In Essendon's newly released 150-year book The Red & Black Collection, some of the Bombers' greats penned letters about what the club means to them.
Below are excerpts from their heartfelt letters.
The Red & Black Collection is a book that transcends generations, recounting in stunning detail the story of one of the country's most iconic, adored and successful sporting clubs.
Featuring rare photographs, profiles of star players and a memorabilia lift-out of replica player medals, premiership cards and never-before-seen coaching notes from the archives, it's the ultimate collector's item for past players, current players, members and supporters.
Games: 134 (1999 - 2008)
I remember in my first few weeks as a Bomber being taken through the club's museum. The draft class of 1999 - myself, Mark McVeigh, Aaron Henneman, Danny Jacobs and Chris Ladhams - were sent there to learn about the Essendon Football Club. I'd been a Richmond supporter growing up and knew that Essendon was a successful and powerful club, but being shown its history, what it stood for and how it had evolved into a powerhouse, was a lightbulb moment. I instantly fell in love with the Essendon Football Club.
It was during my cancer diagnosis that I learnt what the football club meant to me and what I meant to people around the club. The outpouring of support I received internally from teammates, coaches, staff members and supporters was phenomenal. I'm forever in debt to the football club and how they supported me through the toughest time of my life.
The beauty of playing for Essendon is you can always see red and black in the crowd. It didn't matter if it was at the MCG or interstate, red and black always stood out because we had such a big, powerful and loyal supporter base. How incredible it was to have played football in front of some of the biggest crowds and the most passionate supporters. It was a privilege to pull on the Essendon jumper and it's something this cheeky upstart from Doveton will hold dearly to his heart forever.
Games: 100 (1999 - 2006)
Walking into the Essendon Football Club was the biggest moment of my life to that stage. I had dreamt about that moment countless times, and as I walked into Windy Hill to be introduced to coach Kevin Sheedy and the rest of his staff, I was completely in awe. In fact, I felt out of place, as I could see all my childhood heroes: Dustin Fletcher, Dean Wallis, Mark Mercuri, Joe Misiti, James Hird, Gary O’Donnell, Darren Bewick and, of course, 'Longy'. I remember struggling to control my anxiety as I walked into the boardroom to meet with Sheedy, Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson and Mark Harvey. The one comment that sticks with me today is when ‘Sheeds’ clicked his fingers and told me my career will go by 'just like that'—how right he was.
As much as I was at the Essendon Football Club to play football, and I am thankful that they gave me the opportunity to play 100 games, I am more grateful for the experiences off the field; indeed, the people I met made a huge impact on my life. These include: Sheeds and Longy, my mentors; Dr Bruce Reid, who I trusted with my life; Robert Shaw, for teaching me about prioritising what is important in life; John Quinn, who taught me self-belief; ‘Hirdy’, who taught me leadership; and former president, Graeme McMahon, who gave me the confidence to use my profile and networks to achieve positive outcomes for my Indigenous programs.
I can honestly say that I walked out of the Essendon Football Club a better person than I walked in. I left with lifelong friendships and people I know I can call on for any support in the future. My nine years with the Bombers was my apprenticeship, helping me to move on to bigger things in life - I will be forever thankful to the club for creating an environment which helped me to become the man I am today. I’m extremely proud that I have been a part of such a great club.
Games: 400 (1993 - 2015)
Premierships: 1993, 2000
Crichton Medal: 2000
All-Australian: 2000, 2007
I had tremendous pride in wearing the Essendon guernsey. I was born in Essendon and grew up in Essendon - that was where I was from. So, to be able to then wear that red and black guernsey in a record 400 games was surreal in a way. But it probably took me until I finished footy before I truly realised what the club means to so many people. There are lots of people who can’t afford memberships, yet they still find a way to get there every week and cheer on their beloved Essendon team. It means everything to them, just as it does to us players. Finals and premierships are great, obviously, but to be able to train every day at Windy Hill and pull that red and black jumper on is a tremendous honour that I’ll always cherish having done.
My passion for the club is still there today; you’ll never drag me away from the Essendon Football Club. My parents still go along every week. Dad puts his headphones in and listens to it intently while he watches the play. That love for the club and the game will never die in the Fletcher family. Personally, I still get a big kick out of seeing the boys winning and playing well. I coached a couple of the young fellows coming through in Cody Brand and Harry Jones while they were at Essendon Grammar, so I have that connection to the current crop. It’s on their shoulders now. Hopefully we can see the new generation play well, like we did in 1993, and build long and successful careers for themselves.
Games: 243 (1987 - 1998)
Crichton Medal: 1993
Captain: 1996 - 1997
My first experience on the hallowed turf at Windy Hill came as a 17-year-old in an Eastern versus Essendon development squad game. The size and shapes of those Essendon-based blokes were very intimidating to a skinny, 62kg teenager. The ground and clubrooms were steeped in history and very awe inspiring to a young man with stars in his eyes and hope in his heart.
After two years of senior footy, I was offered a chance to change numbers to 10 or 12. I was born on the 12th of May and had worn No. 12 all my life as a junior. But there was, however, only one choice I could make. I was so chuffed and proud to be given the chance to wear the guernsey No.10, made famous by the legendary multiple leading goalkicker, dual premiership player and dual premiership coach, John Coleman. The esteem in which he is held in at our club cannot be measured. The guernsey had a long list of other wonderful players who had worn it with distinction, among them former captain-coach Jack Baggott, Rowley Watt, Ian ‘Bluey’ Shelton, Alan Noonan, Garry Foulds and, after me, Mark McVeigh
I was so fortunate to have played at the club during Kevin Sheedy’s 27-year coaching reign. He took our suburban VFL club and turned it into a national powerhouse in the AFL around the turn of the century. He’d only been at the club for three years when I turned up, but you could see he had instilled a hard edge and aggression in the club, along with improving the skill and fitness of each individual player. He is the most positive person in adversity that I have met, and our great game has benefited so much from his innovative thinking and drive to advance the sport. He got the best out of many a player. He could get down and dirty with us at training, and could also be the butt of a joke to generate team morale when required.
I feel great pride that I could make a small contribution during my tenure to a famous club with a rich 150-year history. It is now over 20 years since I’ve ‘donned the sash’. The club hasn’t experienced much success over that time and has had its fair share of controversy, yet it means just as much to me now as it did when I played, riding every up and down, living the trials and tribulations, and getting on the mad supporter bandwagon in the hope that, moving forward, we get a little luck to experience the ultimate success again very soon.
Games: 158 (1958 - 1968)
Premierships: 1962, 1965
Crichton Medal: 1963, 1964
Captain: 1965 - 1968
Australian Football Hall of Fame: Inducted in 2001
Essendon Team of the Century
It was a dream come true when I donned the red and black guernsey, No.23, and ran out on to the Windy Hill ground to play against the Cats. I must have gone okay then, and in later matches, for, apart from some injuries, I was never dropped from the senior side during the next 11 seasons, in which time I played 198 games, retiring at the end of 1968. Playing in the Grand Finals of 1959, ’62 and ’65 were the greatest thrills of my career, on the magnificent MCG with huge crowds to cheer you on. The premiership victories of 1962 and ’65, the latter as captain, are the outstanding memories and the greatest highlights of my football career. There is no doubt that winning a premiership cements a life-long friendship with teammates. The remaining members of each of those victories still meet several times a year over lunch, much to our great enjoyment. Our wives and families have also remained close.
I am very grateful to have been coached by two of Essendon's greatest players: Dick Reynolds and John Coleman. They were fine men and you took what they said to heart. I still vividly remember Dick congratulating the two or three new additions to the senior list in 1958 and asking us to be good examples to all the youngsters in the district, as they would look up to us now that we were Essendon footballers. And the words of John prior to the 1962 Grand Final remain vivid in my memory. “In life, second best is never good enough, so make sure you give it your best shot.” I have tried to apply that advice not only on the football field, but in all aspects of life.
Games: 86 (1984 - 1988)
Premierships: 1984, 1985
I would like to think that I have one of the luckiest football stories of anyone. To be recruited at 27 years old, to have a VFL premiership after 25 games, another after 47 games, two months overseas between seasons, five years of fantastic fun and friends, and now many great memories that I can keep forever. I could not have written a better script. A big thank you to recruiter Noel Judkins for taking a chance on me.
Those two years (1984-85) were probably the most fun times in my life, as we were training hard, playing well and socialising well in a city that is so mad for the game it’s insane. Terry Daniher was the perfect leader for our team at that time, as he led the way in training hard, staying out for extra goalkicking practice, always upbeat and leading by example, but always enjoying life at every chance. We had a core group of people who lived close together who both trained and played hard, and socially it was a heap of fun every weekend.
Games: 270 (1995 - 2009)
Coleman Medal: 2000, 2001, 2003
All-Australian: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003
Captain: 2006 - 2009
Australian Football Hall of Fame: Inducted in 2013
I look back now and realise I probably took the 2000 season for granted. To be so dominant and the full-forward of that team was a privileged position to be in. We were ruthless, hungry, dynamic, had great depth, youth and experience - we had teams beaten before they had run down the race, due to how much better than the opposition we were and they knew it. The euphoric feeling when that final siren went on Grand Final day, confirming that we had won the premiership will remain with me forever. To see great mates John Barnes and Dean Wallis embracing after Barnsey finally got his elusive flag was so special. The tears were flowing that day.
The support staff at Essendon in my time were sensational. It is what made the club great. ‘Reidy’, ‘Rubber’, ‘Killer’, ‘Hoops’, Rev Allan Dunne, ‘Wisey’, Bruce, Paul Lou, ‘Ady’, Nick Neophitou, plus all the brilliant trainers we had at the club. They had a passion for the club that was unrivalled and it spilled over to the players that we were in a wonderful environment. ‘Phantom’ and ‘Rainman’ were characters I cherished as well. Phantom’s jokes after training on a Thursday were hilarious, particularly when he would forget the punchline! Sheeds, ‘Harvs’, ‘Shawry’ and Mark Williams all had massive influences on me as my coaches. I feel blessed to have played at Essendon in a successful era, made lifelong friends and to be a one-club player over my 15-year career.
Arguably my greatest thrill was to be able to captain the club I grew to love. In my time, I had three captains: Mark Thompson, Gary O’Donnell and James Hird, who all have red and black in their blood. Before them, it was Terry Daniher and Tim Watson, so it was a huge honour for me and something I will cherish forever considering the quality of captains Essendon has produced. I used to get goosebumps walking into Windy Hill and I still do driving past occasionally now, as it brings back so many wonderful memories.