Going Scarlett with Rage

I can’t take it anymore.
This has been bubbling inside me for a number of years.
The tipping point almost came a few weeks back, and the breaking point has now been reached.
I’ve heard one too many comments regarding one full back, and way too many of another. In differing ways
On the first day of this current month, Martin Blake wrote the following in regards to couple of prominent AFL backmen:
“Fletcher is widely regarded as Essendon’s best ever full back; Scarlett has a claim to be the greatest full back of all time”
Now Blake is a fine journo, and, judging by his tweets in April this year, not a bad golfer either. I’m sure that when he wrote this sentence, he did it with the same level of care with which he completed his Augusta scorecard. So this clearly wasn’t a slip of the keyboard.
The first part of the sentence is spot on. Fletch has Essendon Team of the Century Full Back (voted ’97) Fred Baring covered, and he clearly surpasses Billy Duckworth (who, according to the 1985 Grand Final commentary by Peter Landy, had his ute ‘double parked out the back’) and Tony ‘Harden Up’ Daniher.
The second part of the sentence, however, is the one that makes my blood boil and stokes further the flaming fallacy which has been allowed to flare within the wider AFL community.
Let me begin by taking you back to 1993….
Tony ‘Godra’ Modra was taking all before him early in the season. After 8 rounds (missing only one game), Mods had kicked bags of 10, 6, 6, 5, 7, 5 and 10 (along with 3 Brownlow votes) against the ladder-leading, Pagan-inspired, Mick-Martyn-at-full-back Kangaroos.
In round 9, the Crows travelled to Melbourne to play the 8th-placed Bombers. When Mods went to the goalsquare at the G that day, he was met by an 18 year old playing his 5th ever game. That 18 year old had already played school footy that year.
By the end of that round 9 clash, the afore-mentioned teenager had kept Godra to a season-low of 3 goals, and earned himself the first of 62 Brownlow votes (thus far). The ‘Gadget Arms’ were in full flight that day, as Fletch repeated spoiled Mods’ attempts at mark of the year.
I’m not sure what Matthew Scarlett was doing on on the 22nd May, 1993. That’s probably because he was 13 years old.
By the end of the ’93 season, Fletch was a premiership full-back. Admittedly, he was soundly beaten by Sticks Kernahan, but still, not a bad effort for someone about to sit their VCE.
Over the remainder of the decade, Fletch lined up on Lockett, Dunstall, Ablett. Sumich, Richardson and so on and so forth.
By the end of millenium, with The Bombers having thrown away a chance at a Grand Final after finishing the season on top, Fletch had played 128 games and was recognised as one of the finest full backs in the competition.
In 2000, both Fletch and the Bombers took their games to another level. The side won the flag after losing only one game for the year (which Geelong folk would know ain’t that easy) and Fletch dominated. In the greatest single season by a team in history, and with the side averaging 128 points per game, Fletch won the Best and Fairest.
At the end of the season, Fletch had played 151 games, won two flags, won a B&F in a premiership team, won All Australian selection and earned 31 Brownlow votes (Jason Blake will tell you they don’t grow on trees).
Matthew Scarlett was 21, had played 27 games, and was growing his hair until Geelong won a flag….and everybody laughed.
In 2001, the Bombers made the Grand Final, only to run out of puff (ala Pies ’11). 3 Grand Finals for Fletch. More hair for Scarlett.
As the 2002-06 years went by, Fletch performed as he always did and along the way he crashed through the 200-game barrier. Down in Corio, Scarlett was becoming a defender with a robust reputation and his young side was following suit. In 2004, the Cats knocked the Bombers out of the finals and into a few seasons of mediocrity. In 03 and 04, Scarlett was All-Australian.
In 2007, The Cats took all before them and won the flag by a record margin. Scarlett was incredible. His dash from full back consistently opened the game up for the Cats and his dare typified that of his team. I’m not sure who his actual opponent was in that match, but footy had become a different game.
Oh, and in the same year….Dustin Fletcher was All Australian.
The Cat/Scarlett years would continue, with a GF appearance in 08, and flags in 09 and 11. Scarlett would be All Australian in all of their Grand Final years.
Fletch just kept doing his thing…..and doing it well.
Now it’s 2012 and Fletch is holding together a backline which is bound for the top 4. Ol’ Scarface is plugging gaps here and there and the Cats are on the wane.
Would a 2012 or 2013 Grand Final appearance change the mind of the footy community? Will Fletch no longer be so easily dismissed?
I hope so

About Andrew Else

Andrew has self-reported to this site as a lifetime Essendon supporter. He also played local footy for Lara and Melbourne Uni Blacks.


  1. Michael Parker says

    Some sound points there Andrew I didnt realise Fletcher was B&F in 2000. I believe winning a Best and Fairest in a premiership year is one of the best individual awards a player can achieve. The usual knock on Fletch is that in the latter part of his career he hasn’t played on most of the best key forwards. But really, over the last 5 years or so Scarlett hasn’t really either. Both super players but I would still go for Stephen Silvagni if we had to pick a G.O.A.T

  2. Both absolute elite defenders. Fletcher has played to an incredibly consistent high standard for 20 years straight – not one bad season.

  3. pamela sherpa says

    Fletch certainly has had an amazing career – it would be great for him to finish it off as it began -with a flag.

  4. DBalassone says

    No doubt Fletcher is an absolute superstar at being third man up, last-second lunging, diving, smothering, etc. but quite simply the best full back has to be able to stop the best full forward from kicking goals – and Fletcher did not do that – he had too many bags kicked against him, also good-average full-forwards such as Sav Rocca used to regularly out-mark him and kick bags on him (whether he was playing for Collingwood or North), where as Rocca struggled to get a kick on SOS and Scarlett, etc.

    Also Scarlett is much more creative and precise with the ball in his hands.

    For me the best full-back in the comp at the moment is Glass, while the best full-back of all time is Langford. Ask any of the champion full-forwards of the 80s and 90s and they cite Langford as the best. I’m not sure why he has been forgotten in this debate. SOS was no doubt a champion, but he stretched the rules with his wrestling – he was really just a larger version of Micky Gayfer. SOS was also an ordinary kick.

  5. When Silvagni was voted Fullback of the Century, i was livid. Ashley McIntosh made more clearances by foot,kept more clean sheets,took more marks,laid more tackles and made less fuss.I still remember a tackle he laid on Tony Lockett at Subi, when we were 5 rows back and still heard Plugger hitting the ground.
    A shorter career,maybe, but the best all-round fullback I’ve seen.His sprint was the best and an overhead mark as good as any

  6. Andrew Starkie says

    Great piece. Some really good points.

    Both are great players. I have always thought Scarlett has been protected for much of his career, given the second or even third forward, enabling him to be released. However, he did play on Buddy in the 08 GF which surprised me. He has had bags kicked on him as well. I remember David Hale kicking 9(?) on him at the Cattery a few years ago and J Brown getting four or five in a quarter at the Gabba. Bottlom line, FB is a tough gig.

    I’ve always felt fullbacks have been under appreciated. And like Greg, couldn’t believed SOS was named FBOTC. I actually thought it was a typo. Maybe the selectors were wanting to include a current player. SOS was one of the most protected players in the game and with three central umpires today, would struggle.

    A long-term BLue said to me recently, and he’s seen them all, there have been two better Carl FBs than SOS. Southby and …. bugger,… can’t recall the second one. Can anyone help? Seriously.

    As a Roo, of course, I felt Denchy was ripped off. YOungest ever premiership capt who revolutionised the game with his attacking style. And of course, Mighty Micky. Wasn’t beaten very often.

    And I loved Perty. Tough as. Brennan at WCE.

  7. First up Silvagni is the full-back of the Century… so deal with it (ergo, he’s also the best at Carlton).

    And that’s as rational as I get.

    I hate Essendon and everything it represents (I find it hard not to extend my hatred for all things Essendon the football team to Essendon the suburb… i.e. I would never by a car from Essendon Nissan).

    So for me, Fletch’s ‘thing’ is to stick his legs out and trip his opponent.

  8. Andrew Starkie says

    i worked in a Carlton supporting Italian restaurant while doing my dip ed years ago. One night, i made a casual derogatory comment about SOS. Could’ve heard a pin drop. Gulp.

    Craig, he spent his career hanging off his opponent.

  9. By hanging off you mean outmaneuvering…

  10. Andrew Starkie says

    you’re becoming a very angry man. must we all have to go through your mid life crisis? can’t you do it quietly?

  11. Silvagni as fullback of the century was the most glaring selection error in that team. How he is rated ahead of players like Kelvin Moore, David Dench, has always stumped me. He was a very versatile player, who could kick bags of goals at full forward, as a full back he was good, but not the best of the century. In the time i have watched VFL/AFL, since 1969, Scarlett stands out as clearly the best full back. Not just for beating his opponents, but sucesfully starting attacks from defence. His reading of the play, his leadership skills, and his overall ability is second to none. He stands alone in my opinion of greats, the best full back i have seen.


  12. Lord Bogan says

    Peter McCormack anyone?

    Agree Andrew, would like to have seen Scarlett play on Lockett, Dunstall and Carey pre-hands in the back and flooding.

  13. Mark Doyle says

    These discussions are always subjective and make for good pub banter. My opinion is that the best three fullbacks of the past 45 odd years are Geoff Southby, David Dench and Matthew Scarlett. Other good fullbacks for this period are blokes such Dick Clay, Kelvin Moore, Gary Malarkey, Chris Langford, Paul Weston, Alistair Lynch (at Fitzroy), Michael Brennan, Stephen Silvagni, Leo Barry, Dustin Fletcher, Darren Glass and Brian Lake.

  14. Rick Kane says

    Kelvin Moore, Chris Langford, Chris Mew and Les Kaine, all great Full Backs in their own right and have served their nation with pride and honour when called upon. If I had to step outside the light and nominate one backman from recent times, apart from Scarlett (who I would surely like to have seen wear the mighty Brown and Gold) it would be Mal Michael. A great reader of the play, ball and man.


  15. Andrew, looks like the commentary here reinforces your argument that Fletch is under appreciated. I’ve got no problem with most of those “great” fullbacks mentioned by all above but the fact remains that the only time Fletcher has been mentioned (other than Pamela) has been to ridicule him. The days of playing on your man from beginning to end finished years ago so the star defenders are those who can get to the most contests, postion themselves best, organise the rest of the defense and make the best decisions once they have the ball. Fletcher is a freak at all the above and again I repeat he’s been doing it consistently for 20 years!!

  16. Andrew Else says

    Thanks for all the comments.

    I deliberately left SOS out of the piece. Not just because you could take Litza’s first comment, and replace ‘Essendon’ with ‘Carlton’ in every instance, but because I’m actually pretty comfortable with him being considered a great of the game. Having said that, a hardcore Blues fan at work (Marco from Brunswick) tells me that Silvagni was garbage at kicking out from full back. Is this correct? I realise that doesn’t mean much these days, but until fairly recently that was one of the pre-requisites of the job, (and one that Fletch still excels in)

    I can’t have DBala’s comment about Scarlett being more creative with the ball. Many times Fletch has streamed out of defence, and, knowing he was on the wrong side, would hit a target 40m away on the wing using a checkside/banana. If Steve Johnson did that, we’d be hearing about it for a month. I don’t remember Scarlett being too creative pre-07. I agree with the Glass comment though – especially considering he has been captain from back there.

    I agree with Greg’s call re: McIntosh. He was a super player and stopper. Could take a mark too. I also agree that Langford probably doesn’t get the right level of recognition.

    Spot on Budge. 20 years. Twenty. Years.

  17. Andrew,
    I’m a Blues’ supporter, and I’d endorse your work-mate’s assessment (with qualifications). SOS’ kick outs (kick-ins) could fall away if he misfired with one. I’ve seen him mis-kick to an opponent and concede a soft goal, and then struggle with the subsequent kicks back into play.

    I don’t wish to buy into the debate, because most of the players mentioned have their legitimate claims, and the point about the changed nature of the position is important. I certainly recall Dench thirty-five years ago, doing what posters are applauding Scarlett and Fletcher for, with attacks from full-back, when there was much less cover from structured defences.

    Geoff Southby certainly ranks highly, but I think he was never the same player after his encounter with Neil Balme in the 1973 GF. He won the B& F in his first two seasons the second of which was a premiership year, and I agree with Michael Parker, that’s a very high compliment to a player – especially in sides as star-studded as Essendon 2000 and Carlton 1972. I also rate Chris Langford as a great player in a consistently powerful team.

  18. Toe Poke of Skipton says

    I sympathise with your sentiment, but would have Scarlett any day. Any serious Geelong supporter will tell you that Scarlett has been the keystone and most important player in that team for the past ten seasons. His opponent in the 07 GF was Westhoff, which must have counted against him when the Norm Smith votes were being considered.

  19. In all seriousness, Fletcher does have my begrudging respect… that really hurt to type.

  20. DBalassone says

    Nah, I’ve got to disagree with that again; Scarlett is much more precise and creative with his disposal than Fletcher. Fletcher butchers the ball too much, where as Scarlett rarely misses a target and follows up down the ground beautifully with the one-two plays which surge the Cats into attack. Fletcher is not known for having such precise disposal under pressure – although he can let go of a great torp occasionally.

  21. Jeff Dowsing says

    Any player that chalks up 20 years at the highest level is a freak.

    That said, for much of Fletch’s career I wouldn’t regard him a full back in the traditional sense. Playing on the gun forward has never been his forte but he has certainly been used in a smart way that makes the most of his attributes.

    No-one has mentioned Presti but if I was to name a key defender I’d want to stop the opposition’s star target if my life depended on it, then #35 was the man.

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