Ron Barassi: Australian Rules Football Player and Coach
Ronald Dale Barassi Jr. is a former Australian Rules football player and coach. Born on 27 February 1936, Barassi had a long and fulfilling career and is known as one of the most important figures in the history of Australian football.
He is the legendary son of Ron Barassi Sr. who was killed at Tobruk during World War II. After his father died, Barassi Jr. spent most of his teenage years living with Norm Smith, who was a former teammate of his father and the coach of the Melbourne Football Club at the time.
Barassi’s name is very much acknowledged in the world of football as he is known to be the first player who was inaugurated into the Australian Football Hall of Fame.
Throughout his career, Barassi managed to keep a clean record and his extreme passion and diligence helped him earn a place as a popular culture figure in Australia. His success is further proven by him receiving the Victorian of the Year.
Origin And Childhood Years
Barassi Jr. is a third generation Italian Australian and is the descendent of one of the Swiss Italians who had migrated to Australia in the 1850s and 1860s to areas between Castlemaine and Daylesford.
Barassi Jr. was the only son of Ron Barassi Sr.
He was born in the Victorian town of Castlemaine in 1936, but moved to Melbourne in 1937 with Barassi Sr. to play VFL football with the auspicious Melbourne Football Club. Barassi Sr. was a reserve in the Demons’ premiership team of 1940 after which he left to serve with the army in North Africa.
Time as an Australian Rules Football Player: Early Years
After his father’s death, a group of players at the Melbourne Football Club began to support his mother Elza as well as Barassi Jr. himself. As he grew old, Barassi was determined to follow his father’s footsteps and join the Demons team. However, he was required to play either for the Collingwood or Carlton because of the zoning system.
Because all of the Melbourne players were deeply connected to Barassi Jr., they were successful in going to the VFL and lobbied for the creation of the Father-Son-Rule. When the timing was right, Barassi signed up and was picked by Melbourne from the Preston Scouts in 1952.
Barassi was the second player who was signed under this rule, which despite being modified a little, still endures to this day.
After Barassi was recruited, he was trained and coached by Norm Smith, after Elza had moved to Tasmania. When asked about the experience that he had had when he was with Smith, Barassi says that it had a profound impact on his development and that he wouldn’t have been able to be where he was if it weren’t for his mentor.
Melbourne Football Club Years
After Norm Smith had taken Barassi under his wing, he developed quickly and his first game was against Footscray in 1953. Because Smith wasn’t sure of Barassi’s best position, he placed him as the second ruckman in 1954 even though he lacked the inches for the position.
Barassi then began to play more as the second rover, which gave rise to the “ruck rover” term in the football lexicon. Later on, teammates intimated Barassi’s structure, which then gave way to a new style of quicker on-ball play.
However, Barassi soon proved himself and was handed leadership responsibilities when appointed as the Vice captain in 1957 and a Captain three years later.
Even though the Demons had lost the 1954 Grand Final to Footscray, they dominated the VFL by winning flags in 1955, 1956 and 1957.
Carlton Football Club Years
In 1964, the growing Carlton team set its eyes on Barassi. The team’s new president at the time George Harris was desperate to have Ron at the Princes Park and was ready to provide a lucrative deal if Barassi crossed to Carlton as a captain coach.
This was the time when the Carlton Football Club offered Barassi the opportunity to test his skills as a coach with a good professional wage.
Barassi joined Carlton in 1965 and proved to be a good luck charm for the team. Before Barassi’s coaching, the team was at its lowest ever finish and then rose up to the premiers only after four years.
He managed to pull this off by implementing what he had learnt from Smith and focusing on the team’s discipline and commitment to the club and their careers. The players who had trained under him began to play furiously and became more dedicated to their club.
Barassi guided Carlton to its very first premiership in 21 years in 1968. Also, the then-captain led Carlton to the biggest VFL crowd in 1970 and successfully defeated Collingwood. After this great coaching time and the 1971 season, Barassi left the Carlton Club and began to focus on his business career.
North Melbourne Football Club Years
In 1973, Barassi returned to coaching and combined efforts with administrators Allen Aylett and Ron Joseph to recruit a new batch of stars for North Melbourne.
These champions were selected from clubs throughout the country and included stars such as Malcolm Blight, Barry Cable, Barry Davis, Dough Wade and John Rantall.
Gradually, Ron Barassi was able to take the North Melbourne team to the grand finals where they came in at second place. Later on, by 1975, the team had managed to win the premiership. Even though Barassi had implemented a very tough training regime in 1974, he modified the regime for the 1975 finals and introduced lighter training sessions.
This sort of training helped the players to stay mentally focused and not get exhausted or over trained before the big game.
The North Melbourne team, also known as the Kangaroos, also won another premiership in 1977. However, this win was quite unexpected as the team gave up a late lead against Collingwood in the second even drawn VFL grand final.
After this, Barassi made some major changes in the positions and placed David Dench into the forward line which sparked off the club’s comeback. After the brief disappointment that he had to face when they were about to lose in 1977, Barassi picked up the team and led them to a memorable triumph.
Barassi’s Return To Melbourne
Barassi retuned to his first team Melbourne in 1981 to assist Ray ‘Slug’ Jordon, who was coaching the under-19 club.
After his arrival, the team was able to make it to three consecutive grand finals and won the premierships in 1981 and 1983. It was noted that the team flourished under the combined coaching efforts of Jordon and Barassi and that they were the ones who helped lay the foundation of the team.
Later, Ron Barassi started the “Irish Experiment” at Melbourne which required the recruitment of Gaelic Footballers from Ireland, who were then converted to Australian Rules Footballers.
Among other great recruitments was that of Jim Stynes who years later became the recipient of a 1991 Brownlow Medallist.
Sydney Football Club Years
Finally, Barassi returned to coaching for the Sydney Swans in 1993; this comeback was seen as a coup for AFL because of Barassi’s profile and media skills. In the three years when he was with the Sydney Club, he helped raise the profile of Australian rules football considerably and even managed to assist the Sydney Swans to dominate the city.
Barassi’s Personal Life
Apart from his flourishing career as an AFL player, Barassi had an eventful personal life where he married Nancy Kellett in 1957. He had met Nancy four years before they officially tied the knot and settled in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne at Heathmont.
The couple had three children: Susan, Ron and Richard. However, the couple separated in 1975 and Barassi married again in 1981 to Cheryl Copeland.
While coaching the Kangaroos, Ron Barassi survived a car crash which was quite serious and ultimately resulted in the loss of his spleen. During this accident, he was travelling with Brownlow Medallist Neil Roberts (former St Kilda Player), who was also badly injured.
After this accident, Barassi had to use a wheelchair and a motorised buddy for some time. However, even after this, he managed to attend the training nights at Arden Street and was often seen directing the players with assistants.
Even though Barassi’s first trip overseas took place in 1961, he hasn’t stayed in one place for too long since then. Unfortunately, while he was in New York in 1967 for the Australian Football World Tour, he got involved in a fight which resulted in him being hit on the nose by detective Brenda Tumtely.
However, even though they both ended up in the hospital together, they have been very good friends since that time.
Judging by his life and career journey, it is apparent that Ron Barassi Jr. proved himself both on the field and as the coach for several different teams. His AFL career was fulfilling and fruitful both for himself and the teams that he had played with.