Roy Wright – Brownlow Medal Winner
Roy Wright (23 February 1929 – 30 July 2002), would have thought himself the only Brownlow Medal winner in 1952, and he survived to see the award split betwixt he and Bill Hutchison when the retrospective awarding was made, unlike Hutchison, who was well dead by that time.
His story is unique in that childhood afflictions prevented him from playing competitive sports until he was 16 years old. He suffered from weak knees and had to wear braces on his legs, yet in something of a Forrest Gump-type story, he made his debut with Richmond after just one season with North Kew of the Eastern District Football League.
Roy Wright Debuts In 1946
His debut came in a round 14 match against St. Kilda, a lopsided affair at Junction Oval on 27 July 1946. His first goals, three of them, came the following week in a close loss to Footscray. It would have appeared that Wright had the potential to be a potent scorer in the VFL, based on that three-goal performance in his second game, but scoring was not his forte, and he kicked only three the entire 1947 season, when he bettered his six match appearances from 1946 to eight, playing alongside Jack Dyer and Bill Morris in a losing semifinal effort against Fitzroy.
Goal scoring by Wright fell even further, to just one, in 1948, with twelve appearances. The Richmond Football Club had a mediocre year, neither bad nor good, compiling a winning record of 11 victories, 7 losses and 1 draw.
Wright had spent quite a bit of time playing with the reserves in his first three seasons. He missed some as the result of injuries as well, so he managed to get on the ground with the seniors just 26 times over that course of time. He even tried to gain his clearance from Richmond to take a spot with the Hawthorn Hawks. The situation improved somewhat in 1949, when he got into 15 matches and his time on the ball increased still more when Jack Dyer retired at the end of the season. He played in 15 matches again in 1950, and began to emerge as a force with which to be reckoned from his ruck position, when he scored to-then career high 10 goals, and even managed to attract three Brownlow votes.
Wright played every match for the Tigers in 1951. He scored just four goals and received two Brownlow votes. He and Des Rowe tied for the Richmond best and fairest award as he began to play ahead of Bill Morris, who was in his final season, clearing the way for Wright to move into the role of number one ruck.
He made good on that progress in 1952. Playing in 17 matches, he surpassed his previous career high of 10 goals with 11.
Roy Wright Wins Brownlow Medal
His Brownlow vote total soared, and even though he finished the season tied with Essendon’s Bill Hutchison, the award went to Wright solely based on the scoring system in effect at that time. The Tigers, however, were mainly ineffectual, winning just eight times in 19 attempts that season, although they did beat the at that time perennial powerhouse Essendon Football Club both times the two sides met, the first one a close affair at the Bomber’s Windy Hill Oval, and the second one a clear 25 point victory in front of 28,000 Punt Road fans. Along with his Brownlow as the league’s best and fairest, his team bestowed that same honour on him for the second time.
Somewhat surprisingly, despite setting a career high goal kicking mark of 14 in 1953, Wright found himself attracting only one third of the Brownlow votes he had received the year prior. Bill Hutchison was the clear winner, with 26 votes, and from the perspective of time, it is difficult to see how Wright fell so far out of favour. The dismal season by Richmond may have contributed, as the Tigers won only three times the entire year.
It seems even more improbable that Wright would again see his star shining bright once again in 1954. True, the Tigers did improve by seven victories to notch a total of 10 wins. Wright’s scoring soared to his career high of 25 goals. His 29 Brownlow votes had him 10 clear of the second place finisher. This time, there was absolutely no suspense as there had been in 1952, when most thought that Bill Hutchison would take the Brownlow.
Clubs Best And Fairest 3rd Time
Wright’s 29 vote, 10-vote margin of victory remains the record for the winning margin. Wright was widely acknowledged as the best ruckman in the game. His team, however, found itself outside the finals on an all too frequent basis, and routinely near the bottom of the ladder. The play of Wright was a solitary bright spot in a firmament of gloom. He was club best and fairest for the third time.
In light of his landslide Brownlow win in 1954, it is again perplexing that he managed to gain only four votes in 1955. He kicked his career second best of 15 goals. Richmond was once again near the bottom of the ladder, but the blame for this could not have been put entirely on Wright’s shoulders.
He had been the regular first choice as ruckman for the Victorian interstate team, so it is fairly obvious that he was playing proficiently. His kicking was, always had been, and always would be accurate and powerful. He once punted a ball 73 metres to score in a match on his home oval and he was also a reliable mark. Everyone was awed by his sportsmanship, the accuracy of his hit-outs, and his dedication to the game was obvious every time he took the ground, so why VFL officials chose to slight him is difficult to comprehend.
The 1956 season found him in much the same territory. The team floundered, winning only six times. Wright missed five games, and his Brownlow medal vote total was just six. That same year, his play for the interstate squad resulted in his being named All-Australian.
From the VFL perspective, Wright made a nice rebound in 1957, attracting 20 Brownlow votes to finish second to Brian Gleeson of St. Kilda. He was once again Richmond best and fairest, for the fourth and final time. From the team perspective, his Richmond club won just half of the 18 games it played.
Wright was rightly made captain on the club in 1958. Injuries began to take a toll on his playing time, however, and he was limited to 14 games in his 13th season, not all that difficult to imagine of a man his size, particularly in light of the physical challenges with which he dealt as a boy and young man.
He was able to return in 1959, but he was on and off the ground. He did manage to play the final four rounds in the season, finishing out with 195 games, 127 goals, two Brownlow Medals and four Richmond best and fairest. Quite remarkable achievements, considered in any light. He was just 30 when he was compelled to quit the game.
He did stay involved with football for many years subsequent to his playing days. He worked for ABC in the 60s, when the game first started to appear on television.
He had a show called Wright on the Ball for the better part of a decade. In the 80s, he moved quite a distance from his old playing ground, but was frequently found in attendance at various team functions, signing autographs and promoting the Tigers in any way required.
Team Of The Century 1998
Roy Wright was one of the inaugural inductees of the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996. When Richmond announced its Team of the Century in 1998, he was chosen as first ruckman, that coming ahead of the selection of Jack Dyer. Wright in all likelihood considered that the greatest of honours and anyone with any background in the history of the game of Australian Rules Football would easily agree that merely being mentioned in the same breath with Jack Dyer was the polar opposite of faint praise.
Roy Wright, the ‘Gentle Giant’ as he was often known by Richmond teammates and fans during his playing days and beyond, was 73 years of age when he passed away on 30 July 2002. His story of overcoming adversity, combined with the skill and passion he exemplified, make the story of his career and life one of inspiration and admiration that will never be forgotten.