Essendon is colloquially known as one of the ‘big four’ teams in Victoria, alongside fellow heavyweights Collingwood, Carlton and Richmond.
With the sixth-highest membership tally amongst all clubs at the end of the 2020 season, it’s a title the Bombers still live up to.
What you might not know about the Bombers is that their roots were anything but grand.
Football mythology tells of the formation of the Essendon Football Club in 1872 in the home of the McCracken family, famous local brewers of the area.
It’s this ‘blue-collar’ history that new men’s senior coach Ben Rutten believes needs to be embraced to truly understand what has made Essendon the club it is today.
Speaking on The Lunchtime Catch Up Podcast, Rutten outlined how the Bombers plan to learn from the past.
“We’ve got such a rich history of success, we’re an 150 year-old footy club,” he said.
“It’s really important, not that we want to live in the past, but understand where we’ve come from as a footy club.
“Understand what’s given us as coaches and players the opportunity to have the facilities we’ve got, have the opportunity to wear a jumper with such significance and history.
“We need to actually understand who we’re representing when we put the jumper on.”
The McCracken family are the history of Essendon.
In a meeting with members from the Royal Agriculture Society, the Melbourne Hunt Club and the Victorian Woolbrokers, Robert McCracken would found and become the first president of the Essendon Football Club.
While clubs like Carlton and Melbourne were founded off the back of cricket clubs, Rutten believes that the Bombers’ unique origins are something to be celebrated.
“We’ve come out of a family, in a working-class area in Essendon, built on some hard work and determination, discipline and sacrifice,” he said.
“Through our really successful eras as a footy club, those characteristics really shone through. It’s something that we need to get back to and reconnect with, it’s who Essendon are at our core.
“A hard working, blue-collar team that wants to play reliable footy, and look after each other. That’s not something I want to shy away from, I want our players to reconnect with that, who we are as the Essendon Football Club.”
The traditional stomping ground
A return to Windy Hill, where Essendon played its home games from 1922 until 1991, is another part of Rutten’s strategy to return to the Bombers’ successful heritage.
“We train there once a week at the moment as part of the pre-season,” he told the Essendon website.
“It’s about understanding and reconnecting with where we’ve had so much success, and getting the players to understand our heartland and spiritual home.
“There’s no doubt walking into Windy Hill that its got an aura, its got a presence, there is certainly a spiritual connection there. I think that’s what the players feel when they walk in those doors, I know I do.
“It’s been great for me as a coach to understand the key drivers behind those moves, and how it’s impacted the club and to get to where we’ve got to now, it’s off the back of the past people who’ve been here.”
The Bombers won 10 of their 16 V/AFL premierships while playing home games out of Windy Hill, while their VFL and VFLW teams still play home games at the venue.
Two of these flags came under Essendon and AFL legend Kevin Sheedy in 1984 and 85, with a further two more in 1993 and 2000.
While Sheedy’s story as coach of the Bombers is well documented, Rutten is focusing on some lesser known tales that make up the club’s past.
“We remember the superstars of the footy club and of our game, but sometimes there’s a story behind a player or other people within the club that play a really significant role in us getting to where we are now,” he said.
“It’s important that we understand them and respect them, it’s something I think the players and the staff really appreciate. Gives a bit more emotion and gives our facility life.
“When our players and staff enter the building and enter the facility, I want to tell a story from the moment they walk in right until they get to their locker.
“There’s a bit of representation of our history with the premiership walk that takes the players through their locker room.
“The last step of that is our opportunity to create our future and that 17th premiership, that’s what we’re all here for and that’s what we strive for.”