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Norm Smith biography a fitting tribute

THE LIFE and times of one of the game's true legends – Norm Smith – has been immortalised with the release of his biography.

The Red Fox: The Biography of Norm Smith is a remarkable read of the man who was named coach of the AFL's Team of the Century, after guiding Melbourne to six premierships in 1955-56-57, 1959-60 and 1964.

It remains the Demons' greatest era.

Smith played 210 matches and kicked 546 goals for Melbourne from 1935-48, before he became captain-coach of Fitzroy in 1949-50. He coached Fitzroy for another year in 1951 and then embarked on his stunning period with Melbourne.

He coached the Demons from 1952-67, winning 195 matches from 307 matches, which included five draws. His sensational sacking in 1965 (he was quickly reinstated as coach) remains one of football's biggest stories – even today.

Smith coached South Melbourne from 1969-72 and passed away aged just 57 the following year.

Author Ben Collins interviewed more than 100 people for the book, including Hassa Mann, John Beckwith, Frank 'Bluey' Adams and Stuart Spencer.

Collins uncovers some fascinating stories and debunks some myths in his research.

It traces the life of Smith, who grew up with older brother and fellow VFL/AFL coach Len, in the working-class Melbourne suburb of Northcote through the depression.

It follows his outstanding playing career, where he was a four-time premiership player with Melbourne in 1939-40-41 and 1948 and a captain of the club from 1945-47.

But it is his brilliant coaching career which is significantly detailed.

His relationship with 'foster son' Ron Barassi is fascinating and, remarkably, both men are the only two people in AFL/VFL history to have won 10 premierships as a player and coach.

It shows Smith as one of football's hard men. He was brutally honest to his players and a ruthless disciplinarian, but his gentler side, rarely seen in public, is also revealed.

This is summed up by Smith's son Peter in his foreword: "It has been a difficult task and, at times, an emotional experience to read this biography on the life of my late father Norm.

"The contrast between his public and private lives was stark. He was a football tyrant who ruled teams with an iron fist, but at the same time his family knew him to be a caring and loving husband, father and grandfather.

"And so the complexities of my father are exposed in this book. No-one wanted a sanitised version of Norm's story, only honesty and truth from those who knew him."

And The Red Fox is certainly that – a wonderful football book and fitting tribute to the legendary Norman Walter Smith.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the clubs or the AFL.