Fred Goldsmith – Australian Rules Brownlow Medal Winner
As we continue forward in our look at the footballers who have won the Brownlow Medal, we have arrived at a point in time where it is likely that some of them are still living. This is the case with today’s subject, Fred Goldsmith (20 August 1932), the 1955 winner who was declared Best and Fairest of the VFL as full back for South Melbourne.
Along with being alive, Goldsmith differs from many earlier winners in that his was a relatively brief career spanning 8 seasons and 119 games, which is not to say he was undeserving, in fact, it might be said that there is no hint of the award resulting out of gratitude for many years of contributions to the game.
Goldsmith was exposed to the game from a young age. He relates a story of how as a boy of just eight years of age, he used to tag along with Harry Vallence when Vallence was playing for Williamstown of the Victorian Football Association. When Goldsmith told Vallence that he did not own a footy, Vallence, under the guise of practicing his goal kicking, sent one over the fence to where Goldsmith was waiting on his bike. Off he sped with the footy, after being told by Vallence to come back when he needed another one.
His early playing days were spent with Spotswood of the FDFL.
As to how he was recruited to play for South Melbourne, Goldsmith claims that it was his mate, Billy Gunn, who had attracted the attention of South Melbourne’s secretary. The two met with the secretary outside Gunn’s house one Sunday morning. Gunn displayed some reluctance to sign on with South Melbourne, indicating that if Goldsmith were willing, then he, Gunn, would also come along. As a recruiting incentive, the secretary offered Goldsmith a pair of South Melbourne socks, which he accepted. Gunn received a jumper. Judging by the number of years that had elapsed betwixt when this event supposedly happened and when it was related, and given the natural tendency of human nature to embellish such anecdotes with the passing of those years, it may have been that Goldsmith was offered just the one sock. Goldsmith and Gunn would go on to have remarkably similar careers with South Melbourne, playing in just about the same number of games and kicking about the same number of goals. Both men were over 100 in both categories, so it could be said that South Melbourne got quite a bargain for some footy socks and a jumper.
Goldsmith’s VFL career got off in a decidedly modest fashion. He made his debut in a round one match with Geelong on 21 April 1951 at Kardinia Park. He was not far away from his 19th birthday, later than many.
He played again the following week against Richmond, this time on the Lake Oval home ground. He kicked two goals, but as in the previous week, South Melbourne came out the losers.
Goldsmith was then absent from the side until round 17, another losing effort, this one against Collingwood, making Goldsmith zero for three, or zero for his career.
He got on the ground five more times, for a total of eight, in 1952. He kicked just one goal for the entire year, but he took part in five winning efforts against three losses. South Melbourne did not do too badly, winning 11, losing seven and drawing one. The most significant aspect of the season where Goldsmith was concerned, however, is that he made the switch from half forward flanker to full back midway through the season. That switch paid dividends for both he and the club.
He made his first appearance in a round seven victory over St. Kilda and played the remainder of the games for the 1953 season. South Melbourne split wins and losses evenly over 18 games. They finished in eighth position of the 12-team ladder. For those who appreciate statistics, the record for the season provides the interesting factoid that the side scored 1385 points, whilst surrendering 1323. Many of the matches were quite close, some where an additional goal and another behind or two might have switched the outcome. Goldsmith earned three Brownlow votes.
Goldsmith appeared in 18 matches in 1954, but the season was another one of futility, since the club won only six. They finished ahead of only Fitzroy and St. Kilda. He doubled his Brownlow vote total from the previous season.
South Melbourne’s fortunes did not improve in 1955; they actually declined, producing one fewer victory than in 1954. Goldsmith, for the third consecutive season, kicked no goals. In winning the Brownlow that season, he accomplished what had not been in the 30-year history of the award, becoming the first full back to win. He bettered the vote tally of two-time Brownlow winner Bill Hutchison in the bargain. A teammate of Goldsmith, Eddie Lane, earned 15 votes, good for a fourth place tie with three others.
Goldsmith’s career took a turn in 1956. He scored 16 goals, quadrupling his output of the previous five seasons. Six of those goals came in an outburst against North Melbourne in the final game of the season. Alas, South Melbourne still could not get off the bottom rungs, wining only six for the season.
Just as, perhaps more impressively, Goldsmith would lead the side in goal kicking in 1957. His tally was 43 and that came in just 13 matches. Richmond saw him kick nine in one round three match. Another match found North Melbourne again his victim, this time for five goals.
He played the full schedule in 1958, kicking 33 goals. His final season for South Melbourne in 1959 saw him dropping off considerably to 13 matches and 11 goals kicked.
Even though he did have some good seasons kicking the footy, it was his spectacular play overhead and the difficulty he presented on the ground that defined his career.
Goldsmith moved over to Albury of the OMFL in 1960 as captain and coach. They may have offered him two pair of socks and a jumper as well. He remained there for seven seasons, returning to play for Port Melbourne of the VFA in 1966, only to see his recently departed Albury side capture its first Ovens and Murray Football League premiership in 10 years.
In 2000, for reasons of which we are not aware, Fred Goldsmith’s 1955 Brownlow Medal was auctioned early in 2000 by Christie’s. It was sold for $43,700.
Fred Goldsmith’s footy career was actually quite long when all three leagues for which he played are considered. His VFL contributions were acknowledged, along with his Brownlow Medal of course, by his selection to the South Melbourne/Sydney Swan’s Team of the Century as an interchange player in 2003.