It was the year 2000, and with the Sydney Olympics only six months away, the league marked it’s earliest beginning to a season to date (March 8) with the first season opener not to be held on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, as the first game of the 2000s saw the traditional MCG tennants Richmond and Melbourne begin the season on a Wednesday night, in what was Danny Frawley’s first game as coach of Richmond, up against Neale Daniher’s yo-yoing Demons.
Yep, none of the fancy Grand Final rematch bullcrap we’ve got now, it was the teams that finished 12th and 14th that kicked off the new Millennium of footy, with Dipper and some young fella called Anthony Hudson riding the boundary for Channel 7.
Vic bloody Bias.
In front of a modest crowd of 41,648, the Tigers led pretty much all night, starting from Ben Holland kicking the opening 2 goals of the millennium to set up a 7-goal opening quarter, only for the Demons to charge back from a 22-point deficit at Three-Quarter Time to hold the Tigers goalless in the final quarter, bringing the margin down to a point with 2 minutes to go, but they could never get that elusive go-ahead goal, and a last-minute behind to Greg Tivendale saw the Tigers win by a mere 2 points.
Richmond captain Matthew Knights was voted best afield for his 1st Half performance.
Melbourne would ultimately recover from the disappointment, finishing in 4th and having the honour of losing to the 2000 Essendon team in the Grand Final, which would be the Demons’ last Grand Final appearance until the drought-breaking win last year.
Meanwhile, Richmond, as they tended to do in the ’90s and 2000s, would go on to finish in 9th, which was their fourth such occurrence in the past 7 seasons (1994, 1996, 1998), which further added to the many Ninthmond jokes that had legs until 2017.
As for the Wednesday night season opener experiment, it would seem the AFL were let down by a couple of things, especially the low attendance for the MCG, with the inaugural game at Docklands Stadium the next day between Essendon and Port Adelaide having a greater attendance (43,012 vs 41,648), so for various reasons the Wednesday night idea was shelved, and the season opener would rotate between teams and be held on a Thursday or Friday from 2001 to 2007.
2001: Reigning premiers Essendon thumped North Melbourne by 85 points on a Friday night, and sadly, little Winston Abraham came onto the ground, tore his knee running into a stationary James Hird a minute later, and never played again.
2002-04: Richmond and Collingwood become the semi-regular season opening fixture, with 2002 marking the first AFL game broadcast by Channel 9.
2005: The infamous game between Brisbane and St Kilda on Easter Thursday at The Gabba, in which Nick Riewoldt had his injured collarbone ‘tested’ by Mal Michael and Chris Scott, who were unaware of the extent of Riewoldt’s injury:
2006: 2005’s beaten Grand Finalists and the eventual premiers West Coast played St Kilda at Subiaco, which proved to be the first time since 1991 that the eventual premier played in the season opening game.
2007: Melbourne played St Kilda at the MCG in a fairly boring game, in what was Ross Lyon’s coaching debut for St Kilda, as Channel 7 broadcast their first Premiership game since 2001.
Until we get to 2008, the first time Carlton played Richmond on a Thursday night, which was also Chris Judd’s debut for Carlton, and the game proved such a hit (Attendance & TV) that the AFL ultimately kept the two rivals in the season-opening Thursday slot for the next 13 years, only occasionally being flicked out of season-opening status (2012, 2013 2014) for various reasons, mainly to do with cricket still using the MCG.
And now we get to 2022.