The AFL, clearly unperturbed by Meat Loaf’s disastrous performance three years ago, has announced ageing crooner Tom Jones as the headline act for its 2014 grand final entertainment. He will be joined on the bill at the MCG by unbearable chart-topping Englishman Ed Sheeran and veteran Australian singer Olivia Newton-John.
The NRL has already had a dubious dalliance with the Welsh warbler, employing him to record the theme song for the 2000 premiership – reworking the Salt-n-Pepa classic ‘Whatta Man’ into the short-lived, much-loathed anthem ‘What a Game’. Apparently, 14 years later and at the age of 74, the AFL thinks Jones is ready for another crack at Australian footy audiences.
Although, in all likelihood, Jones will slip somewhere in between, we’ve decided to pick out the best and worst performances from the AFL’s and NRL’s biggest day of the season – a veritable list of dos and don’ts for warming up a grand final crowd.
5. Daryl Somers – 1987 VFL grand final
The Hey, Hey It’s Saturday front-man was a dubious choice to take on the ‘Waltzing Matilda’-‘Advance Australia Fair’ double at the MCG before the ’87 decider. Bopping away in a white suit and an open-necked purple shirt, Somers looked more like a place-getter in a Miami Vice lookalike contest rather than a man to be entrusted with the nation’s two most sacred songs at its biggest sporting event. His performance was as hammy as a Hey, Hey sketch … but at least he refrained from coming out in black face.
4. Billy Idol – 2002 NRL grand final
The NRL ramped up its grand final entertainment in 2002 by hiring famous British rocker Billy Idol to warm up the crowd pre-match. The singer responsible for huge 1980s MTV hits ‘White Wedding’, ‘Dancing With Myself’ and ‘Hot in the City’ was revved up for a big performance, screaming “I love my footy!” after arriving at the stage via hovercraft. But the power cut out on the hapless Idol, who was left floundering on stage for several minutes before pulling the pin altogether.
3. The cast of Neighbours – 1986 NSWRL grand final
Iconic soap Neighbours had been on the air for a year and a half when a clutch of cast members were enlisted to perform before the Parramatta-Canterbury decider in 1986. But the show’s burgeoning popularity could not disguise the butchering of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ by Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Guy Pearce, who showed why the Rugby League hierarchy booked national treasure Julie Anthony to do honours several times in ensuing seasons. Minogue and co. received as many plaudits as there were tries in the ’86 grand final – zero.
2. Angry Anderson – 1991 AFL grand final
In one of the weirdest and most oft-recalled pre-match entertainment spectacles in Australian sporting history, Rose Tattoo warbler Angry Anderson sung his solo hit ‘Bound for Glory’ before the ’91 Hawthorn-West Coast decider – which he performed while standing on a Batmobile-like vehicle. It was described as “a teeth-gnashing, eyeballs-bleeding, nails-scratching-down-a-blackboard rendition” by now-defunct website The Punch. The NFL Super Bowl has Janet Jackson’s nip-slip; the AFL grand final has Anderson on a Batmobile.
1. Meat Loaf – 2011 AFL grand final
Anderson went virtually unchallenged in the bad pre-match entertainment Hall of Infamy for two decades – until the AFL’s decision to bring Meat Loaf to our shores in 2011 backfired horribly. The ‘Bat Out of Hell’ legend’s shambolic 12-minute medley defied belief, while Andrew Demetriou – who rubber-stamped the reported $600,000 appearance fee – struggled to defend the eccentric singer. Meat Loaf, for his part, blamed the AFL for the disastrous performance, claiming he was given insufficient time for his sound-check and could not hear his back-up singers. “They’re jerks. I do not like [the AFL],” the Loaf told newspapers afterwards, before warning fellow artists against performing for the AFL.
5. John Williamson – 1989 NSWRL grand final
In undoubtedly the most controversial grand final entertainment performance of all time, Australian country great John Williamson sung his protest song ‘Rip Rip Woodchip’, which railed against the destruction of forestland. The song was lambasted by loggers and lumberjacks, who accused Williamson of threatening their livelihood. It was a curious choice by the long-conservative, blue-collar NSWRL establishment to have him sing that particular song (‘True Blue’ would have been a safer option) but Williamson took the opportunity and belted out the tune with trademark good cheer.
4. John Farnham, Jimmy Barnes & Mark Seymour – 2009 AFL grand final
‘Whispering Jack’ always delivers on stage, and combining him with two of Australia’s greatest rock front-men – Cold Chisel’s Jimmy Barnes and Hunters and Collectors’ Mark Seymour – was destined to be a bullseye for the AFL. The emotion and national pride the grand final entails rendered ‘The Voice’ the perfect way to pump up the crowd. Such a simple formula, and one the main footy codes should employ more often.
3. Hoodoo Gurus – 2007 NRL grand final
In a rare grand final entertainment win for the NRL, Hoodoo Gurus performed the long-running premiership theme song ‘That’s My Team’ – a reworking of their 1980s classic ‘What’s My Scene?’ – for the last time. The Gurus’ anthem is the code’s only decent one post-Tina Turner, while their stirring showing before the ’07 decider (thankfully erasing the memory of warm-up act Rogue Traders) should be remembered by the NRL before they wheel out whichever pop has-been that’s got a gig as a judge on The Voice at the time.
2. Paul Kelly & Tim Rogers – 2012 AFL grand final
Reeling from the Meat Loaf fiasco, the AFL bounced back in emphatic fashion a year later with their call to draft in two of Australia’s finest, legendary troubadour Paul Kelly and You Am I front-man Tim Rogers – both brilliant performers and noted AFL tragics. In another astute choice, the league snared a band-of-the-moment that actually had some quality about them, indie-rock darlings The Temper Trap, for the halftime show.
1. The Seekers – 1994 AFL grand final
Aussie icons, tick. Great performers, tick. Timeless songs, tick. The AFL nailed it in 1994 when they enlisted The Seekers, fronted by the delightful Judith Durham. Along with the standard ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and the national anthem, they performed rousing renditions of ‘I Am Australian’ and ‘Georgy Girl’. The video of their performance below has attracted almost 900,000 views.