From Kyle Minogue singing the anthem to Meat Loaf’s MCG disaster and decades of getting the show wrong: The incredible history of NRL and AFL grand final entertainment fails
- NRL and AFL Grand Finals set for this weekend after COVID disrupted seasons
- Richmond v Geelong AFL final is Saturday October 24 at the Gabba in Brisbane
- While Melbourne v Penrith NRL final is Sunday October 25 at Suncorp, Brisbane
- Local Queensland music artists such as Amy Shark will head up pre-game show
- Journalist Mike Colman looks at pre-game entertainment stuff-ups of each code
I speak of course of the eternal question: which code has produced the greatest pre-game entertainment disaster?
It’s an argument that will probably never be completely settled. Those with long memories will always have their favourite nightmare and besides, how can you really compare an off-key singer to a ridiculous mode of transport?
Neighbours stars Jason Donovan (left) and Kylie Minogue (right) were synonomous with 1980s Australian popular culture … less so with footy culture
Should a seriously bad performance be judged on the same basis as a cunning stunt gone wrong that actually puts lives at risk, and does a technical malfunction count higher than the unfathomable choice of a washed-up international rock-star?
All valid points, but by breaking the GF disasters into distinct categories we’ll give it our best shot.
1. Worst musical performance by a former chart topper.
At first glance this would appear to be an easy win to the AFL. Who could possibly go past 2011 and Meatloaf, whose painful rendition of Bat out of Hell was reminiscent of a buck’s party hitting a karaoke bar at 3am – only more out of tune?
Rock singer Meatloaf belting out one of his hits at the 2011 AFL final (pictured) was panned as ‘out of tune’
The NRL haven’t just rolled over though. Bon Jovi lead guitarist Richie Sambora took it right up to The Loaf with his seriously bad appearance at the 2016 Sharks-Storm decider.
Accompanied by his girlfriend Orianthi, Richie proved that in the wrong hands Living on a Prayer can be a dangerous weapon.
Winner: AFL in a photo.
Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora (left) and Orianthi (right) performed the bands signature hit Livin’ on a Prayer to a less than impressed crowd
2. Worst transport.
At what point at an AFL grand final planning meeting does someone come up with: ‘I know, we’ll get Angry Anderson to sit in the back of a bright blue Batmobile as he sings ‘Bound For Glory’ with Rob de Castella clicking his fingers beside him’?
Probably at the same stage as the bloke at the 2002 NRL think-tank said, ‘Hey remember how great that blue Batmobile was at the AFL grand final in 1991? How about we stick it right up them by getting Billy Idol to come in on the back of a hovercraft?’
Australia in the 1980s also had a fascination with Angry Anderson (pictured) though why they wheeled him out in a blue batmobile for an AFL grand final is anyone’s guess
Not to be outdone rocker Billy Idol (pictured) rode into the 2002 Grand Final on the back of a hovercraft … because why not?
Clear winner of this category is the AFL, if for no other reason than the look of bemused shock on the face of Jeff Fenech as Angry rolled into view – not that Billy is out of awards contention yet.
3. Worst technical disaster.
The NRL brains-trust can take pride in the fact that despite a couple of cursory AFL entries (audio issues with indigenous singer Maroochy Barambah in 1993 and rock band Jet in 2007) they’ve got this category all to themselves.
It’s a showdown between Billy Idol who had everything going for him in 2002 – except power – and the cast of the musical 42nd Street who in 1989 tap-danced their way into centre-field and stood there forlornly as it became obvious that someone had brought the wrong backing tape.
In 1989 the cast of musical 42nd Street (pictured with football player Benny Elias) tapdanced in and immediately out of the pre-game show after technical difficulties
After a few minutes they tap-danced back off. Which is pretty much what happened to Billy Idol when his set was hit by a blackout. Except he didn’t dance. He walked, because his hovercraft had already left without him.
4. Strangest choice of TV talent.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re all saying. It’s a no-brainer: the AFL (or VFL as it was then) signing up that renowned vocalist Daryl Somers to belt out an unforgettable Waltzing Matilda-Advance Australia Fair combo in 1987.
Thankfully his three-piece white suit and open neck purple shirt averted attention away from his singing.
Hey Hey It’s Saturday host Daryl Sommers (pictured) belting out Waltzing Matilda at the 1987 AFL, then VFL, Grand Final
To which the NRL could rightly say, we’ll take your Daryl Somers and raise you a cast of Neighbours. Yes, that’s right, in 1986 it was Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – better known at the time as Charlene and Scott – who led their pals from Ramsay St in a stirring rendition of the national anthem.
But not even that is enough to earn the points.
The AFL gets a Highly Commended for getting Angry’s blue Batmobile out of mothballs and sending Kath and Kim on a lap of dishonour in 2004 but for sheer absurdity we simply can’t go past another member of the NRL’s star-studded 1989 line-up – Marika, the wife of Con the Fruiterer from The Comedy Company, who took to centre field and did … well, whatever it was that Marika did.
In an overload of Australiana, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan (pictured) sing the national anthem at the NRL Grand Final in 1986
Kath and Kim (pictured) make an appearance at the 2004 AFL final and show off their footy skills
5. Putting their bodies on the line.
Another rails run for the NRL in this category with no-one actually placed in mortal danger during any AFL pre-match entertainment.
Unless of course you count the kid with the balloons who got in front of TV commentator Peter Landy as he was doing a live-to-camera cross in 1978 and copped a swift kick for his troubles.
Commentator Peter Landys (pictured) wouldn’t let a kid with baloons block his shot
But that was nothing compared to two rugby league classics.
In 1997 someone at ARL HQ thought it would be a good idea to promote their major sponsor by suspending a gigantic Optus television set from a crane above the grand final crowd.
It might have just worked too if one of the cables holding said TV set hadn’t snapped, sending it madly swinging like an enormous pendulum metres from the heads of terrified spectators.
Yet even that can only come a close second behind the unforgettable sight of parachutist Steve Whalan, wearing ‘Paracam’ and talking to TV commentator Graeme Hughes as he fell to earth and attempted to land in the middle of the Sydney Football Stadium in 1991.
Steve Whalan (pictured) missing his mark in the 1991 Grand final and landing on the stadium roof
With Hughes happily impervious to Whalan’s increasingly agitated answers to his inane questions, the audience could only watch on in horror as it became patently obvious that things weren’t going to plan.
Not only did Whalan not land in the centre of the field, he missed the ground entirely, crash-landing onto the roof of the stadium.
With so many memorable moments from previous year’s pre-game entertainment we eagerly wait for what’s in store for the 2020 finals … and the games too, they should be good (pictured; Meatloaf taking a bow)
As grand final entertainment disasters go, they don’t come much more spectacular than that but as all footy fans know, the game never ceases to amaze.
This year both codes have taken a conservative approach. The AFL, playing the jewel in their crown outside Melbourne for the first time, has gone with a Queensland-centric feel at the Gabba, including local acts Sheppard, Sub Sport and Andrew Stockdale. Even the Queensland Symphony Orchestra gets a guernsey.
The NRL too has played it safe, choosing up and coming pop artist Amy Shark as headline act.
As grand final entertainment organisers from both codes have been saying for over a century, what could possibly go wrong?