One of the greatest Australian Rules footballers to ever grace the field and coaching box, Ron Barassi, has died aged 87 after a fall.
The nation was left in mourning on Saturday as the Melbourne legend’s family confirmed Barassi died “peacefully” and surrounded by family after complications from a fall.
The Barrassi name is synonymous with Australian Rules after Ron followed in his father’s footsteps to become a premiership player for the grand old red and blue.
Barrassi was a Melbourne star in the VFL during the 50s and 60s before making waves from the coaching box for more than 30 years across four clubs, including his beloved Demons.
He was fittingly one of the original Australian Football Hall of Fame Legends in 1996, and was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1978.
Barassi’s family confirmed his passing in a statement, asking for privacy.
“After a full and extraordinary life, Ronald Dale Barassi, aged 87, left us today due to complications from a fall,” the statement said.
“He died peacefully, surrounded by loving family. We ask for privacy at this time.”
Barassi is one of the most decorated VFL/AFL figures in the sport’s history, claiming 10 premierships between playing and coaching at Melbourne, Carlton and North Melbourne.
Only fellow Demons great Norm Smith, who coached Barassi, has as many flags.
He also held the reigns at the Sydney Swans for 59 games.
But he is potentially most famous for his words that have rung through the minds of generations of footballers spoken at halftime during the 1970 grand final between bitter rivals Collingwood and Carlton, saying, “don’t think – do!”
Before the coaching box, he revolutionised the way players treated moving between clubs after his bombshell and game-changing defection to Carlton as captain-coach just months after leading the Demons to the 1964 flag.
He played 50 games for the Blues before taking them to premierships as a coach in 1968 and 1970.
His off-field actions also inspired awe, with the football great making two famous pilgrimages to visit the grave site of his father, Ron Snr, and fellow Demons premiership hero who fell during the battle of Tobruk in 1941 during the Second World War.
Barassi Jnr was five years old at the time, leading to the Melbourne Football Club pledging to “at all times … regard the material welfare of (his mother Elza) and Ron our sacred duty.”
The champion’s legacy is so ingrained in the sport that a series of iconic photos featuring Barassi are used to explain and display the game’s legacy.
In 2006, Barassi was given the honour of running the Queen’s Baton across the Yarra River for the opening ceremony of the 18th Commonwealth Games hosted in Melbourne.
AFL Commission chair Richard Goyder celebrated the great, saying he was the most crucial figure in Australian football since the Second World War.
“He revolutionised the game as a player – created the position of ruck rover – built premiership success at clubs as a coach and then was our first great evangelist to take the game north and grow it to become what we have today,” Mr Goyder said.
“He was known all across Australia when football wasn’t always known.”
Current Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was among the first to offer his condolences and celebrate Barassi’s life and contributions to Australian culture with an X, formally known as Twitter, post.
“Ron Barassi was a legend in every sense of the word. A fearless player and leader, a visionary coach and a tireless champion for the growth and success of Australian rules football. Ron’s name and his legacy will be remembered as long as footy is played. May he rest in peace,” he wrote.
“There is no more famous name in football than Ron Barassi, and there is no one who gave more to the game that millions love.”
West Coast Eagles legend Glen Jakovich said Barassi had left a big mark on football.
“He was a motivator of men,” he told The West Australian.
“He grabbed the whole group (of football players) and took them to the Promised Land on numerous occasions. He was tough and relentless. Ron dominated and influenced the game of football for the greater cause of the people. He commanded ultimate commitment to the team. He knew how to deal with superstars and he made sure that the superstars weren’t bigger than the club or the game.
“That will be his legacy.”
Adelaide Oval stood as one in the twilight ahead of the semifinal between Port Adelaide and Greater Western Sydney as the league led a tribute to the late legend.
Master of Ceremonies Mark Soderstrom delivered a powerful speech on the league’s behalf.
“Ron Barassi is one of the greatest names in the history of Australian Rules Football, a spirited and creative player who was captain for the Melbourne Football Club and a remarkable coach for the Demons, Carlton, North Melbourne and Sydney,” he said.
“Legend is a term reserved for the best of the best, and when it comes to elevating an Australian Football Hall of Fame Member to legend status, Barassi was one of the first.
“On behalf of everyone at the AFL, we salute the legend that is Ron Dale Barassi.”
There was then a moment of silence.
WA Premier Roger Cook added to the condolences.
“Ron Barassi is synonymous with football – an icon of the game who has inspired generations of young Australians,” he said.
“Footy wouldn’t be the same without him – and his legend will live on in every game.”
Melbourne, North Melbourne, Sydney and Carlton have also acknowledged Barassi’s incredible contributions to their clubs and the game.
The news came in the wake of Melbourne’s heart-breaking two-point defeat at the hands of Carlton in a classic Friday night semifinal.
In the days before his death, Barassi was vocal in support of his original former club as they battled the Blues for a spot in the preliminary final against Brisbane.