Goalkicking legend John Coleman

Goalkicking legend John Coleman
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Sixty years after the career of one of Australian Rules football's greatest players came to a sudden end, rare footage of Essendon champion John Coleman has been re-discovered, preserved and released by the NFSA. This silent colour 16mm film of action at the Melbourne Cricket Ground from the 1953 Victorian Football League (VFL) First Semi Final between Footscray and Essendon features the forward contesting marks against perhaps his toughest opponent, Footscray Full Back Herb Henderson.

The footage commences with an Essendon-supporting child wrapping up his guernsey for another season. Then follows both teams entering the ground with a blink and you'll miss Coleman, as vice-captain, leading the Bombers out on the ground through the banner.

Captain Bill Hutchison, enters last through a team guard of honour in recognition of his Brownlow Medal victory, won earlier in the week. Then the action commences as the two teams battle out a hard fought close, low scoring contest marred by the nearly 100kph gale force winds which made conditions particularly difficult for marking forwards.

Despite kicking an early goal in the first quarter (not captured on film), Coleman's poor physical state, combined with the heavy wind and pitted against arguably his toughest opponent, Footscray/Western Bulldogs Team of The Century Fullback Herb Henderson, would see him held goalless for the rest of the game. A shadow of his usual energetic self, The Argus' match report would describe Coleman's appearance as "ashen and gaunt [and] palpably unfit". It is with some sad irony that this unearthed film captures Coleman's worst performance of the 1953 season.

Coleman aside, the discovery of the reel is also memorable for Footscray/Western Bulldogs supporters. Having lost all 6 of their previous final's appearances since their first in 1938, the Bulldogs, lead by charismatic captain Charlie Sutton, would taste their first finals victory on this day, winning the low scoring contest by 8 points, 6 13 49 to 5 11 41.

Several passages of play feature young Bulldogs recruit and future 'Mr Football' Ted Whitten (wearing his famous no. 3) and in what might be considered in today's football parlance a 'gang tackle', Sutton (no. 6) and defender Angus Abbey (no. 30) win a free kick in bringing down speedy Essendon winger Lance Mann. The resultant play leads to Bulldog Lionel "Nappy" Ollington (no. 8) -- the legendary 'two-up' proponent - kicking towards the Footscray forward line, upon which the film abruptly ends.

Notes by Simon Smith