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 coliseum is a giant seething cauldron of noise, colour, brutal physical activity, and before, during, and more recently after the game – musical entertainment. The GF returns to Melbourne this year after being contested at night in Brisbane and Perth during the COVID-affected years 2020-21, and the leadup week this year has become an extended period of remembrance and anticipation. Thursday Sept 22 will be a day of national mourning in recognition of the passing of HRM Queen Elizabeth 2 followed the next day by the Annual Grand Final Parade of competing teams down the Yarra River and through the streets of the CBD, which precedes match day on Sept 24, at the traditional starting time of 2.30 pm, when the ball will be bounced. Below- 2022 Premiership Cup, The Mighty MCG, Sherrin Footy.
Throughout the history of the game, and particularly since 1966 when matches were first televised, 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 soft rock songs, it was 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), Mark “Jacko” Jackson shadow boxing and prancing (0.45 and 1,35), John Duckworth throwing his mouth guard on the ground (0.57), a blonde Mark Harvey (1.11), Paul “The Flying Dutchman” Van Der Haar (1.56), Leon Baker swerving and blind turning (2.20, 3.16), Wayne Schimmelbusch dodging and weaving (1.04), Peter Knights in full flight (1.28), “Mad Dog” Muir and a bemused umpire (1,42), Don Scott (1.47) and “Crackers” Keenan (1.52) both psyching up for a ruck contest, Dashing Trevor Barker taking a screamer (2.19), Micky ‘The Tank” Conlan executing a “don’t argue” with his head (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. Below L-R – The Coodabeens Ian Cover, Greg Champion (top), Billy Baxter (bottom), Jeff Richardson, Logo 1981, Greg Champion.
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.
The first performer to appear at a VFL Grand Final was Barry Crocker (pictured below) 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, a decade later he would record the original version of The Neighbours theme song.
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.
In 1979 Mike Brady (pictured above and below) unleashed Up There Cazaly, and the crowd went wild. He would return to the MCG on another nine occasions to perform this song in 2000, 2013-17, 2019-21, 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.
The VFL/AFL have been roundly criticised over the decades for dishing up second-rate entertainment at what is the most anticipated and celebrated sporting event on the annual calendar. Below L-R Parachutist heading for the carpark, Fireworks during the day, The Parade of Goal Umpires.
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 and bearing the Premiership Cup mistakenly plummeted to earth in a neighbouring carpark, 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, while the truly cringeworthy parade of 200 performing goal umpires in 1993 was ludicrous – 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, and even some of the special advertisements created for prime-time Superbowl screening were more entertaining than our AFL acts – things had to improve, and fast.
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) who was the first female to feature at a Grand Final, Olivia Newton-John (pictured below in ’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 (below) and Bryan Adams (’15), Sting (’16), The Killers (below pictured with Jack Reiwoldt ’17), and the Black-Eyed Peas (’18).
The AFL, as the owner of the most valuable TV sporting rights property in Australian, (recently sold to TV networks for seven years for a sum of $4.5 billion) certainly had the resources to deliver a GF entertainment package that would amount to more than second rate singers, the Footballers Sprint, the motorcade of retired Past Champions and the newly-anointed Brownlow Medallist. To their credit the AFL has responded, with an extended package that now includes pre-game, half-time and post-match performances by local and international artists, many have delivered memorable shows, but some have been memorable for the wrong reasons. Footy fans are universally divided over what constitutes a ripping pre-game, half-time, or post-match show, they are quick to criticise, and have roundly booed both local and international performers if their act was not deemed to be GF-worthy. It must also be said that performing at this cavernous cricket ground can be a daunting task for some singers. The large open-air structure has long been criticised for its poor acoustics, with concertgoers reporting excessive reverberation, bizarre echoing, garbled noise and sound absorption, and down the years a string of live performers have fallen victim to the auditory perils of Australia’s largest stadium.
4TR has ranked all the performances over the past thirty years, and chosen the five best and five worst of the VFL/AFL Grand Final acts, enjoy the countdown, and let me know what you think!
Five Best Acts
1.John Farnham, Jimmy Barnes and Mark Seymour – 2009 Grand Final
John Farnham’s redemption as a national musical icon had been accomplished when 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 fans.
2. 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, and will return in 2022 to strut their stuff.
3.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, so 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 nearly two million views.
4.Tom Jones, Ed Sheeran – 2014 Grand Final
The AFL went for a retro and modern mix, combining up-and-coming megastar Ed Sheeran with the then 74-year-old Welsh crooner Tom Jones. Sheeran and his guitar opened proceedings, before the pair combined for a rendition of Prince’s Kiss. Jones then did a ‘Lionel’ and won the crowd over with a smattering of some of his biggest songs – Mama Told Me Not To Come, Delilah and If I Only Knew. Funk and swagger had landed on the MCG members’ wing
5. Lionel Richie – 2010 Grand Final Replay
After INXS bombed at the drawn 2010 final the week before, the AFL was on the lookout for a big name to make an impact. Enter: Lionel Richie. Having just played a show in Hong Kong a few days earlier, Richie arrived at the big event on a sunny Melbourne afternoon and had fans up and about with a nostalgic trip through his ’80s classics. Opening with Hello, Richie performed all the hits, including All Night Long and Dancing On The Ceiling.
Honourable mentions must also go to Vanessa Amorosi (above, 2001, 2011), Powderfinger (2008), Chris Isaak, Bryan Adams and Kate Ceberano (2015), Vance Joy, The Living End and Sting (2016), and The Killers who agreed to let Jack Riewoldt get up and sing with them (2017). Below – Helen d’Amico streaking , being led from the field, reunited with Bruce Doull 25 years later.
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 Carlton captain 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 besides Helen D’amico’s streak, “Plugger” the pig at the SCG, a rampant elephant at Arden St. Oval, and a guy who while naked, kicked a 50 metre goal, there are others.
Five Worst Grand Final Acts
1.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 was 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.
2. 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, champion runner Robert de Castella “Deek” accompanied Anderson in the car and looked amused, bemused, and confused, throughout the bizarre car crash performance.
3. 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 honours 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, Dickie Knee, or Plucka Duck 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”, a misstep that had actually occurred on Hey Hey in the recent past.
4. INXS – 2010 Grand Final
Post-Michael Hutchence who had died in 1997, the remaining band members had vainly sought to replace the irreplaceable in a desperate attempt to top up their super funds, and cash in on their back catalogue, via tawdry reality show competitions and demeaning talent search quests. A number of less-than-worthy vocalists were drafted as replacements, and came up with Canadian Elvis impersonator J. D. Fortune. The act was abysmal, and by now they sounded like a tribute band plagiarising themselves, and destroying the legacy of their late, great, former frontman, their GF performance put the final nail into the once-great Aussie band’s coffin.
5. Black Eyed Peas and Barnesy – 2018 Grand Final
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. Will I AM was seen looking at his mobile phone during the performance, obviously he had somewhere better to be, and the punters were left to wonder why an act that hadn’t had a hit in a decade, got a gig on Grand Final Day, and just “phoned in” a show, Barnesy belted out a few classics and almost saved the day. Below L-R – Baroochy Barambah, Ellie Goulding, Conrad Sewell.
Other dishonourable mentions would include these performances: Jet tried hard in 2007 but were let down by technical issues, with the sound dropping out on a couple of occasions, while British singer Ellie Goulding had to defend herself against lip syncing allegations after an audio mess-up. A very nervous Maroochy Barambah’s performance of Waltzing Matilda and the national anthem in 1993 was often flat and hasn’t aged too well, Tones and I, Conrad Sewell and Dean Lewis were judged to be inappropriate and/or uninspiring in 2018, although Paul Kelly single-handedly saved the day. A trend towards limp cover versions of songs in recent years has also raised the ire of fans, including 2019’s Cub Sport (Powderfinger’s These Days), DMA’s (Cher’s Believe), and 2020’s Abbe May (AC/DC’s Thunderstruck), Baker Boy (Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head), and John Butler (Icehouse’s Great Southern Land).
The entertainment for the day this year includes a pre-game performance by UK veteran and chart-topper Robbie Williams (above centre) and a posssible surprise duet with Kylie Minogue, with the national anthem to be sung by five-time ARIA winner Katie Noonan. Mike Brady will perform Up Their Cazaly for the tenth consecutive year after beaming in his gig from an empty MCG to Brisbane and Perth in 2020-21 due to COVID restrictions. 2012 GF act indie rockers Temper Trap (above right) will be joined on stage by Budjerah and Ngaiire, while multi-instrumentalist and footy tragic G Flip (Georgia Flipo) will also perform along with iconic rock band Goanna accompanied by First Nation performers Christine Anu, Emma Donovan, William Barton, and Tasman Keith. (extreme left above).
4TR is profiling several songs this week that will definitely feature at the big game, Solid Rock by Goanna, the Mike Brady anthem Up There Cazaly, and other GF anthems including Hunters and Collectors Holy Grail which has been performed at four AFL Grand Finals (’98,’02,’09,and ’13), as well as Paul Kelly’s classic tribute to football and the MCG, Leaps and Bounds, which has been performed at two AFL Grand Finals in 2012 and 2019.
This year Sydney FC will take on Geelong FC in a game that will be hotly contested, the Cats of Geelong are a proud club with over 160 years of tradition and nine premierships to their credit, while the Swans, formerly known as South Melbourne, have existed for 148 years and will be playing for their sixth premiership pennant this year, good luck to all and may the best team win, have a great day!!
On Thursday Sept 22 4TR will continue the AFL Grand Final 2022 Special when we profile the most pulsating action sequences in Grand Finals history, and recall the humour and wit of one of our most gifted football commentators, Dennis Cometti , and also feature the Hunters and Collectors classic footy anthem Holy Grail.
On Grand Final Day Saturday Sept 24th, 4TR will climax the AFL Grand Final 2022 Special by featuring two footy anthems, one that will be performed on the day at the “G”- Solid Rock (Goanna), and the timeless Paul Kelly classic Leaps and Bounds. Below-L-R Yarra River Melbourne, The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) x2.