Explore the History of australian football

Neville Crowe

Yarraville had been a consistent force throughout the early 1960s, and in 1961 had claimed their first ever VFA division one pennant with an emphatic 22.7 (139) to 11.10 (76) grand final demolition of Williamstown.  In 1963, the side performed consistently enough, qualifying for the first semi-final, and narrowly overcoming Coburg before finding preliminary final opponents Sandringham too tough a nut to crack in the preliminary final a fortnight later.

Coburg had been a regular finalist since the late 1950s, but  had never got as far as the grand final. In the 1963 first semi-final against Yarraville it  enjoyed enough of the possession and the territorial advantage to have won, but despite accruing 34 scoring shots to 31 went down by 7  points.

When Coburg next won a VFA grand final, in 1970, it would be in second division.

The strongest teams outside the final four were Port Melbourne and Oakleigh, both of which managed ten wins for the year and positive percentages. Northcote, with just two wins for the season, finished last and so succumbed to relegation. The Liston Trophy went to Yarraville’s John Clegg, while Bob Bonnett of Port Melbourne was the leading goalkicker, albeit with just 44 goals, the lowest total to earn that distinction since 1915.

The VFA’s second division was hotly contested, with no real easy beats among the nine teams. The introduction of newcomers Geelong West necessitated a bye, with each side playing 16 home  and away fixtures. The battle for fourth place was especially enthralling, with Prahran eventually edging out Box Hill on percentage. In the first semi-final the Two Blues overcame Sunshine by 13 points, but were then outclassed by Preston in the preliminary final. Preston had finished the minor round in second place, behind Waverley only on percentage. The second semi-final reaffirmed this status as Waverley won a thriller by 8 points. With their confidence bolstered by their preliminary final defeat of Prahran, however – their first victory in a final since 1931 ending a run of thirteen straight losses – the Bullants turned the tables on Waverley when it mattered most. Boasting one of the largest support bases in the VFA, it was no surprise that the grand final attracted the a respectable attendance of 11,000 to Toorak Park, only 1,000 fewer than turned up for the first division premiership decider at Port Melbourne.

The match itself was a thriller, with Waverley in control for the first three quarters, and  heading into the lemon-time break four goals to the good. During the final term, however, the Bullants, aided by a fairly formidable breeze, suddenly found another gear and rattled on 5.5 to nil to emerge triumphant by 11 points.

The 1960s proved to be something of a roller-coaster decade for the Bullants. Promptly relegated from first division in 1964 they bounced straight back by overcoming Mordialloc in the 1965 second division grand final by 38 points. This was a prelude to perhaps the most noteworthy  phase in the club’s history as it made the first division finals in  1966 and 1967 before seeing out the decade by capturing back to back division one flags.

Geelong West’s Richard Perry was a resounding winner of the Field Trophy for the best and fairest player in division two. He polled a then record tally of 45 votes, 14 more than runner up Ray Besanko of Mordialloc. Besanko’s team-mate Frank Power was the top goalkicker in second division with 74 goals.

As it had been throughout the twentieth century, amateur football in Victoria in 1963 was more popular and of a   higher standard than anywhere else in Australia. The Victorian Amateur Football Association boasted five tiers or sections and almost all of  its constituent clubs fielded several teams across a range of age levels each Saturday. Since South Australia’s surprise triumph at the 1948 Australian Amateur Football Council championships in Perth Victoria’s amateur interstate teams had been near invincible. The side had triumphed at the last five AAFC carnivals, emerging victorious from all fourteen matches contested during them. Since the 1948 interstate carnival the state side  had lost only three times, to South Australia in Adelaide in 1955 and 1961, and against Tasmania in a mud-heap at Devonport in 1962.

In 1963 Victoria engaged in two interstate contests, downing South Australia 10.14 (74) to   7.11 (53) on the Adelaide Oval and obtaining revenge over the Tasmanians with a comfortable 57 point triumph in Launceston.

The VAFA’s elite clubs played in section A and in the early 1960s the team to beat was Old Paradians. Coached by Maurie Considine, Paradians won a hat- trick of premierships between 1962 and 1964, overcoming Melbourne High School Old Boys by 47 points, Ormond by 3 goals and Old Xaverians by 4 points in the respective grand finals. The 1963 season was especially noteworthy in that the club became the first in VAFA history to capture the “double” of both senior and reserve grade premierships.

The section B flag went to Coburg which narrowly overcame University High School Old Boys in their grand final. Parkside in  section C, Old Haileyburians in section D, and St Bernard’s Old Collegians in section E completed the list of senior grade premiers. St Bernards’ achievement was particularly meritorious as 1963 was the club’s first season in the competition.

The fact that amateur football in and around Melbourne was flourishing as never before was clearly evidenced in 1964 when the VAFA was expanded to include an F section.

The VAFA was essentially a metropolitan competition but it was far from having a monopoly on the grassroots game in Melbourne. The 1962 season had seen the establishment of the Eastern Districts Football League, initially with three divisions but reduced to two the following year, which soon developed into one of the best organised and powerful semi- professional competitions in the state. East Burwood was an early force, capturing senior grade division one premierships in 1963- 4-5 and 1967-8. Originally established in 1910, the Mighty Rams as they are today known have to date amassed the impressive tally of eighteen senior grade premierships in a variety of different competitions.

In division two in 1963, Scoresby gained the second of four successive flags.

The Essendon District Football League had been formed in 1930 and had long proved a highly lucrative recruiting ground  for VFL club Essendon, with Dick Reynolds, Bill Hutchison, Hugh Mitchell, Simon Madden, Mark Thompson and Matthew Lloyd among the many Bomber stars to have commenced their careers with EDFL teams.

In 1963 the EDFL comprised three senior grade sections – A, B and C – with the premierships respectively going to Doutta Stars, West Coburg and Glenroy. Doutta Stars were, by some measure, the league’s principal force during this era, with the first grade team collecting premierships in 1957, 1959 and 1961-2-3-4.

The Diamond Valley  Football League, precursor of today’s Northern Football League, had been going since 1922, and was widely acknowledged as one  of the strongest competitions in Melbourne, despite the fact that it only contained a single division. In 1963, Epping emerged as the somewhat surprising winners of the premiership, the club’s first since 1940.

The Riddell District Football League had been formed immediately after world war one and, like the DVFL, operated in a single division format. The 1963 flag was claimed by Romsey, which had long been a league power, and indeed has remained one having twice claimed senior grade premierships since the turn of the century.

The 1963 season was noteworthy in seeing the establishment of the South East Suburban Football League, which quickly developed into one of the most highly regarded and important competitions in Melbourne. The league was formed by means of a merger between the East Suburban Football League and the Caulfield Oakleigh District Football League. The new competition’s inaugural senior grade grand final was contested between Murrumbeena and Oakleigh Districts, with the former club emerging victorious.

Another strong Melbourne metropolitan competition was the Footscray District Football League, antecedent of today’s Western Region Football League. Formed in 1931, the league had long provided the VFL with significant numbers of top quality players, the  most notable of whom was undoubtedly Ted “EJ” Whitten senior, who played for FDFL club Parkside.

The dominant team in the competition during the late 1950s and early 1960s was Footscray and Yarraville Socials which in 1963 overcame Seddon in the senior grade grand final by 38 points to claim its fourth premiership in five seasons. Footscray and Yarraville Socials had been formed in 1933 but not long after its halcyon period of the late fifties/early sixties it began to struggle before going into recess in 1975. One of its most noteworthy players was  Ted Whitten senior’s son Teddy Whitten junior.

During the 1960s, football was followed with religious fervour throughout Victoria, and even over the border into southern New South  Wales. Indeed, one of the most powerful country competitions in Australia was the Ovens and Murray Football League which comprised clubs  from both New South Wales and Victoria. Established in 1893 as the Ovens and Murray Football Association it was renamed the O&MFL in 1926. The post-war years were a boom period for the competition which found itself capable of attracting top quality players from across Australia, including former South Adelaide champion Jim Deane who had also spent a couple of seasons with Richmond, Bob Rose, an ex-Collingwood rover of note, former Fitzroy and VFL interstate captain Bill Stephen, and Ken Boyd, who had been a fine ruckman with South Melbourne. Both Deane (Myrtleford) and Rose (Wangaratta Rovers) were dual Morris Medallists as the league’s best and fairest player for the season.

Located around Albury in southern New South Wales, the league undoubtedly generated additional spice by virtue of the fact that it contained clubs from both sides of the interstate border.

The early 1960s  saw Benalla emerging as a force. The Saints, who now compete in the Goulburn Valley Football League, reached three straight grand finals between 1961 and 1963, losing the first  to  Wangaratta  by  63   points 
before overcoming Wangaratta Rovers  7.14  (56)  to  6.10  (46)  in 1962  and  Corowa  17.13  (115) to 8.3 (51) the following year.

Competitions of high standard were sprinkled all across Victoria and many attracted large numbers of spectators. Perhaps one of the best examples was the Ballarat Football League, with Ballarat having been a hotbed  of the game since the 1860s. Like the O&MFL, the Ballarat Football League had been formed in 1893. Seventy years on, the premiership was won by North Ballarat, which nowadays is one of the leading clubs in the Victorian Football League. In 1963 the Roosters finished the minor round in second place, 8 premiership points behind minor premier Ballarat, but in the second semi-final encounter between the sides they proved significantly too strong, winning 12.7 (79) to 5.14 (44). A fortnight later, on Saturday 19th October, the same two teams contested  the 1963 premiership at the City Oval and this time a titanic tussle ensued.  The match was tough, tense, and low scoring, and the lead changed hands repeatedly,  but in the end the Roosters clung on and prevailed by a 2 point margin, 8.10 (58) to the Swans’ 8.8 (56).

The Goulburn Valley  Football League was another major competition and the 1963 season saw Shepparton embark on an unprecedented run of four consecutive grand final triumphs, beating  Kyabram  in  1963-4-5 and Lemnos by the astonishing score of 10.9 (69) to 2.23 (35) in 1966.

Elsewhere, Fish Creek proved too strong for Toora in the Alberton Football League grand final – the first of five successive premiership triumphs for the Kangas. In the Hampden Football League Warrnambool’s 9.9 (63)  to 5.8 (38) grand final victory over Colac gave the club its fourth flag  in five years. Among the other significant premiers in Victorian country football in 1963 were Rupanyup (Wimmera Football League), Rochester (Bendigo Football League), Nathalia (Murray Football League), Traralgon (Latrobe Valley Football League – the  first  of  a  hat-trick  of     flags), Newtown and Chilwell (Geelong and District Football League – the second of four successive grand final triumphs), Clunes (Clunes Football League), Murrabit (Golden Rivers Football League) and Corryong (Upper Murray Football League).

It would take St Kilda coach Allan Jeans several seasons to mould his collection of individual champions into a champion team, but already in 1963 there were signs that something special was imminent. During the home and away rounds the Saints scored noteworthy wins over reigning premier Essendon and eventual 1963 premier Geelong, and finished the season with a resounding 84 point defeat of North Melbourne to clinch fourth spot on the premiership ladder, and a place in the finals, on percentage ahead of the Dons. First  semi-final opponents Melbourne proved marginally too experienced and strong, however.

​After a magnificent 1962 season which had produced just two losses en route to an emphatic premiership victory Essendon gave every indication, for much of 1963, of being on course to repeat that triumph. However, an unexpected hat-trick of losses between rounds thirteen and fifteen ultimately saw the side fail to qualify for the finals altogether, albeit only on percentage. In a season  when there was very little to choose between the league’s top five  teams the Bombers could be considered somewhat unfortunate to have missed out, particularly as they had proved their pedigree during the course of the minor round with wins over eventual  grand finalists Hawthorn  (twice) and Geelong. Among Essendon’s star players in 1963 were rover Johnny Birt, ruckman Don McKenzie, ruck-rover Hughie Mitchell, and centre half forward Ken Fraser, the last-named of whom won the first of two successive club best and fairest awards that season. Chosen as centre half forward in Essendon's official 'Team of the Twentieth Century', Ken Fraser was among the finest exponents of that position to play in the VFL during the  1960s. Extremely quick and agile, he was a master at evading the attentions of opponents and marking the ball in the clear. His kicking, though ungainly in style, was extremely effective, and his ground skills were impeccable for a big man (188cm, 85.5kg). Recruited from Essendon Baptists- St Johns, he had made his VFL debut for the Bombers in the opening round of the 1958 season, and other than when injured he remained a regular senior grade player. In addition to winning Essendon's best and fairest player award in 1963 and 1964, he was twice runner-up in the Brownlow Medal voting. His 9 interstate appearances for the VFL included games at the 1966 Hobart carnival, when  he  was  the  team's   captain. Fraser was at centre half forward in the Dons' 1962 and 1965 premiership teams, the latter as captain, but he was forced to miss 
the grand final clash with Carlton in 1968 because of injury. Given that the Blues only just scraped home by 3 points you will find it impossible to convince ardent Bomber fans that the absence of their champion centre half forward did not deprive the club of a flag.

Carlton underwent a significant slump in 1963. Having reached the 1962 grand final, which they lost to Essendon, the Blues plummeted to sixth, with their overall 10-8 win/loss record indicative of legible deficiencies when compared to the four finalists. Indeed, Carlton managed just a single victory over a top four side all season, by a couple of points against St Kilda in round two. Geelong, Hawthorn and Melbourne proved comfortably too strong, however, with the Cats’ emphatic 61 point victory in a comparatively low-scoring penultimate round encounter at Kardinia Park ultimately revealing just how much of a decline the Blues had suffered.

What Carlton needed more than anything was a coach capable of harnessing and honing the club’s undoubted talent into an effective and consistent on-field force.  Aware of this, the club hierarchy courted Melbourne luminary Ron Barassi, a man who knew more than most about what was necessary both to maximise one’s own potential and to fuse together players’ of disparate strengths into a team with premiership-winning potential. Barassi would ultimately arrive at Princes Park after the 1964 season and gradually transform the Blues into a genuine football superpower, sowing the seeds of a culture of expectancy and high achievement which still characterises the club.

​One of the principal prerequisites for success in the  VFL was a strong ruck division and in the shape of 1963 club best and fairest winner John Nicholls Carlton boasted one of the best traditional ruckmen of all time, a status he boasted simply because he knew how to use his abilities and physique - which in and of themselves were far from extraordinary - to the best possible effect. Not blessed with the supreme all round skills of a Graham Farmer, or the mountainous height of a Len Thompson, nor yet the fearsome aggressiveness of a Jack Dyer, Nicholls was nevertheless consistently able to out-manoeuvre opposing ruckmen of all physical types and attributes. Moreover, he had an uncanny and arguably unequalled knack of extracting the maximum advantage from almost any on field situation, no matter how ostensibly inimical.

None of the above should be taken as implying that John  Nicholls was a player devoid of  skill, however. Without wishing to become embroiled in a philosophical consideration of the nature of skill it is nevertheless worth pointing out for example that, unlike Farmer, say, Nicholls was very much a two-sided player. Furthermore, his kicking was accurate and penetrative, and he handled the ball cleanly. Whilst not possessed of blinding pace his astute judgement repeatedly enabled him to make position ahead of speedier opponents. And while not given to indiscriminate or excessive on-field violence there were some who maintained that his "piercing blue eyes gave the most frightening  stare  in  football". By the time he retired in 1974 after eighteen seasons at Princes Park he had enjoyed arguably the most illustrious career of any Carlton champion. Just about the only honour to elude him was the Brownlow Medal (although he was runner-up in 1966). A member of more VFL interstate teams (31)  than any other player, “Big Nick” gained All Australian selection after both the 1966 Hobart and 1969 Adelaide carnivals, being selected as captain on the latter occasion. In no fewer than five instances - a  club record - he was chosen as Carlton's club champion. As Blues skipper he held the premiership  cup aloft after the grand finals of 1968, 1970 and 1972, having also coached the team to the flag in the last named season. With 328 club games by the time of his retirement Nicholls established what, at the time, was yet another Carlton record.

In 1963, North Melbourne was widely considered to be one of the VFL’s major under-achievers. Since gaining admission to the league in 1925 the ‘Roos had contested just one grand final, and qualified for the finals on only five occasions.  Nevertheless, compared to the previous three seasons which had produced, in sequence, eleventh, twelfth and eleventh place finishes, 1963 represented a marked improvement. Prior to the start of the season North had appointed Alan Killigrew as coach, a man renowned for his passionate, intense, sermon-like oratory, and  by utilising the astute football knowledge which underlay the theatricality he sparked an immediate improvement in the quality of the team’s performances and its overall level of competitiveness. Killigrew spent four seasons at North Melbourne and although unable to steer his charges into the finals he did steer them to successive night grand  final victories in 1965-6 and arguably went some way towards creating a platform for the club’s subsequent success under Ron Barassi.

The Kangaroos served notice that they would no longer be one of the competition’s easybeats by winning their opening three matches of the 1963 season, against Footscray at Arden Street, Collingwood at Victoria Park, and Richmond at Punt Road. Subsequent performances tended to be less authoritative but the side was still capable of putting in intermittent performances of high quality, and an ultimate ladder position of seventh represented the club’s best finish since sixth place in 1959.

One of Killigrew’s most noteworthy achievements was helping Noel Teasdale realise his full potential. An energetic, bullocking ruckman and occasional defender, Noel Teasdale is nowadays fêted as one of the most noteworthy identities in the history of the North Melbourne Football Club. Recruited from  Daylesford, he played a total of 178 VFL games for the 'Roos between 1956 and 1967, kicking 71 goals. A clear indication of his class is that he  also represented the VFL no fewer than 19 times in an era replete with top line ruckmen. A clash of heads with team mate Ken Dean in 1964 would produce a serious head injury, and when 'Teaser' returned to the fray he was wearing the padded head guard that was to become his trademark. The head guard did nothing to undermine his effectiveness, however; in 1965 he finished runner-up in the Brownlow voting, albeit only on a countback, to St Kilda's Ian Stewart (he was later awarded a retrospective Medal), and the following season saw him achieve All Australian honours  after  the  Hobart  carnival. Teasdale also won  North's best and fairest award in both years to make it an unprecedented four such wins in succession. He captained the  'Roos from 1965 to 1967.

For Collingwood, eighth position on the ladder with just 7 wins represented a mini- catastrophe. Since reaching the 1960 grand final, the Magpies had been a team on the slide, and it would take the appointment of Bob Rose as coach in 1964 to reverse the trend. During Rose’s eight seasons at the helm, Collingwood would reach the finals seven times, but runners-up to Melbourne in 1964, St Kilda in 1966 and Carlton in 1970 was as close as the club would come to capturing a flag. Rose’s reign at Victoria Park witnessed the birth of the “collywobbles” myth, which implied that Collingwood was a team which always fell apart at some stage of a finals series owing to an inability to cope     with     the intensity and pressure of major round football. The myth would endure until 1990 when the Magpies overcame Essendon to win their first premiership for thirty-two years.

​Ian Stewart

​Noel Teasdale

A Review of the 1963 Victorian Football Season

Ever since its inception in 1897 the Victorian Football League had been the strongest and far and away the best supported competition in Australia. This is by no means the same thing as maintaining,  as some crassly persist in doing, that it was the sole repository of all of the nation’s elite talent, or that the best club team in the land invariably played in the VFL. The former could never really be said to be the case until several years after the competition was prematurely re- labelled the Australian Football League in 1990, while there were almost indisputably intermittent occasions during        the twentieth century when the most powerful club in Australia was based in either  South  Australia  or Western 

What nevertheless  cannot be disputed, however, is that with regard to its depth of playing talent and the overall quality of football produced the VFL reigned comfortably and continuously supreme. The main reason for this was simple: football was far and away the most popular sport in Victoria which, in terms of available players, gave the VFL a bigger potential catchment area than was accessible by the rest of Australia combined. Moreover, right from the start the league’s clubs were sufficiently wealthy and  influential to be able to attract top quality players  from  other colonies/states, most notably Tasmania and Western Australia, thus further enhancing their overall strength. Sometimes the recruitment of a particularly noteworthy player from outside Victoria could provide a club with precisely the leverage it needed to transform it from being a mere contender into a bona fide champion, and such was arguably the case with Geelong in 1963.

Since reigning supreme with successive premierships in 1951 and 1952 the Cats had endured some difficult times, most notoriously in 1957 and 1958 when they had succumbed to successive wooden spoons. However, as the 1960s got underway, the club’s fortunes began to improve, as players of the quality of Roy West,  a long kicking, highly consistent full back, Bill Goggin, one of the best and  paciest  rovers in the game, 1962 Brownlow Medal-winning centreman Alistair Lord, burly, strong marking, long – though not always straight - kicking full forward Doug Wade, and Fred Wooller, a highly influential key position forward who skippered the Cats in 1963 and ’64, gradually blossomed and formed the nucleus of a highly proficient side. However, there was still one vital ingredient missing, which finally arrived in 1962 in the shape of one of the most important and revolutionary players in the history of the game, Graham Vivian “Polly” Farmer.

Such hyperbole is all too frequently applied to individual sports stars, and perhaps no more so than in Australian football, which despite being a team sport par excellence lauds and rewards individual players more visibly and volubly than, for example, most if not all other football codes. However, despite often being exaggerated and misplaced, such high praise is indisputably warranted in the case of Farmer, who besides being arguably the finest knock ruckman of his time almost single-handedly revolutionised football with his creative and highly effective h. This is not to suggest that handball had never previously been used as a significant feature of any team’s attacking armoury, but in the post war game its   prominence had faded. Farmer realised that the key to success in football was maintaining possession of the ball, and that accurate and clever handpasses were, in many instances, the best and easiest way of  doing  this. Farmer  practised the skill of handball assiduously incessantly,  and was proficient in its use over great distances, whether standing still, running, or from a semi-prone or kneeling position.

​​After playing 176 league games in nine seasons with East Perth “Polly” Farmer arrived at Geelong prior to the 1962 football season amidst great fanfare, his Australia-wide reputation having preceded  him.  Voted  the  Royals’ fairest and best player in seven of those nine seasons, Farmer had also won the 1956 and 1960 Sandover Medals, the 1956 Tassie Medal, been included in the three most recent All Australian combinations, and played in three premiership-winning teams.  His first practice match with Geelong attracted a crowd of 20,000 to the club’s home ground of Kardinia Park, but his first full season in the VFL proved anti-climactic in the extreme. An injured knee, sustained in the opening minutes of the Cats’ first round win against Carlton at Princes Park, effectively put paid to Farmer’s season, and  he ultimately managed to play just half a dozen league matches  for the year.

Not until the 1963 season would Victorian football fans be treated to the sight of Farmer playing at the peak of his ability, unhampered by injury, and it was a majestic, awe-inspiring spectacle. Even without Farmer’s contribution, the Cats had managed to finish third in 1962. With the Farmer  factor added to the equation a year later the Cats emerged as the competition’s most flamboyant, eye-catching and ultimately successful side. Although by no means invincible, particularly in the depths of winter when weather conditions were inimical to their fast-moving, open style of play, they finished the season in style with resounding wins in the last two rounds over Carlton and minor premiers Hawthorn to clinch the double chance. During the 1963 finals series the Cats reasserted their authority over Hawthorn on two occasions, leading at every change in winning the second semi-final by 17 points, and then romping home in the final quarter of the grand final to rattle on six unanswered goals and win by 49 points, 15.19 (109) to 8.12 (60). In what was arguably his greatest moment in football, “Polly” Farmer was in unassailable form in the grand final to be by some measure the most influential and effective man on the ground. Playing second fiddle to Farmer in the Geelong rucks that day was a former East Perth team-mate, John Watts, who had followed his compatriot to the Cats prior to the 1963 season, and who like Farmer was  in irrepressible form. Half back flanker John Devine, rover Bill Goggin, centreman Alistair Lord,  half forward flanker Gordon Hynes (3 goals) and centre half back Peter Walker also shone.

Watched by 101,209 spectators, Geelong’s premiership victory would take on greater significance as the years went by for it would not be repeated until 2007, by which time the entire Australian football landscape had altered radically. Meanwhile, back in 1963 “Polly” Farmer further emphasised his supremacy by winning the Cats’ best and fairest award and running equal second in voting for the VFL’s most prestigious individual honour, the Brownlow Medal.

Hawthorn’s style of play in 1963 contrasted markedly with that of the Cats. Trained commando- style by John Kennedy, there was probably no fitter side in Australia  at the time, and arguably no  tougher side as well. Indeed, in the view of some, the Hawks’ never- say-die approach pushed the game’s unwritten moral code to its limits. However, there  were others who maintained that John Kennedy’s insistence that his players adopt a rugged, ruthless approach was merely the best  way of gleaning the optimum from their comparatively limited ability, for while the Hawks boasted a handful of players of undoubted  talent, most were, in terms of pure football skill, inferior to the majority of their opponents. Percy Beames, writing in “The Age” following Hawthorn’s grand final loss to Geelong, suggested that, in guiding the Hawks to second place in football’s toughest league, John  Kennedy had achieved something of which no other coach in the VFL would have been capable, and both he and the club therefore warranted only high praise and congratulations.  It is  doubtful if anyone at Glenferrie would have been  particularly  gratified  by this, however. Having finished the home and away rounds at the head of the ladder everybody associated with Hawthorn had their eyes firmly set on another premiership to go with the club’s first, won just two years earlier at the expense of Footscray. John Peck’s achievement in kicking 75 goals to finish the season as Hawthorn’s first ever VFL leading goalkicker would have afforded scant consolation, particularly as when it mattered most, in the grand final, he “could have had a highly successful day, but …… kicked indifferently, dropped marks he would normally hold, and overplayed his hand at wrong times in staging for free kicks”. An on-form John Peck might not quite have made a difference to the destiny of the 1963 VFL premiership trophy, but would almost certainly have contributed to a much closer finish to the grand final.

Bob Skilton

​Alistair Lord

Ron Barassi junior

By 1963, the Victorian Football Association had long ago given up any hope of supplanting the Victorian  Football League in the hearts and minds of the Melbourne public. This is not the same as saying it lacked ambition, however. It was certainly keen to appear distinctive, as exemplified for instance by its frequent, sometimes absurd, tinkering with the game's laws. Indeed, there were times when legitimate claims could be made that there were actually two entirely distinct codes of Australian football in existence: one played in the  VFA, the other everywhere else in the country.

The VFA's constant tampering with the rules probably had little if any direct effect on the competition's appeal to spectators. Most of the people who attended VFA matches probably did so in order to lend their support to a  team representative of their district, and this in truth was where the Association's real strength lay. It was district football par excellence, and by 1963 that situation was on the verge of peaking.

When VFA football resumed after the second world war in 1945 it comprised twelve clubs, most of which were of long standing.  During the 1950s the competition swelled and by 1960 there were no fewer than seventeen member clubs, all playing in a single, somewhat unwieldy division. Whilst this was good in that it meant that the VFA enjoyed a widespread presence in the Melbourne metropolitan zone, the gap in standard between the top and bottom sides was substantial, and as a result attendances at some matches were pitifully small.

The answer to the conundrum was obvious, and in 1961 the Association split into two divisions, a ten team first division and an eight team second division, with Waverley the newly admitted club. The 1963 season saw Geelong West joining the Association's ranks in second division and the club soon emerged as a force, capturing a premiership in only its second season. By that time, however, the entire Association had been thrown into disarray.

As early as 1962, VFL club St Kilda had approached its VFA counterpart Moorabbin with a view to using Moorabbin as its home ground in 1963. Ultimately, nothing came of the proposal, but the VFA made no secret of its dismay, although few people believed it would go as far as it eventually did when the matter again reared its head, this time in earnest, a year later.

On the field of play, the 1963 season proved an absorbing one.  In first division, half a dozen clubs staged a fierce battle for the four finals berths, which eventually went to Moorabbin, Sandringham, Coburg and Yarraville. The four clubs were only separated by a single win.

With the St Kilda ground takeover issue a constant backdrop to proceedings, the Moorabbin players might well have been expected not to have their minds  on the job in 1963. However, not even a mid-season change of coach - Graham Dunscombe was elevated from the club's thirds, replacing Bob Wilkie - could deflect them from their single-minded objective, which was to go one better than the previous season which had seen them lose the  grand final to Sandringham by a single point.

For much of the 1963 season Moorabbin trailed Sandringham before finally overtaking them in the last two rounds of the year, with the club's 13-5 record proving good enough  to procure the minor premiership.  In the second semi-final they had to battle all the way to fend off Sandringham, eventually  winning by 8 points, 14.13 (97( to 13.11 (89). When the same two sides met one another a fortnight later in the grand final, however, Moorabbin, inspired by 6 goal centre half forward Max Papley, got the jump on the Zebras right from the outset and after leading at every change by 22, 28 and 61 points ultimately cruised home by a resounding 64 point margin, 19.16 (130) to 9.12 (66). It was an emphatic and entirely warranted victory - but it also proved to be Moorabbin's last game in the VFA for twenty years. When, on the eve of the 1964 season, it was announced that St Kilda would definitely be playing its home fixtures in the VFL at Moorabbin from 1965 the VFA committee met and voted 30-12 to suspend the Kangaroos from the competition for a period of twelve months. This was tantamount to a death-knell as all of the club's players were cleared elsewhere for 1964 so that by the time the ban was lifted the Moorabbin Football Club had effectively ceased to exist.

​In 1983, a successor to the original Moorabbin Football Club would be admitted to division two of the VFL, but in four and a bit seasons in the competition would never look remotely like emulating its predecessor's success.

Sandringham in 1963 qualified for the finals for the fifth successive time but only once, in 1962, did the Zebras manage to achieve premiership success. For much of the 1963 season reigning premier Sandringham was the  team to beat and kicked some sizeable scores, including most notably 27.25 (187) against bottom side Northcote, the highest tally managed by any VFA side all season. Comfortably top of the ladder with just two rounds remaining, Sandy's wheels inexplicably fell off as they went down to both Brunswick and Port Melbourne, neither of which had qualified for the finals, and were displaced from the minor premiers' position by Moorabbin. They finished with 12 wins and 6 losses, the same as Coburg and Yarraville, but the gargantuan scale of some  of their early season triumphs ensured they ended up with an excellent percentage and thus procured the double chance.

This proved to be fortunate, as despite taking the second semi- final right up to opponents Moorabbin, they ultimately fell short by 8 points. Preliminary final adversaries Yarraville provided a somewhat less onerous hurdle and the Zebras eased home by 40 points, 17.11 13) to 10.13 (73). The quality of the team's all-round performance raised hopes in advance of the grand final re-match with Moorabbin, but the Zebras never really managed to get going and were thrashed by over 10 goals.

Ken Fraser

Collingwood’s best and fairest award in 1963 was won by Des  Tuddenham.  Throughout his 252 game VFL career with Collingwood and Essendon, flame- haired Tuddenham's name was virtually a synonym for “desperation and courage”. In essence, "Tuddy" knew only one way to play the game, and that was with the utmost determination    and physicality. Footballers are almost routinely referred to as “tough”, but in Des Tuddenham's case this would be an understatement; on numerous occasions he took to the field carrying injuries which would have seen lesser men spend the day at home in bed, but regardless of physical inconvenience, Tuddenham invariably produced performances that were at least serviceable. More often than not, of course, they were infinitely better than that.

​Recruited from Ballarat YCW, Tuddenham made his Collingwood debut in 1962. Used mainly as a half forward flanker, his tear-through style and apparent obliviousness to his own personal safety  soon  attracted  rave reviews. His very presence on the field was often an inspiration to his team mates, and his 1963 club best and fairest win was well-earned. From 1966 to 1969 he served as Magpies skipper.

In 1970, however, Tuddenham would be stood down by Collingwood after a pay dispute, and although he later resumed he was no longer captain. The Magpie hordes adored him anyway - "to many he was the embodiment of what Collingwood players must have been like in the club's  greatest days”.

Tuddenham crossed to Essendon as captain-coach in  1972 and, although unable to steer the Bombers to a flag, he did at least manage to restore a measure of self-respect to a club that had finished second to last in both 1970 and 1971.

Des Tuddenham's heart was always essentially black and white, however, and in 1976 he hobbled 'home' - hobbled quite literally, having just recovered from a  broken leg sustained while playing for Essendon the previous year. He spent the final two seasons of his playing career with the Woods, captaining them in 1976.

Always a consummate team man - even the pay dispute in 1970 was more about morals than  money - the biggest  disappointment of Tuddenham's career was that, although he garnered numerous personal accolades and awards, he never got  to  play  in  a  premiership  side. He came agonisingly close - a 4 point loss to Melbourne in 1964,  a 1 point defeat by St Kilda two years later, not to mention the unmitigated disaster of 1970, when Collingwood somehow managed to surrender a significant half time lead against Carlton - but a runner-up is still a runner-up no matter what the margin of defeat.

Since the false dawn of a losing grand final encounter with Hawthorn in 1961 Footscray had endured a steady decline, dropping to fifth place the following year and then an undistinguished ninth with just seven wins in 1963. There was some compensation in the form of the club’s first ever triumph in the VFL’s night series, which at this time was contested after the conclusion of the home and away season by the eight clubs which had failed to qualify for the finals. Coached by one of football’s all- time great players  and personalities, Ted Whitten senior, the Bulldogs claimed the night flag with victories over North by a goal, Carlton by 43 points,  and Richmond  in  the  grand  final 10.9

(69) to 9.9 (63). Their  performances during the minor round were, by contrast, mostly lack-lustre, with a 4 point win at St Kilda in round ten the undoubted and arguably only highlight.

Footscray back pocket Ray Walker inevitably saw plenty of the ball in 1963, and this probably contributed to his achievement in procuring the club’s best and fairest award in arguably the most noteworthy moment of his seven season, 73 game VFL career. Walker was strong overhead and had the intelligence to use the ball creatively rather than just kick long and hopefully. He represented the VFL in the interstate arena, and after leaving Footscray to serve as captain-coach of Burnie in 1965 he represented Tasmania at the following year’s Hobart carnival.

After steering Burnie to the 1968 NWFU flag he spent his final two seasons as a senior grade footballer captain-coaching another NWFU club, Penguin.

Richmond fans had had to endure a long spell of mediocrity by 1963 with the Tigers having failed  to contest the finals every year since 1947, having last reached a grand final in 1944 when they sustained an upset defeat at the hands of Fitzroy, and not having won a premiership for twenty years. In 1963 they gave no indications whatsoever of being on the verge  of breaking their drought, but within a couple of seasons, under the coaching first of Len Smith, then briefly  Jack  Titus,  and  finally and most concertedly Tom Hafey Richmond would rise from the ashes to enjoy arguably the greatest period in the club’s history. In 1963, however, the side was mediocre in the extreme, managing just five wins from eighteen matches for the season to finish a distant tenth. Only two of these victories, versus Collingwood by a point at Victoria Park in round twelve, and by 7 points over  Carlton in round sixteen at Princes Park, were achieved against teams which ultimately finished above the Tigers on the premiership ladder.

Even the most mediocre  VFL teams of the sixties boasted star players though, and Richmond was no exception. Without doubt the Tigers most effective and influential footballer in 1963 was club skipper Neville Crowe, who won the first of an eventual three club best and fairest awards, and who would go on to achieve everything of note at Richmond except participation in a premiership team, an honour he missed in the most controversial and    unfortunate of circumstances. During the 1967 second semi-final he was reported, and subsequently suspended, for striking Carlton's John Nicholls. It was the first suspension of his eleven season, 150 game VFL career, and Nicholls later admitted that he had staged the whole affair simply to win a free kick. Two weeks later, Crowe missed the grand final in which the Tigers triumphed over Geelong, and shortly  afterwards  he announced his retirement. In 1971, he would make a brief return to football with VFA club Caulfield.

Recruited from VAFA club State Savings Bank, Crowe made his VFL debut in 1957, and soon earned a reputation as a hardworking and influential ruckman. His three Richmond best and fairest awards were won in 1963, 1964 and 1966, and he captained the side from 1963 to 1966. At the 1966 Hobart carnival he put in a series of Herculean performances in the ruck for the VFL to achieve All Australian selection.

Neville Crowe later served as an effective and  highly respected president of the Richmond Football Club.

South Melbourne had gone even longer than Richmond – thirty years to be precise – since tasting premiership success, and since last reaching the grand final in 1945 the Swans had consistently  struggled at or near the foot of the ladder. The 1963 season proved no exception to the rule as the side managed just four wins all year to finish second from last. Easily the highlight of the year for South Melbourne was the noteworthy achievement of highly skilled, ultra courageous rover Bob Skilton in winning the second of an eventual three Brownlow Medals. For good measure Swans skipper Skilton also booted 36 goals for the  season to top the club’s goalkicking list and won the South Melbourne best and fairest award for the fifth time.  He would add another four such awards before he retired Few players have personified old fashioned "G and D" to the extent of Skilton. In 238 games with the Swans he never gave less than the optimum in terms of effort. It was the same story when he  donned the VFL state jumper, as well as towards the end of his career when he fulfilled a boyhood dream in representing his beloved Port Melbourne.

One perhaps inevitable legacy of this attitude was the exceptional number of injuries - often several in the same game - sustained by Skilton during the course of his career. A more measurable legacy came in the shape of three Brownlow Medals and an incredible nine South Melbourne best and fairest awards. Not that Skilton's approach lacked finesse. He was, in fact, a highly skilled, pre-eminently two-sided footballer in an era when this was still very much the exception to the rule. Roving to losing South Melbourne rucks for much of his career he turned this to his advantage by developing an unparalleled ability to anticipate the direction of the opposing ruckman's taps. By contrast, roving to the likes of John Schultz, 'Polly' Farmer and John Nicholls in interstate matches must have seemed to “Skilts” the optimum in luxury and extravagance.

Skilton often remarked that he would have traded every one of his Brownlows to have played in one premiership team but the closest  he  got  was  South's losing first semi-final against St Kilda in 1970.

​Des Tuddenham


John Nicholls

The Swans’  most memorable performance of 1963 came in round seven at home to eventual finalists Melbourne. Despite managing just nineteen scoring shots compared to thirty South squeezed home by 4 points, 11.8 (74) to 8.22 (70), a result  which might be said to have ultimately robbed the Demons of the double chance in the finals.

Although it had failed to set the world alight since last winning the premiership in 1944 Fitzroy had tended to be quite competitive, and the club’s 1963 wooden spoon was its first since 1936, and only the second since it had commenced involvement in the VFL as a  founder member in 1897. By the end of the 1960s, however, the Lions would have succumbed to  the league’s ultimate indignity on another two occasions, and although the remaining three and a half decades of the club’s existence would yield a number of highlights, these tended to be fleeting in nature, and the club’s eventual death in 1996 would be undignified and hollow in the extreme. In some ways, the 1963 season provided a kind of premonition of that level of disappointment as the Lions managed just a solitary win all  year, ironically at the expense of eventual premier Geelong in round ten when the VFL interstate team was on its two week tour of Perth and Adelaide. Fitzroy’s only representative in that team was its 1963 captain-coach, Kevin Murray, without doubt one of the greatest players in the club’s history. Never the most elegant or poised of footballers Murray did not let such trifling matters stand in the way of his effectiveness. With pace, good judgement, and a tremendous leap Murray was equally effective both  in  the  backlines  and  on  the   ball. He was also an inspirational leader who skippered Fitzroy for eight seasons, captain-coached them in 1963 and 1964, and captain-coached East Perth in  1965 and 1966. Twice an All Australian (once with the VFL, once with Western Australia), Murray was a veritable   stalwart of the interstate scene donning the Big V jumper 24 times and representing Western Australia on 6 occasions. He won a Brownlow in 1969 at the age of thirty-one having previously finished second twice and third once and was no stranger to club awards either, his 1963 success being just one of nine such triumphs at Fitzroy, not to mention one with the Royals.

Murray's durability was emphasised not only by his incredible ability to keep on playing whilst carrying injuries that would have floored most other players,  but also by the sheer extent of his playing career which encompassed no fewer than 448 senior games over more than two decades. In 2002 he was placed on a half back flank and selected as captain in Fitzroy's official 'Team of the Century'. Four years later East Perth selected him as a ruck-rover in the club's official 'Team of the Century 1945 to 2005'.

If Geelong’s slashing win over Hawthorn in the grand final ended up being the undoubted highlight of the 1963 season, arguably the two most memorable events of the year prior to that had both taken place in the interstate arena. This was most unusual. Just a few years earlier there had been widespread calls within Victoria for the cessation of interstate matches because, following a prolonged series of lopsided results during the second half of the 1950s, these  had increasingly come to be perceived as a waste of time and effort which sometimes deprived clubs of the services of leading players because of injuries sustained in them. Then, astonishingly, the VFL somehow conspired to finish second to Western Australia at the 1961 Brisbane carnival. As invariably seemed to be the case whenever the VFL lost an interstate match there were excuses readily available, not least the perception that its team went into the clash against the sandgropers minus several of its stars. It was also undeniable that the Big V finished the encounter with just seventeen fit players. What was equally undeniable, however, was that Western Australia was the better side on the day, and its win was full of merit. The response within Victoria was to bestow a new,  albeit short-lived respect on interstate football – and then effectively to obliterate the concept once more by ensuring that the majority  of  the  best  players  from other states ended up plying their trades in the VFL.

In 1963, however, this process had only just got underway, and one state which had remained comparatively immune from  it  was  South  Australia. On Saturday 15th  June the  crow eaters met the full might of the VFL on the MCG and did the unthinkable –  won there for the first time since 1926. To his credit, VFL coach Bob Davis did not look for excuses, but simply paid tribute to an excellent South Australian performance. However, the result made the return meeting between the teams in Adelaide three weeks later take on an unprecedented importance. After warming up for the encounter with two hard fought wins over Western Australia in Perth the Vics trotted out onto Adelaide Oval with a much stronger side physically than had been downed by the croweaters in Melbourne. Victory for the Big V in such matches was normally regarded as inevitable, and the eventual result and game report would be relegated to a tiny column on an inside page of the newspaper, with the majority of the same page devoted to an in-depth analysis of a bottom-of-the-ladder clash between the likes of South Melbourne and Fitzroy. On this occasion though victory was demanded and genuinely hungered for, and for once the VFL’s main spotlight was not on its own suburban competition but on the exploits of that competition’s elite performers in a city other than Melbourne or Geelong.

With so much riding on the result it was not surprising that players on both sides were edgy, resulting in a scrappy contest, and harboured short fuses, making the play much more overtly physical than it had been back at the ‘G three weeks earlier. One player with a shorter fuse than most was Victoria’s John Peck, who  had been selected In the ruck on the theory that his abundantly and overtly aggressive approach might unsettle the South Australians. This it most certainly did, no more so than in the case of croweater half forward Brian Sawley, who responded by niggling and harassing the Hawthorn spearhead whenever they got near one another. Eventually, Peck had had enough, and after falling to the ground in the act of outmarking his rival, he rose to his feet and in the process flattened Sawley with a massive king-hit. The South Australian was  knocked unconscious, Peck was reported, and found guilty by the SANFL Tribunal but as this did not have  the authority to impose sanctions the matter of any  punishment ended up being determined back in Melbourne. The VFL Tribunal eventually imposed a two match suspension, seen as wholly inadequate in South Australia, but almost as a vindication in Peck’s home state. The reason for the brevity of the sentence was probably Peck’s version of events, which centred on the allegation that he had acted under provocation, his SA opponent having kicked him in the back. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the incident, the Peck- Sawley affair remains prominent in the memories of most football supporters old enough to  have lived through a 1963 season which simultaneously boasted so many other highlights.

Hawthorn’s best and fairest award winner in 1963 was Ian Law. A superb, terrier-like rover, Law  had played a handful of games for Hawthorn in 1960 before making a pronounced impression the following year, when he not only won his club's best and fairest award for the first time, but ran third in the Brownlow, and was close to best afield in the Hawks' inaugural VFL premiership win.

Recruited from VAFA side Old Scotch Collegians, with whom he had won the 1959 Woodrow Medal, and whom he  later coached, Law's amateur sensibilities only lasted one game at Hawthorn. During the course of his debut, he was spectacularly out-marked by an opponent, whereupon, in true amateur fashion, he burst into sincere applause, a gesture which earned  a fiery rebuke from Hawk coach John Kennedy. Needless to say,  the misdemeanour was never repeated.

Fleet of foot, tough, courageous and highly skilled, Law continued to exhibit superb form for the next three seasons, winning further club champion awards in 1963, as previously mentioned, and again in 1964. Thereafter, a combination      of commitments overseas and niggling injuries undermined his impact, and he seldom recaptured the form of his early career. He retired in 1969  after 106 VFL games, having perhaps slightly under-achieved given the scope of his ability, but having nevertheless been one of the Hawks’ brightest stars of the decade. In the 1963 flag decider, with Farmer and Watts dominating the rucks for Geelong, Law found it difficult to match up effectively with his direct opponent Bill Goggin, but he was just one of many Hawthorn players to struggle to make an impact that day.

In later years, the Ian Law style of roving would be maintained at Hawthorn courtesy of the likes of Peter Crimmins and Johnny Platten.

In the nine seasons prior to 1963 Melbourne, with five premierships from seven successive grand finals, had been easily the VFL’s most successful club. However, the 1961 and ’62 seasons had brought a slight fall from grace, with the Demons losing in the preliminary final in the former year and the first semi-final in the latter. The gap between success and failure in Australia’s strongest league was often marginal, however, and with players like Ron Barassi, Hassa Mann, “Tassie” Johnson, Frank Adams and Bryan Kenneally at their disposal the Demons were undoubtedly equipped to cope, on their day, with the challenges proffered by any other side in the competition. They proved this in the 1963 minor round with at least one victory over every other team in the league, including both grand finalists. Ultimately, this was sufficient for them to qualify for the finals in third place, just 2  points adrift of the leading pair, and with comfortably the best percentage in the competition. However, critically, they would be entering September without the fulcrum of the side, Ron Barassi, who had incurred a lengthy suspension after the round seventeen win at Richmond for allegedly striking the Tigers’ Roger Dean. A hard fought 7 point win over a fast-finishing St Kilda side in the first semi-final  was nevertheless achieved, but Hawthorn’s frenetic, rumbustious style proved a bridge too far in a strenuous preliminary final tussle and the Demons fell 9 points short. They would return to finals action a year later, wiser and more finals hardened, as well as having all the energy and skills of a fully fit Barassi at their disposal, and ultimately procure a sixth VFL flag under the masterly coaching of Norm Smith. Overall, this would be Melbourne’s twelfth league premiership, and the club’s fans will not need reminding that, half a century on, that haul has not been increased.

​In 1963, Melbourne captain Ronald Dale Barassi was one  of the most noteworthy identities in  the game, as indeed he had been for much of the preceding decade. Whilst it would be utterly fatuous to suggest, as some have done, that Barassi single-handedly invented the role of the modern ruck-rover, there is no doubt that he brought  a new glamour and prominence to a position previously regarded as purely supportive and indeed rather mundane. Barassi was strong, mobile and highly skilled, and his ferocious attack on both the football and his opponents typically  ensured that he ended a game having accumulated an abundance of possessions, whilst also having paved the way for many of his team mates to do the same. During the 1950s and early 1960s Barassi’s name was synonymous with the Melbourne Football Club, which was why his “defection” after the 1964 season to take up the coaching position at Carlton produced such widespread shock, not to mention anger in the case of the Demons’ many fans at the time. Barassi’s decision to place his own desires before the needs of his club was viewed in many quarters as a betrayal, but a more objective view of the incident would be that he was merely doing exactly the same thing as hundreds of players before and since have done in seeking to enhance his career. However, none of those previous players had been captains of their club, or arguably possessed of Barassi’s immense public profile. The fact that Barassi was widely perceived as having blue and red blood flowing through his veins was hardly the fault of the player though, and it seems reasonable to infer that he was a victim of his own notoriety rather than the perpetrator of a genuinely immoral or disloyal act. Barassi had given Melbourne 204 games of stellar service and made significant contributions to half a dozen grand final victories by the time he was cleared to Carlton, so it is very difficult indeed to argue that the Demons were short-changed by his departure.

Fourth placed team St Kilda had only qualified for the VFL finals once previously since the war. That was in 1961, when the Saints had also had to be satisfied with fourth place, but they were very much a team on the rise, and the 1960s would prove to be the greatest decade in the club’s  history, yielding consecutive grand final appearances in 1965-6 and their only senior grade premiership to date in the latter year. As with Geelong, one of the key reasons behind St Kilda’s emergence as a force had been the recruitment of top players from interstate, in the Saints’ case Darrel Baldock and  Ian Stewart, both of whom hailed from Tasmania. Baldock, who arrived in 1962, was one of the most skilful ball handlers of his or any other era, and won the Saints best and fairest award in both 1962 and 1963 whilst simultaneously finishing both seasons as the club’s leading goalkicker. He would go on to repeat both achievements in 1965. It was no coincidence that Baldock’s appointment as St Kilda skipper in 1963 coincided with the club’s return to finals action after a somewhat lack-lustre 1962 season. Baldock's somewhat rotund appearance, together with his lack of height and pace, belied his dazzling array of skills. As the  cliché  goes,  “he  often  seemed to have the ball on a string”. Most commonly used by the Saints at centre half forward, he consistently beat much taller opponents by a mixture of guile and unsurpassed handling and use of the ball. In 1966, Darrel John Baldock would permanently etch his name on the hearts of St Kilda supporters by captaining the club to its first and, as of 2013, only senior grade flag.

Boasting every bit as much skill as Baldock, Ian Stewart arrived at St Kilda in 1963 after having begun his senior grade career with Hobart only the previous year. The label “legend”' is bandied about quite indiscriminately these days but it would be hard to disagree with its appropriateness in the case of Ian Harlow Stewart. Born in the western Tasmanian mining settlement of Queenstown, where footballers do not have the luxury  of grassed ovals to cushion their falls, Stewart is one of an elite band of just four players to have won the coveted Brownlow Medal on three separate    occasions. Although neither strongly built nor especially athletic looking he was enormously tough and resilient, and boasted a considerable amount of pace. Moreover, his outward appearance belied enormous, some would say unique,   intrinsic  ability. Indefatigably accurate when kicking with either foot - frequently with Baldock as his target - Stewart was also deceptively strong overhead (in the 1966 season, for instance, he would take more marks than  any other player in the VFL), and  so  courageous  that  he  frequently won possessions that logic told you he had no right to. He was also extraordinarily elusive, seldom being caught with the ball - small wonder that the umpires took note to the extent of awarding him more Brownlow votes than any other player of his era.

John Peck