John Schultz – Former Australian Rules Brownlow Medal Winner
In team sports, individual recognition often comes at the expense of the team’s fortunes, although that is seldom the fault of the player recognized. In recent times, when the salaries of sports stars are escalating, an individual award could translate to a boost in pay, but that was not always the case.
In earlier days of the VFL, players who won the Brownlow Medal or the club’s best and fairest seldom realized much in the way of increased pay.
This is even truer in the case of our subject, the 1960 Brownlow Medal winner, John Schultz (28 September 1938). He played his entire 10-year career in the VFL as an amateur, receiving no pay for his play with the Footscray Football Club. He eventually left the VFL whilst still relatively young, perhaps not so young by football standards, where someone playing beyond the age of 30 was in those days rare, to help manage the Schultz family grocery business.
John Schultz was quite an athlete as a boy. He was quite large, but had the ability to win the high jump event in the 1955 athletics meeting of the Associated Grammar Schools. He played football for the Caulfield Grammar School alongside other future VFL players of note.
He was still more than a few months away from his 20th birthday when he made his VFL debut 0n 12 April 1958 in a first round match with Collingwood, where he kicked one of his side’s four goals in a losing effort at the Western Oval.
He kicked that goal after he was unceremoniously welcomed to the VFL by Harry Sullivan, who knocked him unconscious with a less-than-scrupulous backhand. He would go on to kick three goals in a game twice that season, in round three against South Melbourne and in round seven against Melbourne. Footscray was just four years advanced from a premiership in 1954 and had slumped somewhat. In Schultz’s first season, he kicked his career high of 13 goals, but the club could win only six times in 18 games.
Schultz and his teammates would suffer further ignominy in 1959, winning only three games and a first wooden spoon, despite the presence alongside Schultz of such legends as Charlie Sutton, for whom the team’s best and fairest award would eventually be named, and Ted Whitten.
Both these seasons were productive for Schultz in that he attracted seven Brownlow votes in his first season and five in his second, votes that he undoubtedly would have gladly traded for victories.
The 1960 season, Schultz’s Brownlow season, was another dismal campaign, although someone with a positive perspective would say that doubling their victory output from three to six games was a move in the proper direction. At the very least, they passed the wooden spoon to Richmond.
The 20 Brownlow votes Schultz received were enough to put ahead of Fitzroy’s Keven Murray by one vote in a season that saw the previous year’s winner, South Melbourne’s Bob Skilton, fall from grace all the way down to a tie with two others for seventh place, with only 11 votes. Schultz was the fourth Footscray footballer to receive the award, after Allan Hopkins (1930), Norman Ware (1941), and Peter Box (1956).
Schultz kicked just two goals for the season, but the “gentle giant” received not only the accolades of the VFL, but also those of his teammates, who awarded him with the Charles Sutton Medal, as the team’s best and fairest.
The following season saw Footscray’s fortunes vastly improved. They won 11 times over the course of the home and away season to finish fourth on the ladder, despite trailing fifth-place finisher Fitzroy on percentage, the difference being that Fitzroy had a draw in against Melbourne in round 12.
Fourth position nearly turned into a Cinderella story for Footscray. They won over third-place finishers St. Kilda in a rather close affair that ended up with the score 69 – 60. In the preliminary final, they had a not-so-difficult time of it with number two Melbourne, winning by 27 points, sending them to the Grand Final against the powerful Hawthorn Hawks.
Footscray took the early advantage and led at the half, kicking nine goals to Hawthorn’s five. The Hawks managed to keep things close by scoring 13 behinds to the Footscray side’s seven. The final two quarters saw a reversal of fortune for Schultz and his Footscray teammates, where the Hawks dominated all the scoring to conclude the game with a decisive 94 – 51 victory. That 1961 Grand Final appearance was, as of 2014, the last for Footscray, or the Western Bulldogs as they are currently known. Schultz was named to the All-Australian Team.
Schultz had experienced plenty by the time he stepped onto the ground as a 23-year-old in 1962. Footscray was unable to maintain the same level of competence they displayed in the previous season, falling to fifth on the ladder to miss the finals. He would see his teammates pay homage to him with the club’s best and fairest for the second time. He received 15 Brownlow votes, putting him third behind Alistair Lord of Geelong, who received a remarkable 28 votes, and three others who tied with 19.
Always one to express humility in light of such honours, he gave credit to another ruckman, and 1954 Brownlow Medal winner, Ron Wright, for passing along pointers on improving his play.
John Schultz went on to play six more seasons in the VFL. His best, at least in terms of Brownlow votes, would have been 1964, when he received 16. He also was declared Footscray best and fairest for the third time. He would repeat that distinction again in 1964 and 1965. He was picked to represent Victoria in interstate play for 24 games.
He concluded having played in 188 games and kicking 39 goals. He had a large legion of fans who admired not just his skill, but also his sense of fair play, and also his stamina, where it was often observed that he was still running hard at the end of his matches. He would go on to serve on the league tribunal, was named to a back pocket on the Footscray/Western Bulldogs Team of the Century in 2002, and was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996. He is considered one of the greatest of all-time by more than a few experts.