Syd Coventry – Retired Australian Rules Football Player
Our next subject in our series dealing with Brownlow Medal winners is one Syd Coventry, a ruckman for the Collingwood Football Club in the ’20s.
He had already played two complete seasons, taking part in 32 matches, before the first Brownlow Medal, or Brownlow Trophy as it was then known, was awarded in 1924. If goal kicking was the sole, or at least predominant criterion, Coventry would have won in his first season, when he kicked his career high 14. When he did receive the accolade in 1927, he kicked only three goals, but the Pies enjoyed a 17 – 0 – 3 record that year and won the Grand Final over Richmond, in an extremely close affair where it was Syd’s brother Gordon who scored two goals to one for Richmond’s Jack Fincher. It was fitting in a way, because those two goals brought Gordon’s season total to 97 (35 more than Syd’s entire career) for the year.
Captain For Collingwood
Syd Coventry was declared one of the Best for his efforts in that game, which was played in torrential rains and freezing winds of such severity that only a bit over 34,000 fans braved the elements to see Collingwood erase the frustration of four Grand Final losses from 1920 to 1926.
Coventry had been declared captain of the side after a perfectly serviceable player, Charlie Tyson, was removed from the role as the result of pressure from supporters to do something to break the seven-year premiership dry spell the Magpies had endured. Ironically, Coventry was knocked out of the game in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Even so, it was considered one of his best performances in his 227 game career.
Along with his Brownlow recognition, Syd Coventry also was the inaugural recipient of the Copeland Trophy as Collingwood’s Best and Fairest.
1927 would be the first of four consecutive Grand Final victories for Collingwood with Syd Coventry as captain. To date, that mark has not been equaled. Their accomplishments earned them the moniker, “The Machine.”
Problems With St Kilda
Coventry had gone to Tasmania after the First World War to seek employment in the diamond mines. He was already known as an exceptionally competent footballer, even though he was only 180 cm. tall, so much so that the Saint Kilda Saints offered him a position in 1921. He accepted that proposal, only to have his brother Gordon lobby him to come and play for Collingwood. Coventry decided to follow the course of loyalty to family, something to which St. Kilda took extreme exception. Coventry was compelled to sit out for 12 months after the VFL Permits Committee agreed with the Saints’ position.
Therefore, he was almost 23 years of age when he made his debut in 1922, but he persisted until he was well beyond 35, when he left to play for Footscray, the club that was the precursor to the Western Bulldogs. Coventry spent two unrewarding seasons with the Doggies, taking part in 36 matches, winning only eight. Afterward, he returned to Collingwood to serve in an administrative capacity. He maintained his association with the team until 1976, over 50 years. That span included a 10-year stint as club vice-president and 12 years as president.
An interesting factoid concerning Coventry and the Brownlow Medal is that his seven votes was good for the honour in 1927, but his eight votes in 1932 left him a distant 15 votes behind Haydon Bunton, the 1931 and 1935 winner who was one of just four players to win the award three times.
Voting System Change
The voting system had changed from one vote per game to six votes in 1931, accounting for some of the disparity, but Coventry was still behind 14 players who had received more votes that year.
That first year of modified voting, 1931, also found the fortunes of the Collingwood side in decline, at least by previous standards. They lost to Carlton in the semifinals that year that saw Carlton ahead by 88 points when the final siren sounded. The estimable Harry Valence kicked 11 goals for Carlton on that day, more than double the output of the entire Collingwood squad, which for a defensive player such as Coventry, would have to be one of the poorer showings of his career.
Coventry and Collingwood returned to respectability in 1932, posting 15 wins against five losses, including a seven game win streak in rounds six to 12, but a loss to nemesis Carlton in the preliminary final after a semifinal win over South Melbourne meant that the Magpies’ Grand Final ambitions went unfulfilled.
Coventry’s final two seasons with Collingwood were also below expectations. Many teams would have considered the combined 19 – 1 – 10 record for those two years as signs of improved fortunes, but for a team accustomed to nothing other than consistent victory at the ultimate level, those seasons were best relegated to the rubbish heap.
Along with his work with Collingwood and Footscray, Coventry was an ever-present participant at the representative level, making a total of 27 interstate appearances. When he went to Footscray to serve as coach, he was still considered potent enough that the only way the Colllingwood committee would agree to the move was that he did not play as a member of that side.
Best And Fairest
He was once again declared Best and Fairest for his team in 1932, and since that what not his last stint with the club, it could not be said that he received the award as the result of sentimental considerations. Naturally, he is a member of Collingwood’s Team of the Century, in his rightful role as captain.
Born in Greenborough, Victoria on 13 June 1899, he lived to the ripe old age of 77 when he succumbed on 10 November 1976 in Fairfield, Victoria, less than 15 kilometres from where he was born.
His contributions to the VFL stand up to comparison with anyone who went before him, anyone who has come since, and anyone yet to come. His aggressive yet fair style of play, the vigour and competitive spirit that was a part of every game in which he played, and his leadership abilities while sacrificing his individual statistics for the benefit of the team made him a worthy recipient of football’s highest recognition, the Brownlow Medal.