Len Thompson Famous Australian Rules Footballer

He played as a Ruckman for the Collingwood Magpies in the Victorian Football League (VFL).

He started off his Australian Football career at the age of 18 and has spent decades on the field perfecting his gameplay and establishing his name as a football player.

Born on 27th August, 1947, Len Thompson is known for revolutionizing the game. He was the first ever running ruckman. In appreciation of his contributions towards the game of Australian football, he earned a spot in the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

Len Thompson

Prior to joining the Magpies, Len Thompson used to train with the Essendon Football Club but he wasn’t able to make the selection and was rejected. Their loss was a gain for the Magpies, the team which Len Thompson played with through 272 games across 13 years. Throughout the time he played with them, he booted 217 goals.

Football Career

Len Thompson was a key player for the Magpies because of the position he played as well as because of his dominance on the ground. Standing at 6 ft. 6inches tall and weighing 95 kg, his physical attributes combined with his athletic abilities to ensure his position as a ruckman on the team.

Now there are certain kinds of ruckmen in Australian football, namely a tap ruckman, a mobile ruckman and a thump ruckman. However, Len Thompson was known to be the first of his kind; he was a running ruckman. He was able to run, bounce and kick with both feet.

Before being recruited by the Magpies, Len Thompson used to train with Essendon. However, he didn’t make it through the selection process and was rejected by the club. After Essendon rejected him, there were reports that the club was struggling to find a good ruckman throughout Len Thompson’s career.

His rejection was all what he needed to join the Collingwood Pies in 1965. He played his first game for Collingwood in 1965 against Essendon, but unfortunately the prior lost by a difference of 55 points. Although Collingwood was not able to win the game, Len Thompson was recognized as a good ruckman and was praised for his overall performance in the game.

During his career for Collingwood, Len Thompson acted as a vice captain for the team. At one point, he went on strike along with Des Tudderham, the captain at the time, because they believed that the club was deliberately paying unfair salaries to players to persuade them to move to the east. The strike proved to be effective as the demands that Len Thompson and Des has presented were accepted rather quickly. After their return, Len Thompson would be paid $10 extra per game and the captain Tudderham would be paid $20 extra. This strike did affect the relationship of Len Thompson and the club for a while, but he returned to the club as vice-captain in 1973. He later he became the captain in 1978.

His 13 year association with Collingwood allowed him to play 272 VFL games and boot 217 goals for the club. During the same time duration, he was also the proud recipient of the Brownlow medal in 1972, which is of one of the most sought after awards in Australian Football.

With the South Melbourne Football Club

Len Thompson’s career at South Melbourne had a short span of only one year. He joined the Club in 1979 after he left captaincy at Collingwood. During that time, the South Melbourne Club, also known as the Sydney Swans, was facing problems with recruiting good players due to the fact that most of the players in South Melbourne were being hired by clubs outside the city.

The club did not have the financial resources to recruit interstate players. In addition, its in-city recruited players were not able to compensate for this. Regardless, the club was able to rise to fourth place for a short period in 1970, but their success left them as they lost 29 games one after the other in 1973. The Swans even made the finals, led by Coach Ian Stewart in 1977, but lost to Richmond by 34 points at the elimination final.

However, this was before recruiting Collingwood’s star ruckman Len Thompson in 1979. With him on the team, the club hoped to see better days. Sadly, Len Thompson’s career with the Swans was short lived as he was only able to play with them for about a year. Yet, during that time, he played 20 games for the club and booted 39 goals.

Despite the club’s efforts, the club was deep in debts by the end of 1979 and decided to relocate to Sydney in 1980. With no team to belong to, Len Thompson started looking around until he set his sights on Fitzroy.

With the Fitzroy Football Club

Fitzroy Football Club, which was also known as The Lions at the time, was the club Len Thompson joined in 1980 as a ruckman.

Before Len Thompson joined Fitzroy, the club was in a crisis and was moving from ground to ground. In 1966, a Council Health Officer failed the changing rooms in a health inspection, following which the Lions had to find another ground.

Fitzroy was looking to relocate to the Olympic Training ground and tried to persuade the Heidelberg Council to heed to their request. Finally, the Lions re-located to Carlton’s Princess Park, where they remained until 1968 when they started having problems with the rent that was being charged by Carlton. However, during this entire time, the administration was still being run from the Brunswick Street Oval. Once the club started having problems with the high rent being charged of them, they decided to move to Junction Oval where they won by a record score of 238 and a margin of 190.

As the Lions’ ruckman, Len Thompson played 13 games and scored a total of 19 goals. Again, he didn’t last longer with the team or else he would have played more games or booted more.

The ruckman’s total career consisted of 305 VFL games and he played four grand final games. In spite of this track record, he was not able to play a in a single premiership team.

Coaching Career

Len Thompson’s coaching career was not a very long one. He only coached a single club in 1989: the Northern Blues Football Club. He led the Northern Blues to play in the Victorian Football Association (VFA), but the team wasn’t able to make the finals even with a 9 out of 9 average.


Len Thompson was considered a star ruckman for the Collingwood Magpies and he had awards and titles to account for this.

He won his very first Copeland Trophy for being the club’s Best and Fairest in 1967. He went on to win this four more times between 1968 and 1977, which helped him establish a record for winning the Copeland Trophy five times.

Len Thompson was awarded the title of the Most Consistent Player of the year five times between the years 1967 and 1977. He was also given the title of the Best player for his performance in the finals of 1977.
In 1972, on account of his performances and conduct, Len Thompson was awarded the Brownlow Medal. He was 25 when he won the Brownlow medal.

His career started with Collingwood in 1965, but by 1969, he was made Deputy Vice Captain and was later made the Vice Captain in 1973. He held the position till 1977 after which Len Thompson rose to the position of captain in 1978.


On the 18th of September, 2007 Len Thompson died at the home of one of his ex-wives. The Magpies’ once star ruckman had fallen in the shower after having a heart attack. He was sixty at the time. Len Thompson’s death came as a surprise to football fans, especially to the Collingwood club in which he spent most of his career years.

In addition to his children Nicolas, Sam, Lachlan, Laura and Emily, Len Thompson’s funeral was attended by colleagues and fans. There were about 1200 attendees at his funeral. His funeral was conducted by Reverend David Richardson at Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral on 25th September, 2007.

During his two-hour funeral service, he was given a tribute by many Australian Football players including team member Peter McKenna and Collingwood captain Des Tuddenham. Even the Collingwood FC president Eddie McGuire gave a tribute to the champion.

Despite being one of the well-known Australian rules footballers, Len Thompson was always humble and modest with all his teammates and everyone around him. His death was a sad day for the AFL, but his achievements and records are left behind as a legacy and inspiration to budding football players.

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