Ivor Warne Smith – Retired Australian Rules Football Player
Now that we have had a look at the top 20 goal kickers in the history of the VFL/AFL, we are going to direct our attention to the players that have earned what could basically be called the Most Valuable Player award, the Brownlow Medal.
The Brownlow Medal was awarded for the first time in 1924. Game officials determined the winner, and although the voting system has undergone modifications, it is still considered a more objective system than sports in which journos or fans have the opportunity to weigh in.
Vote totals for the season have also escalated as the game expanded to include more clubs.
Our subject at this time will be Ivor Warne-Smith. His distinction is that by winning the Brownlow Medal in 1926 and 1928, he became the first multiple winner. In the 90 year history of the medal, excluding the years it was suspended during World War II, only 10 players have won twice, and only four thrice.
An interesting aspect to Warne-Smith is that after making his debut with the Melbourne Football Club in 1919, after he had returned from service in Europe during World War I, he left the VFL to play in the North-Western Football Union (NWFU) for the Latrobe Football Club. He had abandoned Australia to be a cultivator of orchards in Tasmania, and since growing fruit trees can leave a bloke with a lot of spare time whilst waiting for trees to grow, he devoted some of his excess time to playing a little footy.
Little is known of how successful his crops may have been, but his time on the ground in Tasmania was sufficiently productive to the extent that there were more than a few clubs on the mainland that were interested in having him return to the VFL.
Ivor Warne-Smith resumed his role as a member of the Melbourne side in 1925, playing in 18 games. He kicked seven goals the entire season, and although Melbourne won a semifinal over Geelong, he saw the team’s quest for the premiership derailed by a preliminary final loss to Collingwood, that saw Warne-Smith held scoreless. He received only one Brownlow vote that year, the second season for the medal, during which only one point per game was possible. Warne-Smith’s seven goals were seven more than 1925 Brownlow Medal winner Colin Watson.
For his first Brownlow win in 1926, Warne-Smith and the Melbourne side fared well. The team took the premiership, this time turning the tables on Collingwood for last season’s loss with a resounding 57-point victory. Nine Brownlow votes were adequate for Ivor to win the Best and Fairest for the 1926 home and away portion of the season. The squad won 16 times including five consecutive from round five to round nine, four in-a-row from round 11 to round 14, and another five game streak from round 16 through the Grand Final. Warne-Smith became the first player to win the Brownlow Medal in the season that his side also raised the flag.
The 1927 season was not as productive for Melbourne or Warne-Smith.
The team won 12 games against six losses, which for that season was not adequate to earn the right to play in the post-season. Ivor kicked only six goals for the year, but he was on the ground for all except two of Melbourne’s matches.
Warne-Smith would establish himself as the first double Brownlow Medal winner in 1928. He accumulated eight votes over the course of the season. He only kicked 13 goals, far fewer than the 55 scored by his teammate Rob Johnson, and good for only sixth place on the entire team. Warne-Smith’s double would not be equaled until Essendon’s Bill Hutchison and Richmond’s Roy Wright tied for the Brownlow in 1952. Hutchison repeated in 1953 and Wright in 1954. It was not until 1973 and 1974 when one player would be the sole winner, that being Keith Greig of the North Melbourne side.
An interesting thing happened during the years betwixt Ivor Warne-Smith’s two Brownlow awards and the two for Keith Grieg.
In 1931, the voting system was changed from one per game to six, a system that would last until 1975 before being modified to a twelve vote per game system that was in place for just the 1976 and 1977 season, when 12 votes were awarded.
Haydn Bunton, Sr. would win for the first time in 1931, and again in 1932, making Warne-Smith’s singularity short-lived. When Bunton won yet again in 1935, he displaced Warne-Smith as sole two-time winner. What’s more, Dick Reynolds of Essendon, Bob Skilton of South Melbourne and Ian Stewart, dividing time betwixt St. Kilda and Richmond, all won the Brownlow Medal three times.
Ivor Warne-Smith would have his highest goal total in 1930, when he kicked 23. He played in only 146 games with Melbourne mainly due to the four seasons he spent in Tasmania. He was not a prolific scorer by any stretch, but he played most of his games in the backline, although he was capable of playing in the centre or forward positions if that was what was required, an attitude that could be considered valuable in terms of Brownlow consideration.
He also served as captain and coach for the Melbourne side during the season in which he won his second Brownlow Medal, a role he filled until his first retirement in 1931. He did come back in 1932, where he played in 13 matches, but at nearly 35 years of age by that time, it was clear that his best days were behind him. He still managed to post 14 goals in a season that backed the previous one where Melbourne’s fortunes were declining.
In 1949, after WWII stint where he served in the Middle East and the Pacific theatre, he stepped into a role as the chairman of selectors for his old side. He remained in that role until his health declined in 1959. Melbourne would enjoy vast success during that period, winning premierships four times.
Individual accolades, such as scoring titles or Brownlow Medals, are not the only measure of a footballer’s contribution. By continuing to promote the interests of the team well beyond his playing days, Ivor Warne-Smith was the embodiment of the spirit where team takes precedence over player. His willingness to play the ruck, defence, attack and centre positions if needed was one of his most admirable qualities.
The awards that would have really caught his notice had he been alive to receive them would have been being named to the Melbourne Football Club’s Team of the Century in 2000, the inclusion in Tasmania’s Team of the Century in 2004, or his induction into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996.