Wilfred Arthur Smallhorn
Wilfred 'Chicken' Smallhorn
25 February 1911
Place of birth
Fitzroy North, VIC (3068)
27 November 1988 (aged 77)
Place of death
Heidelberg, VIC (3084)
Age at first & last AFL game
First game: 19y 88d
Last game: 29y 83d
Height and weight
Height: 173 cm
Weight: 65 kg
State of origin
Wal Smallhorn (Uncle)
|Club||League||Career span||Games||Goals||Avg||Win %||AKI||AHB||AMK||BV|
Pre 1965 stats are for selected matches only
Wilfred 'Chicken' Smallhorn's proudest footballing achievement was not playing senior football for Fitzroy, nor even winning the 1933 Brownlow Medal. Rather, it was his role in helping to establish and umpire the famed Changi league, a scratch competition in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.
Smallhorn was a 'guest' of the Japanese for three years, but it was during the first year in captivity in 1942 that he and several of his comrades oversaw an endeavour in which his fellow Australian prisoners regularly amused and amazed their guards by willingly submitting their fatigued, underfed and often ill bodies to the self-inflicted 'torture' of a two-hour game of Australian football. As far as the men were concerned, however, the boost to morale gleaned from this activity far outweighed any negative physical impact. As for Smallhorn himself, he was too ill to play, but he gave his all in umpiring the torrid encounters.
Recruited from Collingwood Technical School, Smallhorn made his VFL debut with Fitzroy in 1930. Built like a stick man in a Lowry painting, he had a long, loping stride which carried him over the ground at a deceptively expeditious pace. He was also adept at extracting the ball from the tightest of packs and making use of it intelligently. Moreover, the nickname 'Chicken' assuredly had nothing to do with his disposition or demeanour.
Despite the fact that he played in losing sides for most of his 11-season, 150-game VFL career, Smallhorn regularly caught the eyes of the umpires when Brownlow votes were apportioned. Winner of the award - the real one, that is - in 1933, he finished among the top 10 vote getters on another four occasions. When you consider that one of his teammates for much of his career was arguably the greatest vote magnet in the history of the game, Haydn Bunton senior, the accomplishment becomes even more impressive.
Smallhorn played for most of his career as a wingman, in which position he also represented the VFL. His failure to win a Fitzroy best-and-fairest award might seem baffling until one realises that the club only made such an award on two occasions during the 1930s.
Author - John Devaney and Adam Cardosi