That old black magic

 Early in 1982 a sports columnist noted that North Melbourne had signed the Krakouer brothers from Claremont Football Club. It was predicted that their ‘black magic’ would set the Victorian football scene alight.

A memory unbidden and unwelcome surfaced: first full VFL game, 1949, North v Essendon at Windy Hill, opponent, Norm McDonald.

On that day I joined a long list of players to have received a football lesson from the Bomber champion. I had never reckoned McDonald’s blackness to be a factor in our contest. He could just run faster, jump higher and keep on getting the football. If these new boys on the block could bring yet another dimension to the game they would be special indeed. Watching them in action became a priority.
What I saw were two footballers who had an awareness of what was going on around them on the football field which went far beyond peripheral vision. In particular, they intuitively knew where the other brother was at all times.

This faculty was enhanced by an apparent foresight into the direction play would likely take—how events would unfold.

Other players have been similarly gifted in varying degrees, but the Krakouers were exceptional. Several factors set them apart. They had lived and played and fought and practised together for nearly 20 years, and each knew every facet of the other’s game. There were two of them, playing in the same team. And they were brothers.

As Sean Gorman calmly implies in Brotherboys, it should have come as no surprise that their apparently haphazard kicks and handballs into space so frequently landed in the hands of a previously unsighted sibling.

But even though their brilliant manoeuvres had an explanation of sorts, most spectators were caught up in the excitement and shocked surprise, as were opponents, who usually realised, too late, that they had been conned.

It was a double act up there with the best, carried off with the superb timing and effortless grace of Torvill and Dean and with the pinpoint accuracy and amazing understanding of Newcombe and Roche. With the press loving it and running with it, the ‘black magic’ tag passed into folklore.

But in a way this obscured the fact that here we had two tough and proud professionals who worked hard at their trade and were highly effective as well as looking good. In their eight years at North Melbourne they shared the leading goal-kicker  honours on five occasions. They were equal leaders in 1982, with Phil the winner in 1985 and 1987 and Jim top scorer in 1986 and 1988.

Phil’s kicking technique was awkward but effective and his ability to work in a confined space was remarkable. It seems probable that had he been at North in either of the periods just before or after 1982–1989 his individual record would have been even more impressive. He was a great finisher and with better players around him would have really been able to showcase his talents.

Jim was a star and would have been outstanding in any era. A great kicker for a small man, he had dazzling speed, was a strong mark and as brave as a lion. His flawless action as he flashed across the football field was a joy to watch. Ability-wise, he ranks with the very best players to represent North Melbourne.
Sean Gorman has provided a compassionate but honest record of Jim’s troubled life, and the clue to his regular on-field transgressions is surely found here. His subsequent suspensions hurt his team badly and almost certainly removed a coveted Brownlow Medal from his reach.

It is not smart to pass judgment on a so-called flawed genius, particularly if the commentator is merely flawed. But one cannot help wondering what might have been for Jim, if only he had been able to bring to his game the temperament of an Adam Goodes or a Michael O’Loughlin. Or, as some old coots might suggest, a Norm McDonald. 

Brotherboys: The Story of Jim and Phillip Krakouer, Sean Gorman. Allen & Unwin, 2005. isbn 1 741 14595 3, rrp $29.95

Les Mogg played 76 games for North Melbourne between 1949 and 1954. He represented Victoria and played in North Melbourne’s first VFL Grand Final in 1950. Later, he coached Cobram Football Club to five premierships.



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