Spare Change for an Old Has-been?
In 2009, the Melbourne Demons did the football equivalent of stealing from the Church collection plate when they deliberately lost matches in order to improve their draft position. It was an unbecoming action of a club that has long aspired to represent the more respectable members of Melbourne society. The fact that it would do something so contemptible was truly a sign of just how far it had fallen.
Initially known as the 'Invincible Whites', the Melbourne Football Club was formed in 1858 to represent the Melbourne Cricket Club. Without a regional homeland to represent, the club had to rely solely on its culture to attract new fans. As the league was targeted at cricketers wanting to keep fit in the winter, Melbourne's cricketing associations ensured that it had a establishment image that was attractive to the new inductees to the code. As the league expanded and the MCG became the home of football, Melbourne also became the club of choice for MCG and MCC members.
The change from white occured in the1870s when a club official returned from England with a load of red and blue woollen socks. He gave the blue socks to Carlton, and the red to his own team, which inspired the name Redlegs. With colour the new craze, Melbourne added blue knickerbockers and guernsey as well as a red cap. With the outfit reminding many of flowers, the club officially embraced the title of Fuchsias. This name change led to a degree of conflict between fans and officials. Amongst fans the name Redlegs remained in poplar use while the officials remained adament the club would be called Fuchsias.
A compromise name was reached in the 1930s when Frank 'Checker' Hughes, the former coach of Richmond, took over as Melbourne coach. A man from the bloodlust culture of the Tigers found little to like about the Fuscias name and told his players,
Hughes’ comment inspired a name change and the club went on to record four premierships during Hughes’reign.
Despite the lack of egalitarian values and an odd obsession with flowers, the club was very popular. Since gold was discovered in the 1850s, Melbourne had been home to Australia's establishment set and was the headquarters of the big Australian companies. The city overflowed with the wealthy and the Demons were their team. With money, connections and a strong support base behind them, the Demons were one of the powerhouses of the VFL. By the 1960s, the club had won 11 premierships and held the VFL attendance records.
By the 1970s, the club's fortunes then began to change. The development of Victorian ski industry gave Melbourne members an alternative winter pursuit and the club became famous for its supporters disappearing off to the snow when it needed them chearing in the stands.
By 1996, the club's fortunes had reached such a low ebb that the board was forced to take it to the merger table with the Hawthorn Hawks. The merger was skittled after the Hawthorn members refused to approve. As for Demon members, a majority of them voted in favour of their board's actions. This willingness to merge may have been indicative of their lack of passion. Alternatively, it may have been indicative of their inability to feel attached to a culture that to a large extent did not exist. Admitedly, there were a few supporters that protested the merger; however, they wanted to draw a line in the snow rather than a line in the sand. Such actions, as well as teleconference calls from Mount Buller, are just not as persuasive as a rally at the ground.
One supporter who did manage to bypass the snow for the season was mining magnate Joe Gutnik. In the wake of Hawthorn's rejection of the Demons, the billionaire took control of the board and donated $3 million of his own money to help ease the club's financial problems. He reinvigorated it with the face of the wealthy establishment that defined its past glories. Gutnik was arrogant, outspoken and precisely what the club needed.
By 2000, Gutnik had steered the club to a grand final. It was then that infighting started tearing the club apart. An accountant named Szondy argued that he could do a better job and Gutnik was given the boot. But it seemed that balancing books and increasing the popularity of a football club were different skills entirely and Szondy's promises came to nothing. The club fell to the bottom of the ladder, the infighting continued and the small crowds got even smaller.
Faced with financial ruin, the club decided its future lay in China. It then cooked up some kind of scheme that involved sending players on a walk along the Great Wall and pitching the club to Chinese sponsors. Unfortunately, Chinese consider Demons to be unlucky. The club responded by giving itself an exorcism. To appease China, it dropped the Demon from its name to become Melbourne FC. While there was obviously some kind of strategy involved in the Chinese angle, Chinese tend to live in China and for all their population, getting to games at the MCG on the weekend was always going to be a struggle. Consequently, the strategy did very little to address the club's problems with empty stadiums.
Struggling to tap into the Chinese market, the Demons decided that maybe the best way to get crowds was to win a few games of football. Ironically, they felt this would be best achieved by deliberately losing matches in order to improve draft picks. While the Demons got their draft picks, they also reinforced a losing culture that hindered the development of those draft picks.
Melbourne struggles because it has very little image. It has no geographic association, no character and no soul. Out of all clubs, the Demons have the lowest number of supporters and even rugby league games in Sydney draw higher crowds. How the mighty have fallen.
Roy Morgan research
Melbourne Demons supporters are:
2001 when compared to other Australians
2004 when compared to other AFL supporters
2006 when compared to other AFL supporters
Melbourne demons theme song
Lots of words that don't really say anything!
Every summer yobbos at the MCG break into the chant "members are wankers!" As the football club of MCC members, in theory the Demons should have a strong rivalry with most of the working class football clubs in Melbourne. In the VFA era, the theory held true as the Demons were seen as the elitist team battling the working class Carlton and clashes between the two were the undisputed highlights of the season.
In the modern era, the Demons have found that few clubs really hate them. The Demon's problem is that they don't have the arrogance of an elitist club. They haven't opened their chequebook to steal players and their fans in typical toffy style, don't show enough emotion to piss people off.
The club has been trying to manufacture a rivalry with the Sydney Swans with an annual clash on ANZAC day. However, because the Swans are a relocated Melbourne club, they are unable to evoke that civic appeal to give the rivalry some real grunt. Furthermore, both teams are lightweights so the clash doesn't represents the titanic battle between Australia's two largest cities as it should.
Melbourne Demon jokes
Due to a lack of culture it is too difficult to make jokes about Melbourne. There is really nothing unique to take the piss out of. Quite boring really.
1900, 1926, 1939-40-41, 1948, 1955-56-57, 1959-60, 1964 (12 total)
Ivor Warne-Smith 1926 & 1928; Don Cordner 1946; Brian Wilson 1982; Peter Moore 1984; Jim Stynes 1991; Shane Woewodin 2000
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