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AFL great Ron Barassi has been remembered as a loving father, ultimate team man and a visionary with a wicked sense of humour at the AFL icon’s state memorial service at the MCG on Friday.
In warm and sunny conditions on a day when a maximum temperature of 31 – Barassi famously wore the No.31 guernsey – was expected, Barassi’s wife Cherryl and three children, Ron jnr, Richard and Sue, were joined by a crowd of about 4000, many of them men he had played alongside or coached at the four VFL-AFL clubs where he had left a lasting legacy.
Mourners at the state memorial service for AFL legend Ron Barassi.Credit: Justin McManus
Son Ron Barassi jnr delivered a heartfelt speech, regaling with tales of his dad and the sporting figure who came to be known as “Mr Football” through his time at Melbourne, Carlton, North Melbourne and Sydney before his death in September, aged 87.
“Upon reflection, I was never a single club person belonging to their tribe. My tribe was me, my brother, my sister and my mum. The chief was Dad, and he just happened to be a footy legend. Wherever the chief went, our little tribe followed,” Ron jnr said.
“To many people Dad was a legend and hero. But, to our tribe, Dad was, well, Dad. All these clubs, all these premierships and all that time, I was really barracking for Dad.”
Barassi, along with the great Norm Smith, featured in an equal record 10 premierships as a player or coach. This feat was recognised in the number 17410, which accompanied his autograph, acknowledging the 17 grand finals he was in for 10 flags.
Inducted as an AFL legend in 1996, Barassi was a champion player for his beloved Melbourne, playing in all six of the club’s premierships during their dynasty in the 1950s and ’60s under Smith.
His shock defection to Carlton for the 1965 season stunned the football world, but success followed with premierships in 1968 and 1970.
He delivered North Melbourne their first flag in 1975, and another in the 1977 grand final replay. He returned to Melbourne as coach in 1981, and later answered an SOS call from AFL and Sydney to come out of retirement and coach the relocated Swans, who were on their knees in 1993.
Barassi’s determination to win every battle was highlighted when Ron jnr was involved in a fight as a child with an older boy while growing up in the Melbourne suburb of Heathmont.
Ron Barassi’s son Ron jnr pays tribute at the MCG.Credit: Justin McManus
“After another whack, I just sat there on the grass and started to cry. I knew I was beat. Unbeknownst to me, looking out from our lounge room window which overlooked the street below, Dad had witnessed the whole thing. He came storming out to the verandah and screamed: ‘Get up and fight’,” Ron jnr said.
“He had that fierce angry look on his face, one that many of his players had witnessed over the years while listening to his three-quarter-time speeches. That look freaked me out. I threw myself back into the fight. I got knocked down again, of course. It wouldn’t matter what the game was or the situation, Dad would never give up.”
Ron jnr told of the years playing tennis, snooker and chess with his father. Chess was one of Barassi’s favourite past-times, the strategy and endless possibilities intriguing him, and he taught Ron jnr from the age of eight.
Even in his final year, when dementia had taken hold, Barassi still loved to test himself.
“Towards the end, Dad was still physically strong. A few weeks before he passed away, I was helping him to get him out of the chair. He had about 40 kilograms on me, so it wasn’t going to be easy,” Ron jnr said.
“I placed my feet near his and held his hands. I started to pull but got nowhere because, for no particular reason other than because of the man he was, he had decided it was a competition, and he started pulling me towards himself with a big smile on his face.
“Right to the very end, Dad was cheeky, loved a laugh and had a magnificent sense of humour.”
Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan, retired Lieutenant General Richard Maxwell Burr AO, new AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon, AFL great Garry Lyon and Melbourne president Kate Roffey were among those who provided tributes.
Host Eddie McGuire interviews AFL greats Leigh Matthews and Kevin Sheedy about football icon Ron Barassi.Credit: Justin McManus
AFL greats Leigh Matthews and Kevin Sheedy were interviewed on stage about the Barassi they knew, Sheedy describing him as the “Spartacus and Ben-Hur” of the 1960s.
The death of Barassi’s father, Ron snr, killed at Tobruk in World War II, shaped his life. Ron snr was a Melbourne player, and the Demons vowed to look after the young lad and his mother Elza. Through this, the father-son ruling was introduced, Barassi remaining in the Demons’ fold as a player, when zoning at the time meant he could have gone to either Carlton or Collingwood.
His mantra of “if it is to be, it’s up to me” was reinforced when he famously saved a woman from serious harm in an unprovoked New Year’s Eve assault in 2008. Barassi, 72 at the time, tackled one of the thugs to the ground in Fitzroy St, St Kilda, before they turned on him, punched him and kicked him while he was down.
“Ron was the type of man what never hesitated,” Lyon said.
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