From: Preston Scouts
Number: 31 (1953-1964)
Premiership Winner - 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1964
Grand Final team - 1954, 1958
Captain - 1960 - 1964
Best and Fairest - 1961, 1964
Coach - 1981 - 1985
Leading Goalkicker - 1958 (Joint), 1959
Victorian state representative - 1961 (c)
All Australian - 1956, 1958, 1961 (Captain)
Australian Football Hall of Fame "Legend" - 1996
MFC Hall of Fame - 2001
MFC Hall of Fame legend - 2003
Life Member - 1962
Team of the Century - Captain and Ruck/Rover
150 Heroes selection
Games: 204 (254 total)
Goals: 295 (329 total)
The son of the late Ron Barassi Sr, the first Melbourne player to die in World War II, was the second player to take advantage of the VFL's father/son rule. He didn't residentially qualify to join the Demons, but after training with the Thirds as a 15-year-old in 1951, and playing for them the next year the club was able to claim him. He was invited to train with the seniors in 1953 but was nearly lost to Melbourne when his mother and her new husband moved to Tasmania. Coach Norm Smith took Barassi in as a lodger, knowing that it would be difficult to arrange a clearance for him to return from a Tasmanian club later.
Far from getting an easy ride at home with the coach, Barassi believed that he was made to work harder than any of his other teammates, and it drove a fierce determination that helped him become a top league player. He wasn't the most skilled player, and had a slow start to his career while being trialled in a variety of positions around the forward line. He played 12 Seconds and six senior games in 1953 but was dropped after playing full forward in the second and third rounds of 1954. Seeing obvious natural talent and will to succeed, Smith hatched a plan with trainer Hugh McPherson to use Barassi in a hybrid ruck/rover role, taking advantage of the fact that he was too short to play one position and too tall for the other. He excelled in the role during Seconds games, and was represented Victoria against the South Australian league seconds in an interstate game.
Once he made it back to the senior side Barassi was never dropped again, and played a key role in a team that rose from 11th to a Grand Final. By the time Melbourne won the 1955 premiership he was a star of the competition, later described by Richmond champion Jack Dyer as "the best VFL player since Ivor Warne-Smith". In the 1959 Grand Final five minutes of sublime football just before half-time helped drag his side back into the match, kicking three goals in quick succession to give his side the lead. During 1957 he suffered a spate of injuries including a chipped finger bone, bruised back, gashed eye-lid and two bruised shoulders but still lifted a third premiership cup.
Barassi replaced John Beckwith as Captain in 1960 and played in another premiership. At the end of that season he briefly took up professional sprinting. In 1961, Barassi won his first best and fairest. He missed the 1963 finals series after being suspended in the second last game of the year. Barassi won another premiership in 1964, but freely admitted that he had played a poor game and that if the Demons hadn't won he felt as if he would have to shoulder the blame. He ended the season with another Best and Fairest but it was to be his last act in a red and blue jumper.
After refusing overtures from Richmond - who pulled out of the race out of fear that it would jeopardise a prospective move to the MCG, and initially turning back £3000 a year plus finals bonuses to join Carlton, the Blues announced on 23 December 1964 that Barassi would be their playing coach for 1965. In the book The Coach, John Powers described the move as one that "Shattered many people's beliefs in the traditional concepts of sportsmanship and loyalty. Letters of protest poured into the papers and the Melbourne Football Club. Small boys wept." In August he'd rejected an offer to captain/coach SANFL side Woodville, saying he wasn't prepared to leave Victoria under any circumstances.
Barassi had already stood in as coach for Round 8, 1964 when Norm Smith was coaching Victoria, and was being groomed as his successor but chose not to wait. Carlton got their man for a reported £5000 over three years. After complaining to the VFL about Carlton allegedly poaching their player, Melbourne delayed his clearance into 1965, by which time he was already acting as Carlton's coach. After a letter from Carlton's president apologising for the way they approached Barassi, Melbourne's committee eventually cleared him by just seven votes to five, making him the first reigning premiership captain in VFL history to change clubs.
While Melbourne didn't play another final until 1987, Barassi coached the Blues to a flag in 1968 after retiring as a player late in the season. He returned for a final game in Round 7, 1969 - against Melbourne - in order to boost his total games with the Blues to 50 and qualify his son to play for Carlton under the father/son rule. A torn hamstring in the third quarter ended his comeback, and his son Ronnie never made league football.
Barassi coached the Blues to another flag in 1970, and was linked to his first return to Melbourne at the end of that year. The job would go to Ian Ridley, but Barassi soon left Carlton anyway. He attempted a comeback with VFA side Port Melbourne in 1972 but retired again after three games before entering the media.
In 1973, Barassi took over as coach of North Melbourne from old teammate Brian Dixon. He led them to their first two premierships in 1975 and 1977 before being lured back to Melbourne as coach in 1981.
|Grand Final 1958||Striking||Guilty|
|Round 12, 1960||Obscene Language||1 match|
|Round 17, 1963||Striking||4 matches|
Despite success at both Carlton and North Melbourne, Barassi's business interests were in trouble in the late 1970s, and he signed a $30,000 deal with the Demons in 1977 which allowed them the first option on his services at the end 1980. Barassi could buy himself out of the deal at any time. After the failure of the Carl Ditterich captain/coach experiment, Melbourne exercised their option. In the face of substantial bids for his services from Collingwood, Carlton and Essendon, Barassi returned home for a considerably lower salary than he might have banked elsewhere. His refusal of the Essendon role opened the door for the Bombers to appoint Kevin Sheedy as coach. Melbourne was able to secure Barassi without a transfer fee from North, as his contract with the Roos stipulated the coach could leave for free at the end of his deal.
Before returning, Barassi spent $1500 on newspaper advertisements asking for the fans to support his return. Not surprisingly, they did. He expected it to be between "four and eight years" until the Demons were a force again, and reminded of this in mid-1981, he said: “I have come to the realisation that it will take one or two years longer than I thought”.
Having dropped 4kg on an Israeli army diet before coming back to the club, one of Barassi's first edicts was to ban his players from wearing beards. His first season in charge featured thumping training drills, arguments with Brent Crosswell and Peter Keenan and a single win, by one point over a Footscray side, who only won two games for the season.
During 1984 there was speculation that he would leave at the end of the season, and Barassi himself said he didn't believe he was getting through to players. After the side improved mid-year he agreed to stay, and six wins between Round 8 and Round 13 left Melbourne inside the five. They fell away, despite being only a game away as late as Round 18, and finished one place lower on the ladder than 1983. One enduring image of the season was a 3/4 time bust up with Shane Zantuck during the Round 14 loss to Essendon at Waverley.
Despite further speculation linking him to the vacant Sydney or North Melbourne coaching jobs, Barassi stayed for 1985. The team went backwards again and before the Round 16 match against Carlton, Barassi announced he'd step down at the end of the season. Richmond held talks with him at the end of 1987 but he stayed out of the game until 1993, when he was recruited by the AFL to coach the ailing Sydney Swans. The platform he built helped drag them off the bottom and set them up to play a Grand Final in 1996.
Barassi was named as coach in the Italian Team of the Century.
Barassi's son Ronnie was zoned to Essendon but crossed to North Melbourne under the father-son rule (as it was) and played in practice matches for the Roos while also turning out for Heathmont in the Eastern League. He failed to play a senior match, and was unable to join his father at the Demons. His cousin Carl also played in the Demons' Thirds and Fourths teams during the 1950s.
Sporting Globe - 19/06/1954
Age - 07/04/1960
Age - 01/12/1960
Age - 05/08/1964
Age - 01/10/1964
Canberra Times - 12/12/1964
Canberra Times - 30/12/1964
Age - 23/01/1965
Age - 06/02/1965
Age - 17/02/1965
Age - 01/09/1970
Age - 11/10/1979
Age - 02/02/1980
Age - 13/09/1980
Age - 2/10/1980
Age - 3/10/1980
Age - 06/02/1981
Age - 13/06/1981
Age - 19/10/1984
Inside Football - 21/03/1985
Age - 29/08/1987