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70 years on: Coleman debut

John Coleman tribute We pay tribute to Essendon legend John Coleman on the 70th anniversary of his debut, in which he kicked 12 goals.

It’s been 70 years to this day since one of the most remarkable events in the history of the Essendon Football Club.

It was round one in 1949 at Windy Hill and approximately 13,500 people attended the heart of Essendon to see what all of the fuss was about with this new bloke wearing number 10.

By the end of the day, the Bombers’ latest debutant had already etched his name into league history. John Coleman, 12 goals.

It had been a long build up for Coleman ahead of his VFL debut, training with the club for two years but never breaking through for a senior game.

Instead, the forward spent his Saturdays playing for Hastings in the Mornington Peninsula League, booting an astonishing 296 goals in 37 games – a lazy eight goals per match.

Having been starved of any opportunities over that period, there was little doubt that Coleman would be keen to grasp the chance with both hands when finally selected to run out onto the ground in the red and black.

He certainly did that.

Coleman immediately displayed why he would become of the most talented and athletic players to ever grace the sport, booting five goals in the opening term against Hawthorn.

Seven more goals to finish off the game solidified his place in footy folklore – the greatest goalkicking debut of all time.

He became an overnight sensation and those who were lucky enough to witness the astonishing performance recall the haste at which people threw a one and a zero on the back of their woollen guernseys.

Coleman soars for a textbook mark. (Image: GSP Images)

It was far from a fluke, either, with Coleman quickly establishing himself as the best forward the game had seen.

His first season would see him become the first player to kick 100 goals in a first season as he claimed the VFL’s leading goalkicker award, the club’s best and fairest, a fourth-place finish in the Brownlow Medal and, most importantly, a premiership.

120 goals in his second season helped the Bombers secure their second flag in a row before a controversial suspension arguably cost the side its third on the trot.

The high-leaping superstar refused to slow down, kicking 532 goals in his first 97 games, including a club record 14 in round seven, 1954.

Young fans crowd around Coleman on the bench. (Image: GSP Images)

But a week later, Coleman would play for the very last time.

With five goals already to his name, the legendary Bomber suffered a dislocated knee, prematurely ending his career at his peak, just 25 years old.

Attempts to return to the game unfortunately proved fruitless, however Coleman had already left an eternal mark on the game.

He proudly led Essendon as coach to two more premierships in 1962 and 1965 before sadly passing away due to coronary atheroma in 1973.

Coleman’s legacy well and truly lives on. The league’s leading goalkicker award was renamed the John Coleman Medal in 1981 and Bombers Ron Evans (twice), Ted Fordham and Matthew Lloyd (three times) have proudly claimed the award since.

Matthew Lloyd holds the 2003 John Coleman Medal. (Image: GSP Images)

Ranked second in the club’s Champions of Essendon list from 2002, Coleman was also named at full-forward in both the club’s and the league’s Team of the Century.

An inaugural inductee into the Australian Football Hall of Fame and official Legend of the Game, Coleman will live on immortalised in bronze outside the MCG and in the great memories and stories of his incredible career.

98 games
537 goals (5.48 goals per game)
2 x premiership player (1949, 1950)
5 x VFL leading goalkicker (1949-1953)
6 x Essendon leading goalkicker (1949-1954)
Essendon best and fairest (1949)
4 x Victorian representative (1949-1951, 1953)
All Australian (1953)
2 x premiership coach (1962, 1965)
Victorian coach (1965)
AFL Team of the Century
Essendon Team of the Century
Australian Football Hall of Fame Legend
#2 Champion of Essendon