Retrospective Norm Smith Medals?



In 2001 a book on the Rolling Stones was published called ‘Old Gods Almost Dead’, and while Mick ‘n’ Keef and co defy age, in Melbourne our Gods of 50s, 60s and 70s football are facing mortality.


The nostalgia of the 50th anniversary celebrations of St Kilda’s 1966 Premiership this week brings review of the golden era into focus. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the first television era of the of VFL footy was what took the popularity of the game to a new level. An era that centres on the 60s but also takes in parts of the 50s and 70s,  when footy went to TV and became Melbourne’s Hollywood.


At that time, a standard highlight of today’s AFL where the best player on its ultimate day is crowned with the Norm Smith Medal, was still in the future.


That’s a bit sad, the Norm Smith Medal is arguably second only to the Brownlow Medal in individual honours treasured by fans– some would say it’s a greater award than the Brownlow for players. None of the old gods have one. Neither those who dramatically rose to the occasion on the big day and are unknown to future generations.


Some years back the Footy Record completed an exercise where a panel of judges watched Grand Finals back and voted to hypothetically determine who would be the ‘lost’ Norm Smith Medal winners. It was a fascinating piece that alluded to the prospect of giving retrospective Norm Smith Medals, just like the AFL had previously done with Brownlow Medals won on countback, and Coleman Medals prior to the award being instituted. Interestingly the NRL did something similar some years back.


While acknowledging the difficulty of retrospectively making subjective judgements on things, that’s not really the point. Whether a player wins a medal or not and how its determined (for example newspaper reports of the day, best players as listed in the historical AFL season guide) is not so much the issue – it’s the speculation, discussion, recognition and sheer celebration it would cause for players and supporters alike. There wouldn’t be sour grapes for place-getters with time passed, the formula is not something that should get in the way.


For argument’s sake the medal might be awarded from Norm Smith’s first Grand Final as a coach – 1954. Between 1954-1978 (the Norm Smith Medal was first awarded in 1979) 10 of the 12 VFL teams won Premierships, these being the ten remaining Victorian clubs.  It would figure that those ten clubs would have something significant to celebrate if they were awarded.


Remember that for half of these ten clubs it’s been twenty years and a generation since they’ve celebrated anything of this magnitude. For three of them it’s been 50+ years.

And remember we’ve now got a week to fill in between the final round and the finals to celebrate the game.


The possibilities around crowning’s of careers are mouth-watering for footy tragics.


One of the ultimate cult-heroes and one of the game’s most intriguing figures might be on the podium for three Norm Smiths in this period. Brent Crosswell is sadly not a name known by today’s generation. A Norm Smith would change that. It’s a campaign Martin Flanagan has launched before.


Crosswell’s teammate Brian Kekovich might not win the Norm Smith in 1968, but the story of somebody who kicked 4 out of his team’s 7 goals in a winning Grand Final, and then at 22 never played another Senior VFL game because of a back injury, would come to the surface. He might even become better known than the guy from the lamb ads.


Bulldogs and Saints supporters might have something tangible to add to their singular glorious moments; would it be Jack Collins seven goals or the unheralded (and not the Governor-General) John Kerr with 32 possessions in 1954? Would Ian Stewart add to his Brownlows, would it be Ian Cooper or would it be the Cowboy in 1966?



Ted Whitten, Ron Barassi, Kevin Bartlett, Royce Hart, Leigh Matthews, Wayne Schimmelbusch, Don Scott, Alex Jesaulenko, John Nicholls and many other legendary figures never won a Brownlow, but all would be contenders for these Norm Smith Medals at one time or another in that time span.


The Barassi story might be the most compelling reason yet. The AFL’s statistical history lists Barassi as best afield in two winning Grand Final teams (1957, 1959). In his twilight years, would it not be the be the ultimate honour for footy’s most legendary living figure to receive an award celebrating his finest hours as a player? An award named after his coach, mentor and surrogate father figure, with all the family back-story, 60 years in the making?


Nostalgia in footy shouldn’t be derided as living in the past, it’s a celebration of the game and something that ‘Open Mike’ and Peter Dickson’s excellent Grand Final doco series has kept alive in recent years. The thoughts of those that match the TV era footage need to be captured or we’ll forever regret it. Just how we feel when we look back and seethat honours earned haven’t been recognised.


We should recognise Grand Final performances past with Norm Smith Medals, and we should do it soon – because the old gods are almost gone.


  1. Citrus Bob says

    Brendan Edwards (1961) one of the finest individual GF performances I have ever seen.

  2. 1963 Polly Farmer.

    Cheers, Burkie

  3. Good piece, Burkie. Agree re Polly. Great performance in 63 GF as per his entire, albeit short, career. Changed the game while playing it as it should be played.

  4. Gerard S says

    Agree on Brendan Edwards. Clearly BOG in 61.
    John Hendrie in 76.
    Dipper or Plough in 78?

  5. Steve Hodder says

    Nah, can’t come out at it. I didn’t think much of the retrospective Brownlows and Colemans and I’m as underwhelmed by this idea. Retrospective medals seem to ring hollow.

    Dipper was a touch better in ’78 but Wallace played many a great finals match


  6. A well-argued piece, Shannon.
    But, for me, there is something about the retrospective awarding of medals and prizes which rings slightly hollow for me.
    For example, I thought it ridiculous that North Melbourne saw fit to add two players to their team of the century some years after the team was selected.

  7. charlie brown says

    not a fan of retrospective medals but think that this piece is a great thought provoker. would the same player have won the hypothetical medals in 1977 grand final (version 1 and version 2)?

  8. Perhaps there could be a retrospective retrieval of some medals? Can think of a couple of Brownlows – supposedly earned by the best and fairest in the league – awarded to consistently dirty players.

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