George "Tich" Shorten, center half forward Justin McCarthy, centre half back Tom Fitzmaurice, rover Frank Maher and wingman Jack Garden.

This was one of Essendon's most famous sides, dubbed the "Mosquito Fleet", due to the number of small, very fast players in the side. Six players were 5'6" (167 cm) or smaller.

The 1924 season proved to be arguably the strangest year in Essendon's entire history. For the first time since 1897 there was no ultimate match — either “challenge final” or “grand final” — to determine the premiers. Instead, the top 4 clubs after the home and away season played a round-robin to determine the premiers. Essendon, having previously defeated both Fitzroy (by 40 points) and South Melbourne (by 33 points), clinched the premiership by means of a 20-point loss to Richmond. With the Tigers having already lost a match to Fitzroy by a substantial margin the Dons were declared premiers by virtue of their superior percentage. Ultimately, Essendon again managed to win successive premierships. But the low crowds for the finals meant this was never attempted again, resulting in Essendon having the unique record of winning the only two premierships without a grand final.

Prominent contributors to Essendon's 1924 Premiership success included back pocket Clyde Donaldson, follower Norm Beckton, half back flanker Roy Laing, follower Charlie May and rover Charlie Hardy.

The 1924 season was not without controversy, with rumours of numerous players accepting bribes. Regardless of the accuracy of these allegations, the club's image was tarnished, and the side experienced its lowest period during the decade that followed, with poor results on the field and decreased support off it.

There was worse to follow, with various Essendon players publicly blaming each other for the poor performance against Richmond, and then, with dissension still rife in the ranks, the side plummeted to an embarrassing 28 point loss to VFA premiers Footscray Football Club in a special charity match played a week later in front of 46,100 people, in aid of Dame Nellie Melba's Disabled Soldiers' Fund, purportedly (but not officially) for the championship of Victoria.[7]

While it is always difficult to assess the damage caused by events such as these, the club's fortunes dipped alarmingly, and persistently. Indeed, after finishing third in the 1926 season, it was to be 14 years before Essendon would even contest a finals series.

Dick Reynolds years (1933–1960)

The 1933 season, was probably the start of the Essendon revival, seeing the debut of the player regarded as one of Essendon's greatest players Dick Reynolds. His impact was immediate. He won his first Brownlow Medal aged 19. His record of three Brownlow victories (1934, 1937, 1938), equalled Haydn Bunton, Sr (1931, 1932, 1935), and later equalled by Bob Skilton (1959, 1963, 1968), and Ian Stewart (1965, 1966, 1971).

Statue of Essendon's greatest, Dick Reynolds at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

Reynolds went on to arguably even greater achievements as a coach, a position to which he was first appointed, jointly with Harry Hunter, in 1939 (this was while Reynolds was still a player). A year later he took the reins on a solo basis and was rewarded with immediate success (at least in terms of expectations at the time which, after so long in the wilderness, were somewhat modest). He was regarded as having a sound tactical knowledge of the game and being an inspirational leader, as he led the side into the finals in 1940 for the first time since 1926, when the side finished 3rd. Melbourne, which defeated Essendon by just 5 points in the preliminary final, later went on to trounce Richmond by 39 points in the grand final.

1941 brought Essendon's first grand final appearance since 1923, but the side again lowered its colours to Melbourne. A year later war broke out and the competition was considerably weakened, with Geelong being forced to pull out of the competition due to travel restrictions as a result of petrol rationing. Attendances at games also declined dramatically, whilst some clubs had to move from their normal grounds due to them being used for military purposes. Many players were lost to football due to their military service. Nevertheless, Essendon went on to win the 1942 Premiership with Western Australian Wally Buttsworth in irrepressible form at centre half back. Finally, the long awaited premiership was Essendon's after comprehensively outclassing Richmond in the grand final, 19.18 (132) to 11.13 (79). The match was played at Carlton in front of 49,000 spectators.

In any case, there could be no such reservations about Essendon's next premiership, which came just four years later. Prior to that Essendon lost a hard fought grand final to Richmond in 1943 by 5 points, finished 3rd in 1944, and dropped to 8th in 1945.

After WWII, Esssendon enjoyed great success. In the five years immediately after the war, Essendon won 3 premierships (1946, 1949, 1950) and were runners up twice (1947, 1948). In 1946, Essendon were clearly the VFL's supreme force, topping the ladder after the roster games and surviving a drawn second semi final against Collingwood to win through to the grand final a week later with a 10.16 (76) to 8.9 (57). Then, in the grand final against Melbourne, Essendon set a grand final record score of 22.18 (150) to Melbourne 13.9 (87), with 7 goal centre half forward Gordon Lane. Rover Bill Hutchinson, and defenders Wally Buttsworth, Cec Ruddell and Harold Lambert among the best players.

The 1947 Grand Final has to go down in the ledger as 'one of the ones that got away', Essendon losing to Carlton by a single point despite managing 30 scoring shots to 21. As if to prove that lightning does occasionally strike twice, the second of the 'ones that got away' came just a year later, the Dons finishing with a lamentable 7.27 (of which full forward Bill Brittingham contributed 2.12) to tie with Melbourne (who managed 10.9) in the 1948 grand final. A week later Essendon waved the premiership good-bye, as Melbourne raced to a 13.11 (89) to 7.8 (50) triumph. The club's Annual Report made an assessment that was at once restrained and, as was soon to emerge, tacitly and uncannily prophetic:

It is very apparent that no team is complete without a spearhead and your committee has high hopes of rectifying that fault this coming season.

The 1949 season heralded the arrival on the VFL scene of John Coleman, arguably the greatest player in Essendon's history, and, in the view of some, the finest player the game has known. In his first ever appearance for the Dons, against Hawthorn in Round 1 1949, he booted 12 of his side's 18 goals to create an opening round record which was to endure for forty five years. More importantly, however, he went on to maintain the same high level of performance throughout the season, kicking precisely 100 goals for the year to become the first player to top the ton since Richmond's Jack Titus in 1940.

The Coleman factor was just what Essendon needed to enable them to take that vital final step to premiership glory, but even so it was not until the business end of the season that this became clear. Essendon struggled to make the finals in 4th place, but once there they suddenly ignited to put in one of the most consistently devastating September performances in VFL history.

Collingwood succumbed first as the Dons powered their way to an 82 point first semi final victory, and a fortnight later it was the turn of the North Melbourne Football Club as Essendon won the preliminary final a good deal more comfortably than the ultimate margin of 17 points suggested. In the grand final, Essendon were pitted against Carlton and in a match that was a total travesty as a contest they overwhelmed the Blues to the tune of 73 points, 18.17 (125) to 6.16 (52). Best for the Dons included pacy aboriginal half back flanker Norm McDonald, ruckman Bob McLure, and rovers Bill Hutchinson and Ron McEwin. John Coleman also did well, registering 6 majors.

A year later Essendon were if anything even more dominant, defeating the North Melbourne Football Club in both the second semi final and the grand final to secure consecutive VFL premierships for the third time. Best afield in the grand final in what was officially his swansong as a player was captain-coach Dick Reynolds, who received sterling support from the likes of Norm McDonald, ruckman/back pocket Wally May, back pocket Les Gardiner, and big Bob McLure.

With 'King Richard' still holding court as coach in 1951, albeit now in a non-playing capacity, Essendon seemed on course for a third consecutive flag but a controversial four week suspension dished out to John Coleman on the eve of the finals effectively put paid to their chances. Coleman was reported for retaliation after twice being struck by his Carlton opponent, Harry Caspar, and without him the Dons were rated a 4 goals poorer team. Nevertheless, they still managed to battle their way to a 6th successive grand final with wins over Footscray by 8 points in the first semi final and Collingwood by 2 points in the preliminary final.

The Dons sustained numerous injuries in the preliminary final and the selectors sprang a surprise on grand final day by naming the officially retired Dick Reynolds as 20th man. 'King Richard' was powerless to prevent the inevitable, although leading at half time, the Geelong kicked five goals to three points in the third quarter to set up victory by 11 points.

Essendon slumped to 8th in 1952 but John Coleman was in irrepressible form managing 103 goals for the year. Hugh Buggy noted in The Argus: "It was the wettest season for twenty two years and Coleman showed that since the war he was without peer in the art of goal kicking."

Two seasons later Coleman's career was tragically ended after he dislocated a knee during the Round 8 clash with the North Melbourne Football Club at Essendon. Aged just twenty five, he had kicked 537 goals in only 98 VFL games in what was generally a fairly low scoring period for the game. His meteoric rise and fall were clearly the stuff of legend, and few if any players, either before or since, have had such an immense impact over so brief a period.

According to Alf Brown, football writer for The Herald:

(Coleman) had all football's gifts. He was courageous, a long, straight kick, he had a shrewd football brain and, above all, he was a spectacular, thrilling mark.

Somewhat more colourful, R.S. Whittington suggested,

"Had he been a trapeze artist in a strolling circus, Coleman could have dispensed with the trapeze."

Without Coleman, Essendon's fortunes plummeted, and there were to be no further premierships in the 1950s. The nearest miss came in 1957 when the Bombers (as they were popularly known by this time) earned premiership favouritism after a superb 16 point second semi final defeat of Melbourne, only to lose by over 10 goals against the same side a fortnight later.

1959 saw another grand final loss to Melbourne, this time by 37 points, but the fact that the average age of the Essendon side was only 22 was seen as providing considerable cause for optimism. However, it was to take another three years, and a change of coach, before the team's obvious potential was translated into tangible success.

Post Reynolds era and the "Slugging' Seventies" (1961–1980)

John Coleman started his coaching career at Essendon in 1961, thus ending the Dick Reynolds era at the club. In the same year Essendon finished the season mid table and supporters were not expecting too much for the following season. However, the club blitzed the opposition in this year, losing only two matches and finishing top of the table. Both losses were to the previous year's grand finalists. The finals posed no problems for the resurgent Dons, easily accounting for Carlton in the season's climax, winning the 1962 Premiership. This was a remarkable result for Coleman who in his second season of coaching pulled off the ultimate prize in Australian football. As so often is the case after a flag, the following two years were below standard. A further premiership in 1965 (won from 4th position on the ladder), was also unexpected due to periods of poor form during the season. The Bombers were a different club when the finals came around, but some of the credit for the improvement was given to the influence of Brian Sampson and Ted Fordham during the finals. Coleman's time as coach turned out to be much like his playing career: highly successful but cut short when he had to stand down due to health problems in 1967. Only six years later, on the eve of the 1973 season, he would be dead of a heart-attack at just 44 years of age.

Following Coleman's retirement, the club experienced tough times on and off the field. Finals appearances were rare for the side, which was often in contention for the wooden spoon. Essendon did manage to make the 1968 VFL Grand Final, but lost a heartbreaker to Carlton by just three points and would not make it back to the big stage for a decade-and-a-half.

During the period from 1968 until 1980, five different coaches were tried, with none lasting longer than four years. Off the field the club went through troubled times as well. In 1970 five players went on strike before the season even began, demanding higher payments. Essendon did make the finals in 1972 and 1973 under the autocratic direction of Des Tuddenham (Collingwood) but they were beaten badly in successive elimination finals by St. Kilda and would not taste finals action again until the very end of the decade. The 70s Essendon sides were involved in many rough and tough encounters under Tuddenham, who himself came to logger heads with Ron Barassi at a quarter time huddle where both coaches exchanged heated words. Essendon had tough, but talented players with the likes of "Rotten Ronnie" Ron Andrews and experienced players such as Barry Davis, Ken Fletcher, Geoff Blethyn, Neville Fields and West Australian import Graham Moss. In May 1974, a controversial half time all-in-brawl with Richmond at Windy Hill and a 1975 encounter with Carlton were testimony of the era. Following the Carlton match, the 'Herald' described Windy Hill as "Boot Hill", because of the extent of the fights and the high number of reported players (eight in all – four from Carlton and four from Essendon). The peak of these incidents would occur in 1980 with new recruit Phil Carman making headlines for head-butting an umpire. The tribunal suspended him for sixteen weeks, and although most people thought this was a fair (or even lenient) sentence, he took his case to the supreme court, gathering even more unwanted publicity for the club. Despite this, the club had recruited many talented young players in the late 70s who would emerge as club greats. Three of those young players were Simon Madden, Tim Watson and Paul Van Der Haar. Terry Daniher and his brother Neale would come via a trade with South Melbourne, and Roger Merrett joined soon afterwards to form the nucleus of what would become the formidable Essendon sides of the 1980s. This raw but talented group of youngsters took Essendon to an elimination final in 1979 under Barry Davis but were again thrashed in an Elimination Final, this time at the hands of Fitzroy. Davis resigned at the end of the 1980 season after missing out on a finals appearance.

One of the few highlights for Essendon supporters during this time was when Graham Moss won the 1976 Brownlow Medal; he was the only Bomber to do so in a 40-year span from 1953–1993. Even that was bittersweet as he quit VFL football to move back to his native Western Australia, where Moss finished out his career as a player and coach at Claremont Football Club. In many ways, Moss' career reflects Essendon's mixed fortunes during the decade.

Early Kevin Sheedy era (1981–1989)

Essendon 1980s shield logo

Essendon appointed former Richmond player Kevin Sheedy as head coach in October 1980. Sheedy played a key role in Richmond's premiership sides of the mid-70s. Having retired as a player in 1979, he had no VFL coaching experience and was regarded as something of a risk[citation needed], although he had coached in the Australian Army whilst on national service.

Essendon won just one of its first six games in 1981 and Sheedy threatened to come out of retirement and show his players "how it was done" if their performance didn't improve.[citation needed] The team responded by winning 15 successive games. The team made the finals, but lost to Fitzroy in the elimination final.

Essendon played in the finals series in 1982, but lost to North Melbourne. In 1983, the Bombers moved upwards following a slow start to be second after thirteen rounds, but then suffered a five-match slump before recovering to reach their first grand final for 15 years from fourth place on the ladder. However, a fresher Hawthorn thrashed them by a then record margin.

In 1984, Essendon won the pre-season competition and completed the regular season on top of the ladder. The club played, and beat, Hawthorn in the 1984 VFL Grand Final to win their 13th premiership—their first since 1965. The teams met again in the 1985 Grand Final, which Essendon also won. At the start of 1986, Essendon were considered unbackable for three successive flags, but a succession of injuries to key players Paul Van der Haar (only fifteen games from 1986 to 1988), Tim Watson, Darren Williams, Roger Merrett and Simon Madden led the club to win only eight of its last eighteen games in 1986 and only nine games (plus a draw with Geelong) in 1987.[8] During this period, the Bombers suffered a humiliation at the hands of Sydney who became the only team ever to kick two hundred points in three quarters.[9]

In 1988, Essendon made a rebound to sixth place with twelve wins, including a 140-point thrashing of Brisbane where they had a record sixteen individual goalkickers.[10] In 1989, they rebounded further to second on the ladder with only five losses and thrashed Geelong in the Qualifying Final. However, after a fiery encounter with Hawthorn ended in a convincing defeat, the Bombers were no match for Geelong next week.

AFL (1990–present)

"Baby Bombers" (1991–1998)

In 1990, Essendon were pace-setters almost from the start, but a disruption from the Qualifying Final draw between Collingwood and West Coast was a blow from which they never recovered. The Magpies comprehensively thrashed them in both the second semi final and the grand final.

Following the 1991 season, Essendon moved from its traditional home ground at Windy Hill to the larger and newly renovated MCG. This move generated large increases in game attendance, membership and revenue for the club.

Following the retirement of Tim Watson and Simon Madden in the early 1990s, the team was built on new players such as Gavin Wanganeen, Joe Misiti, Mark Mercuri, Michael Long, Dustin Fletcher (son of Ken) and James Hird, who was taken at #79 in the 1992 draft. This side became known as the "Baby Bombers", as the core of the side was made up of young players early in their careers.

The team won the 1993 Grand Final against Carlton and that same year, Gavin Wanganeen won the Brownlow Medal, the first awarded to an Essendon player since 1976. Three years later, James Hird was jointly awarded the medal with Michael Voss of Brisbane.

"Greatest Team of All" (1999–2001)

Essendon had been somewhat unheralded prior to 1999, but finished on top of the ladder and emerged as prohibitive premiership favourites, having beaten powerful co-contender North Melbourne twice in convincing fashion. They beat Sydney easily in the first week of the finals, but were beaten by Carlton by one point in the preliminary final. This was the fourth final lost by just one point under Sheedy.

In 2000, Essendon won 20 consecutive matches before losing to the Western Bulldogs in round 21 and went on to win their 16th premiership, against Melbourne, completing one of the most dominant single seasons in AFL/VFL history.

The side looked set to repeat their success the following year. Early on, it appeared Essendon would once again dominate the competition, opening their 2001, but lost key matches to Carlton and the Brisbane Lions. In Round 16 Essendon produced the greatest comeback in AFL/VFL history, winning by 12 points after trailing North Melbourne by as much as 69 points during the second quarter. The team made it to the grand final, but were beaten by Brisbane.

Decline and the end of the Sheedy era (2002–2007)

Essendon was less successful after 2001. Lucrative contracts to a number of premiership players had caused serious pressure on the club's salary cap, forcing the club to trade several key players.[citation needed] Blake Caracella, Chris Heffernan (later returned to the club), Justin Blumfield, Gary Moorcroft and Damien Hardwick had all departed by the end of 2002. The club remained competitive, however they could progress no further than the second week of the finals each year for the years of 2002, 2003, and 2004.

In 2004 Mark Mercuri, Sean Wellman and Joe Misiti retired. Essendon lost the second semi-final to Geelong. At the end of the season, Sheedy signed a new three-year contract, by the end of which he was the second on the list of most VFL/AFL games coached behind Collingwood's Jock McHale.

The 2005 season saw Essendon miss the finals for the first time since 1997, finishing with their second-worst result to that time under Sheedy's coaching, 13th position with 8 wins and 14 losses. With the Bombers looking towards a new era, it was announced on 27 September that Matthew Lloyd would replace James Hird as Essendon captain for the 2006 season, marking the end of Hird's reign since he took over the captaincy in 1998.

2006 season

As it turned out, 2006 would prove to be the worst season for Essendon under Sheedy, and its worst in over 70 years, with a multitude of injuries and poor form affecting the team, none more so than the serious hamstring injury suffered by newly appointed captain Lloyd. Lloyd suffered the serious hamstring injury against the Western Bulldogs in round three, marking Essendon's first loss against them since the Bulldogs inflicted Essendon's only loss for their dominant 2000 season. Hird was temporarily appointed captain for the two matches which followed Lloyd's season-ending injury, before David Hille assumed the role from round 6 onwards. Essendon would win only three matches and draw one (against wooden spoon contenders Carlton) for the entire season, but one of those was against finals-bound rivals and arch-enemy Collingwood in round 19 in a win that would ultimately cost the Magpies a top four berth that season. The other two wins were against eventual runners-up Sydney (in a match where Matthew Lloyd flaunted with the Sydney defence, kicking eight goals (six of which came in the opening quarter) and being awarded best-on-ground in a game Essendon rightfully deserved to win) and against the team that denied them the 2001 Premiership, the Brisbane Lions (who also were in a rebuilding phrase). Essendon's other win in the 2006 season was against bitter-rivals Collingwood; but this win was significant as it denied Collingwood a top-four finish at the end of the season.

Most notably, in Round 15 against St Kilda, the Bombers jumped the Saints early by kicking the first 16 points of the match and led for the majority of the match, only to lose the lead by halfway through the final quarter, and ultimately the match by just three points. Despite losing this match, Essendon's performance was good enough for its players to be awarded Brownlow Medal votes – best-on-ground was Brent Stanton (3 votes), followed by Jason Johnson (2 votes) and Andrew Lovett (1 vote).[11]

Just three players – Mark Johnson, Brent Stanton and Scott Lucas played all 22 matches that season, the latter winning Essendon's best and fairest award, as well as being Essendon's leading goalkicker that season.

A red banner featuring drawings of former Essendon player James Hird and former coach Kevin Sheedy
Kevin Sheedy and James Hird farewell banner ahead of their final game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
2007 season

2007 was a much better season for Essendon, in which, despite significant wins over Adelaide (twice), Fremantle, St Kilda, Sydney (by one point in Sydney), the previous year's premiers West Coast (their second successive win by a solitary point) and Carlton, they missed the finals for the third year running. The season was soured by three 63-point defeats, two to Hawthorn and another by Fremantle at Subiaco Oval (this occurring after the second of those hidings by Hawthorn) plus a 50 point hiding from eventual premiers Geelong (for which captain Matthew Lloyd was suspended). As well as this, Essendon were the last team to lose to the Western Bulldogs in round 15, and back-to-back defeats to Richmond and West Coast in rounds 21 and 22 respectively ended what was otherwise an improvement from the previous season.

In July 2007 and with six rounds remaining in the home and away season, Essendon was placed just outside the top Eight and on the brink of making the finals once again when it was announced that Kevin Sheedy's contract would not be renewed after 27 years. The move was considered somewhat rushed and mis-handled by many members of the media. Not surprisingly Essendon then lost four of the remaining six matches, including to wooden spooners Richmond to tumble out of contention.[who?]

Matthew Knights era (2008–2010)

Essendon struggled at the start of the 2008 home and away season, winning only two games out of their first 11. Four wins in a row restored some hope for the Bomber faithful, but another series of crippling injuries ravaged the club, leaving them with as little as 24 fit men for selection. Essendon would finish 2008 in 12th position on the AFL ladder with 8 wins and 14 losses.

Essendon finished the 2009 season in 8th place, thereby qualifying for the finals series. On 4 September, Essendon were assigned with a tough away trip against Adelaide at AAMI Stadium with a depleted squad. Although the Bombers were competitive during the first quarter, the Crows dominated from that point on, winning 26.10 (166) to 10.10 (70), handing the Bombers their worst finals defeat and ending their 2009 campaign.

After a largely unsuccessful year in 2010 at Essendon, Knights was dismissed as coach on 29 August 2010, just 12 hours after Essendon's final round defeat to the Western Bulldogs.

We're here to announce the Essendon board met this morning and have come to a decision today that Matthew will no longer be the coach...As chairman, I firstly want to say that at all times, Matthew has conducted himself at our club with the utmost passion, commitment and courage.

James Hird era (2010–present)

On 28 September 2010, former Essendon champion James Hird was named as Essendon's new coach from 2011 on a four-year deal. Former Geelong dual premiership winning coach and Essendon triple-premiership winning player Mark Thompson later joined Hird on the coaching panel. As coach he has led Essendon to a win and a draw in the shortened NAB Cup format and 2 wins in the full length game, as well as into Essendons first pre-season Grand Final since 2000. Essendon was defeated by Collingwood in the final, losing 0.13.8 (86) to 1.15.9 (108).

Essendon's first match under coach James Hird resulted in a 55-point hammering of the Western Bulldogs, which was, coincidentally, the same margin previous coach Matthew Knights won in his first game as Essendon coach, which was against North Melbourne.

Essendon's next match, against the Sydney Swans on Sunday, 3 April at Stadium Australia in Sydney was lost by just five points. Essendon had led by five goals halfway through the second quarter, only to see their lead disappear by the final siren. Round 3 saw a comfortable Essendon victory against St Kilda by 52 points, in the process ruining the celebrations of their captain Nick Riewoldt who was playing his 200th AFL game. But their inconsistent start to the season continued with a thrilling 11.13 (79) draw against bitter rivals Carlton. A 30-point loss in the annual Anzac Day clash against Collingwood followed.

In Round 6 Essendon defeated the Gold Coast Suns 31.11 (197) to 8.10 (58) to win by 139 points, with Kyle Reimers kicking eight goals. Essendon kicked a record breaking 15.4 (94) to 0.1 (1) in the first quarter, the highest first quarter score ever and the second highest quarter of any sort in VFL/AFL history. Their quarter-time lead of 93 points is also a record. Amidst all this, Essendon surprisingly lost the second quarter but continued their domination smashing the hopeless Suns by a further 60 points in the second half.

Essendon then suffered a mid-season slump, losing five games in succession, culminating in a 65-point thrashing by Hawthorn, to fall out of the top eight by the end of Round 14.

In Round 15, Essendon scored the boilover of the season beating the previously undefeated Geelong by four points. It was the first time that assistant coach Mark Thompson was coaching against his old side, whom he led to two premierships in eleven years at the club, and it was their first win over the Cats in almost six years, but only their second win against them since 2003. This was followed with a huge come-from-behind win over Richmond at the MCG. It was their first win at the ground since Round 9 last year. Another come-from-behind win followed, the Bombers beating Adelaide by 11 points after at one stage being down by as much as six goals. It was their first win in Adelaide since 2007.

Essendon then suffered its worst defeat this season when it lost to Carlton by 74 points at the MCG in Round 18. The Bombers were on course to cause the biggest boilover of the season against Collingwood in Round 19, when, at one stage they led by as much as 30 points. But the Bombers capitulated in the second half to lose by 74 points.

Round 20 saw Essendon home to Sydney for the first time since Round 1, 2006. In one of the games of the year, the Bombers snuck home by one point after a set shot after the siren from Sydney's Adam Goodes drifted to the left, giving Essendon only its' fifth win over Sydney since 2002. Round 23 saw Essendon qualify for the finals when it defeated Port Adelaide by 7 points at Etihad Stadium, the first time since Round 18, 2004 that Essendon had beaten the side.

Week one of the finals saw Essendon face off against Carlton in the elimination final, the first time since 2000 that these two sides had met in a final. Essendon lost by 62 points, but coach James Hird was praised for developing the side into what will soon become a premiership force in the years to come.

Club symbols


Essendon's Home (left) and Clash (right) Jumpers

Essendon has long been associated with the colours red and black. Essendon Rowing Club claim they first sported the colours, borrowed from racing silks. The football club says, with no documentation, that Essendon wore red and black striped guernseys until 1875, when the red sash was adopted.[12]

It is recorded that Essendon has always had black and red in its strip. It is understood that the black and red stripes mentioned as the official colours refer only to the socks. When the club was formed in 1873 uniforms were not available, and most players wore Navy Blue work guernseys. To avoid clashing with other teams, Essendon adopted a red sash in 1875, and is recorded in magazines of the day as wearing Blue with Red sash up until about 1889. At this time, uniforms were ordered in the club colours, black with a red sash, and have been worn in every game from 1890 to today.[citation needed]

Clash jumpers

In 2007, the AFL Commission laid down the requirement that all clubs must produce an alternative jumper for use in matches where jumpers are considered to clash. According to the AFL, Essendon would be required to wear this alternate jumper in designated away games against Richmond, Melbourne and St Kilda[citation needed]. Many Essendon supporters and traditionalists of the game were bemused by the request, arguing that clubs that "clash" with the Essendon jumper have had many different guernseys of varying designs[citation needed], consequently moving them closer to the Essendon design. They also argue that in some cases, these clubs had a completely different jumper with different colours and that the AFL was simply bowing down to pressure from television broadcasters[citation needed].

Two designs were suggested for the Clash Jumper – a Red Jumper with black EFC writing and a jumper with an extra thick sash. At a Members Information Meeting at Moonee Valley Racecourse, Essendon members agreed on the second option; however, club officials assured members there was no desire to wear the clash jumper and everything possible would be done to avoid ever wearing the alternate design,[13] to widespread support from the majority of club members. The club wore the design coupled with red shorts for their Round 4 clash with St Kilda in 2007. They wore it again in the Round 9 clash against Richmond but that time, they wore white shorts rather than red shorts. In 2008, they were not forced to wear the clash jumper against St Kilda, but wore it against Richmond in Round 16, again with white shorts.

Yellow armbands

Following Adam Ramanauskas' personal battle with cancer, a 'Clash for Cancer' match against Melbourne was launched in 2006. This was a joint venture between Essendon and the Cancer Council of Victoria to raise funds for the organisation.[14] Despite a formal request to the AFL being denied, players wore yellow armbands for the match which resulted in the club being fined $20,000.[15] In 2007, the AFL agreed to allow yellow armbands to be incorporated into the left sleeve of the jumper,[16] the only ever variation to the jumper's design. The 'Clash for Cancer' match against Melbourne has become an annual event, repeated in 2008 and 2009. In 2009, the jumpers were auctioned along with yellow boots worn by some players during the match.[17]


The club's theme song is called "See the Bombers Fly Up" and is based on the tune of Johnnie Hamp's 1929 song "Keep Your Sunny Side Up" at an increased tempo. The official version of the song was recorded in 1972 by the Fable Singers and is still used today.[18]

The lyrics are as follows:[19]

See the Bombers fly up, up!
To win the premiership flag.
Our boys who play this grand old game,
Are always striving for glory and fame!
See the Bombers fly up, up,
The other teams they don't fear,
They all try their best,
But they can't get near,
As the Bombers fly up,!
(Repeats Once)

The song, as with all other AFL clubs, is played prior to every match and at the conclusion of matches where the team is victorious.

Songwriter Mike Brady, of "Up There Cazaly" fame, penned an updated version of the song in 1999 complete with a new verse arrangement, but it was not well received. However, this version is occasionally played at club functions.


The club's mascot is named Skeeta Reynolds, named after Dick Reynolds. He appears as a red mosquito in an Essendon jumper and wears a red and black scarf. He is the mascot for Essendon in AFL mascot manor. His backstory is that he was a bomber pilot and one day he landed at Windy Hill in 1922. He liked it so much that he never left.[citation needed]



For the full list, see List of VFL/AFL presidents

The current Chairman is David Evans, appointed at the club's Annual General Meeting on 21 December 2009.[20] He succeeds Ray Horsburgh (Chairman since 2006) who will remain as a board member for the remainder of his term. David is the son of former club chairman Ron Evans (1988–1992).

Supporter base

A strong North West suburban club, Essendon over the last 20 years has become one of the most supported sports clubs in Australia. Notable fans include, amongst others: Seven News Melbourne weekend presenter Jennifer Keyte, the late Steve Irwin and former treasurer Peter Costello.

The following table shows membership numbers since 1998:

Year Members Finishing position
1998 27,099 Finals
1999 29,858 Preliminary Finalists
2000 34,278 Premiers
2001 36,227 Runner Up
2002 35,219 Finals
2003 31,970 Finals
2004 37,042 Finals
2005 35,398 13th
2006 32,511 15th
2007 34,219 12th
2008 35,158 12th
2009 40,412 Finals
2010 40,589 14th
2011 50,123 Finals

Major sponsor

On 25 August 2008, Samsung was announced as major sponsor of the Essendon Football Club in a three-year deal touted as the biggest individual annual club sponsorship in AFL history.[21] The deal included Samsung having naming rights on the front and back of the club jumper and signage. Although the amount was only confirmed by the club as a very significant lift from where 3 were, it was estimated to be worth around $7 million in total.[22]


Years Seasons Sponsor
Current  Kia Motors[23][24]  Samsung
2009–2010 2  Samsung
2003–2008 6  Hutchison Telecommunications  "3 mobile"[25]
2001–2002 2  "Orange"[26]
1994–2000 7  Transport Accident Commission (TAC) "Speed Kills"
1984–1993 10  Nubrik
1977–1983 7  Don Smallgoods


Major rivals

Essendon has a four-way rivalry with Carlton, Collingwood and Richmond, being the four biggest and most supported clubs in Victoria. Matches between the clubs are often close regardless of form and ladder positions. If out of the race themselves, all four have the desire to deny the others a finals spot or a premiership. Essendon also has a fierce rivalry with Hawthorn stemming from the 1980s.

  • Carlton – The rivalry between Essendon and Carlton is considered one of the strongest in the league. With the teams sharing the record of 16 premierships, both sides are keen to become outright leader, or if out of the finals race, at least ensure the other doesn't. In recent years, the rivalry has thickened with Carlton beating the 1999 Minor Premiers and premiership favourites by 1 point in the Preliminary Final. Other notable meetings between the two clubs include the 1908, 1947, 1949, 1962 and 1968 VFL Grand Finals and 1993 AFL Grand Final with some decided by small margins. Matches in recent years have often ended with the final margin being under a goal despite a considerable margin favouring one team during the match.
  • Collingwood – In the early days of the VFL, this rivalry grew out of several Grand Final meetings – 1901, 1902 and 1911. The teams didn't meet again in a Grand Final until 1990 when Collingwood won to draw level with the Bombers on 14 premierships and denying the Bombers a chance to join Carlton on 15. Since 1995 the rivalry has been even more fierce with the clubs facing off against each other in the Anzac Day clash, a match which is described as the second biggest of the season, behind only the Grand Final. Being possibly the two biggest football clubs in Victoria, regardless of their position on the ladder, this game always attracts a huge crowd and it is a match both teams have a desire to win even if it's their only win for the season. In 2006, the Magpies were the only Victorian team to drop a match against Essendon (Round 19). In doing so Essendon avoided the wooden spoon and Collingwood's top-four hopes (and premiership hopes) were dashed.
  • Richmond – This rivalry stems out of the 1942 Grand Final which Essendon won. In 1974, a half time brawl took place involving trainers, officials and players at Windy Hill and has become infamous as one of the biggest ever. The teams didn't meet in the finals between 1944 and 1995, but there have been many close margins in home and away season matches as a result of each team's "never say die" attitude and ability to come back from significant margins in the dying stages of matches. Having met in the AFL's Rivalry Round in (2006 and 2009) and meeting in the Dreamtime at the 'G match since 2005, the rivalry and passion between the clubs and supporters has re-ignited. Both teams want to win
The rivalry with archrival with Hawthorn stemmed from their meetings in a number of grand finals in the mid-1980s
  • Hawthorn – The two sides had a number of physical encounters in the mid-1980s when they were the top two sides of the competition. The rivalry was exacerbated when Dermott Brereton ran through Essendon's three-quarter time huddle during a match in 1988 and again by an all in brawl during a match in 2004 allegedly instigated by Brereton (now known as the Line in the Sand Match after the direction allegedly given by Brereton for the Hawthorn players to make a physical stand). This was reminiscent of the 1980s when battles with Hawthorn were often hard and uncompromising affairs. During round 22 of the 2009 season Essendon and Hawthorn played for the last finals spot up for grabs. The teams played out an extremely physical game and despite being 22 points down at half time Essendon went on to win by 17 points. The game included a brawl shortly after half time sparked by Essendon's captain Matthew Lloyd knocking out Hawthorn midfielder Brad Sewell, which lead Hawthorn's Campbell Brown to label Lloyd a 'sniper', and promised revenge if Lloyd played on in 2010. Results between the two teams were split evenly in 2010 with Essendon scoring an easy win in round six before Hawthorn returned the favour in round 13, but in 2011 Hawthorn won easily in their only meeting for the year, by 65 points in Round 14.

Club honour board

Premierships and achievements

VFA premierships (4)


VFA runner-up (3)


VFL/AFL premierships (16)

1897, 1901, 1911, 1912, 1923, 1924, 1942, 1946, 1949, 1950, 1962, 1965, 1984, 1985, 1993, 2000

VFL/AFL runner-up (14)

1898, 1902, 1908, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1957, 1959, 1968, 1983, 1990, 2001

VFL/AFL Night Series/Pre-Season premierships (6)

1981, 1984, 1990, 1993, 1994, 2000.

VFL/AFL Minor-premierships (17)

1898, 1911, 1923, 1924, 1942, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1962, 1968, 1984, 1985, 1990, 1993, 1999, 2000, 2001.

McClelland Trophies (9)

Awarded to Minor Premiers since 1991

1951, 1953, 1957, 1968, 1990 (tied), 1993, 1999, 2000, 2001.

VFL/AFL Lightning premierships (2)

1943, 1996.

VFL/AFL Reserve premierships (8)

1921, 1941, 1950, 1952, 1968, 1983, 1992, 1999.

Wooden Spoons (4)

1907, 1918, 1921, 1933

Club honours

See Essendon Football Club honours.

Team of the Century

To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the club, as well as 100 years of the VFL/AFL, Essendon announced its "Team of the Century" in 1997.[27]

Essendon Team of the Century
B: Gavin Wanganeen Fred Baring Tom Fitzmaurice
HB: Barry Davis Wally Buttsworth Harold Lambert
C: Reg Burgess Jack Clarke Michael Long
HF: James Hird Ken Fraser Terry Daniher
F: Bill Hutchison John Coleman Albert Thurgood
Foll: Simon Madden Tim Watson Dick Reynolds (Captain)
Int: Mark Thompson Keith Forbes Frank Maher
Billy Griffith
Coach: Kevin Sheedy

Champions of Essendon

In 2002, a club panel chose and ranked the 25 greatest players to have played for Essendon.[28]

  1. Dick Reynolds
  2. John Coleman
  3. James Hird
  4. Bill Hutchison
  5. Simon Madden
  6. Tim Watson
  7. Ken Fraser
  8. Jack Clarke
  9. Albert Thurgood
  10. Tom Fitzmaurice
  11. Terry Daniher
  12. Wally Buttsworth
  13. Reg Burgess
  14. Bill Busbridge
  15. Barry Davis
  16. Keith Forbes
  17. Graham Moss
  18. Mark Harvey
  19. Gavin Wanganeen
  20. Mark Thompson
  21. John Birt
  22. Matthew Lloyd
  23. Michael Long
  24. Fred Baring
  25. Harold Lambert

Current squad

Essendon Football Clubview · talk · edit
Senior list Rookie List Coaching staff
  • 1
  • 35
  • 36
  • 41
  • 46
  • 47

Head coach

Assistant coaches

  • (c) Captain
  • (vc) Vice captain
  • Cruz Roja.svg Long-term injury list
  • Arrow-up.gif Upgraded rookie(s)
  • (ret) Retired

Updated: 4 August 2011
Source(s): Playing list, Coaching staff

Current coaching staff

Individual awards

Best and Fairest

Brownlow Medal winners

Coleman Medal winners

Norm Smith Medal winners

AFL Rising Star winners

  • Dyson Heppell (2011)

Michael Tuck Medal winners

AFL Mark of the Year winners

AFL Goal of the Year winners

All-Australian team representatives

All-Australian coach representatives

Australian international rules football team representatives

Match records

  • Greatest losing margin: 163 points – Essendon 11.7 (73) v Sydney Swans 36.20 (236), Round 17, 1989, S.C.G.
  • Record attendance (home and away game): 94,825, 25 April 1995 at MCG v Collingwood
  • Record attendance (finals match): 116,828, Grand Final, 28 September 1968 v Carlton.

See also


  1. ^ The Clubs – The Complete History of Every Club in the VFL/AFL, Editors G Hutchinson and J Ross, ISBN 1-86458-189-1
  2. ^ Hutchinson, C., "How the teams got their names", p. 159 in Ross, J. (ed), 100 Years of Australian Football 1897–1996: The Complete Story of the AFL, All the Big Stories, All the Great Pictures, All the Champions, Every AFL Season Reported, Viking, (Ringwood), 1996. ISBN 0-670-86814-0
  3. ^ History of Windy Hill (Essendon Recreation Reserve)
  4. ^ Maplestone, M., Flying Higher: History of the Essendon Football Club 1872–1996, Essendon Football Club, (Melbourne), 1996. ISBN 0-9591740-2-8
  5. ^ In 1911 and 1912 Both Essendon VFL and VFA Clubs won their respective premierships; (Mapleston, 1996, p.56.
  6. ^ Hutchinson, 1996, p.159.
  7. ^ See Frost, L., “Did the 1924 Bombers throw their last game?”, (25 September 2006), AFL Official Website.[1]
  8. ^ Rogers, Stephen; Every Game Ever Played; VFL/AFL Results 1897–1995; pp.687–689. ISBN 0-670-90794-4
  9. ^ Highest scores
  10. ^ Rogers; Every game Ever Played; p. 711
  11. ^ AFL Tables – Essendon v St Kilda – 15-Jul-2006 – Match Stats
  12. ^ Aldous, Grant. The Stopover That Stayed – A History of Essendon. The City of Essendon. p. 138. ISBN 0959516603. 
  13. ^ "Clash guernsey may not be worn". Essendon Football Club. 31 May 2006. 
  14. ^ "Bombers prepare for 'Clash for Cancer'". Melbourne: Essendon Football Club. 14 June 2006. 
  15. ^ "Bombers shocked by AFL sanction". Melbourne: Essendon Football Club. 19 June 2006. 
  16. ^ "Yellow armband to be incorporated into Essendon guernsey". Melbourne: Essendon Football Club. 31 May 2007. 
  17. ^ "Secure a unique piece of memorabilia". Melbourne: Essendon Football Club. 23 June 2009. 
  18. ^ AFL Tunes to Remember – The Melbourne Age, 23 July 2010
  19. ^ "Fun and Games Club Song". Essendon Football Club. 
  20. ^ "Evans appointed Essendon chairman". Melbourne: Essendon Football Club. 21 December 2009. Retrieved 22 December 2009. 
  21. ^ "Samsung announced as 2009 major partner". Melbourne: Essendon Football Club. 25 August 2008. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  22. ^ Sheahan, Mike (23 August 2008). "Dons land $7 million sponsor". Melbourne: Herald Sun.,26576,24226934-19742,00.html. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  23. ^ "Essendon announce joint major partner 2011". 
  24. ^ "CORPORATE PARTNERS 2011". 
  25. ^ "BOMBER'S SPONSORSHIP A WORLD FIRST". Melbourne: Essendon Football Club. 18 November 2002. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  26. ^ "THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT; THE FUTURE IS ORANGE". Melbourne: Essendon Football Club. 13 November 2000. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  27. ^ "All Star Teams (A-M)". Full Points Footy. 8 July 2007. Retrieved 14 August 2009. 
  28. ^ "Champions of Essendon". Essendon Football Club. 30 August 2002. 

External links

Preceded by
Inaugural Premiers
West Coast
VFL/AFL Premiers
1911, 1912
1923, 1924
1949, 1950
1984, 1985
Succeeded by
St Kilda
West Coast
Preceded by
AFL Pre-season Cup winners
1993, 1994
Succeeded by
North Melbourne
Port Adelaide

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