In the illustrious shadows of Fred Fanning

December 23, 2022 by
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history 

Fred Fanning

Nigel Dawe

For the past few months, I’ve been meaning to draft up a tribute piece to commemorate the 75th anniversary of a feat that may never be beaten, let alone ever remotely challenged.

I’m of course referring to Fred Fanning’s haul of 18 goals, 1 behind in the last round (30th August) of 1947, a game that would also be his last (at 25-years of age) for the Melbourne Demons.

Fittingly, a movie released in the very same month of that very same year was called ‘Brute Force’ and starred an equally young ‘take no prisoners’ Burt Lancaster.

Another omen of sorts just one month prior to Fred Fanning’s final round goal feast against the Saints, was something equally otherworldly in the form of what’s become known as the Roswell Incident, in which debris of not just a UFO spacecraft was found, but allegedly the bodies of its alien pilots as well.

Relatedly, I have a number of framed pictures of Melbourne players in my house, but none feature more prominently than the one I have of Fred Fanning in ‘full flight’, having just launched one of his right foot rockets: it reminds me of an ancient statue of the god Hermes. For those that might not know, this fleet-footed deity with his be-winged sandals was apparently able to move between the worlds of the mortal and the divine, in addition to being the god of athletes, speed, thieves, magic and dreams.

While time lends many a feat the ‘quality’ and gleaned quandary of exaggerated myth and fable, the legacy of Fred Fanning is one that has shone confirmably, albeit unrepeatably from the very day he hung up his boots in the VFL at the Junction Oval, some 75-years ago.

If the 18 goals, with just the one ‘poster’ that came in the third quarter, in front of the sticks in his last outing (which totals 109 points alone) is not enough to make you shake your head in disbelief, then how’s the story Don Cordner would often recount about how running onto the field that day, Fred apparently turned to him with a grin and said, in Babe Ruth fashion: “I’m gonna bag 18 today!”

And that he did, after threading 10 goals the week before, taking his tally to 33 majors in the last three matches he played for Melbourne, that being an average of 11 goals in each of those games. No one in the history of the sport has gone even close to matching this ‘hidden’ statistic.

Magpie great, Gordon Coventry bowed out with 16 goals in his last three outings; even arguably the game’s greatest sharpshooter of all – John Coleman (who debuted with 12 goals in his first game and kicked a neat 100 majors in his first season) finished up his career with 21 goals in his final three appearances.

Seemingly, there was nothing diminutive about our burly #6 wearing Demon forward. That he couldn’t do anything by halves, constitutes Fanning’s most defining trait: as his mention in the Guinness Book of Records testifies – you’ll find him listed next to the longest kick (in any code of football) in the world. A young Fred Fanning dobbed a goal on the full from the very centre of the MCG (or exactly 105.5 mts) in the reserves Grand Final of 1939, the same day he kicked a lazy 12 goals for Melbourne!

Add to Fred Fanning’s footy CV – the most goals by a Demons player in one season (97 in 1947) and the highest average goals per game by anyone to wear the red and blue (3.95) in 104 games; the club best and fairest award in 1945, and you get a glimpse of what it takes to become an all-time great at a club like the Melbourne Demons.

After seeing a newspaper article written by Tony De Bolfo, 12-months before Fred Fanning passed away in 1993, a young Dees fan sent the legendary spearhead a self-addressed envelope with a myriad of questions and a card for him to autograph.

To this day, it’s one of my most prized possessions, and creates a direct mercurial link for me to one of the game’s most enigmatic figures. Interestingly, in Fred’s hand-written response, he made mention amongst other things, that his toughest opponent was South’s Jim Cleary; that kicking the first goal from the boundary line in the 1940 Grand Final was ‘unforgettable’, before rounding out with: “I was aware of Coventry’s record (of 17 goals).”

Which you can just imagine our red and blue colossus, fathoming how he was about to play his last game in the big league, thus set himself the challenge of bowing out with a bag that no one would ever forget, let alone come close to ever replicating again.

With that fantastically said, and signing off now for the last time in 2022, on behalf of the NSW Demons, whether or not you support the grandest team of all – have a wonderful festive season.

After claiming last year’s men’s premiership and this year’s women’s silverware (along with the men at Casey ‘flying the flag’) here’s to the thought of a bountiful, truly beautiful, red and blue hued 2023!


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