Bob Skilton VFL Retired Player
Among the fans of Australian Rules football, Bob Skilton is a household name.
Widely considered to be among the best players ever in the Australian Football League, Skilton was a rover for the South Melbourne Football Club, which is now known as the Sydney Swans. Skilton had a distinguished career for his club and state and also dabbled in coaching after his playing career ended. Inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996, ‘Chimp’, as he was known during his playing days, is indeed one of the greats of the game.
Robert John Skilton was born on the 8th of November, 1938. Talented from an early age, Skilton was destined to become a footballer, a fact ascertained as he played his first professional game when he was only 17.
His father, Bob Skilton, Sr., was also an athlete. Skilton credits his father for pushing him into learning to kick the ball with both feet. The young Skilton spent many hours practicing but he eventually mastered the art and it became one of his main strengths on the field.
Career at South Melbourne Football Club
Bob Skilton was on the books of South Melbourne Football Club in his teens. His first game was in 1956 when, aged 17, he played in the fifth round.
From there on, he became one of the mainstays of the team that enjoyed mixed success over the years. Despite being young at the time, Skilton showed signs of the grit and determination which would define his playing career in the future and make him a legend at the club as well as in Australian Rules football.
Even though Skilton was a consistent performer and one of the best in the league, the team itself was not up to par with the competition. This is the reason Skilton was never able to win the Premiership, a fact he has been ruing since his playing days. At the same time, it goes to show what a great player he is. Even if his team wasn’t delivering the results on the field, Skilton stood head and shoulders above the rest and established himself as a true legend of the game.
Only once in that era did South Melbourne pose a real challenge for the title: when they managed to make it to the finals in 1970. However, that success was short-lived as the team fell at the first hurdle, losing the first semi-final to St. Kilda. Skilton regards that as the peak of his football career despite the fact that they lost. A true servant of the club, Skilton was also their captain from 1961 to 1971 before he switched clubs. He missed an entire season in that time in 1969.
Playing Position and Attributes
Skilton was a rover despite his short frame. He stood only 5’6 tall at a time when rovers were strong and tall. He never let his size get in the way of his success and his attacking mindset proved to be a major weapon for him.
However, this also meant he was on the receiving end of many tackles and nudges, which is why he has one of the longest injury lists in the history of the league. He eventually ended up representing South Melbourne with distinction for 16 years.
Appearances and Goals
During his time at the club, he was easily their best player and considered the best rover in the league.
This is proven by the fact that he finished as leading goalkicker for the club in no less than three different seasons. In all, Skilton represented South Melbourne in 237 games, scoring 412 goals in the process. Though the tally of goals has been surpassed by other players since then, Skilton is considered among the best players the club has ever had.
South Melbourne Best and Fairest Medal
Skilton enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the medal given by the club to its best and fairest player over the course of a season.
Since Skilton rarely got involved in altercations with opposing players and wasn’t suspended in his playing days, he was recognized as a fair player. His skills had never been doubted, which is why it doesn’t surprise many that he won the South Melbourne best and fairest medal nine times between 1958 and 1968. The only years he didn’t win the medal were 1960 and 1966.
To honour his achievements at the club and his streak of medals, the South Melbourne Best and Fairest Medal has been rechristened the Bob Skilton Medal over the past few years. This goes to show how highly regarded the now 74-year old athlete is at the club he played for over a long period of time. The medals aren’t the only distinctions he received at the club. He was also named the rover in the South Melbourne Football Club Team of the Century as well as the AFL Team of the Century.
While playing at South Melbourne, Skilton also received the Brownlow Medal three times, a record which he shares with three other players.
The Brownlow Medal is the highest individual honour in the AFL; winning it once is a supreme achievement for any player. Skilton managed to do so thrice, winning in 1959, 1963 and 1968. He was declared the sole winner in 1963 and 1968, but in 1959, he tied with fellow Hall of Famer, Verdun Howell of St. Kilda Football Club.
He has frequently been compared to the other triple winners of the Brownlow Medal, especially Haydn Bunton, Sr. Famed player, coach and broadcaster Jack Dyer once stated that Skilton is a better player than Bunton, Sr. and rated Bob as triple winner Dick Reynolds’ equal. Without a doubt, Skilton rests in esteemed company. Skilton has, on occasion, stated that he would happily return his Brownlow Medals in exchange for a Premiership.
As mentioned earlier, Skilton had a long list of injuries inflicted during his playing days at South Melbourne.
He was never afraid to take the defenders on and often bore the brunt of their tackles and blocks. His wrist broke on no fewer than three occasions and his nose on four. Add to that a concussion and 12 black eye injuries and it is easily deduced how resilient Skilton was to continue his career despite being injured so much.
In one of the most notorious incidents of his career, Skilton appeared in a pictorial on the first-page of Sun News. At the time, he had two black eyes caused by fractures to his cheekbones. He had been involved in several collisions with opponents and teammates over a short period of time which led to the injury. However, his appearance on the front page was greeted with jeers and he received the infamous Douglas Winkie Medal, which is awarded to the person who does the least for Aussie Rules football.
After that, a series of pictures was taken depicting the true nature of his injury. They were put on display in the team’s rooms at the club’s home ground then the Lake Oval. Eventually, the club shifted base to Sydney and the pictures were then removed. He also missed the 1969 season due to his Achilles tendon getting snapped while playing a pre-season game. He came back in 1970 only to leave the club in 1971.
Move to Port Melbourne
Instead of ending his career as a South Melbourne player, Skilton chose to move to his boyhood team, Port Melbourne.
The team was part of the VFA, and in his only season with it, Skilton managed to nab the Best and Fairest prize, once again showing how his skills and discipline had not waned with age and injuries. He only represented the club in 11 games, but he still managed to finish third in the standings for the Liston Medal.
Being one of the best in the league, it was no surprise that Skilton was called on to represent the State of Victoria as well. He played for the state team on 25 occasions, scoring 47 goals.
His goals-to-games ratio for the state team was better than for the club. He also captained the side in 1963 and 1965, displaying his leadership qualities and playing skill at the national level.
Skilton had already played for two years at South Melbourne as a player-coach in 1965 and 1966.
So, it was quite expected that he would return to coach the club he played for. He was appointed in 1973, but his main aim for becoming a coach was to achieve what he couldn’t as a player: the Premiership. Yet, that dream wasn’t fulfilled despite him becoming a coach. After four seasons in charge, he announced that he would step down at the end of the 1977 season, having coached the team for 88 games.
Life after Football
It would be wrong to say life after football as Skilton chose to stay connected to the game. After retirement, he became a radio and television commentator for the AFL.
His style of commentating endeared him to a whole new generation of fans that had never seen him play. When the Sydney Swans finally managed to break the 72-year jinx by winning the Premiership in 2005, Skilton was called upon to make a speech during the post-match presentations. He also presented the 2012 AFL Grand Final Trophy to the Swans’ captain Jarrad McVeigh.
Regardless of the lack of success his club had or his middling coaching career, Bob Skilton is a legend of Australian Rules football. In addition, he is one of the few players to be named ‘Legend’ in the Australian Hall of Fame. Now in the twilight years of his life, ‘Chimp’ continues to be revered by players and fans alike.