The last Saturday in September each year is a sacred time for most people in Melbourne, the city is enveloped in the euphoria of yet another AFL Grand Final, to be staged at the iconic MCG. It is a quasi-religious experience for the 100,000 fans who attend, and a particularly reverent moment for the rusted-on supporters of the two combatant clubs, the ground is a giant seething colosseum of noise, color, brutal physical activity, and before, during, and more recently after the game – musical entertainment.
Throughout the years fans have followed their teams closely via the Channel 7 VFL/AFL match broadcasts along with the various highlights packages compiled during the season. Over that time Channel 7 has commissioned several theme songs and promo clips to promote their coverage of the national game, one of the best was Playing to Win, which combined classic scenes of footy action from the 1970’s and 80’s with a John Farnham – era Little River Band song. Playing to Win was very different from previous LRB songs, a more frantic, uptempo outing which really rocked, full of dramatic chord and tempo changes and featuring a bravura vocal performance from Farnham, the lyrics and melody had a natural affinity with sport and sporting victories, and resonated with fans. Highlights of the clip include Tim Watson being cleaned up (at 2.53), Jacko shadow boxing and prancing (0.45 and 1,35), a blonde Mark Harvey (1.11), Paul “The Flying Dutchman” Van Der Haar (1.56), Leon Baker (2.20, 3.16), Schimmelbusch dodging and weaving (1.04) , Peter Knights in full flight (1.28), “Mad Dog” Muir and a bemused umpire (1,42), “Crackers” Keenan psyching up (1.52), Micky ‘The Tank” Conlan executing a “don’t argue” with his head (at 3.16), and plenty more…
Channel 7 would commission another promo song which has also gone into football folklore and was used by the network for over a decade, That’s The Thing About Football was written and recorded by Greg Champion, a football satirist of great stature who has been a member of the Coodabeen Champions panel on ABC Radio for over thirty years. His everyman love of the game is infectious and his incisive parodies of football and its personalities are legendary and include such gems as – Plugger Be Good, Knee Reconstruction, Matty Lloyd Throws Grass in The Air, Dermott Brereton Is A Hood, Red Hot Go, The Bogans of the Cheersquad at Collingwood, and Deep in Our Hearts We All Barrack for Fitzroy.
Channel 7 would also commission a song by Mike Brady in the 1970’s which became Up There Cazaly, it was a #1 hit, sold over 300,000 copies and is performed regularly at the GF, it is one of our special song profiles in this week’s edition of 4TR.
The first performer to appear at a VFL Grand Final was Barry Crocker (pictured above) in 1977, he was the very embodiment of Barry McKenzie, Australia’s most famous yobbo/ocker, as portrayed by Crocker in the movie The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, some five years earlier. Barry was a MOR crooner who predictably sang the National Anthem, which was God Save the Queen, and Waltzing Matilda.
In 1979 Mike Brady (pictured above) unleashed his AFL anthem, Up There Cazaly, a song he had written as a jingle to promote the Channel 7 coverage of VFL football. He would return to the MCG on another five occasions to perform this song, while others would perform it without Brady, much to his annoyance, at another two GFs, by Ian Moss (2008), and a group comprising Darryl Braithwaite, Brian Mannix, John Paul Young, and Shane Howard (2006), making it the most -performed song, other than the National Anthem, in AFL/VFL Grand Finals history.
International performers were initially restricted to locals who had made good overseas and included Broadway star Keith Michel (’78), Peter Allen (‘80), Rolf Harris (’82), Diana Trask (’85) the first female to feature at a Grand Final, Olivia Newton-John ( pictured above ’86), the Seekers (’94), and Tina Arena (’95). The first non-Australian act to appear on GF day was US singer Irene Cara (’06), followed by Lionel Ritchie (’10), Meatloaf (’11), Ed Sheeran and Tom Jones (‘14), Chris Isaak and Bryan Adams (’15), Sting (’16),The Killers ( pictured with Jack Reiwoldt ’17), and the Black-Eyed Peas (’18).
The VFL/AFL have been roundly criticised over the decades for dishing up second-rate entertainment at what is one of the most anticipated and celebrated sporting events on the annual calendar. In the 1970’s it was not unusual for the crowd to be “entertained” by suburban marching bands playing septuagenarian community sing-a-long selections from the distant past, demonstrations of how to fly model airplanes, and fireworks displays in the middle of the day. In the 1980’s parachutists dressed as umpires mistakenly plummeted to earth in a neighbouring carpark bearing the premiership cup, and in the 90’s abseilers dressed in the colours of the competing teams swan-dived off the Great Southern Stand onto the patrons below – it was shambolic, amateurish, cheap and not very cheerful. We used to watch in envy at the acts paraded out for the amusement of fans at the US Superbowl Final in the 90’s which included Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, James Brown, Patti Labelle, and Gloria Estefan – things had to improve.
The AFL, as the owner of the most valuable TV rights property in Australian sport, had the resources to deliver a GF entertainment package that amounted to more than the Footballers Sprint, the motorcade of retired Past Champions and the newly-anointed Brownlow Medallist. They have responded, with an extended package that includes pre-game, half-time and post-match performances by local and international artists, many have delivered memorable shows, some have been memorable for the wrong reasons, so let’s countdown the top three best and worst of the VFL/AFL Grand Final performances.
John Farnham, Jimmy Barnes and Mark Seymour – 2009 Grand Final
John Farnham’s redemption as a national musical icon had been accomplished by the time he returned to perform at his third GF, having done the honours in ’79 and ’89, another decade had elapsed and he was still basking in the reflected glory of numerous hit albums and singles stretching back to 1986 when with Whispering Jack and You’re the Voice he stormed back onto the charts. He was accompanied by two of Australia’s greatest front-men – Cold Chisel’s Jimmy Barnes and Hunters and Collectors Mark Seymour who sang the “Hunners” classic Holy Grail – this was destined to be a legendary performance, and it was! Emotion and national pride are the two potent ingredients guaranteed to rouse a mass audience, Farnham knew that and delivered in spades, and the crowd lapped it up, the Qantas Choir performed the Peter Allen song I Still Call Australia Home and the cast of The Jersey Boys delivered an a cappella version of the National Anthem, check out the video clip, and feel the bond between the singers and the people.
Paul Kelly and Tim Rogers- 2012 Grand Final
Reeling from the Meatloaf fiasco of the previous year, the AFL bounced back in emphatic fashion a year later when they drafted two of Australia’s finest to perform, the legendary troubadour Paul Kelly and the You Am I front-man Tim Rogers – both brilliant performers and noted AFL tragics. Surprisingly this was a debut GF appearance for both singers, the crowd applauded when Kelly lead off with Leaps and Bounds, his affectionate postcard to Melbourne, the MCG and Aussie Rules, and followed up with To Her Door, indie-rock locals The Temper Trap also delivered a quality half-time show.
The Seekers – 1994 Grand Final
Aussie icons and international stars for decades, with global record sales in excess of 50 million copies, the Seekers had a set list of timeless songs and a track record of great live performances. 200,000 people had attended their “farewell” performance in Melbourne at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl in 1967, the Seekers knew a thing or two about engaging a big audience and they certainly did on that big day in 1994. Along with the GF standard Waltzing Matilda and the national anthem, their rousing renditions of Bruce Woodley’s I Am Australian and their million-selling global hit Georgy Girl, thrilled the crowd and has become a YouTube favourite, clocking up over one million views.
Honourable mentions go to Vanessa Amorosi (2001, 2011 pictured below), Powderfinger (2008), Ed Sheeran and Tom Jones (2014), Lionel Ritchie (replay of GF 2010), Chris Isaak, Bryan Adams and Kate Ceberano (2015), and The Killers who agreed to let Jack Riewoldt get up and sing with them (2017).
Helen d’Amico was not a singer, but she did provide some unscheduled entertainment during the 1982 Carlton vs Richmond Grand Final, when wearing only a Carlton scarf, she did a nude streak onto the ground. She attempted to cuddle the dour, balding Carlton defender Bruce “The Flying Doormat” Doull and after being attacked by a very angry Wayne Johnson, she was escorted from the ground. Helen enjoyed a brief career as a Page 3 girl, but ultimately relocated to Darwin, became a nurse, and faded into obscurity.There have been other ground invasions and the following Channel 9 Footy Show compilation captures most of them – Helen, the “Plugger”pig, a rampant elephant at Arden St. Oval, and a guy who while naked, kicked a 50 metre goal, there are others…
Meat Loaf – 2011 Grand Final
Angry Anderson went virtually unchallenged in the bad pre-match entertainment Hall of Infamy for two decades following his disastrous turn at the 1991 GF – until Andrew Demetriou proudly announced that he had invited one of his favourite acts to perform in 2011, the Bat Out of Hell Legend himself. Before arriving in the country, the eccentric Meat Loaf had demanded that his dressing room be draped in black, decorated with voodoo dolls and reeking of incense, it resembled a bat cave, but worse what yet to come. The Meat’s shambolic 12-minute medley defied belief, he croaked and wheezed his way through several unrecognizable songs, claimed that the AFL had not given him adequate time to sound-check the venue, and that he couldn’t hear his back-up singers – “They’re jerks, I do not like the AFL” the Loaf told the media, and said he would warn other performers to boycott the event in future. It was later revealed that the singer was suffering from a haemorrhaging vocal cord and shouldn’t have accepted the gig in the first place, it only cost the AFL $600,000 to find that out.
Angry Anderson – 1991 Grand Final
It was one of the weirdest and most oft-recalled pre-match entertainment fiascos in Australian sporting history, when the gravel-voiced Rose Tattoo front – man sang his solo hit Bound for Glory at Waverley Park on a day that Hawthorn and West Coast played off in the GF. Anderson’s singing was so tuneless it was described on The Punch website at the time as “a teeth-gnashing, eyeballs-piercing, ears-bleeding, scratching-down-a-blackboard, rendition of the song”. The farcical performance was further heightened by the fact that Anderson appeared on the back of what was supposed to be a replica of the Batmobile, but was just a poorly mocked- up 1970 VG Valiant Coupe which threatened to fall apart before it lumbered off the arena, the NFL Superbowl had Janet’s Nipplegate, but the AFL Grand Final had Angry’s Batmobile Balls-Up.
Daryl Somers – 1987 Grand Final
The Hey-Hey It’s Saturday front – man was a dubious choice to take on the Waltzing Matilda- Advance Australia Fair double at the MCG before the 1987 decider between Carlton and Hawthorn. Diana Trask and Olivia Newton-John had done the honors the previous two years and as experienced international performers, had set the bar high. Alarm bells went off when Somers appeared and started bopping around in a white suit and open-neck blue shirt, looking like an extra from the cast of Miami Vice.
His vocals were thin and strained, his range limited, and he should never have been entrusted with two of the nation’s most cherished songs at its biggest sporting event. He hammed it up as best he could without having Ossie Ostrich there to lift the act, Red Symons would have gonged him off had he appeared on “Red Faces”, but at least he finished without resorting to “black face”.
Other dishonourable mentions would include a post-Michael Hutchence INXS in 2010, fronted by reality show winner JD Fortune, the act was abysmal and by now the band was plagiarising itself, and destroying the legacy of their late, great, former front – man. In 2018 the Black-Eyed Peas pictured above) arrived in Melbourne on the morning of the game without Fergie and proceeded to go through the motions, delivering a desultory and forgettable performance.
The entertainment for the day this year includes music legends Paul Kelly, Mike Brady and John Williamson, as well as dance-pop singer Tones and I and Sydney singer/songwriter Dean Lewis (pictured above). 4TR is profiling several songs this week that will definitely feature at the big game, Leaps and Bounds by Paul Kelly and the Mike Brady anthem Up There Cazaly, we also feature Hunter and Collectors Holy Grail which has been performed at four AFL Grand Finals (’98,’02,’09,and ’13), as well as several songs that were performed by Powderfinger at the 2008 Grand Final – (Baby I’ve Got You) On My Mind and Love Your Way.
This year Richmond FC will take on Greater Western Sydney FC in a game that will be hotly contested, the Tigers of Richmond are a proud club with 100 years of tradition and twelve premierships to their credit, while the Giants of GWS have existed for only 10 years and will be playing in their first AFL Grand Final, good luck to all and may the best team win, have a great day!!
Be sure to check out our AC/DC Special Feature next week when we count down the many hits of Australia’s greatest rock and roll band, and tell the behind-the-scenes story of Malcolm, Angus, Bon and their mentors Harry Vanda and George Young.