As a fair weather supporter, I read the sports pages when my team is winning. And so I turned to Mike Sheahan’s column in today’s Herald Sun. In warning Essendon supporters about getting ahead of themselves, Mr Sheahan pointed out an extraordinary coincidence. He noted the last two new Essendon coaches have recorded large wins in their first games, each of exactly 55 points. Nine goals, one behind. Not a common margin.
Mr Sheahan could have delved a little further. On 3 April 1972 (my fifteenth birthday), I attended the Western Oval with my nineteen-year-old brother to watch the opening round of the season. That summer, Des Tuddenham had been controversially appointed Essendon coach after several turbulent years at Collingwood during which he and some other players once notoriously went on strike.
Essendon defeated Footscray that day in 1972. Tuddenham helped himself to a margin of exactly one goal more than Hird’s or Knights’ 55 points margins. Literally. Tuddenham was playing coach that day. Records show that he kicked a goal during the match. And the winning margin was 61 points.
It was a good birthday.
Ironically, while five of the last six coaches at Essendon had a successful start (others were Bill Stephen, one point win over Footscray 1976; Barry Davis, 21 point win over South Melbourne 1978), one – Kevin Sheedy – lost his first five games as new coach in 1981, threatened to make a playing comeback, and went on to win the next fifteen games - a record stretch after five losses.