Vale Charlie Sutton: A Bulldog through and through
The AFL family is mourning the death of Bulldogs legend Charlie Sutton, 1924-2012, who died yesterday aged 88.
Sutton is the sort of name that sits very comfortably alongside famous premiership captains of yore, such as Jack “Captain Blood” Dyer and Lou Richards.
He was recruited from local club, Spotswood, literally hours before it was zoned to South Melbourne along with the Western bay side suburbs of Williamstown and Altona.
Sutton played 173 games between 1946 and 1956 and was the Captain-Coach of Footscray when the Bulldogs won their one and only flag in 1954.
His pre-match address on that last Saturday in September, 1954 has entered footy folklore, when he famously declared to his players before running out onto the MCG, “You blokes concentrate on the footy, I’ll look after the rough stuff.”
Within a couple of minutes of the opening bounce he had knocked over three Demon players.
As can be guessed, the Captain-Coach from West wasn’t a natural orator, but he led by example, and on that famous day his charges lifted for him, including eventual man of the match, Ted “Mr Football” Whitten.
He played for Victoria 18 times and captain-coached the state team in 1952.
The Encyclopaedia of AFL footballers describes Sutton as being the “embodiment of the Bulldog spirit”.
He was a short, nuggetty back pocket who was fearless at the footy, and an inspiration to a long line of back pocket players that would follow him at the Bulldogs in the decades to come, such as Gordon Casey and Terry Wheeler.
It was only natural that he was named as coach of the Bulldogs’ Team of the Century and the Bulldogs’ inaugural AFL Hall of Fame inductee and Legend.
He remained involved with the club for many decades, being the President from 1978 to 1981 and as recently as two weeks ago attended the Bulldogs’ 2012 Hall of Fame ceremony.
When the Footscray and Fitzroy merger was announced at the end of the 1989 season, the local paper reported how “Bulldog legends Charlie Sutton and Ted Whitten stood grim faced and disbelieving as they heard that the famous red, white and blue colours – the team for which they had played their hearts out – were no more.”
When Footscray won its battle to remain a stand alone club, on Saturday, 28 October 1989, a convoy of cars drove from the Western Oval to the Footscray Mall, led by new President Peter Gordon, the original plaintiff in the court injunction, Irene Chatfield, new coach Terry Wheeler and of course Charlie Sutton himself – who else?
One of his favourite themes as a coach remains true enough today: “Forget names and reputations. Have confidence in yourself. You can do it.”
And Charlie did.