Beginning with the establishment in 1995 of the Australian Football Hall of Fame, numerous states, leagues, and clubs have set up their own Halls to honour past players, coaches, and officials. We are creating a section that will showcase all of these institutions and those inducted into their ranks.
Selection decisions about who is in and, by extension, who is out, are always hotly debated, and no more so back in 1996 when the first inductees of the AFL-created Australian Football Hall of Fame were announced. In an essay written shortly after that announcement, South Australian football historian Bernard Whimpress vented his frustration at the perceived Victorian bias of the selection. While the intervening years have seen many of the names mentioned eventually gain selection, the central tenet of the Whimpress thesis - that the HOF is Victorian-centric and does not weigh the contributions of other states on a sound proportional [per capita] basis - still holds true today. We reproduce that article below.
This article is reproduced with acknowledgement to the Victorian Bulletin of Sport and Culture in whose June 1996 edition it was originally published.
‘I am mad as hell and I just can’t take it any more’ was the famous line delivered by the Peter Finch character in the film Network twenty years ago and it describes how I felt when I noted the selections for the Australian Football Hall of Fame announced at the launch of the Australian Football League’s so-called centenary season at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 8 February. I am mad as hell for two main reasons: The abuse of history as it relates to football; and the continuing monopoly of the ‘Australian’ game by Victoria.
As far as the AFL’s centenary is concerned it isn’t. The AFL is six years old. The Victorian Football League was formed in 1896 after the Victorian Football Association grand final of that year. The first VFL season was 1897. Astute followers of Australian football know that the AFL is nothing but an expanded VFL so perhaps the ‘centenary’ is an admission of this, that the VFL didn’t die in 1990 after all. Beyond all this there is a perception that the game is 100 years old.
Australian football dates back to 1858 but the Hall of Fame announcements are a celebration of Victorian Rules rather than the Australian game with mere lip service paid in the direction of the other states.
While I congratulate the inductees it is a shame that the process of sifting historical evidence led to an imbalance of selections due to the fact that with the exception of myself no one trained as an historian appears to have been engaged on the task.
Those who sat on the AFL Hall of Fame selection committee were John Kennedy (AFL Commission, former leading VFL coach, chair), Peter Allen (AFL Players’ Association), Kevin Bartlett (former Richmond hero), Max Basheer (South Australian National Football League president), Percy Beames (former chief football writer for the Age), Geoff Christian (former chief football writer of the West Australian), Mike Sheahan (chief football writer for the Herald-Sun), Harry Gordon (former journalist, sports editor, sports historian), Lou Richards (former Collingwood hero and football broadcaster), Caroline Wilson (journalist and broadcaster), Joan Kirner (former Victorian premier), Tom Reynolds MP (Victorian Minister for Sport and Recreation) and Mark Patterson (AFL administration) as committee secretary.
There is no denying there was a wealth of football knowledge on the thirteen strong committee but I had two concerns. First, while the committee consisted of former players, journalists, lawyers and politicians, only one person – Harry Gordon – could make any claim to being a historian. Second, only two members were from outside Victoria. I am not suggesting that historians have a monopoly on historical memory but in a task such as this they are the best qualified to assess the respective merits of nominees, especially when there are many differences in conditions across eras. Let me give some examples.
Counting medals and awards is one way of assessing champions but these did not begin at the same time. While South Australia introduced the Magarey Medal for its best and fairest winner in 1898 Victoria’s Brownlow Medal was not awarded until 1924. Club best and fairest winners also did not generally begin until the 1910s and in some clubs not until the 1920s.
Counting representative games can be a stumbling block. In the nineteenth century leading players might only play ten games for their club in a season. Thereafter, and if we examine just the South Australian Football League this rose to 12 (1900s), 14 (1920s), 17 (1930s), edged up to 20 (1960s) but could be as high as 30 when knock-out competitions were included in the late 1970s. Where legendary triple Magarey Medallist Dan Moriarty played 98 games in seven seasons in the 1920s someone fifty years later could reach 200 games.
The term ‘coach’ also requires historical analysis. It meant little in Australian football before the 1930s with the captain often fulfilling the coaching role. Thus when measuring ‘coaching’ success by way of premierships leading captains like Jack Reedman (8 premierships – South Adelaide 6, North Adelaide 2) plus one as designated coach of West Adelaide need to be included. Effectively he coached nine premiership sides.
The inaugural Selection Committee met on 8 June 1995 and the outcome of this meeting was a letter to the various state associations outlining the role of a Hall of Fame and the criteria for the selection of inductees. In brief, the letter suggested the Hall of Fame would recognise champion players, coaches, umpires, administrators and members of the media who have been major contributors to Australian football during its history. The inductees were to be judged on the basis of their overall contribution to the game. The letter also stated:
It was important to ensure that the Committee considered applications from inductees from all States and Territories and from all Australian Football competitions within Australia.
Among other matters concerned with induction was the suggestion that no more than 100 candidates should be enshrined with no more than 85 being players, 10 umpires, 10 coaches, 10 administrators and five media representatives. It was also suggested that between two and 10 inductees should come from the years 1858-1900, 10-30 in the period 1901-30, 15-30 between 1931-60 and 15-30 in the period 1961-92.
Eligibility was to be based on the following factors:
+A candidate’s individual record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and overall contribution to the game of Australian football;
+Players having been retired for a period of three complete years prior to election;
+Coaches, umpires, media representatives and administrators having been retired at the time of election; and
+Members of the selection committee can be eligible but must exempt themselves from voting on their admission.
These conditions sounded fair enough but I wondered to what extent all states and all Australian football competitions would be considered.
My involvement came about in September 1995 when I was asked to join a South Australian National Football League sub-committee to present our state’s nominations. Other members consisted of Max Basheer (SANFL president), Leigh Whicker (SANFL general manager), Bob Lee (former National Football League president) and Bob Hank (dual Magarey Medallist).
One of my recommendations was that to avoid the Victorian bias that I feared was that of the original 100 nominees for the Hall of Fame 50 should come Victoria and the rest from Western Australia (20), South Australia (20) and Tasmania (10). Possibly some of those in the WA, SA and Tas lists might also have played in Victoria.
I also suggested that players who made a contribution in more than one state should not be overlooked and gave the examples of Hugh Cumberland, ‘Snowy’ Hamilton, Roy Cazaly, Laurie Nash, Haydn Bunton snr, Haydn Bunton jnr, Malcolm Blight, Graham Farmer, Barry Cable, Darrell Baldock, Peter Hudson and Bernie Smith. Looking ahead I would want Stephen Kernahan and John Platten’s South Australian deeds to be kept in mind.
How did we fare?
Of South Australians nominated for induction we got 18 out of 29 in all categories and while that might sound reasonable it deserves closer analysis. Only nine players – John ‘Bunny’ Daly, Jack Reedman, Tom MacKenzie, Dan Moriarty, ‘Wacka’ Scott, Lindsay Head, Bob Quinn, Russell Ebert and Barrie Robran played substantially in South Australia. Hugh Cumberland played only three years with Sturt out of a total of 27 years, the bulk was in Victoria. Bernie Smith undoubtedly won his selection for his exploits with Geelong and Malcolm Blight more for his contributions to North Melbourne than what he achieved in South Australia. Even Len Fitzgerald, whose three Magarey Medals with Sturt made him an automatic selection, played almost half his career with Collingwood and Victorian country teams.
The overall effect of this is that of the 100 players in the AFL Hall of Fame only nine South Australians and three Western Australians are included outside of those who also played in Victoria. No Tasmanians have been chosen strictly on performances within their own state.
What particularly sticks in my craw are some of those who missed out: Tom Leahy, Bruce McGregor, Ken Farmer, Bob Hank, Neil Kerley, Peter Darley and Rick Davies failed to get their guernseys as players; Bob McLean as a player/administrator; and Frank Marlow as an administrator from this state.
Of this group, leaving out Leahy, Farmer and Kerley strikes me as ludicrous and the three are worth discussing in some length.
Tom Leahy was widely regarded in his day (and for many years afterwards) as the leading ruckman in Australia of the first quarter of this century. In South Australia (at least) he was the ‘Mr Football’ of his time, and he lost several years to World War I. He was a leading player with West Adelaide from 1905-09, and particularly when West won successive premierships in 1908-09, and the Championship of Australia in 1908. Leahy continued with North Adelaide from 1910-21, was three times best and fairest winner, and captained the club’s 1921 premiership team. He was Magarey Medallist in 1913 and runner-up on three other occasions (1908, 1909 and 1911). He coached Norwood to two premierships in 1922-23. Leahy was also a South Australian stalwart, playing in four Carnivals (1908, 1911, 1914 and 1921) and 31 interstate matches where he invariably held his own against the best Victorian big men.
Ken Farmer is Australian football’s most consistent full-forward who in a thirteen-year career between 1929-41 kicked 100 goals each season apart from his first and last. Indeed, so prolific was he that he was given the title ‘Football’s Bradman’. In 224 games for North Adelaide he kicked 1417 goals including 23 goals 6 behinds in one match against West Torrens on 6 July 1940. For South Australia Farmer also booted a creditable 71 goals in 17 games. Farmer captained North for five years and coached the club for four years including two premierships in 1949 and 1952. He also coached South Australia. Obvious errors of historical judgement are being made when Farmer is omitted and other forwards such as Doug Wade and Bernie Quinlan included.
Finally, we come to the omission of Neil Kerley, the ‘King’ of South Australian football from the 1950s through the 1980s and very much the SA equivalent of Ron Barassi. Like Barassi many supporters followed Kerley whenever he changed clubs from West Adelaide to South Adelaide to Glenelg in his playing days, then to West Torrens, West Adelaide, Central District and back to West Adelaide in his years as non-playing coach. Kerley was an inspiring player-leader and his 1961 premiership with West Adelaide and feat of raising South Adelaide from bottom to top in 1964 were two of his most remarkable wins. He won West’s best and fairest trophy four times and was runner-up in the Magarey Medal with South in 1965. At interstate level Kerley was also an inspirational performer. State captain from 1959-62, All-Australian vice-captain in 1961, he was a member of South Australian sides which crushed Victoria by large margins in 1960 and 1965, and went on to coach the state with distinction between 1967 and 1980. At the forefront of these interstate campaigns one sensed that Kerley was driven by hate for Victorians. By leaving him off this list not only Kerley but South Australian football has been kicked squarely in the guts. Our only consolation is that we have done better than Western Australia and Tasmania who probably didn’t have any historian pushing their claims.
Plainly, the Victorians are running the game as they always have. Of the 100 players in the Hall of Fame 88 either came from Victoria or played substantial parts of their career there. Of the ten coaches, six are from Victoria, and two each from South Australia and Western Australia. Of the ten administrators, eight are Victorian. Of the ten umpires, eight are Victorian. Of the six media representatives, all are Victorian. Of the twelve players singled out for highest honours as Legends of the game, all are Victorians. Lou Richards might be a Victorian treasure but he has been telling South Australians for forty years that we are a second-rate football state. This list confirms it. It also confirms that outside Victoria the rest of Australia can’t play football, can’t organise it, and can’t report on it.
Ross Oakley was quoted as saying that he will seek federal and state government support to build a Hall of Fame Museum in Yarra Park. The idea should appeal to Jeff Kennett who enjoys the prospect of making Melbourne the centre of the universe but should be given a wide berth by the federal government while such historical judgements are made.
If one needs reminding that the AFL hardly stands for Australian Football League read the definition/redirection on page 10 of Ken Piesse’s "The Complete Guide to Australian Football", published in 1993. It says ‘See Victoria’.