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Dick Lee – Retired Australian Rules Football Player

Most team sports evolve over the course of time. One reason for this is that the rules and regulations might be changed for some reason.

dick leeIn the past few decades, every major sport has had to deal with the issue of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). The primary issue is the debate over whether player safety takes precedence over the financial incentives of doing anything it takes in order to win and capture the benefits of gaining an edge over other competitors by any means possible.

More than one professional sport has been affected by the controversy to the extent that records and statistics have been overturned when it was discovered that the athlete or athletes involved in establishing those records used PEDs in the course of their careers. Sports regulatory bodies have devoted great energy to making it difficult and illegal to escape detection.

It is in light of this uncertainty over whether or not players recorded their achievements legitimately of through some form of chemical cheating that makes it very refreshing to observe that on the current top-twenty list of all-time career goal scorers in Australian Rules Football, five of the members of that list played in a time when performance enhancing drugs were seldom involved. It would have been more likely that those athletes of the time were prone to use alcohol and tobacco to excess, two things that objectively would have to be considered Performance Detracting Drugs (PDDs).

Of these five players, all but two played prior to World War II. Those two, Jack Titus and Bill Mohr, only had one or two years that overlapped the war.

Rule changes and cheating aside, it is quite amazing to look at the man who currently occupies the number 20 position on the aforementioned list of top scorers and see that this man has been on the list, as of 2015, for over 90 years! Yes, this man would have been at the head of the list when he retired in 1922 after 17 seasons in the VFL. The fact that it has taken over 90 years for him to be passed by great players such as Tony Lockett, Gary Ablett, or the only two men who have surpassed him in terms of scoring for his former Collingwood Football Club, Sav Rocca and Peter McKenna, is nothing short of amazing.

This man also was the first to surpass the 700 goal barrier, and in so doing, he established a benchmark to which all footy players can aspire.

Walter Henry Lee is the player of whom we are speaking. How someone named Walter Henry Lee is listed as Dick Lee, since Dick is traditionally the diminutive form of Richard, is anyone’s guess, but no one ever had to do much guessing about the outcome when Dick Lee’s foot made contact with the ball.

If it were somehow possible for Dick Lee to get on the ground in modern times, he probably would have inspired equal amounts of cheering and praying. He was listed as being 175 cm. in height and 76 kg. in weight, so seeing him alongside modern hyper-developed players would have many fans concerned about his safety.

Lee played with Collingwood from 1906 until 1922, 17 seasons, in a total of 230 games. That is pretty good in terms of longevity, but he did have three seasons of limited duty. In 1912, he played in only one game, a round five, two goal effort over Richmond. He only got into five games the following season, during which Collingwood could manage only one win against four losses with Lee on the ground, and only nine wins for the season. It was only seven games for Lee in 1918, but the team fared much better until a loss to South Melbourne in the Grand Final.

Aside from those three seasons, Dick Lee managed to be a consistent, regular contributor. He was the team’s leading goalkicker in 1906, the year of his debut, despite not making his appearance until round seven. He would continue in that role for the next four seasons, and then resume it for another four seasons beginning in 1914. He concluded by leading the team in 1919 and 1921, scoring 64 in 1921, which was behind only the 66 he tallied in 1915. Those team leading figures were also good for the league lead in eight seasons.

Unlike some of the other top scorers we have profiled, Lee had a good club and a good supporting side for the most part. Collingwood had premierships in 1910, when they basically laid waste to Carlton in the Grand Final, repeated that feat in 1917 with the exception that Fitzroy was the victim, and 1919, when it was Richmond that fell in another rather lopsided affair.

Lee contributed four goals in the 1910 Grand Final, repeated that mark in 1917, and dropped to three in 1919, each time leading his side and perhaps demonstrating that he was adept not only during the early rounds, but also at the end when the stakes were high.

Whilst all this scoring and winning was going on, Lee found the time to represent for Victoria on 19 occasions, scoring 60 goals, which was just a bit over his career average in the VFL. He served as team captain in 1920 and 21. Quite naturally, he was named as a member of the Collingwood Team of the Century that was named when the VFL/AFL observed its 100th anniversary, and he is also a more than deserving member of the Australian Football League Hall of Fame.

All in all, Dick Lee’s career was one of which anyone could be proud. There will never be need of an asterisk alongside his name or statistics. It would appear that his number 20 spot on the all-time goalkickers list is about to be relinquished to Buddy Franklin of the Sydney Swans provided he can stay on the park, but there is certainly no disgrace in that, given the amount of time over which Lee has occupied the list.

In sports, they say, records were meant to be broken. It can only be hoped that when Franklin surpasses Dick Lee, he has some idea of the significance of the achievement.

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