It is often said that a team of champions does not necessarily make a champion team.
For the St Kilda Football Club, this line holds truer than most. The Saints - for 150 years - have been littered with star power. Superstar power, even.
In fact, if you took the Saints' Team of the Century and matched it with the best of the best lineup from every other club's history, only a few would even get close.
All for the solitary sum of one V/AFL premiership.
“When you look at it on paper, everything points to … we should not exist after 150 years. But, through the strength of the people, we've endured,” says Saints Content & Communications Lead, Chris Nice, on the Unpluggered Podcast ahead of the club's 150-year celebration.
“The spirit of the Saints and that binding passion has endured and seen us through to where we are today, which is quite special,” Nice enthused
“While other clubs are defined by the number of Premierships or rich veins of success, it is the undeniable spirit of St Kilda and its people which has remained unshakable.”
So says the St Kilda Football Club's latest supporter offering by JTB Studios, saints150.com.au, an interactive timeline from the club's inception in 1873 to this year's milestone occasion - complete with never-before-seen and rare images, videos, and stories curated by Nice and legendary historian Russell Holmesby - a celebration of spirit greater than simple bricks, mortar ... and silverware.
Brownlow medallists Colin Watson (1925), Brian Gleeson (1957), Neil Roberts (1958), Tony Lockett (1987), Robert Harvey (1997, 1998).
Coleman medallists Charlie Baker (1903), Bill Mohr (1936), Bill Young (1956), Tony Lockett (1987, 1991), Fraser Gehrig (2004, 2005).
None of these names experienced the elusive premiership feeling.
Nor did other greats of the game, Danny Frawley, Nicky Winmar, Carl Ditterich, Nathan Burke, Stewart Loewe, Nick Riewoldt, and, of course, the inimitable Trevor Barker.
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Of course, the Saints have had their day in the sun. Once, in 1966. The victory over league behemoth Collingwood, themselves already the owners of 13 flags at that juncture. They now have 15. That '66 squad is burdened with the legacy of being the only "champion team" in the team's history of champions. Young and old, St Kilda fans reel off names like Darrel Baldock, Ian Stewart, Kevin ‘Cowboy' Neale, Barry Breen and of course, legendary coach, Allan Jeans. These are the ultimate heroes - defined by a trophy earned over 50 years ago.
Yet the Saints are more than the sum of its parts. A history defined by blood, sweat - and, yes - tears. By moments. By people.
Rome wasn't built in a day, just as the ‘66 premiership didn't just happen. The bricks of the pantheon were laid a decade earlier, with coach Alan Killigrew appointed ahead of the 1956 VFL season.
“Nobody will laugh at St Kilda,” the former rover vowed.
Killigrew was a tough and demanding coach who gutted the list from top to bottom, with no better example of this than the story of the Saints' new ruckman and rover meeting for the first time on the tram, on the way to the opening game of the season.
“He was a hot gospeler … someone who could really deliver an impassioned plea and speech. It was almost a case of him saying ‘... no, you belong in this competition, you need to set standards and you need to be dreaming as big as everybody else,” explained host, Darren Parkin, on Unpluggered.
The coach of the 1966 Saints, Allan Jeans was a “coaching disciple” of Killigrew, says Nice, coming through the playing ranks under the firebrand, before being appointed coach in his own right in 1961, after a short stint under Jim Francis.
However, it really was the second half of the 1950s which set the blueprint for St Kilda's ultimate success. The influx of new talent under Killigrew allowed the likes of Brian Gleeson, Neil Roberts, and Verdun Howell to flourish, ahead of the golden generation of Baldock, Stewart, Breen, Ross Smith and co through the 60s.
Established in 1873 and officially one of the oldest professional sporting clubs in the world, the Saints may not have tasted that ultimate glory as often as others, but they most certainly have their fair share of stories.
The club that played its earliest games on what was known as St Kilda's "Alpaca Paddock," a name derived from the council's attempt to raise alpacas as a commercial enterprise.
The club that had magistrates striking fear into the hearts of local hoodlums by threatening lockup "until St Kilda won a match."
The club who changed its famous colours - from red, white, and black, to red, yellow, and black - to align with the allied forces in Belgium during World War I.
The club whose identity was solidified after a bloody battle against the Shinboners of North Melbourne, in which just 15 players finished the game on the field.
"It serves as a sign of bravery in the face of adversity, unwavering resilience and a reminder to never give in, even under the most dire of circumstances."
Among the stories on Saints150 survives the legend of Peter Chitty, the two-game Saint who was awarded the inaugural - and only - Changi Brownlow, for best afield in a prison yard game between Victorian prisoners of war, and POWs from the rest of Australia.
And then, there's the magic of 1966. The drought, broken after 93 years. And now, the Saints of today, just a mere 57 years later, owners of the current longest premiership drought.
But the tricolours from Melbourne's bayside haven't been without their chances.
Over the years, despite the singular piece of league silverware, the Saints have played off in the deciders of six other seasons, for a total of nine grand final non-victories.
The 1913 season, when St Kilda actually won their first 'grand final' appearance, only to be undone by a league rule whereby the ladder leaders were allowed a challenge for a replay if beaten in the final. Fitzroy challenged the result and won the replay.
The 1965 loss, where the young Saints were undone by the stronger, more experienced Bombers who had appeared in ten of the previous 19 VFL grand finals.
The 1971 grand final loss, when a late game move by iconic Hawthorn coach John Kennedy Sr saw the Saints' 20-point three-quarter-time lead turn into a seven-point Hawks celebration.
The 1997 grand final loss - following a barnstorming late-season run - where the youthful Saints finished again in heartbreak as the Adelaide Crows came back from a 13-point half-time deficit to claim victory after a number of personal tragedies befell the St Kilda playing list during the week.
The 2009 St Kilda team goes down in history as the greatest to not win the ultimate glory, winning 19-straight games to start the season, falling to Geelong and 'the toepoke,' again after leading at the final break.
And, most recently, the 2010 grand final. The bounce. The draw. The replay. Tormented again.
👀 #SaintsFooty pic.twitter.com/NKZewxOqEj
— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) March 22, 2023
Yet, the spirit of St Kilda lives on in 2023.
It's a new era for the Saints with a women's team, a rejuvenated Moorabbin base, a revitalised sense of purpose, and a record number of supporters and members.
Despite the trials and tribulations, the heartbreak, and the pain, the club lives on in hope. In its history. Its moments. Its journey. Its people.
MORE: The saddest chapters in St Kilda's tragic history
It's Robert Harvey dancing on a dime.
Trevor Barker flying high.
Barry Breen's wobbly punt.
Nicky Winmar's famous stand.
The social club disco.
It is the St Kilda Football Club.
Immeasurable. Indomitable. Indefatigable.
As displayed uniquely by Saints150, the St Kilda Football Club has withstood the test of time, and nothing can quite match what it means to be a part of the Saints.
Listen to the special edition of the Unpluggered Podcast and dive into the illuminating history of the St Kilda Football Club at saints150.com.au.