John Coleman – Retired Australian Rules Football Player

98 matches, 537 goals – AFL (formerly VFL) is yet to see a player like John Coleman who had set a few records during his era that are yet to be broken.

john colemanBorn on November 23, 1928, John Coleman stays one of the best players of Australian Rules of all time. He had a relatively short playing career. His career ended at the age of 25 after contracting a serious knee injury. During his short career span he played 98 matched and kicked a whopping 537 goals. After his career as a player ended, he continued to stay with his club Essendon as a coach and achieved premiership success as a coach. Coleman died at the age of 44 in year 1973 because of a sudden and unexpected coronary atheroma.

Playing Career

Before starting his career in VFL, John Coleman played football at Port Fairy Higher Elementary School. By the age of 12, Coleman had already played in under-18 team of a local Australian Rules football team. In 1946, he was first invited by Essendon to train with the club. Essendon however considered him to be too young for the senior team. He completed pre-season training with Essendon in 1947 and 1948 but unfortunately, he was not taken as a part of the senior team. He was instead sent back to Hasting where he played 37 games and kicked 296 goals.

In 1949, he again trained with Essendon but ended up being extremely frustrated because his leads were simply ignored by senior players. Though Essendon did not really include John in the senior team, his potential was actually spotted by many other clubs including Richmond. Only after Richmond made an attempt to sign John, Essendon decided to give him a chance in VFL season.

In his debut match, John Coleman kicked a goal with his very first kick and ended up kicking 12 goals in his debut match, which is a record yet to be broken. Coleman made his presence felt with his explosive speed, amazing sprints and accurate kicks.

He converted most of his kicks into goals. Not only did he become popular for his flat punt kicks but also for his drop kicks. Coleman’s debut year was brilliant as he ended up scoring 100 goals in his first year.
Next year was another great year as he managed to kick 120 goals. Thus, he became the first player to kick over 100 goals in two consecutive seasons.

This feat matched by Ron Todd of Collingwood, Bob Pratt of South Melbourne and Gordon Coventry of Collingwood. Interestingly, these three players achieved this feat long after Coleman and that too much later during their careers. In facts, they actually achieved this feat after becoming seasoned players.
The only match that went goal-less for Coleman was Round 10 of 1952 season.

It was a match against Fitzroy in which Essendon lost. In 1952 and 1953, John Coleman won the VFL goal-kicking award, scoring 103 and 97 goals in those years respectively. The 1954 season was going pretty well for Coleman when 7th game he scored 14 goals. A week later during a match at Windy Hill, Coleman dislocated his knee after a heavy fall and that marked the end of his career.

Coaching Career

Coleman took the coaching positing of Essendon in 1961 after having been out of the sport for almost 6 years. By that time, Essendon was way down the ladder and was referred to as ‘the gliders’ instead of ‘the bombers’. 1961 season as a coach was not great for Coleman because he was suffering with hepatitis and went for a 2-month holiday in Sri Lanka and India.

In 1962, John Coleman returned and led the Bombers to premiership. Essendon performed brilliantly that year and lost only 2 games of all the matches they played. They won the Grand Final against Carlton. In 1963, Essendon finished 5th on ladder and the following year they were eliminated in first semi-final. In 1965, Coleman once again led Essendon to victory. By 1966, Coleman’s health was deteriorating. He suffered from thrombosis. In 1967, he reluctantly coached Essendon but the club missed the finals and Coleman handed over his position to Jack Clarke.

Coleman Leaves Forever

After leaving Essendon in 1967, John Coleman moved to Mornington Peninsula. He bought a property at Arthurs Seat and ran Dromana Hotel. On April 5, 1973, Coleman suddenly died because of Coronary Atheroma, leaving his fans saddened and stunned. Two days later, a memorial match was played at Windy Hall between Essendon and Richmond in which Essendon won by 47 points.

Legacy of Coleman

In 1981, Coleman Medal was introduced for highest goal kicker in VFL/AFL. In 1996, he was named as the greatest full forward ever to play in Australian Rules. He was named as full-forward of AFL Team of the Century and his name was put ahead of some of the great players like Jason Dunstall, Tony “Plugger” Lockett, Peter Hudson, Peter McKenna, Bill Mohr, Ron Todd, Jack “Skinny” Titus, Bob Pratt and Gordon “Nuts” Coventry.

In 1998, John Coleman was inducted as ‘Legend of the Game’ and was one of the 12 inaugural inductees into Australian Football Hall of Fame. Essendon included Coleman in their list named ‘Champions of Essendon’ and Coleman was named as the second best player to have ever played for Essendon.

Awards And Achievements

There is absolutely no doubt that John Coleman was one of the greatest players of Australian Rules. Throughout his career, he earned several awards and achievements, which are listed below:

  • 1949 and 1950: Premiership player.
  • 1949: Best and Fairest of Essendon.
  • 1949, 1950, 1952, and 1953: Leading goal kicker of VFL.
  • 1949-1954: Leading goal kicker of Essendon.
  • 1953: Member of All Australian Team.
  • 1962 and 1965: Premiership coach for Essendon.
  • 1996: Member of AFL Team of the Century (position: full-forward).
  • 1998: Inducted into Australian Football Hall of Fame and moved to the status: Legend of the Game.
  • Coleman was also a member of Essendon Team of the Century.

John Coleman’s death was a loss for Australian Rules as a whole. He was a type of player who was respected not only by his teammates at Essendon but also by every other team of the sport. He is no longer among us but his legacy and his fame will continue to live as long as humans exist on Earth.

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