EDDIE MELAI DIES in 2004
Sadly, Eddie Melai won't make it to the Dandenong Reunion
on Saturday 2 October. Eddie passed away on Wednesday 28 April.
The following extract is taken from my book Cleary Independent.
Eddie was one of the great characters of the old VFA. I first
came across him in 1975 and first exchanged words at Coburg in
1976. He was very special.
Eddie Melai in the Redleg colours after another victory.
EDDIE DOES A RUNNER
I've seen it a few times over the years, which probably explains
why one of my most indelible memories of Eddie Melai is the image
of him standing over Port defender Bob Profitt in the 1976 VFA
grand final. Profitt had earned something of a reputation with
the very tough, all conquering Port Melbourne of the 70s. However,
Melai, a big athletic ruckman with Dandenong from the mid 60s
until 1976, was not just a grand looking man. He could handle
the heavy traffic.
When Channel Ten (then Channel O) swept into VFA football in
1967 it brought to life one of the most talked about eras of Victorian
football. Melai, a matinee idol in a sea of rough nuts, made it
unique. Sadly, he died of a stroke, aged 63, last Wednesday. After
first coming across him on the television set the late 60s I met
him in person on the football field in 1975 and 1976. I still
remember him casting a glance my way as he wandered towards the
three-quarter time huddle at Coburg in 1976. 'Watch out you little
fucking ****'he growled, those brushy eyebrows rising and falling
|Eddie in his VFL/AFL days
Having played in two premierships with Dandenong (1967/71) and
now in his mid 30s Melai retired before the end of the '76 season
and took on the job as club runner. On grand final day 1976, approximately
30,000 people flooded the St Kilda Junction Oval for what was
to become a truly bizarre grand final. And as always, Eddie Melai
was centre-stage. After Dandenong defender Allan Harper knocked
Port champion full forward to the ground behind play brawls erupted
across the field. Just what happened between Profitt and Melai
was unclear. However the television footage clearly shows Melai,
with his hands in Marquis of Queensbury pose, watching as Profitt
hits the turf. He was subsequently suspended for six matches and
fined $500. 'If you don't look out for yourself, someone else
will,' was one of the more amusing comments to pass through his
On Saturday 2 October the Dandenong Team of the Century will
be announced at a function in Dandenong. Melai is certain to be
named in the team. Football was different in Eddie's day. The
actions of a minority who mastered the king hit on unsuspecting
opponents, is not worth romanticising. Eddie Melai wasn't one
of that mob. He was a great player, and what the old timers would
call a 'real gentleman'. And he is one more reason why we should
never have let the AFL (I think it was Ian Collins' idea) change
the name of this great competition from VFA to VFL.
AND THAT GRAND FINAL - AS TOLD IN MY BOOK -
CLEARY INDEPENDENT - HARPER COLLINS - 1998
Violence aside, the 1976 VFA Grand Final was a classic piece
of television soap opera. The sight of the blonde Port Melbourne
doctor, in bright red top and black flares, removing the hand of
tearful veteran trainer, the late Alan Thomas, from her ribcage
as she scurried from the field, having attended to her favourite
player, the wounded Fred Cook, was a gripping moment in the annals
of football broadcasting.
So too was the performance of Dandenong's official runner and recently
retired ruckman, Eddie Melai. A big man with thick, dark eye brows,
Melai planted the feet and, to the cheers of those who'd suffered
at the hands of cocky Port full back Bob "Bullwinkle"
Profitt, sent their nemesis to the turf.
While all this was happening the redoubtable, granite-headed "Gorgeous"
George Allen, who came from a long line of Port Melbourne Allens,
had sent Dandenong's lovable, goal-kicking wizard Pat Flaherty,
down for the count in retribution for the havoc Harper had wreaked
at the other end of the ground.
A left-footer with a facade of vulnerability designed to protect
him from the assassins who roamed the VFA, Flaherty kicked goals
in profusion. Unfortunately in Allen's Port Melbourne world, an
injury to one was an injury to all. And as Flaherty was the nearest
member of the enemy he would pay dearly. This was a Grand Final