Ross Smith – Former Australian Rules Brownlow Medal Winner
Ross Smith of the St. Kilda Saints took home the Charles Brownlow Trophy in 1967. A cursory glance would lead one to believe that the voters were anxious to give the Brownlow to someone other than Bob Skilton or Ian Stewart, but not so anxious as to give the medal to a player from some team other than the Saints.
Smith received the third consecutive medal that went to a St. Kilda player, as the two previous years it had gone to Stewart.
It should be obvious that we do not think Ross Smith was in any way undeserving, and our examination of his 13 season VFL career with St. Kilda will demonstrate our esteem for this rover who played for the St. Kilda side when the Saints were experiencing better times than had previously been their fortune.
Neither do we actually think that there was truly any intention of awarding the Brownlow to Smith for anything but the purest of motives, we just feel as though footy should be fun for everyone who in any way partakes in Australia’s number one spectator sport.
Here then, are a few of the details regarding the 1967 Brownlow Medal winner.
Ross Gibson Smith was born on 8 September 1942. He played in his formative years for the Hampton Scouts before making his debut for the Saints in round two of the 1961 season in a match against the Essendon Bombers. The Saints lost that game, but Smith was undaunted as he erupted for three goals against Geelong in round three that was the start of a six-game winning streak that saw the Saints being respectable with a winning season of 11 wins against seven losses.
They made it to the finals round, where they lost a tight game to Footscray by the score of 69 – 60. Smith received two Brownlow votes and showed evidence of the type of consistent play that over the course of his career saw him completely neglected by the voters only in 1965, when Smith’s teammate Ian Stewart was a veritable Brownlow vote magnet. Smith also kicked nine goals as a rookie.
Between his second season of 1962 and 1966, Ross Smith was a more or less constant figure for St. Kilda. The Saints slipped a bit in 1962 with a .500 record that put them sixth on the ladder. The next season was a vast improvement, where the side won 13 games, equal to any of the other three teams that advanced.
They finished the home-and-away season in fourth, losing a heartbreaker to Melbourne in the first semi-final to conclude their 1963 season. Smith and the Saints declined somewhat in 1964, although they still had a winning record, but 10 – 8 was good only for sixth, not enough for the post-season. Smith did contribute 21 goals and he played in every game. His consistent presence meant that during his first four seasons, he failed to appear only six times out of 73 opportunities.
Beginning in 1965, VFL statistics became much more detailed and this is where a player such as Smith demonstrated his true value to the side beyond scoring. One statistic that becomes obviously apparent is the overwhelming ratio of free kicks taken to free kicks allowed. Only in his final season did Smith surrender more than he received and during the seasons where the statistic is available, in his case from 1965 to 1975, his mark was 516 for versus 349 against.
No discussion of Ross Smith and the Saint Kilda Saints would be complete without touching on the 1966 season, when they won their first and only premiership to date. Smith kicked 18 goals that season and contributed 420 disposals, amongst other impressive statistics, in what is indisputable the Saints’ best season of their extensive history. They began the season with eight consecutive wins and three more in the final three rounds to conclude at number two on the ladder. Smith kicked two goals for his side in the second semi-final, a 10-point loss to Collingwood.
The following week, they made good against Essendon in the preliminary final, notching a convincing 42-point win.
The 1966 Grand Final was one for the ages. Over 100,000 footy fans packed the MCG to witness the Saints’ one point victory over Collingwood. From his follower position, Ross Smith contributed 18 disposals, one behind, and four free kicks for to none against.
This brings us to Smith’s 1967 Brownlow Medal season, where he received 24 votes to leave Laurie Dwyer, with 17 votes, a distant second. Smith kicked 24 goals, behind only his 31 in 1971. His free kicks taken stat was more than double his free kicks surrendered. The Saints were edged out of the finals by Collingwood and wound up fifth on the ladder, even though St. Kilda soundly defeated the Tigers in round 18, 100 – 53.
Ross Smith continued to be a solid contributor over the course of the final six seasons of his career. He helped the club back into the finals in 1968, where they fell to Geelong in the semi-final. It was the inaugural season for the VFL where the home-and-away season had expanded to 20 rounds.
The team’s fortunes soured in 1969, but they recovered to get into the 1971 Grand Final against the Hawthorn Football Club by finishing second on the ladder. It came close to being a second flag for the Saints, coming down to one goal and one behind in the fourth quarter to give the Hawks a 82 – 75 win for their second premiership.
Ross Smith received 16 Brownlow votes, good for third place in terms of votes, tied with three other players with that same total behind three with 18, including his teammate John McIntosh, and the winner with 21 votes, Ian Stewart.
Ross Smith’s final two seasons featured solid play on his part in 1972. The side made it well into the finals, losing to eventual premiers Carlton in the preliminary final.
He went over to Subiaco for 1973 and 74, coaching and playing for the Lions, formerly known as the Maroons, to the premiership of the West Australian Football League. In 1975, he returned to the Saints and appeared in 12 matches, his final appearance being a round 22 match with Richmond, where he kicked a goal when he was very nearly 33 years of age.
In 1977, he coached the Saints, but the side had its worst season in over two decades, earning the wooden spoon.
He wrapped up with 234 games played, kicking 230 goals. He averaged 18 games per season, so it is no wonder that he was twice the club’s Best and Fairest, a Football Hall of Fame inductee, three-year team captain, Victoria state Captain and first rover in St. Kilda’s Team of the Century.