The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) has discovered, preserved and released a rare five-minute film of a 1953 Victorian Football League (VFL – now AFL) final, featuring one of its greatest players, Essendon forward John Coleman.
Curator Simon Smith said: “This film is the last known surviving footage of Coleman, playing in the VFL First Semi-Final on 5 September 1953. He played only six more times before sustaining a career ending knee injury midway into the following season, on 5 June 1954.”
The film shows Coleman playing on arguably his toughest opponent, Footscray full back Herb Henderson. It also features early footage of Footscray greats Ted Whitten and Charlie Sutton as well as Essendon champion Bill Hutchison.
Coleman is still considered by many football experts to be the greatest VFL/AFL full forward of all time. The annual AFL Coleman Medal for the leading seasonal goal-kicker is awarded in his name, and his bronze statue was recently unveiled outside the MCG. There is virtually no footage of his pre-television six-season career (1949-54). Prior to the NFSA’s discovery, there were known surviving fragments from 5 games, all filmed during his first two seasons– approximately two minutes in total of Coleman in action.
“Coleman combined a very high goals per game ratio with an incredible highlights reel of ‘screamers’ (high marks), all of which fail to survive on film, if indeed they were ever filmed,” explained Smith. “This footage was filmed in glorious colour on 16mm film. Cinesound/Movietone newsreels would barely include 90 seconds of black and white football coverage and even then, usually only filming each season’s grand final, so we’re lucky to have these very clear images of Coleman – including some scenes in slow motion.”
The NFSA acquired the title in late 2013 as part of a collection of approximately 80 cans of 35mm and 16mm film via the deceased estate of a Melbourne collector. It is believed that the film was shot specifically for screening at Melbourne’s The Star Newsreel Theatrette (currently the site of an adult cinema on Elizabeth Street in the CBD). In the early 1950s the Theatrette struggled to acquire local newsreels so they sometimes commissioned or acquired locally shot footage.
The film has been preserved and digitised, and is now available on the NFSA’s YouTube channel:
For more information about the film, visit the NFSA blog.
Curator Simon Smith is available for comment. To arrange an interview, or to request stills/clips from the film, please contact Miguel Gonzalez, (02) 8202 0114 or [email protected]