Almanac Life: Sporting Heroes 1954

Sporting Heroes 1954


By Allan Grant


As the year 1954 began this little boy at four years of age began his long love affair with Australian sport and the amazing human beings who stood out larger than life in my mind.


My memories of 1954 are very clear. St Kilda football club dominated my sporting life but as I explore my memories of sporting heroes of the era the Saints will take a bit of a back seat for once.


In 1954 a huge range of sports were on my radar and cricket was certainly at the forefront.


Neil Harvey and Lindsay Hassett at the end of his career were certainly heroes both Victorians I might add.


I was a keen fan of the Victorian Sheffield Shield team, my number one players were the Harvey brothers Neil and Ray and the Maddocks boys Len and Dick. I don’t know why. I think the idea of brothers playing sport together was of great interest to me.  I was consumed with the performance of the mighty Vics at both ends of summer in 53/54. I can’t say that I remember just how well they performed. To get to the mighty G with my dad to see them in action was enough.


I can’t say that my memories of Australian cricket are burning brightly in 1954, Victorians yes but not Test cricket just yet. I had a lot of sport on my mind the step up to Australian cricket was a year or two away.


In 1954 the Empire games were held in Vancouver, a city I knew nothing about, but as my uncle on Dad’s side Jack Boase was a pro-athlete I had a keen interest in athletics.  1954 was a stellar year for Australian athletics.


Hector (Hec) Hogan held the World Record for the 100 metres and 100yds sprint.


John Landy had captivated me in his quest to break 4 minutes for the mile, I had been devastated when Roger Bannister beat him to it, but Landy broke Bannister’s world record soon after. I just remember how excited we all were when that news came through.


Marjorie Jackson was a favourite in our household and her performances through 1954 were all outstanding at her favourite distance 200 Metres  or 220 yds.


Another great Australian runner of the era was Kevin Gosper who won the 440 yds at Vancouver. The games were fascinating to this young boy. We relied on the radio and newspapers for news of the events. I learned to read from the back pages of newspapers and of course that glorious newspaper the Sporting Globe which I read every word on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.


Two other heroes emerged in swimming at the Empire Games. It was a sport that didn’t get a lot of coverage except when major events were on but Lorraine Crapp and John Hendricks were stars at the games and my love affair with swimming began at that point. It was to continue over so many years and so much success.


I didn’t know a lot about golf but my uncle Jack Kennedy was friends with a guy called Peter Thompson . Jack was a good cricketer but not a golfer so any time I met Peter Thompson as a child the main topic was cricket. I just remember our family getting very happy as Peter won the British open in 1954. Now golf was firmly on my radar.


At the same time a man from Queensland Ken Rosewall was taking the tennis world by storm. I have never been to this day a great lover of tennis but Rosewall stood out as something special in 1954.


All my uncles were keen race goers so as a little boy I went with various uncles and even neighbors to most of Victoria’s racetracks city and country, My favourite jockey was Neville Sellwood a great rider and genial human being. I remember wandering around the stables behind the course probably at Flemington and him taking time to have a conversation with me. I never forgot it or him.


My first favourite horse was the great Rising Fast. Who could forget his two wins in 1954 the Caulfield and Melbourne cup. I was lucky enough to draw him in my Aunty May’s sweep and won a few shillings a fortune for a 5 yr old.


We lived in St Kilda and my parents liked car racing so we went to Albert Park to watch them race. I loved reading about Jack Brabham and just the experience of watching him race. Stirling Moss became a favourite as well. I was fascinated by his wonderful name.He became another all star from my year in 1954. Of course Brabham rose to great heights in his field. It is a great feeling to know that even though I was only 5 I was there at the start.


My all time love is AFL or VFL football as it was known then. The Saints were hopeless in 1954 but I went to every game with my Dad. I accepted the ability of all the other teams and just loved the players. I knew the names and numbers of all players in every side in the VFL. It became a bit of a family thing for relatives, friends and visitors who came to our house to try and trip me up. I’m sure I was wrong once or twice but not often.


In 1954 the great Roy Wright won the Brownlow medal, I saw him at least twice that year and with my tendency to read the back pages of all the newspapers and devour the Sporting Globe I guess it was no surprise to me that he won the Brownlow. A magnificent player and according to all the adults I knew he was a genuinely nice human being.


Footscray won the Grand Final. They were my grandfather’s team and as he lived with us a lot of excitement occurred in the house as a result. I didn’t particularly like Charlie Sutton because to me he was a bit rough but two players at Footscray I really liked. Ted Whitten and Jack Collins were both special players and I totally respected their ability.


As 1954 came to an end I turned my head towards Australian cricket and began to learn more about the game.


Cycling was also to come onto my radar as I fell in love with the great Russell Mockridge. I cried when he was killed in an accident a year or so later.


More heroes to come!


Children and Sport what a great mix. Such a wonderful education!!



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  1. Ta Allan, this reads well.

    1954’s a few years before my arrival. My mum came down from Corowa then. She did her midwifery training at Western General Hospital that year, the year of Footscray’s first flag. She barracked for them until her death in March 2016.

    In the boxing ring Elley Benett and Pran Mikus were both good pugs from around that time. Sadly Dave Sands had died not long prior, though Tony Madigan was on his way up.

    1954 seemed to be ending on a good note for our cricketers, a big victory at the Gabba. Then a fiery typhoon came down from the Northern hemisphere to blow the baggy greens away.

    Keep up the good work.


  2. Colin Ritchie says

    I know all those names you mentioned Allan, some great sporting heroes there. I was born in 1950 but I don’t really remember a lot of 1954. I do remember dad telling me he saw Footscray win the premiership and that he loved Teddy Whitten. It wasn’t until I was a few years older that I really got to know and fully appreciate who these people were. Lindsay Hassett sold me a cricket bat in 1968/69 (?)..

  3. Allan Grant says

    Glen and Colin. Thanks for your comments. My father was a sports nut, so although I was only 5 I had clear memories probably reinforced as I got older. Unfortunately Glen Boxing really didn’t come to my attention until 1956 with Tony Madigan. I remember going to MSD as a kid. Meeting Lindsay Hassett a highlight. Glen your reference to the Typhoon will get more prominence in my memories of 1955 to come.

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