‘The last premiership players’: Beckwith keen to pass on the baton to new generation of Demons

John Beckwith played in five Melbourne premierships, captaining the Demons in two of those flags, but says his first grand final still haunts him.

That was 1954, some 67 years ago, when the Dees were jumped by Footscray in front of 80,897 at the MCG.

The Bulldogs led by 29 points at quarter-time, going on to win by 51 in what would be the club’s only premiership until 2016.

John Beckwith.Credit:Melbourne Football Club

“It’s haunted me for years. We didn’t play very well in the first half, and they jumped us. That’s a memory I’ll never forget,” said Beckwith on Sunday, four days from his 89th birthday.

The decider of ’54 will be recounted time and time again over the next fortnight after the Bulldogs and Demons dominated their respective preliminary finals over the weekend to book the clubs’ second meeting in a grand final.

John Beckwith holds aloft the 1959 premiership cup.Credit:The Age

Melbourne would go onto win six of the next 10 premierships after ’54, but none since 1964.

Beckwith, in good health and living in a Springvale retirement village, still watches the Dees closely and is keen to hand over the baton of premiership heroism to a new generation in red and blue.

“I’m thrilled to bits as an old Demon to see the club playing so well. Their performance on Friday night was superb,” he said.

“The boys are playing very well, and they’ve got a very good chance. I love them all really, particularly the nondescript blokes like the Spargoes [Charlie Spargo], Kozzies [Kysaiah Pickett], Bayley Fritsch. Little [Jake] Bowey, I admire him for his courage because he’s very small.

“For years we used to be lauded as the last premiership players, the group that I played with. It went on and on and on. It got a bit embarrassing by the end, every time we’d turn up to the football club we’d be mentioned as the last premiership players.

“I’d like to see someone else take over the mantle, and I hope the boys in two weeks’ time do that.

“It’s going to be a very, very even grand final in my opinion. It’s always very nerve-racking as a past player to go through it all.”

Action from the 1954 grand final.Credit:The Age

Beckwith, the back pocket in Melbourne’s team of the century, said that until recently he and other surviving members of Norm Smith’s dynasty teams would meet regularly, but that COVID-19 had put paid to those reunions.

John Beckwith.Credit:The Age

“Up until the last three or four months we’ve always met once a month at the Bentleigh Club with Ron Barrassi, Hassa Mann, Bryan Kenneally, Franky Davis, and of course that’s stopped too,” he said.

“But that’s my only contact.

“We lost Lordy [four-time premiership player John Lord] the other week. It’s very sad times as far as I’m concerned because there’s not many of us left.

“But a lot of great memories really.”

While legions of Melbourne supporters will be denied the chance to attend the grand final – held in Perth this year because of the pandemic – Beckwith says he probably would’ve watched on television even if the game had been at the ’G.

“I probably wouldn’t have been there if it had been in Melbourne. I’m 89 coming up. Television’s my only outlet. But I’m certainly looking forward to watching the game,” he said.

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