Good Old Collingwood Forever

The Story of Collingwood's 1953 Premiership

The Opposition – St Kilda

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1953 can be considered a reasonable season for the perennial cellar dweller when compared to their usual St Kilda standards, when they finished in 9th position with just five wins. St Kilda did have some great players in their team in the early 50s but unfortunately those who were running the club were small businessmen who seemed to have little idea of what they were doing. Things would eventually get better for St Kilda, with three of their players winning the Brownlow Medal by decade’s end, although they would not reach the finals until 1961. In 1965 the Saints would dominate the home & away season before going down to Essendon in the Grand Final, while we all know about what happened 12 months later.

In 1953 St Kilda was coached by Col Williamson. He had played with St Kilda between 1937 and 1946 and was a tall, strong ruckman and utility player who was safe and trusty and never let the side down. It was not his fault that the Saints did not succeed in his two seasons as coach. In 1954 he was replaced as coach by ex-North Melbourne champion Les Foote.

Keith Drinan

The Saints’ captain for 1953 was Keith Drinan, who had developed into one of the Saints’ best ever full-backs, he also won St Kilda’s best & fairest award in 1953, as well as in 1956. A player with a big heart but little flair, his effectiveness was undoubted. When he was appointed captain of St Kilda in 1951 he was just 26 years old and the youngest captain in the VFL. He played 134 games fo St Kilda between 1944 and 1957. In 1954 he was controversially replaced as captain by ex-North Melbourne champion Les Foote, who had returned to Melbourne after a stint playing in country New South Wales. After Foote departed at the end of the 1955 season Drinan was reappointed captain. He a did apply for the Saints’ vacant coaching position but this went to Allan Killigrew. Drinan was the last returned serviceman to play VFL football.

Neil ‘Coco’ Roberts was in his second season with St Kilda in 1953 and had not yet developed into the superstar footballer he was to become. After his first two seasons it seemed that he was going nowhere as a footballer until he was switch from the forward line o centre-half-back. In 1955 he established himself as a star by winning the St Kilda best and fairest and winning a spot in the state team. He also finished third in the Brownlow. In 1958 while deputising for injured skipper Brian Gleeson Roberts proved to be an inspiring leader and won the Brownlow Medal by 2 votes. He was appointed full-time captain in 1959 and in 1962 he led St Kilda into the finals for the first time in 22 years. He represented Victoria 11 times during his career.

Brian Gleeson would have to be considered one of the unluckiest players to play VFL football. He played just 71 games between 1953 and 1957. He won the Brownlow Medal in 1957 and was appointed captain of St Kilda for 1958 but he injured a knee in a practice game and never played again. Gleeson had a great high marking ability and developed into a fine ruckman with the knack of directing hit-outs unerringly.

Jim Ross

Jim Ross is one of the best players to have played for the Saints. A St Kilda stalwart, he played 139 between 1946 and 1954 and won the best and fairest award three times, in 1949, 1951 and 1952, a feat that has been bettered only by Nick Riewoldt and Robert Harvey and equalled by Nathan Burke and Darrell Baldock. He is also member of St Kilda’s Team of the Century and in 1954 he topped the Saints goalkicking. Ross was a classy footballer and one of the few quality players that St Kilda had in the 1940s and early 50s. He played at either centre half forward or in the ruck and could intelligently palm the ball to his rovers. He was a grand mark with great dash and anticipation. He should have won his fourth best and fairest award in 1954 but for the pettiness of the St Kilda committee. Despite having a fine season the award went to newly appointed captain-coach Les Foote, with few people doubting that Ross’ request for financial assistance at the start of the season angering chairman of selectors Bert Day, who told him he could have a clearance on the spot if that was what he wanted. Ross quit the Saints at the end of the 54 season at the age of 26 to captain-coach a Tasmanian side. In 1958 he won All-Australian selection.

Bruce Phillips

Bruce Phillips won St Kilda’s best and fairest award in 1950 playing at full-back. In that stand out season he also won the Herald’s best player award and came equal third in the Brownlow Medal. In 115 games between 1947 and 1955 Phillips proved to have uncanny anticipation and liked to charged out in front of the opposing full-forwards and send a long kick downfield. He represented Victoria in 1950 and 1953, he was forced to retire at 26 after he injured a knee in a practice match in 1956.

Jack McDonald

Jack McDonald was a left footer with great pace who played in the forward line for the Saints between 1948 and 1956, who had the ability to kick the ball long. He could devastate opposition defences but was also very moody In his 113 games he led St Kilda’s goalkicking three times.

Peter Bennett was an accurate full-forward who played 103 games in two stints in 1944 and between 1947 and 1953, his football career interrupted by war service. He led St Kilda’s goalkicking in 1947, 1948, 1950, 1951 and 1953, but is best remembered as the captain of Australia’s water polo team at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. He retired from football in 1954 to concentrate on his Olympic career.

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