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Allan Ruthven – Australian Rules Brownlow Medal Winner

The official site of the AFL spells it ‘Alan,’ but other sources grant him a second ‘L,’ making him ‘Allan.’ All sources, however, agree that the last name of our subject, the 1950 Brownlow Medal winner, was Ruthven.

allan ruthvenHe played for the Fitzroy Football Club in the VFL beginning in 1940 and concluding in 1954. Over the course of a 14-season career, he played in 222 games.

All Time Fitzroy List

He kicked 442 goals, placing him fifth on the all-time Fitzroy list, a spot that is in all likelihood quite safe, since the Fitzroy club became the Brisbane Lions in 1997, closing the books permanently on the team from the inner suburbs of Melbourne that had been one of the original members of the VFL, along with the seven others that broke away from the VFA in 1897. We doubt that anyone would begrudge us for saying fifth all-time scorer on a team with a 100-year history deserves recognition.

When that recognition came along in 1950 in the form of the Brownlow Medal, Ruthven was the fourth member of the Fitzroy side to experience the honour. It had been an interim of 14 years since the Maroon’s Denis Ryan was acclaimed VFL best and fairest in 1936, and three years after Chicken Smallhorn in 1933.

Ruthven received the sixth Brownlow to go to a Fitzroy player, however, because it was the man with whom Ruthven shared the number seven jumper, not simultaneously of course, Haydn Bunton, who took the Brownlow three times. The two may have been on the ground simultaneously, Bunton finishing up his VFL days by making two appearances in 1942 after not having played since 1937, but for the fact that Ruthven was absent in 1942 as the result of a serious, career-threatening back injury, and at any rate, did not don the number 7 guernsey until the 1945 season.

Ruthven made his debut on 6 July 1940 in a round 11 match against Footscray. A schoolboy only recently having attained the age of 18, he made his mark immediately, kicking two goals in a game dominated by the Fitzroy side. The Maroons won in the next three in which he appeared and he concluded that initial season with seven goals whilst Fitzroy was just .500 for the home-and-away season.

1941 Playing Season

The 1941 season again found Ruthven making only occasional appearances, seven in total, but the teams’ fortunes declined a bit. Ruthven kicked 14 goals, a foreshadowing of his career average of 1.99.

We had mentioned that 1942 was lost to Ruthven. In 1943, he once again played sporadically, appearing six times. The Maroons (all right then, the Gorillas) made it into the post-season, beating Carlton quite handily in Prices Park, since the MCG had been requisitioned for military purposes. Two weeks later, they came up short against the Tigers in the preliminary final, concluding the season on a sour note, somewhat at least, and finishing with 11 victories against six defeats.

Allan Ruthven came into his own in 1944, appearing 20 times, leading the team in scoring and taking his club’s best and fairest award. He was a fairly consistent producer, scoring 46, matching his average with two goals in each of the first three rounds, and that same again in rounds five, six, nine, 14 and 16. He exploded for nine in one match against Geelong and put up a five-goal showing in round 16. It would probably be safe to conclude, however, that he might gladly have exchanged the first 45 for the one he kicked against the Tigers in the Grand Final, where Fitzroy was to raise the flag when they beat Richmond for the second consecutive time at the Junction Oval.

The Tigers made a good showing, taking a lead into the second quarter, but Ruthven and the rest of the Fitzroy side seized the advantage from that point forward, prevailing by a score of 66 – 51. Ruthven was to taste the sweetest fruit available to a footy player whilst he was short of his 23rd birthday. It was Fitzroy’s first premiership in 22 years, also their eighth and final.

From 1945 to 1949, Allan Ruthven acquitted himself admirably, making 95 appearances. He managed to attract 18 Brownlow votes in 1946, after having only one for his entire career previous.

That 1946 total left him four in arrears to that year’s winner, Don Cordner of Melbourne. He was club best and fairest every season, and his 56 goals in 1946 led the team for the second consecutive season.

He attracted attention of a different sort in 1949, when he accepted an offer of the staggering sum of £18 to be the captain and coach of the Imperial Football Club. He accepted, making him one of the highest paid coaches in Victoria. Fitzroy declined to release him, however, and a rather messy dispute was resolved in their favour. Broken Hill tried a similar tactic, upping the ante to £36! Again, Fitzroy blocked the deal when the VFL governors upheld Fitzroy’s argument.

Fitzroy Captain 1950

That dust-up did not prevent Ruthven from becoming the Fitzroy captain in 1950 upon the retirement of Norm Smith as a player. He rewarded the club by earning 21 Brownlow Medal votes, three clear of Geelong’s Fred Flanagan. Fitzroy did not fare all that well, winning 10 and losing 8. He had an eight goal outing that season as well, taking advantage of Hawthorn in a round 16 match at Glenferrie Oval.

Ruthven and his teammates next made it beyond the home-and-away season in 1952. Ruthven was not only captain but coach as well. He played an instrumental role in a semi-final win over Carlton, where he kicked three goals, and led the side to a 1-point, 69 – 68 victory, but his two-goal performance against Collingwood in the preliminary final was not sufficient to secure the win.

He had been on a slight but steady decline beginning in 1951, although saying that of a player of his calibre still found him producing figures that would have cheered many a lesser player. For that matter, even in decline, he led the team in scoring with 31 in his final season, 1954.

In his role as coach from 1952 to 1954, he posted a record of 28 wins, 28 losses and 1 draw.

Subsequent to his playing/coaching career, he was a regular on the World of Sport TV show before moving to the country to play a bit of golf and enjoy the company of his wife. He was present when the Fitzroy Football Club, having merged with the Brisbane Bears in 1997 to form the Lions, raised the premiership flag in 2002 after winning it all in 2001.

He was near the end of his life, 75 years of age, when he was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. Three years later, he was named to Fitzroy’s Team of the Century, in the forward line alongside Jack Moriarty and Norm Brown.

Looking back, it is hard to conceive of the life and times of one of the greatest players who ever lived, having to fight for every penny, and lose, when the amount in question was less than the current monthly fee to stream AFL matches. On the other hand, had he succeeded and moved beyond Fitzroy, he would never have received the Brownlow Medal and could quite possibly joined the ranks of the anonymous or faintly remembered.

Allan Ruthven was but a month shy of his 81st birthday when he suffered a stroke and the final siren of his life was sounded on 14 March 2003. He is buried in New South Wales, at St. Brigid’s Catholic Church, just across the Vic/NSW border in the town of Yarrawonga, where he lived out his days.
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