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Gordon Collis – Former Australian Rules Brownlow Medal Winner

gordon collinsThose with an appreciation for statistics might find this one intriguing: 0.42. That number represents two important criteria for our subject, the 1964 Brownlow Medal winner, Gordon Collis (6 November 1940). His goal per game and his Brownlow vote per game statistics are identical, something not often encountered.

Collis played only six seasons for the Carlton Blues. During that time he kicked 40 goals and earned 38 Brownlow Medal votes. The distribution of his goals and Brownlow votes is quite interesting. He kicked 39 of his 40 goals during his first three seasons, with his final goal coming in his final season. When he won the Brownlow in 1964, he received 27 votes, eight better than his closest competitors Ken Fraser of Essendon and Phil Hay of Hawthorn. The other five seasons of his career provided just 11 votes.

By the mid-sixties, record keeping had begun to improve. Before that time, statistics were mainly limited to goals kicked and Brownlow votes. The year following his Brownlow, Collis was tracked not only by his goals and Brownlow votes, but also by the number of kicks attempted, marks, behinds, handballs, disposals, and free kicks for and against, so at least as far as his final two seasons are concerned, a more complete picture of his contributions to the Carlton Football Club begins to emerge. This is valuable in the case of Brownlow Medal recipients, because the majority of them were midfielders and often did not score a lot of goals because that simply was not the role they were asked to occupy.

A Carlton footballer had taken the Brownlow Medal as recently as 1961, but only four other Blues besides Collis have won the Charlie. Only Hawthorn, with four Brownlows, has fewer than Carlton, at least amongst the 12 teams that have been in the league for close to 90 years. This lack of Brownlow winners is as much the result of Carlton fielding competent sides over the course of its history, because the preponderance of Brownlow Medals have gone to players on sides that typically have occupied the bottom rungs of the ladder for the most part, with the Swans and the Saints being the chief evidence for that argument.

Here is a bit of detail about Gordon Collis from his debut to his retirement, from the perspective of examining a player who briefly rose to the pinnacle, only to experience the reality that makes the careers of many footy players brief and ephemeral. Depending on how the math is done, some sources claim that the average career span for a footy player is shorter than four years, so the case could be made that Collins’ six-year career places him beyond the norm.

Collis spent his formative playing days with the Healesville Bloods of the Yarra Valley Mountain District Football League. The town of Healesville, some 50k northeast of Melbourne’s CBD, has contributed several Australian Rules players to the VFL and AFL, with Collis being the most prominent, along with a Supreme Court Judge and a multiple Australasian Finger Drumming Champion.

He made his debut for Carlton in a round two match against Fitzroy on 22 April 1961 at Princes Park, playing alongside John James, whose play would result in his receiving Brownlow honours for that season. Another notable teammate was John Nicholls, for whom the club’s Best and Fairest award would be named in 2004. Collis kicked his first career goal and would get on for the remaining 16 games or the Blues. The side did not qualify for the finals that year, finishing well down the ladder at eighth with a 9 – 9 record. Collis wound up with 12 goals for the season and two Brownlow votes.

Collis and his teammates would see their fortunes on the rise in 1962. Collis would contribute 13 goals in the course of 13 victory – five loss season that put them fourth on the ladder and into the finals. They eked out a two point victory over Melbourne in the first semi-final to earn the right to take on the winners of the matchup betwixt the Bombers and the Cats, which was won convincingly by Essendon. The preliminary final ended in a draw at 85 points for each team. The replay was in doubt for the Blues at the half, but they staged a comeback in the third quarter and held on in the fourth to win by five points, their score of 78 precisely duplicating their output in the semi-final. It would be fair to say that the Blues were physically and emotionally spent when they met up in the Grand Final, because Essendon dominated throughout for a 90 – 58 win.

Carlton persevered through many tight matches in the home-and- away season as well, including a round 10 affair with Fitzroy that was tied when the final siren sounded, but the umpire failed to hear the siren. On the following ball-up, a Carlton played punched a behind to win by one point.

Collis and Carlton struggled in 1963. Collis was off the ground in the latter part of the season, even though he produced 14 goals, highest of his career. The Blues wound up sixth on the ladder, excluded from the finals.

The fortunes of Collis reversed in 1964, but the team slipped to its worst finish in the VFL, ending up 10th after winning only five times against 10 losses and a draw. Collis was the clear winner as far as the Brownlow Medal was concerned, his 27 votes placing him far ahead of the field. He credited his improved performance at centre half-back to contact lenses, which also helped him to see his way to the Robert Reynolds Trophy as the team’s Best and Fairest. He was sandwiched betwixt John Nicholls, who was later declared as Carlton’s greatest player of all time.

Nineteen sixty-five was a dreary season for Collis. He was able to participate in just eight matches. The side won 10, losing eight to finish at sixth on the ladder. Collis did not play in 1966 due to injuries.

When he returned in 1967, he got on the ground 18 times. Carlton qualified for the finals, but a semifinal loss to Richmond and a preliminary loss to Geelong ended the season for the Blues and was the final appearance for Gordon Collis. He was not quite 27 years of age, but the physical demands of the game proved too much, so he retired, providing proof once and again, that footy players are completely justified in taking the approach that every time they step on the oval could well be their last.

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