ON Saturday, dual Melbourne premiership player Athol Webb will sit nervously in his chair at his The Rock home, hoping against hope his beloved Dees will break their 57-year flag drought.
The chair beside his, where his wife of 61 years Valerie would sit before she passed away almost six years ago, is decked out in Demons paraphernalia. Scarves, a Demons doll, a poster with 'Go Dees' emblazoned across it.
It's a 'shrine' Webb, in his day a crafty small forward from the tiny Tasmanian town of Ringarooma, put out this week for a woman who was more fanatical about the Demons than him.
"She's had that little (Demons) doll just sitting in the corner, I put it out for her this week," he said.
"It's funny, her birthday is on the 12th of September and mine's the 13th. I went up (to the cemetery) on the Sunday morning (12th) and I'm sure there was a smile on her face."
GRAND FINAL GLORY
Webb is entrenched in Demons folklore. He played in three grand finals and won two as part of a team regarded as one of the greatest of all time.
It could have been more had it not been for bad luck at the selection table, and an untimely injury from a freak bit of misfortune on the dance floor.
Webb was always destined for stardom, from when he was named the best and fairest at the national schoolboys titles in Adelaide in 1949, despite the Tasmanian team he captained failing to win a game.
The Demons first came knocking in 1953 when he was just 17. Webb played some practice games but returned to the Northern Tasmanian Football Association soon after, and won Scottsdale's best and fairest in 1954.
He returned to Melbourne in 1955 and made his VFL debut in round 12. Despite playing eight games and kicking 14 goals, including the previous week's semi final, he was dropped by Melbourne's legendary coach Norm Smith for their grand final win over Collingwood in favour of fellow Tasmanian Noel Clarke.
A man with a point to prove is hard to stop, and Webb proved that by booting five goals in the Demons' 73-point grand final triumph over the Magpies the following year. He went on to kick three more in the 1957 grand final win over Essendon.
The 86-year-old's quiet existence at The Rock is a far cry from the chaotic scenes at the 1956 grand final.
The official attendance is recorded at just over 115,000, a then VFL record, but Webb reckons it was far more.
A new grandstand was built at the MCG for the Olympics later that year, but demand for a seat was so high fans broke down a fence to witness the game.
Spectators were lined around the ground in between the boundary line and the fence in scenes Webb will always hold dear.
"It's a sensation to run out on the ground with that many people there. You can't explain the feeling but it's something you never forget," he said.
"You had to be pretty careful chasing the ball near the boundary, you didn't want to run into them.
"After the 56 grand final we all went into the members bar, which was taboo in those days. We weren't in there ten minutes and they had us all on the bar and drinks coming from everywhere. It was fantastic.
"We were all pretty close, we didn't have a star team. Everyone was equal and everyone put in, that was the greatest thing."
DEES SIDE AMONG THE GREATS
That Demons side is regarded as one of the best of all time.
They played in six straight grand finals from 1955 to 1960 and lost just one, to Collingwood in 1958.
Webb missed the first flag in 1955 after he was dropped, a controversial decision at the time, but the then 20-year-old accepted the decision.
It would become fuel to make a statement 12 months later, and secure his place in Demons history.
"Smithy was pretty good about it (dropping me in 1955). The only thing was my father had already booked his seat on the plane (from Tasmania) to see it, and I ended up sitting with him at the game," Webb said.
"You always want to improve yourself. I made up for it the next year anyway.
"They only put me down for five (goals in the 1956 grand final). The Argus (newspaper) had me down for six, I think they had it pretty right."
Webb said the loss to the Magpies in the 1958 decider cut deep. The Demons were looking to become the first team since Collingwood in 1927-30 to win four straight flags.
"At the time we were just playing each game. There was no thought of breaking records or anything like that, but the hardest thing was when we lost the fourth one. It was a big letdown," he said.
DANCING MISHAPS AND JOURNEY TO THE ROCK
Webb would miss the 1959 grand final after he injured himself stepping on a bubbly piece of lino on the dance floor at a post-match function midway through the season.
"I was still quite happy, winning two out of three (grand finals) isn't bad," he said.
"I came from a little town in Tassie about the same size as The Rock, so you can't complain.
"I had offers from seven different clubs. But when you see the MCG and it was their home ground, that got me to the Demons."
He would return to Tasmania for player-coaching stints with New Norfolk and East Launceston, before winning a Sydney premiership with Western Suburbs in 1965.
He was inducted into the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame in 2006, one of his proudest achievements.
IN OTHER NEWS
The Demons sides of the fifties were known for their electric speed, and Webb was no exception.
He won the Tassie 1000 in 1963, a 120-yard dash worth 1000 pounds, a lot of money at the time.
"They used to put on a Tassie Gift, woodchop and bike race, all worth 1000 pound. 1963. 120-yard dash. I was off seven-and-a-half metres and ran 11.7 (seconds) three times," he said.
Webb finished his career with ten years coaching The Rock-Yerong Creek from 1966, the first three as player coach, and has lived there since.
"We had a couple of boys from The Rock playing for Western Suburbs," Webb said.
"They were up there doing their Telecom courses. They said The Rock was looking for a coach, so I gave them a ring and got the job."
Webb kicked 146 goals in 74 games for the Demons, his most prolific year coming in 1957 (56 goals).
But despite playing full forward for Tasmania, he would arrive at the Demons as a midfielder.
It took less than one game for that to change.
"I got picked in the centre in my first game against St Kilda. But Clarkey (Noel Clarke) got hurt and Smithy said 'you played full forward for Tassie, didn't you? You've got the job," Webb said.
"I wanted to play centre half forward but Smithy said I was too small. I said 'Then I'm playing full forward', and he said we can work something out there."
"I'd be classed as a small forward today but we had a system going with big Bob Johnson and a couple of others. We used to change it up a fair bit to keep them guessing."
Norm Smith is held in such reverence in the football world, the medal for best on ground in the grand final is named in his honour.
Webb said it was his man management skills as much as his football nous which set him apart.
"He could relate to everyone. If he wanted you to do something he'd tell you exactly what he wanted, and if you tried that was the main thing with Smithy," he said.
"You had to give your best all the time.
"The way they handball now, Smithy would pull his hair out. The more you handball the more chance you have to make a mistake, that was his theory.
"Football changed about the mid seventies. It's just kept on changing and I don't know where it will go from here. I don't know if it's better or worse, but it used to get so savage."
Come Saturday night, Webb is hopeful his Dees get it done against the Bulldogs so he can cherish the end of one of football's longest droughts.
"I definitely can't wait another 57 years for them to win it."
ATHOL WEBB'S CAREER
Born: September 13, 1935 (Ringarooma, Tasmania)
Senior football debut: 1951 for Scottsdale (Northern Tasmanian Football League) VFL games: 74
Premierships: Two (1956-57), grand finalist in 1958
- Inducted into Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame in 2006
- Represented Tasmania, Victoria and NSW
- Coached The Rock-Yerong Creek from 1966 to 1975
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