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1956 - WHEN DEMONS RULED (PART ONE) by Whispering Jack

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The year 1956 was special one for many Australians. It was the year when for the first time a Summer Olympics were staged outside the Northern Hemisphere. The Games of the XVI Olympiad were predominantly held in Melbourne and from 22 November until 8 December, 1956 Australia held centre stage on the world scene, probably for the first time ever.
 
During the Games, even the country's most popular sport, Australian Rules football was given a place with the playing of a game between amateur footballers on the MCG. 

A month or so earlier, the football club that bore the host city's name won its eighth VFL premiership with a dominant performance in the grand final.

This is the story of that team's glory year.
 
The Demons were already a club to be feared among the VFL's then twelve teams. Under coach Norm Smith they had risen from second last in 1953 to a grand final in 1954, a game in which they were comfortably beaten by Footscray. A year later, the team skippered by Noel McMahen were premiers. They were young, talented and driven, inspired by a man recognised as a master strategist of the game. They were hungry for more.
 
Melbourne was left homeless in the early part of the season when the MCG was rendered unavailable due to preparations for the Olympics. They trained at alternative venues; Olympic Park during the brief preseason period and then, from the start of the season, to Albert Park. They were only able to unfurl their premiership flag from the previous year when they returned to their home ground, the MCG, in Round 5 against Geelong.
 
A lesser side might have struggled in those circumstances but not Melbourne which was unbeaten when it stepped into the MCG for the first time and maintained that status for the first thirteen weeks of the season. The young side that Smith and club secretary Jim Cardwell had built over the past year was beginning to mature into a very special combination with some outstanding players like Ron Barassi, John Beckwith, Robert "Bob" Johnson and Athol Webb. Their only losses for the season were the return game at the MCG against Footscray in Round 14 which was the only time they lowered their colours at home and a fortnight later against Geelong at Kardinia Park.
 
The depth of the side was evident when the seconds won the curtain raiser to the Grand Final before a then record crowd of 115,000. The seniors then came out and crushed traditional rival Collingwood to win their second consecutive premiership with a team hailed as   the best Melbourne side ever to take the field.
 
Here is how the season unfolded.

Round 1 1956 - Saturday 14 April at Punt Road Attendance 25,000

Richmond 2.1.13 4.4.28 5.4.34 8.7.55
Melbourne 4.6.30 6.8.44 10.14.74 12.16.88

Goalkickers Robert "Bob" Johnson Stuart Spencer 3 Ron Barassi Laurie Mithen 2 Ralph Lane Ian Ridley
 
The Demons were untroubled against the Tigers who were unfancied against the reigning premiers and that is exactly how things turned out at Punt Road in the season opener. The visitors led at every change with 6'6" big man Bob Johnson and clever rover Stuart Spencer each booting three goals.

Round 2 1956 Saturday 21 April at Princes Park Attendance 18,656
 
Carlton 1.0.6 1.5.11 1.7.13 6.11.47
Melbourne 5.5.35 8.9.57 10.15.75 12.18.90

Goalkickers Athol Webb 4 Ron Barassi Laurie Mithen 2 Robert "Bob" Johnson Ralph Lane Ian Ridley Stuart Spencer
 
The team was far too strong for the Blues at Princes Park keeping the home side down to a single goal for the first three quarters.

Round 3 1956 Saturday 28 April at Western Oval Attendance 33,265
 
Footscray 2.6.18 2.8.20 5.10.40 5.11.41 
Melbourne 1.2.8 3.4.22 5.6.36 9.13.67

Goalkickers Stuart Spencer 3 Robert "Bob" Johnson Ian Ridley 2 Ron Barassi Athol Webb
 
The Bulldogs challenged strongly and led at the final change before the Demons powered home with a dominant last term aided by a strengthening wind.
 
Round 4 1956 Saturday 5 May at Punt Road Attendance 23,000
 
Melbourne 3.8.26 5.10.40 6.16.52 10.19.79
Fitzroy 1.1.7 4.3.27 4.4.28 9.6.60

Goalkickers Ian Ridley 3 Robert "Bob" Johnson 2 Ron Barassi Peter Cook Brian Dixon Laurie Mithen Athol Webb
 
The Demons held sway for most of the game and recorded a comfortable win despite some poor kicking for goal.
 
Round 5 1956 Saturday 12 May at MCG Attendance 47,130
 
Melbourne 2.7.19 3.13.31 5.18.48 6.20.56
Geelong 2.2.14 5.5.35 5.7.37 6.12.48  
 
Goalkickers Ron Barassi Ian Ridley 2 Robert "Bob" Johnson Clyde Laidlaw
  
Melbourne was finally able to unveil its 1955 Premiership flag and it was before a big crowd in a clash between the VFL's only two undefeated sides.

The game was marred by heavy rain with much of the ground under water. Stuart Spencer kicked 0.11 an equal AFL/VFL record for inaccuracy. Most of his points were from kicks off the ground. The team trailed at half time but a powerful third quarter saw the team draw clear and record an 8 point win in the end.

Round 6 1956 Saturday 19 May at Arden Street Attendance 11,000
 
North Melbourne 4.2.26 5.3.33 5.6.36 6.6.42
Melbourne 1.2.8 3.6.24 6.9.45 11.18.84

Goalkickers Ron Barassi Stuart Spencer 3 Athol Webb 2 Robert "Bob" Johnson Laurie Mithen Ian Ridley
 
The Kangaroos wrested the early lead at Arden Street in a game in which their spearhead kicked all but one of their six goals for the day. His opposite number at full forward for the Demons, Athol Webb kicked two before severely bruising his chest and shins when he ran into a goalpost at full-speed. Despite being nine points behind at the main break, the Demons controlled the second half to run out comfortable winners and doubling North's score.
 
Round 7 1956 Saturday 26 May at MCG Attendance 46,868
 
Melbourne 1.1.7 5.8.38 7.10.52 11.13.79
Collingwood 4.5.29 6.5.41 9.6.60 9.7.61
 
Goalkickers Ian Ridley 4 Stuart Spencer 3 Ron Barassi Robert "Bob" Johnson 2

This was the first of four clashes for the season for traditional rivals Melbourne and Collingwood. It was a tense, close encounter with the Magpies holding the ascendency at three quarter time but the home team was up to the challenge with their roving division led by Ian Ridley and Stuart Spencer dominant in front of goal to run out victors by 18 points.
 
Round 8 1956 Saturday 2 June at Junction Oval Attendance 26,300
 
St. Kilda 1.7.13 1.9.15 4.11.35 6.11.47
Melbourne 1.2.8 5.3.33 7.5.47 9.7.61

Goalkickers Robert "Bob" Johnson Ian Ridley Athol Webb 2 Trevor Johnson Jim Sandral Stuart Spencer
 
A vigorous but inexperienced St. Kilda team took things right up to Melbourne at the Junction Oval come away with the victory. They were undone however, by poor kicking for goal in the early part of the game. Athol Webb moved to a half-forward flank and his speed was a major contributing factor in the victory as were the performances of rovers Stuart Spencer and Ian Ridley.

Round 9 1956 Saturday 9 June at MCG Attendance 32,543
 
Melbourne 2.3.15 9.10.64 13.14.92 15.17.107
Essendon 0.4.4 0.7.7 1.11.17 4.15.39

Goalkickers Robert "Bob" Johnson 7 Ron Barassi Stuart Spencer 2 Brian Dixon Ian McLean Ian Ridley Athol Webb
 
Big Bob Johnson was in sensational form up forward with seven goals in a 68 point demolition of a poor Bomber combination at the MCG in the last game before the mid-season bye.
 
Over the next fortnight, the Australian National Football Carnival was held at Subiaco Oval in Perth with the Victorian team running out easy winners. Ron Barassi was the only Melbourne player to gain All Australian honours at the end of the Carnival.
 
(to be continued)

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