John Platten – Former Australian Rules Brownlow Medal Winner
In 1986 and 1987, there must have been many VFL footballers who were considered best and fairest, for in those two seasons, two men shared the Brownlow Medal. Consecutive seasons with dual winners had never before happened, dating all the way back to 1924.
The Brownlow went to Greg “Diesel” Williams and Robert “Dipper” DePierdomenico in 1986. The following year of 1987 saw it being shared by one of the most storied names in the history of Australian Rules Football, the incomparable Tony Lockett, who had to labour for the St. Kilda Saints for 12 seasons before escaping to Sydney for six seasons, and John Patrick Platten, who had the great good fortune to spend his entire 12-season career with the Hawthorn Hawks, winners of four premierships during his tenure.
It is Platten we wish to focus on at this time. He is certainly worthy, if for no other reason than being considered the equal of Lockett, if only briefly, but his contributions to the formidable Hawks side over the long term, along with his numerous individual accolades, makes it obvious that he would not suffer by the comparison to Lockett and certainly owes no one any apologies in the bargain.
Another intriguing aspect of Platten’s 1987 Brownlow is that not only was the award shared in this year and the year previous, both occasions included a Hawks player, accounting for two of only four Brownlow Medals, the others going to Colin Austen in 1949 and Shane Crawford in 1999, ever to go to a member of the Hawthorn Hawks.
John Patrick “The Rat” Platten (17 March 1963) was born in in South Australia and came up through the professional footy ranks with the Central District Football Club of the SANFL. The Bulldogs acquired him in 1979, used him on their junior side in 1979-80, and elevated him to the seniors in 1981. He played for the Bulldogs until 1986, which would have given him approximately 100 appearances. Combined with the 258 games he played for Hawthorn and his 17 Representative games, he played about 375 games, truly remarkable in terms of durability for a player of only 170 cm height and 70 kg weight.
He not only survived in the SANFL, he thrived, winning the Magarey Medal (SANFL Brownlow equivalent) in 1984, along with two club best and fairest awards in 1984 and 1985.
Carlton recruited him in 1986, but his name does not show up as one of the draftees in the first five rounds. At any rate, he did not fancy playing for the Blues and after letting the courts decide the issue, Platten landed with the Hawks for 1986. The reasons behind Platten’s reluctance to join the Blues are not exactly clear, as Carlton had a decent side at the time that was of high enough quality to finish third on the home and away ladder in 1986, but he realised an immediate benefit as the Hawks raised the flag in 1986, even though they were beaten by the Blues handily in the semifinals before losing the Grand Final to the Hawks.
He got on the ground for all 25 of the Hawks’ games in 1986, making an immediate contribution of 31 goals and 507 disposals and winning 14 Brownlow votes. No true surprise that, given that he was an experienced player from a competent SANFL side. Platten’s teammate Dipper DiPierdomenico was the co-recipient of the Brownlow Medal with Sydney’s Greg Williams. Platten played forward alongside Jason Dunstall and Peter Curran with Dunstall’s six goals leading the Hawthorn charge. Platten had 16 disposals in the winning effort.
The 1987 season bore an eerie resemblance to 1986. Hawthorn finished second on the ladder, winning one less game than Carlton. Platten had 633 disposals to go along with his 33 goals, which were both career highs, and his 30 behinds were his second-best total. Platten and Lockett tied with 20 Brownlow votes and they both played 22 games. Platten was actually one game ahead of Lockett in terms of games where Brownlow points were earned and he actually had one more game where he earned either two or one vote than did Lockett, but the tie came about as Lockett had one more game where he earned three votes.
It would seem that Platten had peaked early in terms of the VFL, which is true, but it should be remembered that he was an accomplished player from the SANFL for many years.
As for the Hawks in 1987, they were their usual dominant selves, but they fell to the Blues in the Grand Final after also losing to them in the semifinal, even though they had beaten the Blues twice in the home and away season by 45 points in Round one and one point in Round 14.
Platten would contribute his services to the Hawks for an additional 10 seasons. In 1989, he would equal his Brownlow winning vote total from 1987, but it was this time good for only second place, as Geelong’s Paul Couch earned the award with 22 votes.
He was a significant presence in Brownlow voting in 1996, nine seasons subsequent to winning, which must be considered as a remarkable testament to his aforementioned durability. It was only his final season in 1997 when he recorded his lowest number of appearances, and he still had 18.
He was one of the rarest of VFL players, one to win a Brownlow but not play the middle. His final season was one of the low points for Hawthorn, as their traditions of winning premierships would have made a season without a finals appearance seem like a failure, but they truth was that they had been on the slide since 1995.
For Platten, though, individual accolades were never in short supply and he would have been quite content with the three premierships in which he participated in 1988, 1989 and 1991, for after all, football is a team sport and any player who has ever participated would gladly trade three Brownlows for one premiership. He would certainly have appreciated his two best and fairest awards from the Hawks, as that honour represents the opinion of teammates.
Platten was one of the 113 inaugural inductees into the South Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and the following year he was enshrined in the Australian Football Hall of Fame. He is also a member of Hawthorn’s Team of the Century as the forward pocket.
These days, it would appear that the 18 years John Platten spent playing Aussie Rules football is extracting a toll. He had expressed concern regarding the onset of dementia memory issues and he believes that he encountered no few than 40 concussions from playing footy. The AFL did send him to Melbourne to undergo brain scans and it appears that he suffered no long-term ill effects, but he will continue to be monitored as contact sports all over the world devote more resources to understanding, preventing and treating issue related to head trauma.