Interview by Heath O'Loughlin
Former club president Bob Ansett was one of the club's most influential figures and guaranteed North Melbourne's survival and many achievements during his long-term reign.
Still with a strong connection to the club and now on the public speaking circuit around Australia, he spoke to Heath O'Loughlin about his decorated history with the Kangaroos.
HO'L: How did you become a North Melbourne supporter?
BA: Having lived in the US for 20 years, I returned to Australia in 1965 and by chance, was introduced to Ron Barassi who had recently become the coach at Carlton. So at that time, Carlton became my team of choice.
In 1973, after shifting the Budget head office from Latrobe Street in Melbourne to Peel Street, North Melbourne, I met Albert Mantello and Ron Joseph who enticed me into taking one of the early Gold Pass packages the Club had on offer. I readily accepted as Ron Barassi had left Carlton to coach North Melbourne, so it wasn't hard to change teams at that time.
H'OL: What was the feeling about North at the time?
BA: It was an exciting period as North was the first club to realise the opportunity to recruit champion players from other clubs through the introduction of the new ‘10 Year Rule' that came into effect in 1972.
H'OL: And success quickly followed?
BA: Not only success, but the Golden Era of the 70's, with the Club playing in four Grand Finals and winning two Premierships.
H'OL: What about your rise within the club? How did you eventually become President?
BA: At the close of the 1979 season Lloyd Holyoake stepped down as President and I was invited to replace him. My appointment was then put to a general meeting and I was formally elected President with Albert Mantello Vice President. Albert's role as both Vice President and North's representative on the VFL Board was essential, as my knowledge of football administration at the time was minimal. He and Ron Joseph effectively became my mentors in the early years of my Presidency.
H'OL: What do you remember about that time?
BA: It happened at a challenging time for North as many of the players who were so instrumental in our 1970's success were reaching the end of their careers, so almost immediately the re-building process commenced. This process was somewhat restricted as our on field success of the 70's did not translate into financial success, so we had to find ways to generate new income streams.
H'OL: So you has to be creative in the way you went about things?
BA: Exactly. We started by introducing pre-game entertainment at Arden Street to try and increase attendances. Marching Bands, Sky Divers, Pop Singers, and even Elephants (the latter causing some distress to patrons as it broke loose from its trainer and caused havoc rampaging around the ground) adorned the oval prior to match time.
H'OL: So innovation was the key?
BA: Yes, both on and off the field. The Winners Circle group was formed with $10,000 packages sold to corporations, offering them four admissions to home games in a roped off section of the grandstand with a champagne luncheon served by the Social Club team. Some of the prestige companies that joined were, Pacific Dunlop, Holden, Mobil Oil and Qantas. It was an enormous coup securing national organisations to a little industrial suburban club playing in a Victorian competition.
H'OL: How much did you enjoy running the club?
BA: My 13 years as President/Chairman was personally rewarding for lots of reasons but most importantly because it enabled me to step out of the staid corporate environment and mix with wonderful, passionate people who loved the North Melbourne Football Club. To develop long lasting friendships with players, coaches, and administrators of the club and the general football community was a life-changing experience.
Bob's pivotal moments during his Presidency include;
- Building the Grand Final Breakfast into a major event and income earner for the club. Giving it a national presence that evolved into endorsement by the AFL as the launch of Grand Final Day.
- Inviting women to pre-game Presidents luncheon (I think North was the first club to do this).
- Recruiting the Krakouer brothers who became our marquee players through the early 80's.
- Transferring home games from Arden St to the MCG.
- The introduction of Friday night football with North virtually owning this key slot for several years. It paved the way for lucrative television rights for the AFL and has become the most sort after time slot.
- Persuading John Kennedy to come out of retirement and coach in the mid 80's. John introduced disciplines and behaviour expectations for players and effectively laid the foundation for our successes in the 90's.
- Attracting Greg Miller to initially take on recruiting responsibilities and later the role of General Manager. Amongst the many fine players he recruited were Wayne Carey and John Longmire.
- Appointing Dennis Pagan's as Under 19 coach laid the foundation for the successful 90's. He took a bunch of young players won 4 under 19 Premierships and ultimately two senior club Premierships. 17 of the 22 players in the 1996 Premiership team had come up through the Under 19's.
- Inducing Qantas to become the team sponsor, before the VFL had morphed into the AFL. An international airline sponsoring a team in a Victorian sporting competition was unheard of.
- The floating of the football club in 1987 which raised $3.0 million dollars and enabled the club to retire its accumulated debt and bank the remaining $500,000. At the time it attracted 12% interest and secured the clubs immediate future.