The Essendon v Collingwood Anzac Day game is the most eagerly anticipated home and away game of the AFL season.
No other game in the regular season excites and inspires fans as much as this blockbuster between two of the game’s biggest and most successful clubs.
With a general resurgence in interest in the Anzac legend the game has taken on significance and symbolism not matched by any other game in the national sporting calendar.
Since their first Anzac Day clash in 1995 these two giants of the League have played every year on 25 April at the MCG, before an average crowd of over 80,000 people, and a television audience of millions.
Since the first game ended in draw the honours have been shared fairly evenly with Collingwood leading 10 wins to Essendon’s eight.
The League first scheduled mid-week games on Anzac Day in 1960. Games on Anzac Day had previously been banned and it required an Act of Parliament before games could go ahead. Two games were played on 25 April in 1960, but neither Essendon nor Collingwood were involved.
The idea for an Essendon v Collingwood Anzac Day game came from Essendon’s then-coach Kevin Sheedy. As a player Sheedy recalled playing for Richmond against Collingwood on Anzac Day 1977 when over 92,000 packed the MCG. Sheedy thought a game between two of the League’s biggest clubs and supported by the Returned & Services League, would be a fitting way to commemorate the day. The idea was presented to both Collingwood and the RSL who were enthusiastic to see the day commemorated in this way.
On Anzac Day 1995, over 94,000 people packed the MCG, with thousands more locked out, and they witnessed a see-sawing game that ended in a draw.
In 2000, a cup was first awarded to the winning team. The cup is made from glass, silver and bronze with on a base of ironbark that comes from an ammunition wagon used in service at Villers-Bretonneux in France during WWI. The bronze columns supporting the silver bowl incorporate metal salvaged from the Gallipoli battlefields.
That same year a medal was also first awarded to the player who best displayed the ‘Anzac spirit’ of skill, courage, self-sacrifice, teamwork and fair play. It was later awarded retrospectively for the years 1995-99. Essendon champion James Hird is the only player to win the medal three times. Essendon player David Zaharakis is the current holder.
The game has provided plenty of drama over the years perhaps most memorably David Zaharakis’s last-minute winner in 2009. In heavy rain and in only his fourth AFL game the 19-year-old Bomber lived every young footballer’s dream when he clinched a heart-stopping five-point win with only 57 second remaining on the clock.