Matthews helped start AFL Anzac tradition

Leigh Matthews has close connections to Anzac Day through his father and AFL.
Leigh Matthews has close connections to Anzac Day through his father and AFL.

In AFL terms he is an undisputed legend but Leigh Matthews is more of an everyman when it comes to Anzac Day.

While his playing and coaching feats place him almost without peer in the game, any child of a veteran can relate to Matthews' lament about his father.

His dad served in Port Moresby during World War II and died two decades ago.

"Every time Anzac Day comes, I think of my dad and I wish I'd actually asked him more about the early part of his life," Matthews said on Wednesday at a pre-Anzac Day lunch.

"I knew he was in Port Moresby, but I don't know much about that part of his life."

While Matthews can only wonder "what if" personally, he has made a major contribution of his own to Anzac Day.

He was coaching Collingwood in 1994 when Essendon rival Kevin Sheedy approached the Magpies about the two clubs playing a match on the day.

The following year, the two teams played an epic draw and one of the AFL's great traditions was born.

It would be Matthews' only Anzac Day blockbuster at Collingwood.

Named coach for life after Collingwood famously broke their premiership draft in 1990, he was sacked later in the 1995 season.

"It was so surreal ... it was such a big occasion, all of a sudden," Matthews said.

"You couldn't get a better game, a better spectacle.

"Since then, like most other people, you're jealous of Collingwood and Essendon having that annual event.

"No doubt, (it's) the biggest game each year outside the grand final."

Matthew Lloyd was a new recruit at Essendon, yet to make his senior debut, and was in the massive MCG crowd to watch that first Anzac Day clash.

"I just sat there and thought to myself 'this is what I need to be part of," he said.

The legendary Bombers full forward would play in 13 of the next 14 Anzac Day clashes.

Lloyd jokes that he did nothing in the two Anzac Day games he remembers the most - 1995 and 2009, when he was kept goalless as the Bombers stormed home to win by five points.

"Sheeds equated it to about eight home and away games ... the experience, the pressure, it was like a grand final in a sense," Lloyd said.

"It was just a privilege to be part of it."

Australian Associated Press