Fred Fanning had a comparatively brief league career but managed one feat that will take some beating. During his final season with Melbourne in 1947 he kicked an all time VFL record tally of 18 goals against St Kilda. He ended the season with a league ladder-topping 97 goals, his best ever return, but the following year he accepted the post of playing-coach at Victorian country team Hamilton, which had offered him nearly three times as much money per match as he was getting in the VFL. Thus, at the age of just twenty-five, his league football career was over (see footnote 1).
That career had begun in 1940 when, in a handful of senior appearances, which included the winning grand final against Richmond, he showed signs of developing into an admirable foil for full forward Norm Smith. At 193cm and 102kg, Fanning was something of a man mountain, and once he had set his sights on the ball there were few opposition players capable of impeding him. He was surprisingly quick over the ground, possessed huge hands which gripped the ball like a vice, and had a gravity-defying leap that enabled him to get sufficiently high in the air as to, in effect, add a good metre to his height.
Unfortunately for Melbourne and Fanning, however, cartilage problems prevented his resuming in 1941, and when he did return the following year he took time to re-discover his touch. Nevertheless, with 37 goals he topped the Redlegs' list for the first of five occasions, and in 1943 he did even better, kicking 62 goals to finish just one adrift of the league's leading goal kicker, Dick Harris of Richmond.
Fanning went on to top the league list himself on three occasions, with 87 goals in 1944, 67 in 1945 and, as noted above, 97 in his final season. He spent much of the 1946 season away from the goal front, but still managed 56 goals for the year.
Fred Fanning's 104 VFL games yielded a total of 411 goals, but his contribution to the club cause went much further than that. In 1945, for example, he won Melbourne's best and fairest award, and far from being 'goal hungry', his fundamental approach to the game was classically team-orientated, with his robust and sturdy frame frequently being brought to bear in the self-sacrificial service of team mates.
He might not have been pretty to watch, but he was demonstrably and consistently effective, and his premature departure left the league football scene the poorer.
Author - John Devaney