Interesting article. Statue will be revealed at the MCG today.
With all due respect to your Chappys and Buddys, when it comes to footballers missing finals due to suspension, one name sits - as he invariably did - above the pack.
John Coleman's four-match ban for retaliating against Carlton's Harry Caspar in the final home-and-away round of 1951 gave rise to one of the great ''if only'' tales, as Essendon still got within 10 points of Geelong in the grand final even without the game's goalkicking colossus. The image of a tearful Coleman leaving the tribunal enshrined Caspar as one of the great footy villains.
Now, as Coleman leaps in bronze into the MCG's Avenue Of Legends, a book has hit the electronic shelves that sheds a new light on the incident. Coleman was too good - as footballer and man - for the gloss to be brushed from his legend. But as the staggering 14th chapter of Doug Ackerly's Coleman - The Untold Story of an AFL Legend shows, a version of this famous clash has emerged that paints him as the architect of his own misery.
Ackerly has long enjoyed taking big moments in football - the first televised game, the first successful knee reconstruction, the umpires' strike of 1981 - and applying the sort of forensic analysis to them that has become commonplace. He never dreamt what his Coleman research would uncover.
One of the 178 people he interviewed was Murray McInerney, the son of a Supreme Court judge whose mother's first cousin was a man named Herb Kent - the boundary umpire who, along with the goal umpire, reported Coleman and Caspar for striking each other at Princes Park. In writing his family history, McInerney unearthed an amazing untold element of the Coleman-Caspar tale.
''Murray told me that Herb Kent said, 'Coleman was calling him 'killer','' Ackerly says. Such a choice of nickname might in a certain light have been taken as a compliment of sorts - if it hadn't been so close to the bone.
In May that year, the VFL had held a lightning premiership at the MCG to mark 50 years since Federation. Carlton was knocked out in its first game, and Caspar, a 24-year-old ruckman from Northcote, stayed on to enjoy the hospitality. He drank, by his own admission, 10 to 14 beers, then drove his plumber's ute home to Carlton, stopping at the Nicholson Hotel for another ''two or three'' in the six o'clock swill.
His parents were out when he got home, so he headed out again, driving towards a Lygon St newsagency to buy the evening Herald. It was raining, his wipers were broken, and near the corner of Patterson Street a 41-year-old storeman who had also had a big public holiday lurched in front of Caspar's ute, was knocked down, and died at the scene.
Ackerly is staggered that a league footballer was involved in a fatal road accident, and it received almost no publicity. The incident made the next day's papers, but Caspar wasn't named until reporting of the inquest several weeks later. Even then, it passed under the radar.
The evidence was alarming; a doctor from the Royal Melbourne Hospital conducting a sobriety test in which Caspar successfully walked a straight line and touched his nose, and despite a blood alcohol reading of 0.212 - more than four times today's legal limit - he was deemed by Dr Leonard Dixon to be ''not under the influence enough to be charged''.
As Ackerly notes, at 185centimetres and 89kilograms, Caspar was ''a decent lump of human blotting paper''.
Umps not welcome
The VFL tribunal that sat in judgment of Coleman and Caspar wasn't so lenient, with Ackerly recalling the outrage after the star Bomber was given the same suspension as Caspar (retaliators generally received half the aggressor's sentence at the time), despite both boundary umpire Kent and goal umpire Roy Allen saying in evidence that he was clearly responding to blows delivered by Caspar.
The incident informed a poisonous relationship between Coleman and umpires, who were virtually banned from his various hotels in later years. Ackerly says Coleman was ''beautifully deported in public, almost a non-drinker, had a very good interpersonal manner, you couldn't fault him. But he hated umpires''.
He was reported several times after this, including an interstate game and four times as a non-playing coach (once for wrestling Geelong's Paul Vinar on the ground clad in a gabardine coat), and got off every time. ''The Caspar incident's the only time he got 'porridge','' Ackerly says.
He ran it through today's protocols and, at worst - if it was proved Coleman punched Caspar to the head - he would have copped a two-game suspension with an early plea. But according to match review panel chairman Mark Fraser, "If there was no forceful contact to the head or neck region, we would grade the contact to the body'', and as Caspar didn't leave the field or sustain any injury, the impact would have been graded low and he could have escaped with a reprimand.
Ackerly's e-book, available through iTunes, covers only the playing side of Coleman's stunning 98-game career, with a print version encompassing his coaching, life and premature death 40 years ago, slated for April. He can't help but like him - the footballer, and the man.
The e-book is a comprehensive account of a playing career that changed newspapers, pushing racing off the back page and eventually putting our national game on page one. The full story will explore the devoted family man who even before a knee injury ended his career - which might have sidelined him for mere weeks today - vocalised his belief that there was more to life than football.
He also told friends he never thought he would ''make old bones'', and Ackerly flags a compelling fleshing out of the picture, including an account of his death at 44 to a heart attack. He spoke to the last person to see him alive, a 97-year-old Canberra man who, with his wife, were the only guests at Coleman's Dromana hotel the night he died.
''He appeared at their door in agony, wearing only a towel, and asked them to ring an ambulance.'' Soon after, he was gone.
On Wednesday he will rise again, in a dramatic and lasting fashion, thanks to sculptor Lis Johnson's work. She knew nothing of him beforehand, and after a month's research and three more immersed in Coleman in her studio, became so close she almost felt like an intruder.
''You spend the whole day with that person, with their body, it's quite intimate in a way,'' says Johnson, who was struck by how much he resembled her father in his wedding photo. She acknowledges the looks and appeal that made him a heart-throb of the 1950s, and through lunching with Coleman's great friend Ron Freer and talking to others, says finding that he was also ''a nice bloke, a real gentleman, very modest'' made her task that much more pleasant.
Physically, she notes the narrow torso and massive thighs, the sartorius muscle that ''popped out, basically'' from hip to knee. This is where Coleman's power came from, leading and leaping to greatness.
Johnson doesn't want to jinx her work, but is happy with it.
She likes its energy, the strong hands and eyes only for the ball. ''He sort of looks like he's floating,'' she says.
In capturing Coleman, you could ask for no more.