Essendon all-time leading goalkicker Matthew Lloyd only missed two ANZAC Day games in his career.
The first was in 1995, his first year at the Bombers and the first ever game between the Bombers and the Magpies on the day.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Lloyd reflected on the experience of sitting in the stands that day.
“My first year at Essendon was 1995, I don’t think we knew what to expect,” he said.
“There was 20,000 people outside, I’d come from a Victoria Park curtain-raiser and I thought I’d stroll in and get a seat.
“We didn’t get in until about 10 minutes into the first quarter, people couldn’t get in. A lot of people rolled in thinking they’d get standing room, but you just couldn’t.
“I was sitting in the crowds as a seconds player, and I thought ‘wow’.
“The draw, the massive crowd, I thought ‘I need to be a part of this,’ which I was in my eighth or ninth game the year after.
“I only missed one more after that, I’ve played 13 of them. It’s just a real thrill to play in.”
That first ANZAC Day clash in 1995 is famous for resulting in a draw, still the only draw between the two sides on the day.
Collingwood would put the first win on the ledger the following year, getting over Lloyd’s Bombers by 12 points.
Regardless of the result, he believes the day is always one of the best in the footy calendar.
“It was just the highlight, apart from finals,” Lloyd said.
“The build up was like no other game, you wanted to get picked for this one just like you would a final because of the build up to it, the build up during the week.
“There was a lot of learning through Jack Jones and Kevin Sheedy. They’d teach us a lot about the country and the privilege of playing on the day.
“You could feel the buzz, you’d have to leave nice and early to not get stuck in traffic.
“To hear the roar of that crowd, it was equal with grand final day with the noise, there’s not as many neutrals.
“It’s Collingwood and Essendon.
“Standing and listening to The Last Post sends shivers down your spine.”
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The only other ANZAC Day game Lloyd would miss would be in 2006, a difficult year for his career.
He was still well and truly in his prime, averaging 82 goals over the three seasons prior.
Lloyd would tear his hamstring tendon right off the bone in a game against the Western Bulldogs, missing the rest of a difficult year on field for Essendon.
“Unfortunately I was sitting on the couch with my leg elevated,” he said.
“I was about to have surgery, I’d done the hamstring a week or two beforehand… I had my leg propped up, watching it on TV.
“[Those are] the days you hate missing out on, and I knew I was going to miss a whole season, so I made sure I was a part of it the following year.
“The nerves are bigger than ever, you realise it’s just the one game on that day. The scrutiny was huge, whether you played well or you played poorly.
“Didn’t matter where we were on the ladder, the game would swing. Never can remember too many bad beltings.”
Lloyd’s final ANZAC Day game was one of the most famous of them all in 2009, David Zaharakis’ last minute heroics remembered to this day.
He still holds the game close to his heart.
“In my last season (2009), I was captain,” Lloyd said.
“We were gone for all money, four goals down with 10 minutes to go and somehow found a way to win. The vibe in the rooms after that game was like nothing else.”
One of the best parts of the day, Lloyd believes, is how it allows young players to experience the big stage.
Collingwood have already confirmed 2019 draftee Jay Rantall will get his chance to debut on Sunday, joining a host of players that have played their first game on one of the biggest stages there is.
Lloyd encourages every first or second year player to make the most of the experience.
“I think it’s going to be amazing,” he said.
“There’s so many young players that are going to get opportunities for the two clubs. With both of them, the positions they are on the ladder, lots of injuries, it should be massive.
“[It’s on a] Sunday afternoon so it should be at capacity for what it’s allowed to be. I think it’ll be the biggest, greatest atmosphere that any of these two teams will play in this year.
“Just take it in and enjoy it, because you never know if you’re going to get back there the next time.”
If you’d like to donate to the ANZAC Appeal 2021, you can do so at https://anzacappeal.com.au/
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