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Fred Goldsmith in Retrospect


It’s almost three years ago that Fred Goldsmith, the 1955 Brownlow Medallist, passed away in 2017. He was a great football character who played in an age of great football characters – Ted Whitten, Bob Davis, Jack Dyer, Lou Richards, Ron Barassi, Bob Skilton, Charlie Sutton and the like. His memorial in football will be that he was the only full-back to win the Brownlow Medal, a feat which now seems never to be repeated.


He grew up in Spotswood with a love of the game. It was in the post-war years that a young Fred would go to training at Williamstown where former VFL champs Ron Todd and “Soapy” Vallence were playing. One night Vallence was having goal-kicking practice and said to Fred, “Do you have a football young fella?” to which Fred replied, “No”, because nobody had a football in those days. “Soapy” told Fred to go behind the fence where he was having his goal-kicking practice. The ball went over the fence and Fred grabbed the ball and took off on his bike. Later, “Soapy” asked him if he got the ball and, after Fred replied, “Yes”, he said, “Sing out when you need another one.”


Fred Goldsmith played with Spotswood and kicked 140 goals in the Under 18s. He was residentially bound to South Melbourne. One day the South Melbourne Secretary knocked on his door and asked him where Billy Gunn lived. Fred said he lived around the corner and was his best mate. Fred and the secretary drove around to Bill’s house where he told Bill that they wanted him to play for South Melbourne. Gunn’s reply was “rubbish”. The secretary told Billy they wanted him to sign a Form Four. Bill said that if Fred signs he would. The secretary told Fred that there was a pair of socks if he got Bill to sign. He did and Bill was given a jumper. No brown paper bags in those days. Bill Gunn was Fred’s captain in 1955 when he won the Brownlow.


Fred’s next door neighbour, when he was young, was Charlie Sutton, later captain-coach of the Footscray Premiership team of 1955. Ironically, in 1952, Fred played his fifth game against Charlie and was taught a valuable lesson.


“I was 11 stone playing playing full-forward and Charlie was in the back pocket. He came up to me and said ‘good on you, Fred, good to see you’ve made it. How are your Mum and Dad and your sisters?’”


As he walked away he said, “I’ll see you after the game.”


Fred thought, “I’m pretty sweet with this bloke.”


At the first bounce, the ball came into the South Melbourne forward line and head down, Fred led out. He didn’t look up and the next minute he woke up with the head trainer putting smelling salts under his nose. “One minute he was asking about Mum and Dad, and next minute he’s running straight through me.”


Later, Charlie told Fred that he hoped he had taught him a valuable lesson which was to always look up.


Nevertheless, his career took a long time to develop. In 1951, he played three games as an eighteen-year-old and eight in 1952. He considered going back to Yarraville to play with his mates when Herbie Matthews, the South Melbourne coach and 1940 Brownlow Medallist, suggested he be tried at full-back because he reckoned Fred was a good mark and kick. He played through 1953, 1954 and 1955, all at full-back.


In 1955, Fred had an excellent season, having run third in the Sporting Globe Award, but didn’t really give himself a chance of winning the Brownlow Medal. He didn’t listen to the count, which was reported on the radio but, instead, was playing snooker at the Eastern Hill Fire Station. His game was disturbed by Norman Banks of 3AW who told him, “They’ve just called the two and three votes and they’re about to call the one votes. You’re leading with 19 and the nearest to you is Bill Hutchison with 12. You should be listening.” At the time, he thought it was one of his mates playing a joke on him, but he soon realised the call was genuine. However, he was supposed to be working until 1.00 pm. Soon the media arrived at the Fire Station. He got to 21 votes and was leading Bill Hutchison by one when the last vote was read out.


The Chief Officer allowed him to end his shift and go home to see his parents. Of course, the media followed him all the way home to Williamstown. Later, he celebrated at the Lake Oval with his football and work mates. Unlike today, Fred didn’t receive his medal until a month later at the South Melbourne Town Hall.


After 1955, he never played full-back again but returned to the full-forward position. He was third in the 1956 South goal-kicking, in 1957 he kicked 43 goals to be the top goalkicker and, in 1957, finished second. In that year he kicked a career-best nine goals against Richmond.


In 1960, at 27 years of age, he became captain-coach of Albury Football Club in the Ovens and Murray League, remaining there until 1965. He completed his career by playing with Port Melbourne in 1966.


When asked who was the best full-forward he ever played on, he said John Coleman who he played on twice with Coleman kicking three goals in each game. He also had great respect for Jack Collins with whom he grew up.


He loved the recognition which the Brownlow Medal gave him and, in particular, the annual invitation to attend the Brownlow Medal count. One of his most precious possessions was a photo of him and the surviving South Melbourne/Sydney Brownlow Medallists, taken at the Brownlow Medal count.


Fred always had a smile on his face and never forgot his old South Melbourne mates, particularly Bill Gunn. I visited him in 2007 and he told me how impressed he was with young Callan Ward, Bill Gunn’s grandson, who was playing for the Western Jets in the TAC. Callan went on to captain GWS and become a great AFL player.


The AFL does not have characters such as Fred these days and we are worse off for it.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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  1. Richard, thanks for this offering which I enjoyed. It’s interesting to hear of significant players from other eras and about their take on some of the things that happened to them along the way.



  3. Interesting the connection between ‘Fireman Fred’ and ‘Soapy’ Vallence. The old bloke that used to live next door to me in Willi told me how ‘Soapy’ Vallence used to work on Saturday mornings and would then catch the train to Williamstown station when it was a home game and then walk over to the Terminus Hotel with his gladstone bag and have two quick pots before the game. A young Fred Goldsmith would wait for “Soapy’ outside the pub and then carry his bag and walk with him up to the ground, no doubt having some animated conversations. Ahhhh, those were the days ….

  4. Things were so different then. A pair of socks!

  5. Thanks Richard. Freddie Goldsmith was indeed one of my favourite South players, along with Ronny Clegg and the one and only Bobby Skilton. I saw all of Fred’s games for South, at Lake Oval and away, and, as a child, simply loved him!

  6. Michael Crawford says

    Grand Final Day 2005. My sister was working at the Hilton Hotel opposite the MCG and had come to know Fred as he was a regular attendee for a pre-game drink in the Match Day Bar before Swans games at the G. She told me to come early which I did, and she introduced me to Fred. He didn’t know me from a bar of soap, but knowing I was a Swans supporter, he was keen to share his excitement and anticipation of the day ahead. A real gentleman and a character. I didn’t see him again that day, but knowing what the premiership win meant to people like Fred made that victory so much sweeter.




  8. Tony Hargreaves says

    Maybe Charlie Sutton led Footscray to the 1954 Premiership?

    Saw Fred Goldsmith (along with Ron Clegg; Jim Taylor; Mick Sibun et al) play with South Melbourne on a number of occasions when I was young.

    He was a very talented “natural” footballer – a great reader of the play and very clean with his hands and a wonderful kick.

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