Essendon Football Club

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Essendon Football Club, nicknamed The Bombers, is an Australian rules football club that is part of the Australian Football League. Formed in 1871 as a junior club and as a senior club in 1873, it is headquartered at Windy Hill Oval in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon, but plays its home matches at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Telstra Dome.

It is one of the richest, most popular, and most successful clubs in the League, with a new generation of fans springing up due to their recent success and the presence of charismatic players such as forward Matthew Lloyd and captain James Hird. It is coached by Kevin Sheedy, a famously crafty coach who in latter years has developed a persona as football's eccentric philosopher. The club has worn a black guernsey with red sash as its uniform since 1873.



The Pre-VFL years (1871 - 1896)

Essendon was already a successful club in the VFA before the VFL was formed in 1897. The club was part of many innovations that shaped the modern game, as well as being the first to achieve several milestones. Essendon was involved in the first match where the goal umpires used white flags to signal scores, they were the first team to wear white shorts in away matches, and they were involved in the first match played on what would be considered by modern standards to be a full sized field. Essendon was also the first side to record ten goals in a single senior match, and one of its players, Charles Pearson, was the first to bring the skill of overhead marking to the game.

The team performed very well in the VFA competition of the 1890s, winning four premierships in a row from 1891 through to 1894. This on-field success is one of the factors that caused Essendon to be invited to take part in the break-away VFL competition, despite being relatively new to the VFA compared to some of the other teams involved, such as Melbourne and Geelong.

From the formation of the VFL until the first world war (1897 - 1915)

Essendon tasted immediate success upon joining the new eight team VFL competition, winning the premiership in the first year of the competition. A grand final was not played in the first year, instead a round-robin system was employed between the top four teams, with Essendon finishing on top of the finals ladder.

The side was generally well performed during this period, winning a second premiership in 1901, becoming the first team to score over 1000 points in a season with 1085 in 1901 and winning their first back to back premierships in 1911 (a year in which they become the first side to score 20 goals in a match) and 1912. The 1912 grand final was remarkable in that 54,000 people turned out to watch, which was a record for an Australian sporting event for the time.

Although the side had many great players during this period, perhaps the most remarkable was Albert Thurgood, who in 1899 kicked a football in excess of 107 yards (98.48m), a record that still stands today.

The years between the wars (1918 - 1938)

Essendon was one of several clubs not to field a side in 1916 and 1917 due to the war. By 1922, the side had taken on its modern nickname of "the bombers" (as well as "the dons"), dropping the nicknames of "the same olds", "the sash wearers" and "the Essendonians" that had variously been used up until then.

One of Essendon's most famous sides, dubbed the "mosquito fleet", won the premiership in 1923. This side was so named due to the number of small, very fast players in the side: six of the premiership side were less than five and a half feet (167 cm) tall.

Essendon again managed to win back-to-back premierships in 1924. This premiership was unusual because the league opted for a round robin system of finals rather than a grand final. 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.

The 1924 season was not without controversy however, with rumours of numerous players accepting bribes. Regardless of the accuracy of these allegations, the clubs 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 of it.

The 1933 season was probably the start of the Essendon revival, seeing the debut of the player widely regarded as Essendon's, if not the league's, greatest: Dick Reynolds. Reynolds had an immediate impact; in only his second season, aged only 19, he won the Brownlow Medal, the league's highest individual honour. He later repeated that feat in 1938 and 1939. His three Brownlow victories still stand as an equal record to this day.

The Dick Reynolds years (1939 - 1960)

In 1939 Dick Reynolds was appointed captain of the side. Unlike today, it was not unusual for a side to have a playing coach, and midway through the season Reynolds also took over as coach. Regarded as having a sound tactical knowledge of the game and being an inspirational leader, he led the side into the finals in 1940 for the first time since 1926.

The club's rise continued over the following years, with the side winning premierships in 1942, 1946, 1949 and 1950. Reynolds retired at the end of the 1950 season, handing the captaincy over to his close friend Bill Hutchinson, who would also go onto win two Brownlow medals in 1952 and 1953. Reynolds stayed on as a non-playing coach until 1960.

The 1949 season also saw the immergence of one of the great full forwards of the game in John Coleman. In his debut season, Coleman kicked 100 goals, an unprecedented feat. Coleman led the club in goal kicking every year until his early retirement through injury in 1954, additionally he still holds club records for most goals in a season (120 in 1950) and most goals in a match (14 in 1954). In all he kicked 537 goals in only 98 matches; his ratio of 5.48 goals a game is the second best in the history of the league.

The fall from grace (1961 - 1980)

John Coleman was appointed coach after the retirement of Dick Reynolds from the position, and the club enjoyed continued success, winning premierships in 1962 and 1965. 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.

After Coleman's retirement, the club hit tough times both on the field and off. Finals appearances were rare for the side, which was more often in contention for the wooden spoon than the premiership. 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. 1980 proved an even more embarrassing year for the club, with new recruit Phil Carmen 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.

1967 proved the only real highlight for Essendon supporters during this time, when ruckman Graham Moss won the Brownlow medal.

The Kevin Sheedy years (1981 - present)

1981 again saw Essendon switching coaches, this time to Kevin Sheedy, a former Richmond player who had only recently retired and had no senior coaching experience. Although he got off to a bad start, with the side on the bottom of the ladder early in the season, the team recorded 15 successive victories up until the end of the season, to make the finals in Sheedy's first year as coach.

Making the finals proved to be a habit of Sheedy's, with the side again making the finals in 1982, and then taking the next step and reaching the 1983 grand final. Although they were beaten by Hawthorn by a then record margin, the 1984 result proved to be different. With Hawthorn leading by four goals at three-quarter time, it appeared certain that Hawthorn would win back-to-back premierships. Sheedy pulled some of his now famous positional moves, and the Essendon side that had appeared to have no hope suddenly looked the better of the two sides, eventually winning by four goals. The 1985 side repeated the result, this time soundly beating the Hawthorn side.

These results had many media commentators talking about an Essendon dynasty, especially since the side had some of Essendon's greatest ever players in Tim Watson, Simon Madden and Terry Daniher in the prime of their careers. This failed to eventuate for a number of reasons, injury and the retirements of some of the supporting players amongst them.

Despite this, by 1990 Essendon again made the grand final, losing heavily to Collingwood. By this stage most of the more experienced players were nearing retirement, and with few obvious replacements, 1991 and 1992 were not great years by the standards previously set during Sheedy's time in charge.

For that reason it was of great surprise to most in the footballing world when in one of the most even seasons ever, Essendon won the 1993 premiership. The side became known as the "baby bombers", as the core of the side was made up of young, inexperienced players just starting their careers. One of them, Gavin Wanganeen, won the Brownlow medal that year.

Around this time period saw a transition of the club off the field. Moving from its traditional home ground, Windy Hill, to the larger and more modern MCG saw the side massively expand the crowds at its home games. This move, combined with shrewd marketing, particularly from coach Kevin Sheedy, and continued on field success has seen Essendon become one of the financial powerhouses of the competition. Although many Victorian clubs struggle, requiring AFL assistance to make ends meet, Essendon has consistently made a sizeable profit year after year.

After the success of 1993, many fans were disappointed in the performances in the following years, despite making the finals most years. In 1996, the side missed the grand final by a point, but received some compensation when James Hird won the Brownlow medal. By 1998, there were many calling for Kevin Sheedy to be replaced, and eventually this resulted in the coaching panel to be expanded, with Sheedy's assistant coaches taking on a greater role. This appeared to work, with Essendon finishing on top of the ladder in 1999, only to again miss out on the grand final by one point. This was the fourth final lost by a point under Sheedy, which some used as evidence to support the view that the side had underachieved under his coaching.

The 2000 season proved to be the best Essendon, or indeed any side in the league, has even produced. Essendon lost only one game during the home-and-away season, and went unbeaten through the finals to win a record equalling 16th premiership. The side looked set to repeat this success the following year, but late season injuries took their toll, and an in form Brisbane side defeated them in the grand final.

In the three years from 2002 to 2004, Essendon has finished sixth each year. That many fans view finishing sixth in a sixteen team competition to be a failure exemplifies the expectations the side's continued success under Sheedy has brought.

In 2004 Kevin Sheedy signed a new three year contract, by the end of which he will be second on the list of most games coached. In the time he has been at Essendon, the number of coaches used by some sides has reached double figures. Although some Essendon fans still feel the side needs a fresh direction under a new coach, the majority just point to his record: the side has played finals in 19 out of 24 seasons under Sheedy, with six top of the ladder finishes, seven grand final appearances and four premierships.

Major rivalries

  • Carlton - 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.
  • Collingwood - The match that has been played on Anzac Day between these two sides since 1995 is described as the second biggest match of the season, behind only the Grand Final.
  • 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 exacebated when Dermott Brereton ran through Essendon's three-quarter time huddle during a match in 1988.
  • West Coast Eagles - Since Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy famously waved his jacket over his head following a close victory over the Eagles in 1993, it has become a tradition for the winning side's supporters to do the same after a match between the two sides. If one team is winning by a considerable margin, the coat waving has been known to begin well before the match ends.

VFL/AFL Premierships

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

Brownlow Medal Winners

Team of the Century

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

Backs: Gavin Wanganeen Fred Baring Tom Fitzmaurice
Half Backs: Barry Davis Wally Buttsworth Harold Lambert
Centres: Reg Burgess Jack Clarke Michael Long
Half Forwards: James Hird Ken Fraser Terry Daniher
Forwards: Bill Hutchison John Coleman Albert Thurgood
Followers: Simon Madden Tim Watson Dick Reynolds (captain)
Interchange: Mark Thompson Keith Forbes Frank Maher
William Griffith

Champions of Essendon

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

  1. Dick Reynolds
  2. John Coleman
  3. James Hird
  4. Bill Hutchinson
  5. Simon Madden
  6. Tim Watson
  7. Ken Fraser
  8. Jack Clarke
  9. Albert Thurgood
  10. Tom Fitzmaurice
  11. Terry Daniher
  12. Wally Butsworth
  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

Club Honours

Year Coach Captain Best and Fairest Leading Goalkicker
2004 Kevin Sheedy James Hird Adam McPhee Matthew Lloyd (96)
2003 Kevin Sheedy James Hird James Hird / Scott Lucas Matthew Lloyd (93)
2002 Kevin Sheedy James Hird Mark Johnson Matthew Lloyd (47)
2001 Kevin Sheedy James Hird Jason Johnson Matthew Lloyd (105)
2000 Kevin Sheedy James Hird Dustin Fletcher Matthew Lloyd (109)
1999 Kevin Sheedy James Hird / Michael Long Mark Mercuri Matthew Lloyd (87)
1998 Kevin Sheedy James Hird Damien Hardwick Matthew Lloyd (70)
1997 Kevin Sheedy Gary O'Donnell Sean Denham Matthew Lloyd (63)
1996 Kevin Sheedy Gary O'Donnell James Hird James Hird (39)
1995 Kevin Sheedy Mark Thompson James Hird James Hird (47)
1994 Kevin Sheedy Mark Thompson James Hird Scott Cummings (32)
1993 Kevin Sheedy Mark Thompson Gary O'Donnell Paul Salmon (65)
1992 Kevin Sheedy Mark Thompson Mark Harvey Paul Salmon (59)
1991 Kevin Sheedy Tim Watson Alan Ezard Simon Madden (42)
1990 Kevin Sheedy Tim Watson Mark Thompson Paul Salmon (43)
1989 Kevin Sheedy Tim Watson Tim Watson Paul Salmon (39)
1988 Kevin Sheedy Terry Daniher Tim Watson Paul Salmon (37)
1987 Kevin Sheedy Terry Daniher Mark Thompson Paul Salmon (43)
1986 Kevin Sheedy Terry Daniher Glenn Hawker Alan Ezard (47)
1985 Kevin Sheedy Terry Daniher Tim Watson Mark Harvey (48)
1984 Kevin Sheedy Terry Daniher Simon Madden Paul Salmon (63)
1983 Kevin Sheedy Terry Daniher Simon Madden Terry Daniher (64)
1982 Kevin Sheedy Neale Daniher Terry Daniher Simon Madden (49)
1981 Kevin Sheedy Simon Madden Neale Daniher Tony Buhagiar (42)
1980 Barry Davis Simon Madden Tim Watson Simon Madden (45)
1979 Barry Davis Ken Fletcher Simon Madden Terry Daniher (57)
1978 Barry Davis Ken Fletcher Ken Fletcher Wayne Primmer (47)
1977 Bill Stephen Ken Fletcher Simon Madden Max Crow (38)
1976 Bill Stephen Graham Moss Graham Moss Geoff Blethyn (39)
1975 Des Tuddenham Des Tuddenham Graham Moss Alan Noonan (48)
1974 Des Tuddenham Des Tuddenham Graham Moss Alan Noonan (77)
1973 Des Tuddenham Des Tuddenham Andy Wilson Alan Noonan (63)
1972 Des Tuddenham Des Tuddenham Neville Fields Geoff Blethyn (107)
1971 John Birt Barry Davis Barry Davis Alan Noonan (31)
1970 Jack Clarke Barry Davis Darryl Gerlach Geoff Blethyn (33)
1969 Jack Clarke Don McKenzie Barry Davis Alan Noonan (43)
1968 Jack Clarke Ken Fraser Barry Davis Alan Noonan (51)
1967 John Coleman Ken Fraser John Birt Alan Noonan (40)
1966 John Coleman Ken Fraser Don McKenzie Ted Fordham (76)
1965 John Coleman Ken Fraser John Birt Ted Fordham (54)
1964 John Coleman Jack Clarke Ken Fraser Hugh Mitchell (32)
1963 John Coleman Jack Clarke Ken Fraser Charlie Payne (36)
1962 John Coleman Jack Clarke Jack Clarke Charlie Payne (39)
1961 John Coleman Jack Clarke John Birt Hugh Mitchell (33)
1960 Dick Reynolds Jack Clarke Reg Burgess Ron Evans (67)
1959 Dick Reynolds Jack Clarke Hugh Mitchell Ron Evans (78)
1958 Dick Reynolds Jack Clarke Jack Clarke John Birt (31)
1957 Dick Reynolds Bill Hutchison Reg Burgess Fred Gallagher (34)
1956 Dick Reynolds Bill Hutchison Bill Hutchison Graham Willey (33)
1955 Dick Reynolds Bill Hutchison Bill Hutchison Hugh Mitchell (51)
1954 Dick Reynolds Bill Hutchison John Gill John Coleman (42)
1953 Dick Reynolds Bill Hutchison Bill Hutchison John Coleman (97)
1952 Dick Reynolds Bill Hutchison Bill Hutchison John Coleman (103)
1951 Dick Reynolds Bill Hutchison Norm McDonald John Coleman (75)
1950 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Bill Hutchinson John Coleman (120)
1949 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds John Coleman John Coleman (100)
1948 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Bill Hutchinson Bill Hutchinson (52)
1947 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Wally Buttsworth Ted Leehane (50)
1946 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Bill Hutchinson Bill Brittingham (66)
1945 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Wally Buttsworth Bill Brittingham (48)
1944 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Percy Bushby Ray Powell (42)
1943 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds (31)
1942 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Tom Reynolds (61)
1941 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Wally Buttsworth Tom Reynolds (65)
1940 Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Hugh Torney Ted Bryce (48)
1939 Jack Baggott / Harry Hunter / Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Dick Reynolds Tom Reynolds (71)
1938 Jack Baggott Len Webster Dick Reynolds Tom Reynolds (68)
1937 Jack Baggott Jack Baggott / Keith Forbes Dick Reynolds Keith Forbes (44)
1936 Jack Baggott Jack Baggott Dick Reynolds Ted Freyer (50)
1935 Charlie May Keith Forbes Keith Forbes Keith Forbes (52)
1934 Charlie May Keith Forbes Dick Reynolds Ted Freyer (61)
1933 Garnet Campbell Garnet Campbell Paddy Walsh Ted Freyer (51)
1932 Garnet Campbell Garnet Campbell Syd Carmen Ted Freyer (52)
1931 Garnet Campbell Garnet Campbell Tom Clarke Ted Freyer (50)
1930 Charlie Hardy Norm Beckton Keith Forbes Keith Forbes (54)
1929 Charlie Hardy Norm Beckton Howard Okey Keith Forbes / Len Johnson (40)
1928 Charlie Hardy Frank Maher Norm Beckton Greg Stockdale (39)
1927 Fred Maher Frank Maher Frank Maher Jack Vosti (35)
1926 Fred Maher Frank Maher Joe Harrison Greg Stockdale (36)
1925 Fred Maher Frank Maher Greg Stockdale Tom Jenkins (37)
1924 Sid Barker Sid Barker Tom Fitzmaurice Tom Jenkins (50)
1923 Sid Barker Sid Barker Tom Fitzmaurice Greg Stockdale (68)
1922 Sam Gravenall Sid Barker Tom Fitzmaurice Jack Moriarty (36)
1921 Percy Ogden Percy Ogden - Frank McDonald (17)
1920 Percy Ogden Percy Ogden Jock Garden Frank McDonald (33)
1919 Jack Worrell Allan Belcher - Dave Walsh (15)
1918 Jack Worrell Fred Baring - Norm Hall (15)
1917 - - - -
1916 - - - -
1915 Jack Worrell Allan Belcher - Bill Walker (14)
1914 Jack Worrell Allan Belcher - Ernie Lumsden (28)
1913 Jack Worrell Allan Belcher Fred Baring Jack Kirby (29)
1912 Jack Worrell Allan Belcher Ernest Cameron Jack Kirby (43)
1911 Jack Worrell Dave Smith Ernest Cameron Lou Armstrong (35)
1910 Alan Belcher Allan Belcher - Bert Armstrong (40)
1909 Dave Smith William Griffith Bill Busbridge Paddy Shea (40)
1908 Dave Smith William Griffith Bill Busbridge Dave Smith (26)
1907 - William Griffith - Jim Martin (16)
1906 - Jack McKenzie Jack McKenzie Norman Yeo (31)
1905 - William Robinson - George Barker (29)
1904 - Jim Anderson / Hugh Gavin - Mick Madden (25)
1903 - Jim Anderson Hugh Gavin Mick Madden (15)
1902 - Tod Collins - Albert Thurgood (32)
1901 - Tod Collins Albert Thurgood Fred Hiskins (34)
1900 - George Stuckey - Albert Thurgood (25)
1899 - George Stuckey - Arthur Cleghorn (15)
1898 - George Stuckey - Charlie Moore (20)
1897 - George Stuckey - Norman Waugh (23)

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