Essendon Football Club, nicknamed The Bombers, is an Australian rules football club and 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 the Essendon Recreation Reserve, commonly known as Windy Hill in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon, but plays its home matches at the Telstra Dome. The club was coached by Kevin Sheedy for 27 years until it was announced that his contract would not be renewed for the 2008 season. On 27 September 2007, the club announced that ex-Richmond midfielder, captain and Bendigo Bombers coach Matthew Knights had signed a three-year contract as first team coach.
Some doubt exists as to precisely when the Essendon Football Club came into being, with 1871, '72 and '73 all being suggested as possible starting dates. The Essendon football club grew from a meeting held at the home of a well-known brewery family, the McCrackens, whose Ascot Vale property hosted a team of local junior players. There they formed the Senior Club at "Ailsa", Kent St, Ascot Vale. At this stage, the uniform consisted of black and red stripes.
Robert McCracken, the owner of several city hotels, was the founder and first President of the Essendon club, and his 17-year old son, Alex, its secretary. He would follow his father into the same post, and later become president of the newly formed VFL. Alex’s cousin, Collier, who had already played with Melbourne, was the team’s first captain. The McCracken family loomed large in the formation and running of the club.
Equally, there seems little doubt that, whatever the exact date of its formation, the club's first official fixture took place on 7 June 1873 against Carlton, with Essendon achieving victory by the only goal. Essendon played 13 matches in its first season, winning seven, drawing four and losing only two. In 1873, before the club's first senior match, the club changed the design of its guernsey to the black with red sash that has remained the official uniform since.
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.
During its early years in the Association, Essendon played its home matches at Flemington Hill, but in 1881 it made a controversial move to the East Melbourne Cricket Ground which was situated near the centre of the city and had more suitable facilities. There Essendon would stay until its return to its heartland at the Essendon Recreation Reserve some 40 years later. The move made it easier for players to travel to training but also had the adverse side effect of disenfranchising many of the club's supporters. Nevertheless, the team continued to show improvement on the field, finishing second on three occasions during the 1880s, and attracting ever larger crowds to their games.
In 1883 Essendon travelled to Adelaide where it engaged in 4 matches, winning 3 and losing 1, and in 1888 it was one of several VFA clubs to confront a team of a visiting rugby players from Great Britain who played rugby while in New Zealand and New South Wales, and Australian football in Victoria and South Australia. Essendon won 7.13 to 3.3 (behinds were recorded in the score at this time, but were not actually counted until 1897).
In 1891 Essendon were the supreme side in the Association, comfortably securing the premiership with only 1 loss from 20 matches played. The following season saw the arrival of one of the club's and the game's greatest ever players, Albert Thurgood, who kicked a VFA record 56 goals for the year as Essendon once again marched triumphantly to the premiership, again with only a single defeat all season. In 1893 they did even better, securing the premiership without losing once, and in 1894 they made it four premierships in a row with 16 wins and a draw from 18 matches. All told, Essendon won 200 and drew 15 of 621 VFA competition matches played during the period 1820-94, and if you add the 52 wins recorded in games against inter colonial opposition during that time you are left in little doubt of their pedigree.
In 1895 Albert Thurgood moved to Western Australia and this coincided with a slump in Essendon's fortunes. Nevertheless, the Same Olds were still very much perceived as being among the Association elite, a fact brought dramatically into focus at the end of the 1896 season when they joined 9 other leading clubs establishing a break away body, the Victorian Football League. An implicit purpose of the schism was to raise the profile of football by providing a competition which was evenly contested and of high overall standard, traits which had been notoriously lacking in the VFA of late.
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 in 1886 where the goal umpires used white flags to signal scores, they were the first team to wear white shorts in away matches in 1893, and in 1878, they were involved in the first match played 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 on the first "football special" train, as well as being the first side to record ten goals in a single senior match. One of its players, Charlie Pearson, was the first to bring the skill of "overhead" [marking] to the game and would also be named "Champion of the Colony".
They won back to back premierships in 1911 and 1912 over Collingwood and South Melbourne respectively.
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 1n 1922 meant that the "Same Olds" were looking for a new home.
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.
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, 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. Given the Essendon Council’s willingness to spend over £12,000 to bring the facilities of the Cricket Ground up to League standard, they chose the ground that became known as "Windy Hill".
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.
In the 1922 season, back at Essendon at last, they reached the final four for the first time since 1912, eventually ending up in third place.
In the 1923 season the Dons topped the ladder with 13 wins from 16 games. They survived a 17 point second semi final loss to South Melbourne to overcome 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, center 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 were 5'6" (167 cm) or less: Charlie Hardy, 5'1" (155cm), George Shorten 5'5" (165cm), Jack Garden 5'5" (165cm), Frank Maher 5'6" (167.5cm), Vince Irwin 5'6" (167.5cm), and Jimmy Sullivan 5'6" (167.5cm).
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. The result was an anti-climax of the highest order: 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 back-to-back 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.
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.
While it is always difficult to assess the damage caused by events such as these, it is undeniable that the club's fortunes dipped alarmingly, and persistently, in the wake of these events. Indeed, after finishing third in the 1926 season, it was to be 14 years before Essendon would even contest a finals series. This is all the more surprising when you consider that, during these years, Essendon had players of the caliber of Dick Reynolds, Keith Forbes, Jack Vosti, Rowley Watt, Howard Okey, Len Webster, Edward 'Nipper' Freyer and Tom Clarke.
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. His impact was immediate. He won the Brownlow Medal three times; remarkably, his first came in his second season, aged only 19. He would later repeat that feat in 1938 and 1939. His record of three Brownlow victories (1934, 1937, 1938), whilst equalled — by Haydn Bunton, Sr (1931 (his first season), 1932, 1935), Bob Skilton (1959, 1963, 1968), and Ian Stewart (1965, 1966, 1971) — has never been beaten (as of 2007).
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, and although there were some who suggested that the achievement was devalued because of Geelong's absence from the competition owing to war time travelling restrictions, needless to say this was not an opinion subscribed to at Essendon and which had generally good years during the war.
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) triumph. Then, in the grand final against Melbourne, Essendon put in a vintage all round performance to overhaul the Fuchsias' seven year old grand final record score by 2 points, and, of much greater significance, win the premiership at a canter. Final scores were Essendon 22.18 (150) to Melbourne 13.9 (87), with 7 goal centre half forward Gordon Lane, livewire rover Bill Hutchinson, and defenders Wally Buttsworth, Cec Ruddell and Harold Lambert among the linchpins of the red and blacks' success.
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 second 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, however, as Geelong kept their noses in front all day to notch victory by 11 points.
From 1946 to 1951 Essendon were in six grand finals in succession, winning three (1946, 1949, & 1950). The return of many fine players from war service was partially responsible, but there was the emergence of others such as Jack Jones, George Hassell, Bob McClure and of course, John Coleman.
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 succumb 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.
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 (last place) than the premiership. Essendon did manage to make the 1968 VFL Grand Final, but lost a heartbreaker to Carlton by just three points in somewhat controversial circumstances (supporters claim to this day that Alan Noonan was pushed in the back late) 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 Sun' 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 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 he finished out his career as a player and coach at his beloved Claremont. In many ways, Graham Moss' career reflects Essendon's mixed fortunes during the decade.
Things did not start very well, with the side languishing on the bottom of the ladder early in 1981, having recorded just one victory in its first six encounters. Sheedy threatened to come out of retirement and show his players "how it was done" if things didn't pick up. The team responded in stunning fashion, reeling off 15 successive victories through round 21, before running out of petrol at the business end of the year and succumbing to Fitzroy again in another elimination final. Still, it was a new era at Windy Hill, and the 1981 season also brought with it the club's first ever night premiership.
Making the finals proved to be a habit of Sheedy's, with the side again making the finals in 1982 and 1983. Essendon capped the '83 season by making their first grand final in 15 years, and though they would go down to Hawthorn by a then record margin, the stage was set for Essendon to finally return to the top.
Essendon won the night flag again in 1984 and emerged as co-favourite for the flag along with Hawthorn. Essendon finished the year on top of the ladder and came up against the Hawks again in the second semi-final. The Hawks would again prevail, but this time in a close, spirited encounter in which the young Dons began to believe that they were the equal of the mighty Hawks. Essendon then obliterated Collingwood by 133 points in the preliminary final the following week to make it back to the big stage and face the Hawks one more time. This time the results would be different.
For most of the 1984 VFL Grand Final, things looked very much like 1983, as Hawthorn would kick the first four goals of the match and carry that margin all the way to three-quarter time. It appeared almost certain that Hawthorn would win back-to-back premierships. Sheedy pulled some of his now famous positional moves, and the Bombers, led by Leon Baker's four goals in the term, put on a stunning 9 goal run putting them well in front, and the Dons finally had their 13th flag after nearly 20 years of trying.
It would only take 12 months for premiership #14, as in 1985, Essendon was even more dominant. They again finished on top of the ladder, only losing two games for the season. Essendon met Hawthorn in the Grand Final again, but this time it wasn't even close, as the Bombers managed to get some revenge for 1983 and thrashed the Hawks by 78 points.
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. Unfortunately this did not pan out, as Essendon was hit badly by injuries during 1986 and fell away during the rest of the decade, and a series of departures through defections (Roger Merrett left for Brisbane) and controversial trades (the most notorious of which was the highly unpopular deal involving well-liked clubmen Stephen Carey and Peter Bradbury) which damaged club morale for several years.
Despite this, by 1990 Essendon had put together another contending side, finishing top of the ladder and having won through to another grand final.
Two events may have helped contribute to Essendon's lackluster performances in this finals series. The first occurred during the last round of the home and away season, when several key players had been rested, allowing Kevin Sheedy to play the four Daniher brothers together in a match.
The second occurred when Collingwood and West Coast played a drawn qualifying final, resulting in a replay which delayed the rest of the finals series a week. Essendon would not play a match for three weeks, and with some of the players having been rested during Round 22, there were some players who had not played for nearly a month when it came time to face Collingwood in the second semi-final. The Pies won this easily, and the flat Bombers were forced to regroup and managed to knock off a young West Coast squad in the prelim.
By this stage most of the more experienced players were nearing retirement, as evident in that second semi final, and was evident again on Grand Final day, in which Collingwood would win easily and convincingly. Essendon had suffered the dubious humilation of allowing Collingwood to win its first (and to date, only) premiership since 1958.
1991 and 1992 saw the end of some of the club's most distinguished careers - those of Simon Madden, Terry Daniher and (temporarily) Tim Watson.
Around this time period saw a transition of the club off the field. Following the 1991 season, Essendon moved from its traditional home ground at Windy Hill to the larger and newly-renovated MCG. This move saw massive increases in game attendance, memberships, and revenue generated. Combined with shrewd marketing (particularly from coach Kevin Sheedy) and continued on field success, these factors all helped Essendon become one of the financial powerhouses of the competition.
On the field, a quiet rebuilding effort similar to the late 70's had been underway, with a new breed of players such as Gavin Wanganeen, Joe Misiti, Mark Mercuri, Michael Long, Dustin Fletcher (son of Ken), and an unheralded youngster from Canberra named 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 and inexperienced but highly talented players early in their careers. They would take the football world by storm in 1993, when, in one of the most even seasons ever, Essendon defeated Carlton in a landslide to win a most unexpected premiership. Gavin Wanganeen would take out the club's first Brownlow Medal since 1976.
After the success of 1993, the years following were something of a disappointment as the young all-conquering side of that year failed to develop into the dynasty many had hoped for and even expected. Despite this, Essendon would still play in several finals series during this time and agonisingly missed out on a Grand Final spot in 1996 when they were beaten on the siren by a point in Sydney. James Hird had developed into one of the premier players of the competition, and was jointly awarded the 1996 Brownlow with Michael Voss of Brisbane.
Essendon were dealt a blow at the end of the 1996 season when Wanganeen left the club to play for the new Port Adelaide side in 1997. The Bombers would shockingly tumble all the way down to 14th, and that coupled with a mediocre 8th place finish in 1998 began to bring forth rumblings that perhaps Kevin Sheedy's time was up. Sheedy would respond.
The 1999 premilinary final would go down as one of the worst days in the long storied history of the Essendon Football Club, as Carlton would produce one of the most stunning upsets in VFL/AFL history, defeating the unlucky Bombers by a solitary point in a classic final. This would be 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. Other supporters, however, saw his record of finals appearances and Grand Final victories as amongst the most remarkable and laudatory in the history of the game.
The failure of 1999 caused the players to redouble their efforts, having resolved to use that prelim defeat to motivate them like nothing else could. As a result, the 2000 season would prove to be the best Essendon, or perhaps any side in the league, has produced since Collingwood provided the league's only undefeated Home and Away season in 1929. Essendon would lose just one solitary match during the home-and-away season, winning 20 consecutive matches before losing to the Western Bulldogs in round 21 denying Essendon an undefeated season.
They knocked off Collingwood the following week to finish the home and away season at 21-1, then destroyed the reigning premier North Melbourne by an unthinkable 125 points in the Qualifying Final(largest winning margin in a final). One of the most hyped fixtures in the history of Australian football followed as 90,000+ spectators came to the MCG to see Essendon face Carlton in a rematch of that fateful Preliminary Final from the year before. This time Carlton would be no threat as the Dons easily accounted for them by 45 points, and then accounted for a clearly outmatched Melbourne side by 10 goals in the Grand Final to win a record equalling 16th premiership, also taking out the Norm Smith and Coleman medals (to James Hird and Matthew Lloyd respectively). The side looked set to repeat this success the following year, but late season injuries took their toll and the side went down to the emerging Brisbane Lions dynasty in the 2001 Grand Final. Many people now consider the aptly nicknamed "Bomber Machine" of 99,00,01, one of, if not the greatest team of modern times. The Bombers set records that will perhaps never be broken again in an astonishing, dominant and menacing three year period that many people will not soon forget.
Kevin Sheedy is known for his unorthadox but keen eye for talent recruiting, in particular his preference for the best young indigenous players in the country. His indigenous recruiting triumphs include Dean Rioli, Alwyn Davey, Nathan Lovett-Murray, Andrew Lovett, Gavin Wanganeen, Michael Long, Derek Kickett and many more.
Essendon, having been a consistent side over a long period of time, suffered from lack of quality draft picks and injuries, and this finally started to catch up with them. The 2005 season saw Essendon miss the finals for the first time since 1997 and finish with their worst season 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 September 27 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. Even with the failure of 2005, Essendon have played finals in 19 out of 25 seasons under Sheedy, with six top of the ladder finishes, seven Grand Final appearances and four premierships. Despite this, Lloyd notched up his 200th game in round 13 against St Kilda, winning by 15 points to keep their season alive.
2006 was the worst season seen for Essendon with injuries to big names and players dropping out of form. Matthew Lloyd's hamstring injury during the game against the Bulldogs was so severe that he was ruled out for the entire season, therefore requiring a stand-in captain, David Hille, to be appointed. James Hird also suffered a minor injury in the game against the Kangaroos, but returned in Round 17 to give the Bombers a rare win over their 2001 Grand Final nemesis, the Brisbane Lions. Essendon recorded just 3 wins for the season, against the Sydney Swans on April Fools' Day in Round 1, the Brisbane Lions in Round 17, and against rivals the Magpies in Round 19. The win over Collingwood ruined the Pies' hopes of making the top four. A string of 14 straight losses occurred before breaking this losing streak with a draw against the Carlton Blues in Round 16. The Bombers finished in 15th place above Carlton with a superior percentage. (81.86% to Carlton's 74.16%)
Essendon started season 2007 on a positive note, with three wins in their first four rounds, before falling away. They defeated Adelaide, Fremantle and St Kilda in rounds one, two and four respectively, before a string of losses to Collingwood, Hawthorn and the Kangaroos had them sitting at 3-4 after round seven. However, they got back on track thrashing recent triple premiers Brisbane in round eight, followed by narrow wins over Richmond, last year's runners-up Sydney and last year's premiers West Coast. Following a disappointing loss to Port Adelaide in round 12, they defeated Melbourne in round 13, where Matthew Lloyd kicked his 800th goal and Demons coach and former Bombers player Neale Daniher resigned as Melbourne coach. James Hird played his 250th game and Adam Ramanauskas played his first match in more than one and a half years in the match against Geelong, but the Dons were thrashed by 50 points after sustaining multiple injuries. Matthew Lloyd was suspended for this match. After three disappointing losses, it was announced on July 25, 2007, that Kevin Sheedy's contract would not be renewed. This shocked the Essendon Football Club, as he had coached the club for 27 years. They responded by defeating Adelaide for the second time this season in what was to be Sheedy and Hird's final match at Telstra Dome. After two straight 63-point defeats at the hands of Hawthorn and Fremantle, Essendon defeated fellow rivals Carlton, the match notable for Lloyd kicking the goal of the year, with his inventive backheel. James Hird and Kevin Sheedy were farewelled by the Melbourne faithful at the Melbourne Cricket Ground a week later against Richmond, but unfortunately their Melbourne farewell was spoiled by the Tigers, who, at that stage, were still a real chance of winning the wooden spoon. Their official farewell match was against West Coast in round 22, and despite a thrilling comeback (including seven last-quarter goals to Scott Lucas), they were defeated by eight points. There was a huge applause from the Subiaco Oval crowd following this match (interestingly, they also waved their scarves and jackets), where Hird and Sheedy were officially farewelled.
Essendon added four new faces to the squad for the 2008 season, through the 2007 NAB AFL Draft, these players were David Myers, Tayte Pears, Cale Hooker and Darcy Daniher who was selected previously as a father-son selection.
Essendon struggled at the start of the Home and Away Season, winning only 2 games out of their first 11. Their win over NMFC in round 1 cost Essendon dearly, losing key forward Scott Lucas to a knee injury that would put him out of action for approximately 10 weeks. This was followed by a match against defending premiers Geelong in round 2, where Essendon was pummeled by the reigning premiers in 99-point deficit. They defeated rivals Carlton in round 3 by 16-points, but fell to the Western Bulldogs in round four by 30 points, in which star player Mark McVeigh went down with a hamstring injury, beginning a horror run of injuries that would severely hinder the clubs' onfield efforts for several weeks. They then lost to an well drilled St Kilda in round five, followed by a 3rd straight ANZAC Day loss against Collingwood in round six. They met Port Adelaide in a twilight match in round seven that result in a substantial loss (94-158) and faced a trip to Telstra Stadium to meet the Sydney Swans in round eight.
Essendon were defeated by the Sydney Swans at ANZ Stadium by a whopping 91 points. The Dons were trailing by just 2 goals early in the third quater but after that it was all the Swans. They were then beaten by Richmond in the annual 'Dreamtime at the G' match by 38 points. The following round, Essendon welcomed back Lucas and his presence was felt. The Bombers played Adelaide at AAMI Stadium and lost by 5 points in an exciting nail-biter which left Bombers fans disappointed but hopeful for the future of the season. They were then thrashed by Hawthorn by 51 points after a stunning 9 goal performance by Hawks key forward Lance Franklin.
In Round 12, the tables began to turn. Essendon managed to score a victory over the West Coast Eagles at Telstra Dome by 22 points and Bombers fans were happy to chalk up their third win for the season. The following week, the Bombers faced arch-rivals Carlton for the second time in the season. After the Dons got out to a 40 point lead at quarter time, the Blues staged a comeback and managed to snatch a 2 point lead midway through the final quarter. The Bombers then kicked 7 of the next 8 goals and ended up winning by a comfortable 35 points, giving the team and fans a much needed confidence booster. In the split-round, the Dons took on Fremantle at Subiaco Oval and ground out a gritty and hard fought 4 point win at the season break.
The Bombers then faced top-eight side Brisbane at Telstra Dome and after a thrilling contest eventually extended the streak to 4 win in a row with a 37 point victory with 4 and 5 goal hauls from Matthew Lloyd and Scott Lucas respectively. The Bombers faced Richmond hopeful of winning their fifth match in succession but this quest failed, losing by four points. This is despite Essendon scoring the last six behinds of the match, most of which were rushed.
Round 17 opened up with an upset win over Collingwood by 48 points, with Andrew Welsh & Matthew Lloyd kicking 4 goals each. The Bombers dominated the 1st quater with 5 unanswered goals in the first 15 minutes. The tide seemed to have turned in the 2nd quater with the Magpies creeping up slowly, however it wasn't enough as Essendon bounced back to crush Collingwood's top 4 chances & keep their finals hopes alive.
In the third annual Clash for Cancer game against Melbourne in Round 18, the Bombers fought off a determined Demons side to eventually win by 16 points after a see saw of a game. Skipper Matthew Lloyd showed why he is one of the game's greatest ever players by kicking eight goals outs of his nine scoring shots and by taking what commentators everywhere are sure will be given mark of the year; an amazing specky over teammate Sam Lonergan. Lloyd's eight goals took him past the great Peter McKenna's total, bringing him into eighth place on the all-time goal scorers list.
Essendon's slim final hopes vanished after a disappointing effort against the West Coast Eagles on Round 19. The bombers went down to the Eagles by 10 points.
Yet another series of crippling injuries ravaged the club, leaving them with as little as 24 fit men for selection. The club were forced to play third-string rookie ruckman Tom Bellchambers for the last two matches of the year following season ending injuries to both David Hille and Jason Laycock. A series of severely undermanned Bomber squads took to the grounds for the remaining matches, and all ended in blowout defeats, the worst of which was a 108-point drubbing to surprise top four contender St. Kilda.
It was announced during the week that 2000 Essendon premiership players Jason Johnson and Adam Ramanauskas would retire, as well as Mal Michael and Damien Peverill, who was told earlier in the season that his services "would not be required" at the end of 2008. Essendon would finish 2008 in 12th position on the AFL ladder with 8 wins and 14 losses.
It is estimated that the Essendon Football Club has a following of around 700,000 thousand people Australia wide, and is Regarded as the 2nd most supported Victorian football club behind Collingwood. This can only be put down to a number of significant changes made during the last two decades, as Essendon had always boasted a big following, but not until the club moved to the Melbourne Cricket Ground from Windy Hill in 1992 did they began to utilize their huge latent supporter base. Combined with immediate success at the new venue, things began to dramatically change off field. Instantly crowd figures grew, and each year saw attendances at Essendon games annually become the highest of any club in the competition. So much so, that if a comparison was made between the average attendance of home games during the last year at Windy Hill (17,537), to that of one just seven seasons later at the MCG (58,905), attendances had tripled.
Another reason for this growth has to be due to the long-time coach Kevin Sheedy. Sheedy became coach of Essendon in 1981, but one of the qualities he brought to the club besides the instant success, was his marketing ability. Sheedy became one of the first coaches to use his position to promote the club, which he did Australia wide and continues to do today. Almost every club in the AFL now has a coach following Sheedy's lead. Interestingly enough, during 2005, Essendon was the third most supported team in Western Australia (behind the West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers respectively).
Famous fans include the deceased Steve Irwin, former Victorian Premier,Joan Kirner, former Federal treasurer Peter Costello, Former ACTU boss Bill Kelty, Seven News Melbourne weekend newsreader Jennifer Keyte, singer Anthony Callea and Jarrod Rebecchi, a fictional character in the Ten soap Neighbours.
In his book "The Stopover That Stayed - A History of Essendon (the village that is) author Grant Aldous, Page 138 states " 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."
While 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 in every game from 1890 to today.
However, in 2007 the AFL Commission laid down the requirement that all clubs have provide a clash jumper design for use for games. According to the AFL, Essendon would be required to wear this alternate jumper in designated away games against Richmond, Melbourne and St Kilda. While many can understand this request of the AFL, there are others that are bemused by this demand, namely Essendon supporters and traditionalists of the game. They argue that the clubs that supposedly clash with the Essendon jumper have had many different guernseys with many variations, 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. Two designs suggested for the Clash Jumper was a Red Jumper with black EFC writing and a jumper with an extra thick sash. Essendon have agreed on this second option as their "clash jumper" , however the club has stated it intends to do whatever possible to avoid ever wearing the alternate design, 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.
The club wore a one off variation to their normal colours of red and black, with a yellow strip on the left sleeve on June 29, 2007. This decision was taken in response to the AFL not allowing the club's players wear yellow armbands to promote cancer awareness and being fined $20,000 in 2006 for ignoring an AFL directive not to do so.
However, on this opportunity, the AFL took no action against the club. This was repeated on August 2, 2008 in the Clash for Cancer game against Melbourne . The specially designed jumper had an AFL endorsed yellow band on the left sleeve. It is believed that the jumpers may well be auctioned off at later date.
1951, 1953, 1957, 1968, 1990, 1993, 1999, 2000, 2001.