Bill Hutchison – Australian Rules Brownlow Medal Winner
As we work our way forward through the years in the course of examining the Australian Rules Football careers of the men who have earned the distinction of being awarded the league’s best and fairest award in the form of the Brownlow medal, we come to an unusual juncture in 1952.
Two men, Essendon’s Bill Hutchison and Richmond’s Roy Wright, shared the award for the 1952 season. Both of them received 21 votes and both played in 17 games. Yet initially, only Wright was declared the Brownlow recipient, because even though the final tally was level, the chairman of the VFL permit and umpire committee, J.F. Meere, gave the award to Wright on a count back because Wright had received three-second votes to Hutchison’s two.
Like many of the other men that were caught up in ties prior, Bill Hutchison would receive the 1952 award retrospectively, even though he had been the popular favourite for the 1952 award.
The tally for both men stood at 15 points each after the counting of the first votes. Wright moved ahead when the second votes were counted 21 – 19, but he received no third votes to Hutchison’s two. According to Melbourne Argus reporter Hugh Buggy, the finish to the voting was one of the most dramatic in many years.
Wright was the first player from Richmond to receive the Brownlow since Bill Morris in 1948, and the third for a Richmond player since the remarkable year of 1930 when it was Stan Judkins who initially took the award before two retrospective awards were granted many years later to Allan Hopkins and Harry Collier.
What sets these Hutchison and Wright apart from most other Brownlow Medal winners is the fact that in addition to eventually sharing the medal from 1952, each would go on to receive it singly. Bill Hutchison was the sole recipient in 1953, attracting 26 votes. Roy Wright received the Brownlow medal by himself in 1954, gathering 29 votes.
Interestingly, when Hutchison took the award in 1953, Wright was nowhere to be found, earning only seven votes for that season. When Wright was recognised in 1954, Hutchison was far down on the list, receiving only 10 votes. Both men played in the same number of games, 17, in 1953 and 1954, yet it would appear that their production and contributions had not declined precipitously. Wright, never a big goal kicker, produced 14 in 1953, second highest of his career. In 1954, when Wright was acknowledged, Hutchison kicked 32, somewhat low by his standards, but certainly not abysmal by any means.
About the only common factor was that in 1953, Wright’s Tigers side had a pretty dismal season, winning only three times. Hutchison’s Bombers fared better in 1954, winning 10 matches, but that was a bit of a decline.
So, for better or worse, here is a look at the careers of these two worthy gentlemen who accounted for the Brownlow Medal four times from 1952 – 54. We will begin with Hutchison, for no reason other than alphabetical.
Hutchison (28 April 1923 – 18 June 1982) spent his career with Essendon, beginning in 1942 and ending in 1957. With the exception of his debut season as a man recently having recently attained the age of 19, he was a steadfast performer, typically appearing in most or all of the Bombers’ matches. He went missing for a few rounds in the middle portion of his first season and wound up participating only 11 times.
His first goals waited until round 15 against Collingwood. He kicked two more in a preliminary final match against Melbourne. The Essendon side took the premiership that season, winning against Richmond. They dominate that game 132 – 79 and gained a large measure of revenge for a loss to the Tigers in the semifinal two weeks earlier. The two teams had staged an epic battle in round six. Playing on the Windy Hill home ground of the Bombers, it was a one point margin that had them on top at the end by the score of 77 – 76.
Hutchison developed quite a bit of forward momentum beginning in 1943. He had a strong 1944 as well, playing in 20 matches before the Bombers lost to Richmond in a preliminary final to end their season. He scored 26 goals for the season, including three in several games and four in a round nine match against Fitzroy that ended in a draw, the team’s second of the season.
He kicked 32 in 1495, but the Bombers were no better than average that year.
He would increase his production in 1946 to 46 goals. Essendon would again raise the flag, so by the time he finished five seasons, Hutchison was part of two premiership sides. The Bombers got the better of Richmond twice that year. A young Roy Wright made his debut for the Tigers, playing when the sides met for the second time, where he kicked two goals in the losing effort.
Hutchison was a steady performer in a season that saw the Bombers lose only three matches. He kicked six in a round seven match with St. Kilda, and five in a round 12 meeting with Footscray. It was his three in the Grand Final victory over Melbourne, however, where he helped his side overcome a halftime deficit on the way to an easy 63-point margin, when the Grand Final was first restored to the MCG after WW II, that would obviously been those of which he was most proud.
Bill Hutchison was declared his team’s best and fairest for that season, which must have been exceedingly gratifying, given that the side also had as captain and coach none other than Dick Reynolds, along with Gordon Lane, who had kicked seven goals in that year’s Grand Final.
Bill Hutchison, and it must be remembered that he was playing follower, continued his scoring ascendancy in 1947, kicking 48, and then backing that with 52, his career high-water mark, in 1948, which was the prelude to his second Essendon best and fairest award. His 17 Brownlow votes left him in third position. A remarkable aspect of that year was a draw against Melbourne in the Grand Final, the first time that had ever happened in a VFL Grand Final, followed by a loss when the rematch took place the following week. Hutchison kicked two in the first meeting and one in the replay.
Little need be said about the 1949 and 1950 seasons. Hutchison was the model of consistency, scoring 37 and 38, finishing high in the Brownlow voting and contributing to two consecutive premierships for the Bombers. He was best and fairest for the third time in 1950. In the 1949 Grand Final victory over Carlton, he kicked two goals. The juggernaut that was the Essendon side took part in its fourth consecutive Grand Finals appearance in the 1949 affair. In the 1950 version, it marked the fifth consecutive. This time it was North Melbourne that fell to the Bombers, sending coach and captain Dick Reynolds, playing his last game, out in the finest fashion. (Reynolds did come out for one final game in 1951)
Hutchison was made captain in 1951, where he remained until his final season in 1957. He would again be his team’s best and fairest in 1952, 1955 and 1956. Essendon appeared in the 1951 Grand Final, making it six consecutive showings, losing to Geelong.
The Bombers fell off in 1952, lost a semifinal to Footscray in 1953, the year Hutchison took his second Brownlow, although at the time he would have thought it his first, were down again in 1954, lost in the 1955 semifinals to Geelong, when Hutchison finished second by one vote in the Brownlow voting, and were once again average in 1956. He was Essendon best and fairest for the fifth and sixth time in 1955 and 1956.
They rose to the top again in Hutchison’s final season of 1957, beating Melbourne in the semifinal, but losing the Grand Final to that same side when Melbourne put 61 points betwixt themselves and the Bombers in Hutchison’s 290th and final match. The nearly 35-year-old Hutchison was still a valuable contributor, kicking 22 goals and appearing 16 times. His final goal tally stood at 496, which is still, as of 2015, the fifth most all-time for Essendon.
Bill Hutchison was rightly declared a Legend in the Australian Football Hall of Fame, a member of Essendon’s Team of the Century, and voted the fourth best player in Essendon history in 2002. Teammate, captain and coach Dick Reynolds claimed that he was the best player he (Reynolds) had ever seen.
Unfortunately, most of those accolades that followed his playing days came too late for him to bask in the accomplishments, for he died when only 59 on 18 June 1982.