DOB: 21 November 1914
Died: 29 July 1973
From: Westgarth Central School/Dennis/Northcote Juniors
Number: 4 (1935-1948)
Premiership Player - 1939, 1940, 1941, 1948
Premiership coach - 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1964
Grand Final team - 1946
Best and Fairest - 1938, 1943
Victorian state player - 1941, 1945 (2 games)
Victorian state coach - 1958
Seconds Premiership Player - 1934, 1935
Life Member - 1944
Australian Football Hall of Fame Legend - 2007
MFC Hall of Fame - 2001
MFC Hall of Fame legend - 2001
AFL Team of the Century - Coach
Melbourne FC Team of the Century - Coach/Full Forward
150 Heroes selection
Games: 210 (227 total)
Goals: 546 (572 total)
Melbourne was lucky to end up with Smith, recommended to Percy Page and Checker Hughes by his father Vic when they visited Norm's household to sign his brother Len. Once Len joined the Demons, his brother followed. It was Vic's wish that both his sons play for the same team and Norm gave up on his boyhood dream of playing for Collingwood.
Norm was invited to train with the Demons, and impressed enough to be retained but had to play 44 games for the Seconds before breaking into the seniors in 1935. He only played three games in his first year, but Essendon offered to play Smith at full forward if he crossed to Windy Hill. He refused to negotiate unless Len was part of the deal, and any chance of him being allowed to leave was dashed when Smith had a good game as a forward in a practice match.
Smith had to wait seven weeks to break into the side in 1936, developing in the Seconds while Ron Baggott was preferred at full forward. When Baggott was suspended, Smith was given his chance and delivered. He kicked 26 goals in eight games, and gained a reputation for laying on chances for teammates. After a form slump late in the season he was dropped before finals, the second and last time he was dumped to the lower grade. He ended his first season with 28.36. He was again scouted by an opposition club at the end of the year, this time Collingwood but again chose to stay with Melbourne. He kicked 45 goals in 1937, and while Melbourne went out of the finals in straight sets, his combination with Baggott registered 96 goals.
While often playing as a decoy for bigger full-forwards, Smith was a potent scorer himself and kicked seven or more goals in a game nine times. In 1938 had 83 kicked in total, an inaccurate 54.72 in 1939 (including 1.6 in the Grand Final victory), and 86 in 1940. He was often in the debate with Ron Todd, who kicked more than 100 goals in a season several times, as the best full forward in the VFL. Many journalists, players, and coaches said they would prefer Smith because he also set up goals for others.
Smith was lethal in the 1940 Grand Final with seven goals, a personal triumph after having been poleaxed by Tiger toughman Jack Dyer in the Semi Final. In the 1941 pre-season he was linked to Preston but remained loyal. He topped the league goalkicking in 1941 with 89, including four in the Grand Final. After winning most newspaper awards for the season, he may have won the Brownlow Medal if it wasn't suspended due to World War II. Smith's work in a protected industry stopped him from joining the services, but many other Melbourne players enlisted and the side tumbled down the ladder in 1942. By the next year he was one of only seven 1941 premiership players available.
In 1944 Smith moved into the centre, only kicking three goals but playing one of his best seasons. He again won major newspaper awards and would have been a contender for the still-suspended Brownlow. He became captain in 1945, but his move forward again coincided with the emergence of Fred Fanning and he was restricted to 33 goals in each of the next two seasons. Smith battled injuries in his last season, but still kicked 35 goals from 13 starts, ending his Melbourne playing career in the victorious Grand Final replay.
|Round 1, 1942
|Round 7, 1948
When Checker Hughes retired, Smith applied for the coaching job but lost out to Allan La Fontaine by one vote. He was unlucky, his ally Francis Vine was absent and the casting vote of the chairman Bill Flintoft won the day for La Fontaine. Smith instead accepted the job as captain/coach at Fitzroy. He played two years at Brunswick Street before spending 1950 as a non-playing coach. The Roys improved under his leadership but didn't play finals, and he accepted an invitation to apply for the Melbourne job at the end of their 1951 wooden spoon season. This time he beat La Fontaine by one vote and was appointed senior coach.
After lifting the side to sixth in 1952, Smith's second year at Melbourne only saw three wins and he had to rely on a patient committee to keep him in the role. They chose wisely, his side played in the next seven Grand Finals, and won premierships in 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1964. His trademark was fierce discipline, but players also showed a fierce loyalty to him. He also pioneered the use of modern technology, with communication between coaches and runners. Former runner Sam Allica said the system was trialled in a practice match but conversations were inadvertently broadcast to all taxis in the area and police had complaints about the language being used".
Smith was chosen as Victorian coach in 1958, leading the side to wins over South Australia, the VFA, and Tasmania, before beating Western Australia to win the interstate carnival.
After the Round 15, 1964 win over St Kilda, Smith suggested in a radio interview like umpire Don Blew had been "subconsciously biased" towards the Saints. The umpire sued him and the matter was settled out of court, but even after Melbourne won the premiership that year, Smith harboured resentment that the committee hadn't given him more support, especially as Secretary Jim Cardwell had given approval for the contentious interview to be played. Smith engaged prominent lawyer and Richmond president Ray Dunn as his lawyer, fuelling speculation that he would soon join the Tigers.
At the end of the season, Melbourne was rocked by the defection of Ron Barassi to Carlton. Smith offered to stand down and allowed Barassi take over as coach but Ron wanted to be his own man and chose to join the Blues. There was no immediate on-field impact, as the Demons won their first eight games. Their first loss, by 10 goals to St Kilda, was their worst performance under Smith. They lost twice two of their next three games, and after months of tensions with club management Smith believed he was about to be sacked. He intended to resign, but Len convinced him otherwise. He agreed not to criticise the board in the future, but when he refused Secretary Jim Cardwell the chance to talk to players the next night the board saw red. After six premierships in a decade, and ten as a player and coach, the club sacked Smith by letter on the evening of 23 July 1965.
The last paragraph of the letter read: "Obviously, you do not intend to honour your word, and the committee is not prepared to allow your disruptive tactics to continue. Your appointment as coach is cancelled as from this date."
With a game the following day, Checker Hughes was called on to act as coach for the loss to North Melbourne in Melbourne's only ever game at the Coburg Oval. Hughes had been one of the committeemen to speak at length against Smith's sacking. Players and trainers gathered at Smith's house that night, and the next day a television interview aired with his side of the story. Smith said that Melbourne officials accused him of lying and blamed them for the side's downturn that year.
"It was unacceptable to me to work with men who wouldn't back me, men who would expect me to get the utmost from the players and demand from players loyalty and support, and then at the other end of the line were not prepared to give me their support," he said. Asked by interviewer Tony Charlton if he was interested in the Richmond job - vacated by Len - Smith replied that he was Melbourne through and through.
Frank Adams was set to be appointed senior coach, but a revolt by supporters caused the club to relent and re-hire Smith days later. He was pictured shaking hands with president Donald Duffy, but from there on the season fell to pieces and Melbourne won just one more game. In 1966 the club plummeted back down the ladder, finishing second last with three wins. They won eight times in 1967 but Smith was battling ill-health, and stood aside for John Beckwith to coach the last three games.
After his retirement Smith was co-opted onto Melbourne's board as a non-voting member pending an election at the end of the year. Amazingly he was defeated at the election and severed ties with the club. After a year out of the game he returned to coach South Melbourne, leading them to their first finals series in 25 years in 1970. South quickly fell back down the ladder, and with his health further diminishing, Smith resigned when asked to reapply for his job in 1973. He agreed to join Ron Barassi at North Melbourne as Chairman of Selectors, but was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and passed away aged 57.
His last footballing act was to be at North Melbourne as Chairman of Selectors with Ron Barassi at North Melbourne, but he didn't stay healthy long enough to go to Arden Street. The medal named in his honor has been presented to the best played afield in the Grand Final since 1979.
In 2009 a biography of Smith, The Red Fox was published.
Sporting Globe - 12/03/1941
Weekly Times - 13/09/1941
Age - 22/10/1948
Argus - 11/02/1949
Argus - 06/10/1951
Canberra Times - 27/03/1965
Age - 26/07/1965
Age - 27/07/1965
Age - 28/07/1965
Age - 28/08/1967
Inside Football - 16/09/1972
Age - 05/10/1972
Age - 22/11/2003
Age - 20/07/2007