I haven’t been to the “G” yet to catch up with the new John Coleman statue, but when I do it will bring back many memories of this great footballer and memories of a time late in the 1951 season when he was rubbed out,  costing Essendon a certain flag.

I am one of those lucky ones who watched this absolute champion play for the Dons. Every home game at the Essendon Footy Ground my family would take their seats directly behind the goals, a travel rug spread out on the wooden planks, thermos and sandwiches in the big carry bag. The same Essendon supporters would be our neighbours at the ground each week and much discussion was had about the week’s team, who was in, who was out and who deserved to be in. Sometimes we would get “secret” information about players who were neighbours or friends of these supporters. How I wished that we had Essendon footballers who were neighbours, but Mum and Dad moved from Essendon to North Caulfield a few years before I was born, so no luck there.

We were a tightly knit bunch of Dons barrackers who cheered for our team. We would always shout encouragement for our number 10 hero as he jogged down to the goal square. We only had words derision and scorn for the opposing teams full back. I can remember Vic Chanter for Fitzroy, Jack Hamilton of Collingwood, Jock McCorkell of North  and Bruce Morrison of Geelong. None of them could hold a candle to John Coleman. They would try to bump him and tackle him before the ball was anywhere near the forward line. The resting ruck man and  it seemed all the opposing back men would run towards where Coleman was, but it was all in vain. He would sprint into a space and mark or he would somehow spring “Phoenix” like, head and shoulders above these perplexed backmen to mark. And it used to happen four or five times a game. This great champion footballer was unstoppable taking spectacular mark after spectacular mark and finishing it off with goals.

The Dons had won the flag in 1949 and 1950 with John Coleman as full forward and thing looked good for 1951. We were playing great footy in the latter part of the season. On the last home and home game we played Carlton who had a resting ruckman/backman called H Caspar. This person decided to have a private war with Coleman and according to the scribes of the day did a lot of very unpleasant things to our champion from the first bounce. Just before half time Coleman retaliated for the first time, and was reported immediately.

This incident set the footy world on fire, especially in the Oaten household. And it got worse, a lot worse when the Tribunal gave the both footballers four weeks suspension. This had no effect on Carlton as they were not in the final four, the consequences for the Dons was catastrophic. Mum who was a red hot Don barracker seethed, Dad who was a bit milder was very unhappy. My brother and I couldn’t believe this could happen to our footy team. Conspiracy theories ran rampart in the house. Who was paid? Who paid them? Was the League involved? We were convinced there were dark forces involved.

The Dons made it to the Grand Final  with inspirational wins in the first semi and preliminary final, made even better because it was without our great champion.  Alas in the the big game we we went down by eleven points.   Dad who died at the grand old age of ninety six about seven weeks ago was adamant that Essendon would have won if John Coleman had played.  We were discussing the new statue at the “G” and the” infamous incident.” a few weeks before he died.  It just seemed like yesterday as we reminisced together.  Ironically Geelong’s full forward on that day was George Goninon, who was cleared by the Dons to Geelong earlier that season, because he couldn’t get a game at full forward. On Grand Final day he kicked four for Geelong.  Essendon’s stand in full forward was Keith McDonald a good honest footballer who kicked two goals.  Alas he was no John Coleman. But then again there has never been another John Coleman.

by Rod Oaten


From the editor…

Coleman fans may not know about a new e-book written by Doug Ackerley. To find out more contact the author Doug, himself: [email protected]


Coleman cover



  1. Rod
    My father played for North in the 50 GF I have Video of the game high lights and J Coleman was prominent Great player

  2. Great stuff Rod. My Mum and Dad came across from Adelaide on the train for their honeymoon in 1953. They stayed in Healesville. They met a Melbourne couple (the Ferguson’s) from Melbourne who were also on their honeymoon. They became life long friends. Neil Fergie was a ‘mad’ South Melbourne supporter (he was ‘mad’ for many things but that is another story).
    They took Fergie’s car to Windy Hill just to see Coleman play. I reckon my Mum was in love with Coleman. He was so dashing and handsome.
    My Dad is 82 and still playing golf. Whenever I quiz him about the best footballers he has seen he always say Coleman in the VFL; and his beloved Bob Hank (West Torrens) in the SANFL.
    No matter how much I push him about Whitten, Skilton, Matthews, Ablett, Carey etc etc – he just always looks at me and just says “Coleman – like Bradman he was just that much better than every other player of his era. He played in a different league.”

  3. Neil Anderson says

    Great to read about a champion of that era. Just before my time by a couple of years but I can imagine all the kids from Essendon wearing the famous number ten just like we wore number three in Footscray a few years later.
    Fortunately we could see EJ in action for about eighteen years whereas Coleman’s career was so short. But what a great few years for Essendon supporters being in the finals regularly and having the champion goal-kicker.
    Of course he was one of the good-guys whose career was brief but spectacular and he died too young.
    The photo of him leaving the tribunal distressed after his suspension in 1951 said it all as he realized he wouldn’t be playing in the grand-final, knowing his team depended on him so much.

  4. Peter Fuller says

    Thank you for this reminiscence. You certainly are fortunate to have seen the great man in action; because he pre-dated television – particularly in its more preseverable forms – he is a blank page to most of us, and can only be captured by the spoken word memories and still pictures (Tony Robb’s valuable post, notwithstanding).
    In spite of my passionate hostility to the Bombers, I reckon you probably should have won six in a row, as my Blues’ lucky 1947 win, the draw against Melbourne in 1948, and the Coleman suspension in 1951 marked three GFs which turned on a knife-edge.

  5. ROD: like you, I also saw Coleman play.
    I’m a lifelong Geelong fan who 1st saw the (then) Pivotonians play way back in 1949.
    At Kardinia Park. Not Skilled Stadium or whatever ridiculous name it goes under now.
    And women’s basketball [later named netball] was played in the 50s on those courts near the Latrobe Terrace entrance to the ground.

    As a journo I have written and broadcast a few times on my all-time Greats of the VFL/AFL. Coleman is the No. 1 for me, ahead of Gazza snr., E.J., Carey, Skilts, Kevin Murray, Dougie Wade and a few others.
    And yes, Bruce Morrison was our great full-back of the Coleman era. He was fortunate to have the 1951 Brownlow Medallist Bernie Smith alongside him in the back pocket. Bernie was completely one-dimensional, though. No left foot on ol’ Bern. Everything on the right boot or off the side of the aforesaid right boot.
    Bruce would try and punch the ball clear of Coleman for Bernie to pick up and clear.
    But John was such a terrific mark, off 1 or 2 steps, it was more often than not an air punch!

    Yep, we won the ’51 grannie by a cuppla kicks. I was there as a junior secondary schoolboy. In the old Southern Stand.
    Dickie Reynolds ran onto the G as the 20th man in the last term.
    Desperate measure. Didn’t matter. We were always going to win.
    And by the way Georgie Goninon won the VFL goal kicking in 1951. Final finishing positions — Goninon 86 snags. Coleman 75, Eddie Hart (Fitzroy) 65, O’Rourke (Rich) 58 and Jock Spencer (North Melb) 57.
    Bernie Smith, as mentioned, won the Brownlow from Ron Clegg (South) and Bill Hutchison (Ess).
    So Geelong won flag/medal/goalkicking all in the one season. Only ever done once before. Magpies in 1929 (def. Richmond in granny, Gordon Coventry 124 goals, Albert Collier Brownlow).
    And never been repeated since !!

  6. Stab Punt Jim says

    George Goninon kicked the most Goals in the season of 1951 including the final series. The John Coleman Medal is awarded yearly to the Australian Football League player who kicks the most goals in home-and-away matches in that year. So John Coleman won the medal.
    The great Peter McKenna of Collingwood is the AFL’s first John Coleman Medal Full Forward to predominantly kick the drop punt as his set shot for goal.
    See. Almanac History: George Goninon and the “punt drop” kick
    Jim Johnson creator of the Stab Punt presents research evidence of George Goninon’s use of a Drop Punt in his success at goal kicking.

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