Anyone out there holding an AFL Retro?

The winner of the Norm Smith medal usually doubles up with an AFL premiership winner’s medal. After three gut-busting hours, only flag-winning adrenaline could allow Mr Norm to lump half a stone of metal around his neck on the lap of honour.


I say this because I have recently worn a Jock McHale medal for a premiership coach. A rough bathroom scales on-and-off calculation revealed the gong to have weighed no less than 1.7 kilos (close on 4 pounds ‘in the old measure’) of sterling silver. As befits the League’s elite status, no 3-ounce tin trophies that fall immediately off a cheap Bakelite base for the AFL. No siree, Andrew…leave those trinkets to indoor cricket comps (or indeed,Melbourne’s old North Suburban CA, circa 1981).


My brief fantasy as an AFL flag coach came courtesy of my neighbour, Graeme Fullarton, as we watched his beloved Swans struggle over the line against Fremantle on Easter Saturday. Graeme is the grand-nephew of the captain-coach of the very firstSouth Melbourneteam to win a flag in the old VFL in 1909, Charlie Ricketts. In fact, Graeme’s long association with the Swans began in the company of same-said Charlie Ricketts in 1948, when the old coach took him along as a 12-year-old to watch home games at South’s Lakeside Oval.


Ricketts, scurvy or leprosy?

In some ways, it was fortunate for South Melbourne FC that Ricketts maintained his involvement with the club for so long. During his playing days as a rover and coach, his relationship with South’s committee was fractious. After shading Carlton by two points (4.14 to 4.12) to land the old Bloods their first flag in the newish VFL, Ricketts’ reward was to get the bullet as coach before the 1910 season (shades of Jezza Mark I at Carlton). Two years later, Charlie R was reinstated as coach, and yet again got South into the grand final, going down by 14 points to Essendon (5.17 to 4.5) – whereupon the committee promptly dumped him (against the players’ wishes) for a second time!


Not surprisingly, Ricketts walked out, and returned to his original club atRichmond, where he had starred in its 1905 VFA premiership team before crossing to South in the big league. After four years as the (now VFL) Tigers’ coach were ended by service in World War I, Charlie returned for two more years to coach St Kilda from 1920. Perhaps, after his career ended – and certainly after the Pratt/Nash glory days faded – both Ricketts andSouth Melbourne’s later administrators may have come to better appreciate how hard it was for him to have won a VFL flag in 1909. (As an aside, no first-year coach prior to Ricketts had landed the big prize after the old VFL began in 1897, and just 12 other rookie tacticians have managed to do so in the 102 years since; Chris Scott with Geelong last year was the first instance for some decades.)


Tracking them down

How Graeme recently came into possession of the AFL’s medal to commemorate Charlie Ricketts’ flag leads on to another story, to which Almanackers can contribute.


According to its citation letter to Graeme, in recent years the Demetriou regime has determined to mint medals that retrospectively commemorate the achievements of all award winners in the AFL and its VFL predecessor competition back to 1897. Quite a job, you’d think.


Remember that, while the Brownlow medal dates from 1924, premiership players’ medals were only awarded much more recently (from 1977, I think). Wayne Harmes won the first Norm Smith medal in 1979; the Coleman medal dates from 1980; and Leigh Matthews collected the first Jock McHale medal as recently as 2001.


There is no problem establishing the identity of retrospective winners of the last two awards – the season’s leading goalkicker and coach of each premiership team are recorded officially. The AFL has a semantic issue with the names of these awards: before John Coleman’s retirement as a player, its medal officially honours the Leading Goalkicker up to 1954; likewise, premiership coaches up to 1949 (such as Charlie Ricketts in 1909) are not strictly McHale medalists, but rather Premiership Coach Medalists. (So there … But I think we’ll stick with Coleman and McHale – or, generically, Retros.)


Even so, tracking down the appropriate recipient for these awards must be a tedious business. Graeme Fullarton’s case is probably typical. When the AFL contacted Tony Morwood, the Swans’Melbourneoffice manager, it became apparent that no direct descendant of Charlie Ricketts could be awarded safe-keeping of his medal. It then fell to one of Morwood’s offsiders, Barb Cullen – who is charged with preserving the Swans’ history through its Infinity Club – to establish that Elizabeth Moore, the younger sister of Ricketts’ wife Cissy, had married into the Fullarton family over a century ago. This new trail then led, two generations down the road, to Graeme as today’s nearest appropriate recipient of the 1909 McHale.


Graeme intends that the Ricketts medal become part of a permanent Swans historical collection, similar to that recently opened to preserve Fitzroy’s history by the Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium inMelbourne. In the event that the Swans ever folds as an organisation, Graeme would seek assurances that the medal revert to the possession of his own descendants. Given that Graeme Fullarton now has grandchildren of his own, it’s easy to see how tangled the paths of inheritance can be for AFL/VFL medals that date back before World War I.


Working them out

Establishing the appropriate winners, let alone recipients, of other retrospective AFL medals must be horrendous. Over what now amounts to 115 seasons, there must have been nearly 2,000 past premiership players (let alone runners-up, should the League ever revive the concept of a PeterMooremedal). And whilst there might only be 27 ‘Pre-Brownlows’ to award, is there an agreed method for establishing those winners?


And what of the Norm Smith medal? I know that in recent grand final editions of the Record, the AFL has tried to backdate this concept a decade or two before 1979, but it must become very murky water prior to the introduction of TV in 1956. As Graeme speculated when we discussed this, perhaps we could aggregate all of the old newspaper best-player list to zero in on these awards. That would be (depending on the year): the Age, Argus, Herald, Sun, Sporting Globe, and Truth… OK, I’m sure I’ve overlooked some old papers. Please enlighten us, usual suspects.


However, if the AFL successfully tracked down Graeme, it must have already handed out many Retros already. If any Almanac readers know of relatives, friends or neighbours who have recently come into possession of such an AFL gong – or, better still, who believe that they are the rightful inheritors of one not yet awarded – we might have the makings of a fascinating series.


About Tony Roberts

Favourites list: Food: whatever I cook; Drink: whatever my doctor allows; Music: refer 'Soul Time' (pres. Vince 'The Prince' Peach 3PBS-FM, plus Soul Au Go Go at The Laundry, first Saturday each month); Movie: love that Cinema Nova discount card!; TV show: call me Don Draper, if you like (or David Brent, if not); Footy teams: Melbourne Victory (summer), Coolangatta, AFLQ (hols), Brisbane Lions (forever), Western Bulldogs (for now); Player: refer 2009 Footy Almanac Round 18 (WB V Freo); Pet: Ferdy (JRT - as per previous reference)


  1. Skip of Skipton says

    A mate of mine from Bannockburn is the custodian of what is believed to be the oldest known artefact/memorabilia of the Port Adelaide FC. It is a silver tea set presented to his (great?)-great-grandfather, Tom Smith, B&F winner in 1878.
    Port flew him and the tea-set over there for their Team of the Century dinner, and also for some other occasion. He’s done quite well out of it.

  2. John Harms says

    I agree Tony, it’s remarakble what is out there – people, memories, artefacts. It would be good to hear of any stories.

    The AFL throws a lot of money at a lot of things but they haven’t quite worked out the importance of their history. If they had they would have appointed an historian. Col Hutchinson does a terrific job but he is more of an archivist and record-keeper. Those of us involved in footy research know that Col offers fantastic assistance (and enthusiasm for your task and inquiry). His role would not change, but an historian would offer so much.

    Even looking through the lens of commerce (the preferred lens at AFL House) the benefit would far outweigh the cost.

  3. 1984 John.

    History sometimes is deliberately lost. About a decade or so the Tasmanian Government had the opportunity to buy the entire records of The Van Diemans Land Company for a bit over a million dollars. It would have had some very confronting info regarding decisions made in the early to mid 19th century.

    It eventually went to three overseas buyers and has been suitably split and conveniently compromising it’s integrity. What you don’t know wont hurt you.

    Instead the Government put a 20 (plus) million road through an extremely sensitive and valuable natural system. The road is almost impassable most times.

    I hope the AFL fully understands what is there and it’s legitimacy – warts and all – rather than what is to Big Brother’s taste.

    Personally I would rather they big bickies on maintaining something that is uniquely Antipodean rather than trying to get a preseason match in the red centre (of Mars)

  4. Interesting piece Tony, and I’d love to know the bizarre circumstances behind Charlie Ricketts treatment by the Bloods.

    Any chance a retrospective 1980 Escort Cup for CFC?

  5. Thanks Tony. I love Australia’s rich and colourful history, and footy is a rich seam to mine.
    Phantom’s comments about “embarassing history and lost documents” reminded me of this pearl from Yes Minister:
    James Hacker: How am I going to explain the missing documents to “The Mail”?
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, this is what we normally do in circumstnces like these.
    James Hacker: [reads memo] This file contains the complete set of papers, except for a number of secret documents, a few others which are part of still active files, some correspondence lost in the floods of 1967…
    James Hacker: Was 1967 a particularly bad winter?
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: No, a marvellous winter. We lost no end of embarrassing files.
    James Hacker: [reads] Some records which went astray in the move to London and others when the War Office was incorporated in the Ministry of Defence, and the normal withdrawal of papers whose publication could give grounds for an action for libel or breach of confidence or cause embarrassment to friendly governments.
    James Hacker: That’s pretty comprehensive. How many does that normally leave for them to look at?
    James Hacker: How many does it actually leave? About a hundred?… Fifty?… Ten?… Five?… Four?… Three?… Two?… One?… *Zero?*
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes, Minister.

  6. Gordon Ricketts says

    Hello Tony, I read with fascination your piece about Charle Ricketts and Graeme Fullarton. I am also Charlie’s grand nephew, via Charlie’s older brother Arthur, my grandfather. Arthur died in 1957 when I was 2, but my father Herb Ricketts (Arthur’s only son) was a dedicated South Melbourne and Swans supporter, season ticket holder at the SCG for many years until he died in 2001, here just north of Sydney. He spoke many times with pride of his uncle Charlie’s feats on the field and as a coach.

    I would love to contact Graeme in some way, maybe you could mention that to him. I too am a Swans supporter, not quite so dedicated but this piece of yours has stirred some positive emotion in me !!

  7. Graeme Fullarton says

    My name is Graeme Fullarton and i womder if Graeme Fullarton can contact me or has he passed away. I live im Sweden now but i used to live in Melbourne for 8 years. My email is [email protected] it would be much appreciated.

    Graeme Fullarton

Leave a Comment