James Hird

James Alan Hird (born 4 February 1973) is a retired Australian rules footballer and the former captain of the Essendon Football Club. A long-time captain of the Bombers, Hird was admired not only for his on-field bravery, but his exceptional ability to anticipate the course of play. With _Umpiring_Comments, he is universally respected for his good behaviour on and off the field, and has been an articulate, effective spokesperson for his club in extensive media work. He suffered serious head injuries in a collision with teammate Mark McVeigh in May, 2002 which almost forced him into retirement, but he recovered and continued to play a vital role in the Essendon team. He was known for his accurate kicking and his brilliant snaps on goal, such as the famous goal against West Coast in Round 3 2004.

Early career

James Hird was recruited from the Ainslie Football Club in Canberra, in the 1990 AFL draft. Due to injury problems in his junior football career, he was not selected until pick number 79, one of the last in the draft.

In his first season, 1991, Hird sat on the sidelines for most of the season with constant injuries hampering him. He was becoming disillusioned, but persistence from coach Kevin Sheedy convinced him to remain with the team. He made his senior debut in 1992, while spending most of the season in Essendon's reserves, which, under Denis Pagan, won the premiership that season. He achieved regular selection in the Essendon senior team during the 1993 season. In that season he was a member of what was referred to as the "Baby Bombers", a group of young players (most notably including Hird, Mark Mercuri, Gavin Wanganeen, Dustin Fletcher, Ricky Olarenshaw, David Calthorpe, Paul Hills and Joe Misiti) that played a key role in the side winning the premiership that year. In 1994, Hird won the first of three consecutive best and fairests, culminating in his 1996 season, where he was jointly award the Brownlow Medal for the League's fairest and best player with Brisbane Bears half-forward Michael Voss.

Late 1990s

A series of injuries restricted Hird's appearances during the remainder of the 1990s. He could manage only seven games in 1997, and although he was named captain in 1998 (a position he held until the end of 2005), he was restricted to thirteen games that year. An even worse year followed in 1999, when stress fractures in his foot kept him to only two games.

Early 2000s

2000 was a much better year for Hird. Injury free, he received a number of honours, including selection to the All Australian Team, and the Norm Smith Medal for a best on ground performance in the AFL Grand Final. The Essendon team also won the Ansett Cup pre-season competition, and the regular season premiership. The team only lost one game - against the Western Bulldogs - in the year 2000, making it the most successful year for any team in the history of the Australian Football League.

The following season's Grand Final was a disappointment for Hird. He played poorly and his post-match congratulatory speech to the victorious Brisbane Lions was considered to be ungracious. 2002 then saw Hird's worst injury, an horrific facial injury sustained when he collided with teammate Mark McVeigh's knee, breaking or fracturing all but a couple of the bones in his skull; Hird was in hospital for a week and missed several weeks of the season.

In 2003, despite again missing eight games through various injuries, Hird tied in the Essendon best and fairest with Scott Lucas. He also narrowly missed out on a second Brownlow Medal, finishing three votes behind the winners. He was rewarded with a place in the 2003 All-Australian team.

2004: Umpiring Comments

After Round 2, 2004, Hird put the first and only public dent into his highly respected reputation, when he made one of his regular panel appearances on The Footy Show. Hird launched a surprising attack on the umpiring that Essendon had received in the previous round, raising questions about the professionalism and fairness of the performance. He stated that they had trouble with one particular umpire in several games in the past; initially, it seemed that he wanted to leave the umpire anonymous, but he felt that he had to name Scott McLaren, whom he later described as "disgraceful." His stance softened during the interview, although this appeared to be in response to the bemusement of his fellow panelists, who were shocked by his unprecedented actions.

The matter by-passed the AFL Tribunal, and the punishment Hird would receive would be determined directly by a meeting of the AFL Commission. The Footy Show airs on Thursdays, and the AFL Commission was not meeting until the following week; as such, Hird was allowed to play in the Round 3 game against the West Coast Eagles (see Memorable Games).

On the following Wednesday, 15 April, the AFL Commission handed down its penalty to Hird. He was fined $20,000, and forced to contribute to a 3-year umpiring development program; the Commission decided against suspension. Hird accepted his sanction and expressed remorse for this actions. In further controversy, Scott McLaren was one of the umpires rostered for the Essendon vs Carlton game the following Friday night. The pair shook hands at the commencement of the game, bringing closure to the issue, but Carlton fans were particularly hostile to any free kicks given by McLaren to Essendon.

Late career

On 27 September 2005, Hird handed the captaincy to Matthew Lloyd. After Lloyd sustained a season-ending injury in Round 3 of 2006, Hird served briefly as acting captain until young ruckman David Hille was named captain for the remainder of the 2006 season.

Hird continued to be an outstanding performer in his utility role when fit, but age was forcing him to miss games through injury with increasing frequency. He suffered broken ribs and a calf strain during both his 200th and 250th games, respectively.

Final season and retirement

Despite much speculation that he would retire at the end of the 2006 season, Hird played out the 2007 season, playing 17 of a possible 22 games. Now aged 35, Hird continued to feature prominently among Essendon's best players, and he concluded his career by winning a fifth Best and Fairest award.

Hird played two farewell games: his final game in Victoria at the M.C.G. against Richmond, and his final game overall at Subiaco Oval against West Coast. The games were made higher profile as they were also the final games coached by 27-year coach Kevin Sheedy. Hird was one of the best on field in his final game, amassing 34 disposals, one shy of his career high. As Hird and Sheedy left the field for the last time, the crowd gave them a standing ovation.


In 1997, the Essendon Football Club named the then-triple best and fairest winner in its Team of the Century on the half-forward flank. In 2002, the Essendon Football Club named Hird as the third-best player in the club's history.

Memorable Games

Hird was recognized for his ability to win a game almost single-handedly. In 2006 the Essendon Football Club's official website listed his 5 greatest, or most memorable, performances, as voted by fans, including: the 2003 Elimination final against Fremantle; the 2000 Grand Final against Melbourne, for which he won the Norm Smith Medal, and; the 2003 and 2004 Anzac Day clashes, for each of which he won the Anzac medal.

His most memorable performance is universally considered to be the Round 3, 2004 game against West Coast - the game immediately following his umpiring comments controversy. It was a close, high scoring game, remembered as one of the best games of football for several years, particularly for its final quarter. To three-quarter time, Hird had 19 disposals and one goal; in the final quarter, he managed 15 disposals and two goals, the latter of which was most memorable. With the scores level at 131 and very little time remaining, the ball was bounced in Essendon's forward pocket, tapped to the boundary line side, roved, and neatly handpassed to a goalward-running Hird, who slotted it through from 30m on an acute angle for the game-winning goal. In the emotion of the moment, he ran to the fence and hugged the first fan he saw, a young teenage Essendon fan. This was the focus of a popular television commercial installment, Toyota Memorable Moments. Controversially, Hird received no Brownlow Medal votes from the umpires for his 34 disposals, media speculation being that the umpires deliberately snubbed him because of his comments; the votes went to Matthew Lloyd (three votes, seven marks, eight goals), Ben Cousins (thirty disposals, three goals), and eventual Brownlow medallist Chris Judd (twenty-three disposals).

In Essendon's horror 2006 season he returned one week early from a minor injury to lead his side to a drought-breaking win over Brisbane in round 17, 2006. It was Hird's first match since round 13 against the Kangaroos and the Dons' first win since April Fools' Day of the same year.

He was a champion and always will be remembered for being one on the football ground.

Personal life

Hird married to Tania Poynton on October 11, 1997 and they have three children - a daughter, Stephanie (born 1999), and two sons, Thomas (born 2001) and Alexander (born 2003). Tania is the sister of former Young Talent Time performer Greg Poynton.

Hird's grandfather, the late Allan Hird, was a notable player and president for the Essendon Football Club, and his father Allan Hird, Jr. had a brief playing career with Essendon.

Hird completed a degree as a civil engineer in 1998, and in that capacity has worked as a consultant on the CityLink project. He is now involved heavily in football-related media work, but he has also spent time working for a stockbroking firm Hird also owns a Melbourne restaurant called "Red Mullet" and is an active partner in "Gemba" - a sports marketing and media consultancy firm based in Melbourne.

In 2005, Hird appeared in one of the first two Toyota Memorable Moments advertisements with comedians Stephen Curry and Dave Lawson. Hird recreated his game-winning goal against West Coast (see Memorable Games), with the fan he hugged replaced by a random groundskeeper


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