Was John Coleman the greatest forward ever to ever play for Heatherton FC (est 1913)?
By Trevor Easey with assistance from Leanne Easey and State Library Victoria
When the Heatherton Football Club website was created several years ago, an article was placed under the history tab that talked about our first game on 3rd May 1913. The article was written by Damien Cody from our club, with assistance from local football identities, Peter Crosland and Daryl Pittman. This was the first I had heard of our existence prior to 1948. As a player and administrator since 1977, I believed Heatherton had not commenced until then – I still have a copy of a newsletter with ‘established 1948’ stamped under our club name.
Last October with our centenary drawing closer, I became concerned that we might be prematurely celebrating by 35 years. I began searching Australian newspapers online at the National Library of Australia’s Trove site. For such a small team, in what was then a remote south east part of Melbourne, I was surprised to find references to the Heatherton Football Club in 1914 and just how far news of our club reached! An article entitled ‘A Record Score’ appeared in the Horsham Times on Friday 10th July 1914 – reporting we had been on the end of a record shellacking by Middle Brighton. Insultingly, the Horsham Times inflated the score by 48 points, with 50.40-340 to nil whereas the Moorabbin News had the correct score as 292 points to nil. Unfortunately, our fame was more for record scores kicked against us than for winning premierships. I eventually found that Heatherton Football Club did indeed start playing on May 3rd 1913. I was addicted by this stage and have been spending hours after work and weekends at the State Library ever since.
Heatherton’s first win was on 5th June 1920, defeating Bentleigh by forfeit. Still, a win is a win and I’m sure they celebrated in fine fashion. The first win on the scoreboard, involved a wait until 21st May 1921, when the ‘Tunners’ triumphed 9.5.59 over Edithvale 7.6.48.
Wins were scarce until the mid 30’s, when after several leagues changes we began to taste success. In 1937 we lost to Caulfield in the B grade Oakleigh-Caulfield Grand Final by two points. Our club notes in the local paper the following week may sum up the club’s attitude,
‘The season for Heatherton has been a very successful one, especially from a social point of view’.
I suppose if you have had a history of wooden spoons you would have to have a great social club to keep attracting players and supporters.
In 1938 a 21 year old called Charlie Milgate kicked his 125th goal in a 40 point inaugural grand final win over Oakleigh. That same year, Charlie had a training run with Richmond. He enlisted in the 2nd AIF in on 21st June 1940 and spent several years as a Japanese POW before being discharged on December 3rd 1945. After the war he played a year with Oakleigh in the VFA before returning to captain coach the club. By this stage Heatherton had embraced commercialism and changed our named to Freighters Football Club. Freighters Ltd was a local engineering firm. At the age of 34, Charlie was picked in the centre for the Federal League team to play Mornington Peninsula and from all reports dominated the game. The 1938 match reports don’t reveal whether he played at full forward to bag his goals or further up the ground.
That got me thinking about our other champion forwards and who was the greatest.
Peter ‘Fatty’ Meeking was a powerhouse full forward but only stood about 5’11”. “Fatty” as he was known came to us from Sandhurst in the Bendigo area and tried out with Carlton. A robust player with wonderful hands, and deadly accurate in front of goal, Fatty always used the torpedo punt that went through at post height. He kicked 114 goals in 1975 in our first year in the VAFA. It would have capped off a fairy tale year, but we went down to Monash Whites in the grand final.
Steve ‘Rex’ Reiger was a fearsome sight for defenders and played all his games at full forward rarely moving far from the goal square. ‘Kick it long and high to “Rex” and he would do the rest’. He was an imposing figure in the mould of Tony Lockett – using his bulk to advantage, pairing a strong mark with a very accurate kick for goal. ‘Rex’ notched his 100th goal for the season in our grand final win in 1985 when we defeated Preston by 10 goals on the field opposite the MCG.
Michael Inglis kicked a lazy 125 goals from a half forward flank in our premiership season of 1992. His best effort was a 14 goal haul in round 4. He also booted 11 goals in R2, 10 in R13 and 9 in R16. Mick was lightly framed, highly skilled, prodigious kick for goal and always cool in a crisis.
Scott Murphy didn’t kick the ton but went mighty close in 1994 with 98 goals. Not only was he a dangerous forward, he was also a danger to opposition players who were foolish enough to upset him. It was this enthusiasm that cost him the ‘ton’ as he was reported in the last game and suspended for four weeks, missing the final series.
Marcus Wilson a leading type forward with strong hands, but much more effective and mercurial when ball went to ground because he was so elusive. Adept at both sides of the body and capable of booting long bombs from outside 50 metres. Marcus topped our goal kicking in 2006 with 99 goals. His two best rounds were R3 (12 goals) and R4 (11 goals). Marcus was a key factor in our premiership win of that year.
Brent ‘Willo’ Williams kicked 118 goals in our 2009 premiership year in which he played every game including the grand final. ‘Willo’ was drafted by Adelaide in 1997 and played several AFL games. A strong marking forward who utilises his body to out-position defenders. Sublime ball skills and an unselfish team player who is not afraid to hand off the ball to a player in a better position. He has an uncanny ability to evade tackles and win a game off his own boot. Extremely accurate long raking kick both left and right foot. Brent ‘s best performance was in R4 when he booted 15 goals, followed by 12 goals in R16, 10 goals in R11 and three other games in which he snagged 9 goals. A true superstar of the Southern Football League (SFL). To date he has kicked 213 career goals for the Tunners in a total of 66 games which includes some reserves games last year. He would have kicked more had he not played further down the ground in numerous games. I would have loved to have seen him play when he was younger.
In early December 2012 I stumbled on a small article that appeared in the Argus on 8th October 1951 titled ‘Win Ends Country Dispute’. The article covered various country matches and finished with:
‘Freighters, runners up in the Federal District League, were defeated by North Albury in a match to in aid of the local team at Albury on Saturday. Essendon full forward John Coleman kicked five goals for Freighters. Other Essendon players took part in the game. Final scores North Albury 17.25 Freighters 17.9’.
I couldn’t believe what I had found. The great John Coleman played for a Heatherton side! This was just a week after Essendon lost the 1951 Grand Final to Geelong. Coleman didn’t play as he was reported in the final home and away game of the season and sensationally suspended for 4 weeks. It seemingly cost the Bombers the flag as they went down by just 11 points.
It just didn’t make sense that the great John Coleman could have played with a local outfit and why did it only receive a few lines at the end of another article, especially given his fame and the recent events of that year?
I began trawling the internet and books on John Coleman without success. My next port of call was searching the newspaper archives at the State Library Victoria (SLV).
In a hard copy edition of the Border Mail 6th October 1951, I won the research equivalent of 1st Division in lotto. I found an advertisement and an article for the game and not only was John Coleman listed to play but also Bill Hutchison and Alan Dale (Essendon), Alan Ruthven (Fitzroy), Charlie Sutton (Footscray), Kevin Curran (Hawthorn) and Ted Jarrod (North Melbourne). What a side! I quickly turned to the Monday edition to see the photographs of these legends wearing our club colours. It was disappointing to discover that there were no photographs, just a two paragraph report of the game.
Big Crowd Sees Coleman At Albury
‘North Albury combine defeated Freighters (Melbourne Federal League) by 17 points at Albury sportsground on Saturday. Gate takings were £144.
Champion Melbourne goal kicker John Coleman got five goals for the visitors, and repeatedly drew the applause of the crowd for breath-taking leaps.
Final scores were North Albury 17.26 (128), Freighters 17.9 (111).
Best Players Freighters : Hutchison (Ess), Reeves (Nth M), Coleman, Sheppard, Tilley and Reid.
I grabbed the Moorabbin News and located the Freighters Club notes by ‘H.C.J’. in the edition issued the week after the game.
Freighters Club (By “H.C.J.”)
The Federal District League received a great boost when Freighters played Nth Albury football team during our visit to Albury last week-end. Our club was very fortunate in securing four league players, namely John Coleman, Bill Hutchison, Alan Dale and John Reeves. These players gave the game a great kick, and were a great attraction to the crowd that witnessed the game.
The marketeers’ of the game were obviously making sure a good crowd rolled through the gate with the extra star players notes in the Border Mail article and the advertisement. Still, the Freighters team contained three Essendon premiership players and John Reeves who played in North Melbourne’s losing 1950 grand final team which would have made for a more than handy side. Unfortunately, we returned Alan Dale back to Essendon slightly damaged, he received a nasty knock and suffered two broken ribs during the game.
So who was the greatest forward to every play for Heatherton?