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Encyclopedia > John Coleman
John Coleman

David John Coleman (November 28, 1928 - April 5, 1973) was a player (1949 to 1954) and coach (1961 to 1967) for Essendon in the Victorian Football League (now the AFL). No person who saw Coleman play would deny that Coleman ranks as one of the half dozen greatest Australian footballers of all time. A spectacular, high-leaping forward who compiled the second highest goal average in the history of VFL/AFL football, Coleman was the game's tragic "shooting star" whose career and life was all too brief. A knee injury prematurely ended his career at 25, but he later returned to coach the Bombers to premiership success; unfortunately, he was destined to die at the young age of 44. Image File history File links John_coleman_football. ... Image File history File links John_coleman_football. ... November 28 is the 332nd day (333rd in leap years) of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1928 (MCMXXVIII) was a leap year starting on Sunday (link will display full calendar). ... April 5 is the 95th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (96th in leap years). ... 1973 (MCMLXXIII) was a common year starting on Monday. ... Essendon Football Club, nicknamed The Bombers, is an Australian rules football club that is part of the Australian Football League. ... The Victorian Football League, formerly known as the Victorian Football Association (VFA), is a second-tier Australian rules football league. ... AFL has a number of references: Football leagues Australian Football League — professional competition in Australian Rules Football. ...


Early Days - The Teenage Prodigy

Born at Port Fairy in western Victoria to Albert Ernest Coleman (a manager) and his wife Ella Elizabeth (née Matthews), Coleman was the fourth child of the family. He was introduced to football at Port Fairy Higher Elementary School. During the early war years, the family shifted to Melbourne where Coleman was enrolled at Ascot Vale West State School and he later attended Moonee Ponds Central School. At the age of 12, he was already good enough to play in a local under-18 team. In 1943 Ella took the children to live at Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula as her husband remained in the city to look after his business. Therefore, the young Coleman divided his time between Melbourne (as a student at University High School), and Hastings, playing on Saturdays for the local team which competed in the Mornington Peninsula League.

Essendon first invited Coleman to train at the club in 1946, but considered him too young to make the grade. In the following two seasons, Coleman completed pre-season training with the Bombers and played in practice matches. However, both times he was sent back to Hastings where he booted a remarkable 296 goals in two years. Ironically, Essendon lost the 1947 Grand Final by one point and tied the 1948 Grand Final with the most inaccurate score (7.27) ever recorded in a final, before losing the premiership in a replay the following week. The press universally condemned the Bombers for their incohesive forward play in all three matches. Clearly, the team needed a reliable key forward.

The Instant Sensation

The 1949 season was a make or break time for the budding forward. He again trained with Essendon, but was frustrated by many of the senior players who ignored his leads. Coleman's potential was noted by a number of other clubs and Richmond made an attempt to sign him. However, Essendon finally saw the light and selected him for the opening round match against Hawthorn.

From his first match, when he kicked a record twelve goals, Coleman was the star player in the game, which was experiencing a boom in the immediate post-war years. Standing 185 cm tall, with a pale complexion and slight build, Coleman didn't appear imposing. He looked languid as he stood in the goal square, often a metre behind the full-back, with his long-sleeved guernsey (number 10) rolled up to his elbows. Then, with explosive speed, Coleman would slip the guard of his opponent and sprint into open space on the lead or leap onto a pack of players to take a spectacular mark. This innate ability to make position and his prodigious leap immediately caught the public imagination. He needed few opportunities to influence the outcome of a game, usually converting from most of his set shots by way of long, flat punt kicks.

Coleman capped his brilliant debut year in storybook fashion - he booted his one hundredth goal in the dying moments of a record Grand Final win over Carlton. He reamains the only player to kick one hundred goals in his first year. The next year, he followed up with his most prolific season (120 goals) to lead Essendon to the premiership over North Melbourne.

Opposition coaches and full-backs stopped at nothing to curb Coleman's influence. In a one-on-one duel, close-checking, spoiling defenders fared best, but few could outrun him, and certainly no one could match him in the air. Often pitted against two, or even three, opponents, Coleman's equilibrium could be upset by needling, jostling and physical contact which often happened behind the play. Coleman's sometimes fiery temper ensured that he never backed away from a confrontation. These problems came to head quite sensationally in the last home-and-away round of the 1951 season. Coleman exchanged blows with the Carlton backman Harry Caspar and both men were reported. At the tribunal hearing, a boundary umpire gave evidence that Coleman had retaliated only after receiving two unprovoked punches from Harry Caspar. This did not influence the tribunal, which suspended Coleman for four weeks, putting him out of the finals. Coleman, distraught, was photographed weeping as he left the hearing. Eventually, the Bombers went on to lose the Grand Final by eleven points and disconsolate supporters blamed his suspension for Essendon's failure to win its third successive premiership.

A Career Too Short

After six succesive years in the Grand Final, Essendon dropped down the ladder as an era ended. Coleman continued to be the best forward in the game, winning the VFL goal-kicking by scoring 103 goals in 1952 and 97 in 1953. In the seventh game of the 1954 season he kicked his best ever tally of 14 goals against Fitzroy. But at Windy Hill a week later, Coleman fell heavily and dislocated his knee in what proved to be his last game. His attempts to return drew many headlines over the next two years but, despite surgery, he was forced to concede defeat in the lead up to the 1956 season. In just 98 appearances, he averaged 5.48 goals per game.

Coleman was a capable businessman who understood the commercial potential of his fame. Football had interrupted his commerce studies at Melbourne University in 1949, but the game helped him to launch a career managing pubs. Essendon vice president Ted Rippon made him the manager of the Auburn Hotel and their association continued when Coleman became licensee of the Essendon Hotel. Subsequently, he went into business on his own, running the West Brunswick Hotel. He also developed media interests, writing for the Herald newspaper from 1954 and appearing as a commentator on television after its' introduction in 1956. On 3 March 1955 at St Thomas's Anglican Church, Essendon, he married Reine Monica Fernando. They had two daughters together.with his wife

Return Of the Prodigal

Coleman's business and family life took an unexpected turn in 1961, when Essendon were seeking to replace retired coach Dick Reynolds, who had led the Bombers for 22 years. Despite zero as a coach, Coleman was the club's first choice and they spent much time and effort in persuading him to take the job. Over the previous decade, Essendon had earned the nickname "the Gliders" in reference to their lightweight performances at the business end of the season. Coleman's brief was to inject more vigor into the side and get them to play as Coleman did. He proved to be a clever tactician, eschewing the histrionics of a "hot-gospelling" style, instead concentrating his efforts on quietly harnessing the individual talents of his players. After a disappointing first season when the team seemed to have trouble adjusting to his style, Coleman surprised many by leading the Bombers to the premiership in 1962. The team performed brilliantly, losing only two games for the year and crushing Carlton in the Grand Final.

During his playing days Coleman had developed a special loathing for umpires and they were often the target of his venomous tongue as a coach. Essendon suffered a premiership hangover and finished fifth in 1963, then were eliminated in the first semi final of 1964. Another flag followed in 1965, when Essendon achieved the rare feat of winning from fourth place. With two premierships in the bag as a coach, Coleman could rest assured that his reputation was secure. By now, his health had begun to cause him some concern. The knee injury prevented him from actively participating in training and he suffered badly from thrombosis. He reluctantly agreed to return for the 1967 season, but the Bombers missed the finals and Coleman then handed the job over to Jack Clarke.

Sudden Death and Tributes

Coleman moved to the Mornington Peninsula, buying a rural property at Arthurs Seat and running the Dromana Hotel. In the early hours of 5 April 1973, he died suddenly of coronary atheroma. The public was stunned and saddened. Some controversy later emerged when it was claimed that a doctor called to attend him failed to do so until it was too late. After a large funeral attended by many of Melbourne's sporting community, Coleman was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $280,270.

The first official recognition of Coleman's career came in 1981 with the introduction of the John Coleman medal, awarded to the highest goalkicker in the VFL/AFL. Coleman was recognised as the second greatest player to play for Essendon in the "Champions of Essendon" list. He was also named one of the twelve inaugural inductees into the AFL hall of fame as a "Legend of the Game". Confirming his status as the greatest full-forward to play the game, in 1996 he was named as the full-forward in the AFL's team of the century, ahead of names such as Bob Pratt, Peter Hudson, Tony Lockett and Jason Dunstall. Hudson is the only player to exceed Coleman's average of goals per game. A statute of Coleman has been placed outside the library in the town where it all began, Hastings, Victoria. Hastings is a suburb in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. ...


  • Whitington RS, The Champions (Melb, 1976)
  • Maplestone M, Those Magnificent Men, 1897-1987 (Melb, 1988)
  • Brittingham W, Essendon Football Club Premiership Documentary, 1949 and 1950 (Melb, 1991)
  • The Herald (Melbourne), 17 Sept 1949, 5 Apr 1973, 23 Mar 1979
  • The Age (Melbourne), 3, 7 Sept 1951
  • Graeme Davison, 'Coleman, John Douglas (1928 - 1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, Melbourne University Press, 1993, pp 463-464

  Results from FactBites:
Telegraph | News | Canon John Coleman (926 words)
Canon John Coleman, who has died aged 79, was the missionary doctor taken captive during the Iranian revolution; he was freed thanks to the efforts of the Archbishop of Canterbury's envoy Terry Waite.
John Wycliffe Coleman was born on May 10 1924 in Cairo, the son of a missionary doctor.
It was Coleman's nature to become wholly wrapped up in a project; he was quite capable of telephoning a colleague in the middle of the night, having forgotten the hour.
  More results at FactBites »



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