The passing of Albert Mantello means North Melbourne has not just lost a titan of the club, but the AFL has lost one of the most influential icons of the sport.

With over 70 years of service to the sport as a player, executive and, eventually, AFL commissioner, Mantello has left an indelible mark on the game we all love.

His life was celebrated during a funeral service on Tuesday.

There is no doubting that without the hard work of the likes of Mantello, the North Melbourne Football Club would look vastly different, and may not even exist today.

His work as an administrator helped lay the foundations for the formation of one of the greatest teams in the history of the VFL/AFL, as the Kangaroos contested every grand final from 1974-1978.

The recruitment of the likes of Barry Davis, John Rantall and Doug Wade under the short lived ’10-year rule’ proved to be pivotal in the turning point of the club, with all three playing crucial roles in the 1975 premiership side.

There might be no story more legendary than his signing of Ron Barassi as coach in 1973, with the deal signed on a napkin in his furniture store, and the inception of the now famous North Melbourne Grand Final Breakfast sees Mantello’s indelible mark left on the club to this day.

There is no doubting that Mantello has left his fingerprints all over our club, and ensured it has become a far greater place than what it might have been without his influence.

A life member, a Hall of Fame member, and, in all honesty, an under-appreciated giant of the game, all of the accolades, stories and achievements of his brilliant footballing and administrative career should not take away from the kind and wonderful man he was.

Words on a page fail to do Albert Mantello justice. It’s only through the memories and stories shared by those closest to him that a true picture of the generous and courageous man he was can be truly appreciated.

Some of those through the club who knew him best, Hall of Fame member and former player and executive Barry Cheatley, life member and former club chairman Alan Johnson, former player Athol Hodgetts, and Hall of Fame member and former executive Ron Joseph said this about Albert Mantello.

Barry Cheatley (Hall of Fame member, player, executive)

“He (Mantello) was a great family man and a very astute businessman. He was rather stern and direct in business, but in no way was he ruthless or cut throat. Those that knew Albert very well will all say he was a very, very kind-hearted person. A person that touched a lot of people along the way. Some people would say his bark was worse than his bite, but even that would give the wrong impression of Albert, but those who knew him well would agree with my comments. An extraordinarily kind-hearted man who was extremely proud of his family.

“It was so obvious when he was with his family that you could just sense the love. The appreciation he had for his family was just so clear. I remember him being so emotional when he spoke at his daughters’ weddings, it was so obvious how thrilled he was that they were happy.

“He was great at seeing when a situation was more serious than it perhaps should be. He was part of organising a sponsorship deal with Courage Brewery in late 1974 or early 1975.

“A meeting was arranged at their head office and was set up for about 10:30am. Everyone got together to discuss sponsorship with the club, and you could cut the air with a knife. We were in the discussions and Albert sensed the talks were a bit too serious, and this was so typical of him. All of a sudden he asked ‘hey boss, is this a brewery? Well then where’s the bloody beer?’

“So here we are at about 10:30 in the morning on a weekday, having a few beers, but it certainly broke up the situation. He wouldn’t have had that in mind going into the meeting, but Courage ended up becoming great sponsors of the football club.

“He had a great sense of humour, even in serious situations, and there are so many stories about him. That’s probably one of the best examples of that.”

Albert Mantello - middle row, third from the right.

Alan Johnson (Life member, club chairman)

“I’ve got to say, it’s the end of an era for me because I’ve known Albert for over 50 years, probably even longer. He was just the most wonderful man, and the respect I have for him is based on his love for his family, his loyalty to his friends, his great passion for life, his great sense of humour and his great courage, not only the courage from his playing days, but the courage he showed through the ups and downs of life. I must say he’s one of the finest men I ever, ever met.

“You have to keep in mind the competitive nature he had, not just from his playing days, but whether it was on the football field, the tennis court, the golf course or wherever, he was super-competitive right up until his later years.

“One thing I hugely admire about Albert is he’s equally at home at Arden Street in North Melbourne, his favourite restaurant that we only went to together just before we went into lockdown and had a lunch there, or hosting Prime Ministers and Presidents at the Grand Final Breakfast. He was larger than life in so many aspects.

“I used to see Albert nearly every day for some period of years because his office was in Victoria Street, North Melbourne, and I was just in Flemington Road. His great ability to talk with people of any background and any creed showed his wonderful personality.

“He did have a Machiavellian side to him too. There’s been nobody who’s been more influential in the art of ‘backroom wheeling and dealing’ at club level, as a VFL director and as AFL commissioner. Of course, he pulled off one of the greatest recruiting coups in VFL/AFL history with the introduction of the 1972 ten-year rule, and that was the foundation of that wonderful era of the football club.

“I only spoke to him last Thursday just before the grand final in Perth, and he was very proud of the fact he devoted nearly 70 years of his life to the VFL/AFL and to North Melbourne as a player, as an administrator and as an official. We were talking about the fact the only two grand finals he’d missed in 70 years were last year in Brisbane and this year in Perth, and that’s quite some record to hold. We were just laughing and joking about our times in Perth, and our time travelling the world together whether that be Europe, the US or anywhere else. We had a lot of fun times and he was just a great personality who was very good with everybody. Just a sensational man.

“He had this facade of being firm but fair, but really he was a bit of a softie. He’s had a major influence on my life both in sport and in business. I’m reflecting now on why some people have such an impact on your life, and it’s people of the same calibre of Albert Mantello who have this impact. He was a great man to know, and I don’t think there was a city or country town we didn’t visit. He was a dear, dear friend.

“From 1954-62 he was a wonderful player, a strong and courageous team player, and a bit of and ‘enforcer’ when needed. Into the 60’s he was one of the youngest vice-captains and then captains of a VFL side, and then he was a VFL state representative. Then the great achievements came later. He became the youngest committee man at club level representing a VFL club at that period. He was what we used to call a VFL league delegate, then he became one of the youngest life members of the VFL/AFL. When you think about it, from the 50’s due to present day he’s had a huge involvement in the development and success of North Melbourne.”

Athol Hodgetts (Player)

“I met Albert when I came to North to play footy, then I went back home to Tasmania for a couple of years, then I moved back over to Melbourne with my wife. We were looking for a business to buy and I went to see Albert because he was very well connected and he had a hotel/motel brokering business at the time.

“He knew of a licensed grocery that was for sale in North Melbourne, so we both went to have a look. The owner, who was an Italian man, told us he wasn’t looking to get any other agents involved. Albert pulled a business card out of his pocket and handed it to him, and as soon as he realised it was Albert he invited us in for coffee and a chat.

“In the next few days my wife and I agreed to buy it, so he took me to see Mr Mitchell who was, at the time, the boss of Commonwealth Bank. They spoke about footy for about 20 minutes, looked at our projected figures, and then agreed to organise the loan.

“Albert was a very well connected and successful business man. He had a very pleasant personality and he really cared about people. He genuinely cared about people he liked and helped many more apart from myself and my wife. I’m sure there are still people at North who benefitted from his advice. Just a lovely man.

“He was a tough businessman, but he was very fair. Without Albert, we wouldn’t have got that licenced grocery, because the guy selling it wouldn’t have even spoken to another agent. In the end, it was through the respect people had for Albert, especially in the Italian community, that enabled Albert to do very well.

“I think the football club meant a lot to Albert. I’m not sure if you’d necessarily describe him as sentimental, but I think he’d be proud of what he achieved in bringing North Melbourne from being a very ordinary club to a successful organisation that won two premierships in the 70’s and two in the 90’s. I think he was fiercely loyal to this footy club, and he’d always defend it stoutly.”

Ron Joseph (Hall of Fame member, executive)

“Mantello and Aylett had a direction they were determined to go down and everyone got in behind them and supported them the whole way.

“He was a fantastic backdrop to Aylett. Allen could make decisions, while Albert was the league delegate, and Aylett knew Mantello would support him at VFL level. We didn’t have any backbiting or bull, it was just total commitment from everybody at the club. I think that filtered down to the players. We never found it hard to change to club’s mindset once we formulated the direction we wanted to take.”


As a player:
Played: 1954-1962; Captain 1960
Guernsey numbers: 2, 32
Games: 107
Goals: 25
Victoria Representative: 1959

As an administrator:
North Melbourne Vice-President: 1968-1979
North Melbourne President: 1980
AFL Commissioner: 1988-1992