MELBOURNE and Richmond will honour a great of the game on ANZAC Day Eve, awarding the inaugural Frank ‘Checker’ Hughes medal.
A tribute to the seven-time premiership player and coach, the medal will be presented to the best player on the ground at the conclusion of Saturday night’s match, which recognises the contribution of currently serving men and women.
It will be a fitting nod to a man who achieved so much, both for the game and for his country.
Long before he become a legend of the competition, Hughes joined the WWI effort, rising through the ranks to serve as a company quartermaster sergeant.
He enlisted as a 21-year-old in 1915 – one year after making his debut for Richmond – and, despite being knocked back initially for having bad teeth, went on to perform his duty for nearly four years.
Hughes, who served with the 57th battalion of the Australian Imperial Force, was even awarded a Meritorious Service Medal in recognition of his significant contribution in France and Belgium.
Using football as a welcomed distraction during his downtime – Hughes joined 400 men in setting up a footy field in the village of Mametz, France in 1916 and was involved in various matches – he maintained his love for the game during the most challenging of times.
It was May of 1919 when he returned home to Melbourne and, within a few short weeks, was back in the yellow and black, playing for the Tigers.
Hughes finished up at Richmond with three premierships to his name, two as a player and one as a coach, and joined the Demons, going on to coach for a total of eight seasons.
Rejuvenating a struggling side, the decorated character led Melbourne to three successive flags between 1939 and 1941, later returning to add a fourth in 1948.
He was also responsible for the introduction of ‘the Demons’, as legend has it, telling his players early on in his tenure: “You are playing like a lot of flowers. Lift your heads and play like demons!”
Hughes passed away in 1978 and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame a decade later, after spending over 50 years of his life at the top level.
The man more commonly known as ‘Checker’ remains one of Melbourne’s most esteemed and respected figures – something Hughes’ granddaughter Jennifer Allen is most proud of.
This year, in addition to the inaugural presentation of the medal, Jennifer and her family will take part in the touching pre-game ceremony, lighting the Cauldron in front of a silenced MCG crowd.
“It’s very special for the family and it’s lovely for my sons too, going forward that the medal is going to be something that will continue,” Jennifer told Melbourne Media.
“We thank the Melbourne and Richmond Football clubs along with the AFL for making this honour possible.”
Melbourne and Richmond fans are encouraged to arrive early on Saturday night, with proceedings commencing at 6.45pm.