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Our Comeback Hero: Ken Fraser

BTV: Comeback Hero; Ken Fraser Our Comeback Hero for Round 9 is 1965 Premiership Captain, Ken Fraser.

At each home game this season, Essendon will celebrate a Comeback Hero – a former champion who overcame adversity to deliver many happy moments for the Essendon faithful. For this Sunday's match against West Coast, Our Comeback Hero is 1965 Premiership Captain, Ken Fraser.

Ken Fraser grew up just a torpedo punt from the forward line he would later roam at Windy Hill. “When the wind was blowing in the right direction, you could nearly hear the roar of the crowd,” he remembers.

And with those cheers, so began an association with Essendon that continues to this day.

Fraser can remember watching Essendon play in the 1947 Grand Final, when he was just seven years old. By the time he was 11, he’d seen the Club play in another five deciders.

“I had a wonderful childhood barracking for Essendon,” Fraser said. “We had champions like triple Brownlow Medallist Dick Reynolds, two-time Brownlow Medallist Bill Hutchison and John Coleman who was just superb.”

Fraser also appreciated the efforts of Bob McClure, a member of the navy who became a three-time premiership ruckman. “He was a big, tall bloke and he loved taking high marks, so ‘Bluey’ was my favourite,” Fraser said.

Heroes became teammates when Fraser arrived at the Club as a player in 1958. Reynolds was Coach and Jack Clarke led a team featuring many star players. “These blokes were good footballers so we were never languishing down the bottom, we were always close to the finals, if not in the final four,” Fraser said.

Fraser sampled his first Grand Final in his second season when the Bombers fell short against Melbourne, as so many sides had down around that time. Essendon returned to the Grand Final stage in 1962 under John Coleman and this time the side was celebrating, as the Bombers beat Carlton.

Fraser won the best and fairest in 1963 and 1964, before he was appointed Captain for the 1965 season.

“Clarkey [Jack Clarke] had been Captain since ’58 and he wanted to do extra study for his architecture,” Fraser said. “He felt he couldn’t get to training as often as he wanted, or, if he did get to training he would be late because of his university lectures.

“He was about 28 or 29 and thought he’d had a good run so he decided for the sake of the team that he’d relinquish the captaincy.

“I didn’t covet it (the captaincy). I loved football and I loved the blokes I played with and I was confident in my ability to win the ball pretty frequently as it came into the forward line. I was fairly positive and enjoyed the company of people and maybe they’re the leadership qualities I had.”

In Fraser’s first year as Captain, the Bombers finished the home and away season in fourth spot, securing the last of the finals spots. After a comprehensive semi final win against Geelong, Fraser’s Bombers faced off against Collingwood for a spot in the Grand Final. The match would be remembered for one of the most infamous incidents in the game’s history, when John Somerville was felled behind play. Some players wanted instant retribution but Fraser encouraged them to remain calm. They did and the Bombers went on to win by 55 points.

The Dons would have to defeat St Kilda if Fraser was to end his first season as Captain with a premiership cup in his keeping. The Saints had been the form team, finishing the home and away season a game clear on top of the ladder.

But after an even first half in which both sides missed opportunities in front of goal, the Bombers took control. At three quarter time the margin was 37 points and when the final siren rang the Bombers were in front by 35 points. Fraser was now a premiership Captain.

“It was one of the highlights of my life to be fortunate enough to be the Captain of a premiership side,” he said. “There is no doubt winning a premiership cements a great relationship with all of the blokes you played with in those years. It’s a real achievement to win a premiership; they are hard to come by. I feel very fortunate … and we certainly enjoy everyone’s company when we meet up.”

Fraser celebrates the premiership win in 1965.

Fraser retired at the end of the 1968 season. He played 198 games for the Bombers. He was named in the Club’s Team of the Century and ranked number seven on the Champions of Essendon list, behind Dick Reynolds, John Coleman, James Hird, Bill Hutchison, Simon Madden and Tim Watson.

“I’m very proud of the football club, it has been a huge part of my life,” Fraser said. “I was privileged to play for them and also privileged to be an assistant coach for five or six years and then on the Board to make vital decisions, such as moving from Windy Hill to the MCG.”

Fraser worked as a school teacher and he and wife Shirley had two sons, Mark and Darren. Mark played 110 games for Collingwood and Essendon, before becoming an AFL umpire. Ken says Mark got his pace from his mother who was a champion hockey player. “She was faster and fitter than me when I was in the peak of my football career,” Ken said. Darren also spent time in the AFL.

Ken and Shirley always encouraged their sons sporting pursuits. They understood the value of team sport and the friendships that could stem from it.

Fraser still catches up with his premiership teammates regularly. He says they do it ‘to remind each other how good they were’. In Fraser’s case, there is no need for embellishment. He was, and always will be, a Champion of Essendon.

The Board of Directors, Players and Staff of the Essendon Football Club wish to extend their sincere condolences to Ken Fraser on the recent passing of his beloved wife Shirley.

Ken Fraser: Career statistics

Played 1958-1968
Games 198
Goals 156
Premiership player 1962,1965
Grand Final appearances 1959,1962,1965
Finals played -14
EFC Captain 1965-1968 (72 games)
EFC Vice Captain 1964
EFC Best & Fairest 1963,1964
Top 5 EFC best & fairest finishes 1963,1964, 1965
Top 5 Brownlow medal finishes -1962,1964-1965
Career Brownlow votes
Victoria Rep. 1959-60, 1962, 1964-1966 Vic Captain 1966