Ted Whitten Sr. Legendary Aussie Rules Footballer
One of the legendary Aussie Rules footballers to grace the field is undoubtedly the late Edward James Whitten.
Known as Ted Whitten and ‘Mr. Football’, he was a star player for the Footscray Football Club for 19 years between 1951 and 1970. He is a Legend of the Australian Football Hall of Fame who played 321 Victorian Football League (VFL) for his side.
As a junior, Ted Whitten Sr. played for Braybrook and Collingwood Amateurs. His talents were noticed by Charlie Utting, a former Collingwood VFL star who coaxed him into trying for a place in the Collingwood team. However, he was turned down and told to build up body strength if he wanted to make it to the team. Within a year, Whitten joined the Footscray team to which he remained loyal.
His VFL debut was in the first round against Richmond in 1951 in which he made a great start, kicking a goal with his first try. In the third quarter, Richmond defender ‘Mopsy’ Fraser knocked him out, after which Whitten firmly resolved to toughen up and become a successful player. Footscray went on to win the 1954 VFL Premiership in which Ted Whitten Sr. played a major role in the club’s only premiership.
Ted Whitten Sr. played his best as centre half forward or centre half back, which were his customary positions in most of his games. His all-round skills and extraordinary ability to kick well with his right and left foot contributed to his achievements on the field. Renowned Aussie football writers Jim Main and Russell Holmesby described Mr. Football as a “prodigious kick, a flawless mark”, which speaks much of his abilities.
The ‘Flick’ Pass
Ted Whitten Sr. was one of the best advocates of the now banned ‘flick’ pass and was one of very few players who were comfortable playing in any position. His natural talents paid off as he went on to become one of the most prolific Aussie Rules players of all time.
Ted Whitten Sr. led the Footscray team from 1957 to 1970, which made him one of the longest playing captains ever in the history of the game. Picking up awards and medals became a habit while he also coached his team for many games in addition to being the captain. He was named Club Champion five times in 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961. He was a Simpson Medalist in 1957 and a Tassie Medalist in 1958 (the best player at the National Carnival).
The demands of being coach and player began to take a toll on Ted Whitten Sr.’s ageing body in 1970. He played only four games in the season to break Dick Reynolds’ VFL record of 320 games and then announced his retirement. His final game was against Hawthorn at the Western Oval in front of a huge crowd. Footscray won the game by 3 points. Despite retiring from the field, Whitten went on to coach Footscray for another year.
Captain Of The AFL Team Of The Century
Ted Whitten Sr. also has the honour of being named the Captain of the AFL Team of the Century. In 2009, he was nominated by The Australian as one of the 25 greatest footballers who missed out on a Brownlow Medal. He is only one of twelve players to received Legend status in the Australian Football Hall of Fame.
His laurels do not end there. He is also one of three Australian Rules footballers alongside Ron Barassi and Leigh Matthews to be recognized as a Legend of Australian Sport in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
Ted Whitten Sr. ended his career with Footscray after playing 321 games and kicking 360 goals. He was Captain-coach of the Footscray team that finished runners-up in the 1961 season. His captaincy lasted 14 years while his coaching responsibilities extended over 13 years between 1957–1966 and 1969–1971. Whitten was the club’s leading goal kicker over four seasons, which were in 1961, 1962, 1964(tied), 1968. He was the Victorian representative player 29 times.
In 1961, he was the captain-coach, club champion and the Footscray’s leading goal-kicker. Apart from the 1961 season in which Whiten scored 42 goals, his other high goal scoring seasons came in 1962 with 38 goals, 36 in 1968, and 24 goals in 1958, 1960, and 1964.
Ted Whitten Sr. was passionate about promoting the game in the State of Origin competition. He represented and captained Victoria on 29 occasions. After his retirement, he was the chairman of the selection committee for the State team. He was never one to mince words and once said that one had to crawl over cut glass to get a state guernesy.
Right through the 1970s he was an expert commentator on television while he was a frequent radio commentator during the latter years of his life. Whitten’s fans will always remember him for his resilience on and off the field. Musician Mike Brady AM, commonly associated with Aussie Rules football anthems dedicated a song to Whitten, “It all sounds like football to me”. Incidentally, Brady is a board member on the Prostate Cancer Foundation Australia Victorian Board and features at many Men’s health events.
Most Memorable Football Event In History
In 1995, Ted Whitten Sr. went public that he was suffering from prostate cancer. Which also caused him to lose his eyesight. A few weeks before his death he was driven around a lap of the MCG by his son Ted Jr. and was given a standing ovation from a packed crowd, most of whom may never have had the opportunity to see the Legend Mr. Footballer play.
The event was voted as one of the most memorable football events in history by the Melbourne based newspaper, The Age. One of the classic moments was captured by artist Jamie Cooper, whose painting Game That Made Australia was commissioned by the AFL in 2008 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Aussie Rules football.
EJ Whitten Foundation
In honour of Ted Whitten Sr. the EJ Whitten Foundation was formed by his son, Ted Whitten Jnr. The Foundation is dedicated to increasing national awareness of prostate cancer. Their main objective is to promote early detection and raise funds for prostate cancer research through fundraising and campaign activities. The Legend will always live on.