MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: Joe Daniher of the Bombers receives the Anzac Medal for best on ground during the 2017 AFL round 05 ANZAC Day match between the Essendon Bombers and the Collingwood Magpies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 25, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Exactly 365-days after 8700 Australian and 2779 New Zealand soldiers paid the ultimate price on the then bloodied shores of Gallipoli, the tradition of commemorating their sacrifices began.

Even though more than a century has passed, the memories of those that shall never grow old continue to be honoured in various fashions.

Some prefer to wake up before the sun, whilst others prefer a later start to the day.

Some choose to thank those that have served by toasting anything carbonated and amber,  whilst others choose two-up.

But for Essendon and Collingwood fans, the MCG awaits.

Although this year's Anzac Day clash between the Bombers and the Magpies will only be the 26th occasion that the pair have played for the ironbark-based trophy, a sporting tradition is already burgeoning.

Despite the fact that any comparisons between the battle ground and football field are ludicrous at best - and offensive at worst - some of the game's greatest contemporary moments have been crafted during these commemorative day stoushes.

So, before the bugle is blasted and the ball is bounced to start Anzac Day XXVI, we have sought to provide you with a selection of interesting facts about the clashes of years gone by.

Form does not guarantee any job security 

Having led his side to a four-point victory after collecting 38 possessions, Scott Pendlebury was awarded his third - and the clashes most recent - Anzac Day medal in 2019.

Still at the helm for his eighth season as Collingwood skipper in 2021, Pendlebury has bucked a brewing trend that began in 2015.

Following his standout performance that included 31 touches and 1.1 in 2015, Paul Seedsman was adjudged the best player on the ground.

In the years to follow, Steele Sidebottom, Adam Treloar and Joe Daniher have claimed the prize - making that three out of the last five winners that have been traded following their day out on the 'G.

An April nod usually leads to September acclaim

Across the past 25 public holiday contests, 19 different players have been gone home with an Anzac Day medal around their necks.

On 14 occasions, the player adjudged to have best exemplified the 'Anzac Spirit' has also gone on to claim three Brownlow votes later in the year.

Only Saverio Rocca (1995 and 1998), Chris Tarrant (2001), Andrew Lovett (2005), Joe Daniher (2017) and Adam Treloar (2018) have missed out, with Nathan Buckley (95 & 98), Shane O'Bree (01), James Hird (05), Adam Treloar (17) and Steele Sidebottom (18) pipping them respectively.

With his snub from the umpires five seasons ago, the moustachioed Daniher snapped an 11-year run of Brownlow night transparency.


The winning streaks are streaky

Although Collingwood have won 15 of the annual matches contested since 1995, the Pies have never been able to prevail in four-straight seasons.

On six separate occasions, either side has strung together three consecutive victories, but has always had their streak severed when aiming for a quartet of conquests.

Of this sextet of three-peats, Collingwood has completed the task four times and Essendon just twice.

AAC Day?

Although April the 25th is a day for those on the other side of the ditch to pay their respects, no New Zealand born player has ever played in the annual clash.

Marley Williams - of Maori heritage - did line up for the Magpies in 2015, but as he was born in Albany, Western Australia, the box could not be ticked.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 24: Marley Williams of the Magpies runs with the ball during the round 14 AFL match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Fremantle Dockers at Melbourne Cricket Ground on June 24, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Despite being born in the shaky isles and playing six AFL games from 1997 to 2002, Daniel McAlister never ran out for the Bombers on Anzac Day.

So, even though both versions of the New Zealand national anthem are performed each year, a countryman has never been on the ground to sing along with them.

Early form is good form

Since the first of these perpetual fixtures took place 26-years ago, there have been 25 contests, with 24 producing a win/loss result.

Of these 24 outcomes, the side that has prevailed has also gone on to finish higher on the ladder than the vanquished on 18 occasions.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: Ben Reid of the Magpies (left) celebrates a goal with Scott Pendlebury of the Magpies during the 2018 AFL round five ANZAC Day match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Essendon Bombers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

So, although these storied contests always take place within the first third of the year, 75% of the time the victors are grinning long after late April.

Even though it seems unlikely either club will make the eight this year, it is a timely reminder that bragging rights are still up for grabs.

Backmen's blues

Of the 25 Anzac Medals that have been awarded, every line on the field has had at least two winners - except for the backline.

After collecting 30 possessions and pounding the Sherrin inside 50 on eight occasions, Collingwood defender Ben Johnson was awarded the 2006 medal following the Pies' 17-point win.

Although Johnson remains the sole winner from the collective defender's fraternity, he stands alongside fellow 'Rat Pack' members Chris Tarrant, Heath Shaw and Dane Swan with at least one medallion on their mantel.

Interestingly, despite their issues off the field, the only 'core members' of the pack not to claim the prize are Alan Didak and Rhyce Shaw, marking a 66.7% success rate.

It's on for young and old

Although this annual fixture is always highly anticipated, and usually hotly contested, age has never been a discriminatory factor when it comes to domination.

At just 17-years and 307-days of age, schoolboy Mark McGough tore around the sodden MCG in 2002, finishing with 24 disposals and the Anzac Medal.

Although the Mulwala product would only play a further 35-games in black and white before crossing to the Saints, he made sure his second senior game would remain a trivia question for many years to come.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, both Scott Pendlebury (2019) and James Hird (2004) have claimed the prize after their 31st birthday, but it is the former that remains the eldest.

Silent crowds talk with their feet 

Following the reading of the ode of remembrance and the evocative notes of the last post, the MCG and it's tens of thousands of patrons fall silent for a minute of commemoration.

For those lucky to have borne witness to the spectacle, it is almost certainly the only time a pin drop could be heard when so many faces are in full view.

Since the annual clash became lore in 1995, finals sized crowds have flocked to the MCG to both pay their respects and partake in the routine barracking an Essendon and Collingwood clash will always stir up.

Even if Sunday's crowd is capped at 85% of the 'G's 100,024 seat capacity, it is unlikely that the number of spectators to click through the turnstiles will be the lowest since '95.

With the famous Cricket ground undergoing major construction between 2003 and 2005, average crowds of 'just' 63,305 were able to attend across the three season span. The lowest total of 57,294 in 2004 also came during this period of facelifts.

Despite a full house able to be accommodated for and Melbourne providing pristine conditions, 'just' 73,118 Dons and Pies diehards turned up in 1999.

The fact the Magpies had lost 10 in a row entering the game probably didn't help ticket sales.

Still, other clubs that perennially pull paltry crowds would beg for lulls like these.

The classics are classics for a reason

Although now 26-years down the track from the beginning of this cemented fixture, the first clash between Collingwood and Essendon is still arguably the best ever played on the commemorative day.

Despite Brett James' 'baby bag', Sean Denham's tonne, Buckley's 30 disposals and a lockout crowd of 94,825, the deadlocked score line of 111-points apiece between the 3-0 Bombers and the 0-3 Magpies means that the this inaugural clash will live long in the memories of anyone lucky to have a Yarra Park vantage point on the day.

Although the game's 222 aggregate points on the date has been surpassed on three occasions since - 2000, 2003 and 2008 - no player has come close to matching Saverio Rocca's 9.2 haul.

If you were too young to remember it, part of the heaving throng that was locked out or simply unaware of this 90's masterpiece, put the kettle on, put your feet up and enjoy!

Sorry for spoiling the ending though.

History does extend beyond 1995

Despite the fact we have dedicated the last nine spots on this list to clashes from '95 onwards, it should be known that neither Kevin Sheedy, Bruce Ruxton, Ross Oakley or either football club invented the idea to play footy on Anzac Day.

With previous laws preventing the RSL and VFL/AFL from having a working relationship, football on the commemorative day was not always something that was welcomed. However, it doesn't mean the past can, or should, be whitewashed.

Despite games of Australian Rules Football being played on the eve of the Gallipoli landing in 1915, there was a 44-year drought before the next contest on April 25th.

According to AFL historian Ben Collins, it took an act of parliament 63-years ago to actually allow sporting events to take place on the date - irrespective of whether it coincided with the weekend or not.

Since 1960, almost every AFL/VFL club - plus a smattering of state league sides - have played for points on the day of remembrance. So, despite the fact that Essendon and Collingwood have had a monopoly over the date in past decades, history shows that the concept didn't just appear out of thin air.

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. This is the antithesis of “ANZAC”….. it is not a “tradition” it is simply a gift to two particularly over-indulged victorian clubs so they can rake in the cash.

    This “feature” of the fixture (and it is a fixture, there is nothing about it that suggests a “fair draw”)

    They get a guaranteed standalone “blockbuster” schedule every year, to the loss of every other club, so they can be exposed nationally (to assist with memberships) as well as a massive “give” for their sponsors (and hence, sponsorship revenue).

    The “ANZAC” game is one in name only. It is undeserved and a result of a crooked fixture which favors a few selected teams. It continues a set agenda to maximise the profits of 4 to 6 “big” victorian clubs. all others have to “do it rough” or wait for table crumbs, they feature in the “lesser” TV timeslots, doing all the “heavy lifting” so that the favored can capitalise on that work.

    “ANZAC DAY” game has lost all meaning. The ANZAC Medal is an abomination – so a player was BOG in a game – so what. It’s mean something if he was part of a team that EARNED the RIGHT to carry him to a game where he could THEN earn the gong.

    To make it a tradition of worth – follow the SANFL, the ANZAC Day game is played by the clubs from the previous year’s grand final….. that is – such a standalone feature game is EARNED rather than gifted to a couple “gimme a handout” clubs.

    In 2017, Footscray deserved to hold the ANZAC Day clash – and to reap the benefits, but they are destined to remain a “table crumb” club – they get no favors. West Coast has deserved to play in a couple recently – but they (obviously) cannot be given a “leg up” in any way.

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