The Party Animal
Footballers have long observed the code that ‘what happens on the trip, stays on the trip’. However, poor behaviour on end-of-season jaunts certainly didn’t go unpunished at Melbourne Football Club.
Before Melbourne players and officials left on these much-anticipated getaways, the ‘godfathers’ of the touring party – Norm Smith and Checker Hughes – would lecture the group on the standards of behaviour expected. The general message would be: ‘Let’s have a great time together but don’t for one second forget that you are representing the Melbourne Football Club. If your conduct affects this great club’s reputation in any way we will have no hesitation in sending you straight home, where you might face further consequences.’
Keith Carroll recalled: ‘It was always a pretty decent lecture, and it left no doubt in anyone’s mind what they could and couldn’t get away with. You were put on notice and you’d be pretty silly to step outside the guidelines.’
John Lord (below right) added: ‘We were indoctrinated with Norm’s standards of living, and they were as high – if not higher – than what he demanded from us in a football sense.'
There was even a strict dress code. Lord said: ‘You could dress casually during the day, but when we all met up for dinner at night we had to wear a jacket, shirt and tie. Those dinners kept everyone together, and ensured no group went off on its own. It also helped the quieter blokes mix better.'
Mixing with women – especially for players who were married or had girlfriends – was strictly forbidden. Quite apart from the fact that any such dalliances would threaten the unity of the group, Smith was more concerned from a moral standpoint. Barassi said: ‘Norm didn’t go to church, but he was a moralist, and very ethical. He would frown upon any married bloke who even looked at another woman.’ If a player seemed in danger of straying, Smith would lecture him on the importance of remaining faithful.
Smith was an excellent example in this regard. Although he was ‘a passionate man’ who ‘had a lot of love in his system’, he ‘wasn’t interested in any other women’ – ‘the only woman for him’ was Marj, who he ‘clearly adored’ and to whom he remained ‘absolutely faithful’. Smith was so tough on his players because he wanted them to be ‘straight down the line, upstanding citizens’.
On the trip to Perth at the end of 1955, Smith blasted Keith Carroll, a married man he'd mistakenly believed had breached this moral code. Carroll recalled:
I looked up some family over there and I met up with a female cousin, and she just happened to be really attractive. I took her back to our hotel for lunch. I saw Norm walk past the door of the dining room, and he came back for another look. I had a fair idea of what he was thinking, but it was all innocent.
That night Norm said: ‘Keith, you know how I feel about married blokes playing up with women.’
I said: ‘Oh, Norm, that girl you saw me with at lunch was–’
He cut me off: ‘I don’t want to know about it!’
He went on and on and I didn’t get a chance to explain myself. He was wrong, but he was only trying to protect us all.
Smith was all about protecting his ‘boys’, especially in unfamiliar environments. After beating SANFL premier Port Adelaide in a ‘Champions of Australia’ match in the mid-’50s, the players secretly arranged to attend a party without Smith’s knowledge. Geoff Tunbridge recalled:
Most of the players had drifted off to the party, but a few of us hadn’t left yet and Norm came in and quite sternly said: ‘Righto, where have they gone?’
I said: ‘I’m sorry, Norm, but we’re not meant to tell you.'
He said: ‘Bugger that – out with it!’
Eventually we very reluctantly told him the venue of the party – reluctantly because we didn’t want to incur the ire of our teammates and spoil the night for everyone. I jumped in a cab with Norm and Checker and we went there. Norm didn’t have a go at any of the players; he just mingled with everyone.
He cared about the players and he was always worried about us. That was a terrific trait of his. He was just concerned that things would get out of hand, so he wanted to be there to make sure everything was under control.
Smith also instilled in his players the need to look out for each other. Tunbridge referred to the aftermath of a pre-season match in Launceston, Tasmania, where the Demons played Carlton: 'We saw a Carlton player who was drunk in the gutter. None of his mates were there so we picked him up and helped him. That type of thing never happened at Melbourne Footy Club because we were always a tight-knit group, were always kept together and were always taught to keep an eye out for each other. And that largely came down to the influence of Norm Smith. He was the boss, but he was also a very caring father figure. I genuinely loved the man.'