The Australian Football Hall of Fame night is one of the great nights. It is wonderful hearing the old stories and learning about the magnificent history of our indigenous game.
As a St Kilda supporter, it was especially pleasing to see Trevor Barker, one of the four or five most beloved Saints of all time, be inducted. A few years ago we heard great yarns from Neil Roberts when he was inducted.
Here’s the thing though, and this will be wildly unpopular: neither of them should be in there. Very good footballers both of them, but not Hall of Fame worthy.
On Tuesday, the Hall of Fame inducted five players for their playing exploits, while also deservedly inducting Mick Malthouse as a coach. None of those five players had played a game since 1992, meaning all had been eligible for inducted for at least 20 years.
How had their playing careers improved in that time? If they weren’t good enough 20 years ago, what makes them good enough now? I won’t be telling my grandkids I saw Brad Hardie play on a Sunday afternoon at Carrara in a long-sleeve yellow-and-maroon monstrosity of a jumper.
To put it simply, what we have in Australian Football is a Hall of the Very Good. The Hall rewards contextual significance, which is why Barker is in there. It also rewards groundbreakers, which is why Mark Bickley is in there as Adelaide’s only premiership captain.
But Bickley was never All Australian or won a club Best and Fairest. So he was never the best player at his club or in the best 20 players in the league at any one time.
What would an actual Hall of Fame look like? Let’s have a crack.
Since the initial class of 1996, 26 players have been inducted within four or five years of retirement, making them what the Yanks would call a “first-ballot Hall of Famer”. So for these guys, there wasn’t a real argument to ever keeping them out of the Hall of Fame.
Despite what this correspondent thinks about these players, I’m not going to argue about whether these guys should be there.
Add to these two Wayne Carey and Gary Ablett Senior, who were kept out for a while because of off-field behaviour. Then there are the Legends – there’s 28 of them, so we’re now up to 56 legit Hall of Famers.
Of the 1996 original inductees, two adhere to my “first-ballot” rule: Simon Madden and Michael Tuck. So they’re in.
Four members of the AFL’s Team of the Century from 1996 were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996 but are not Hall of Fame Legends:
Francis Bourke, Bruce Doull, Keith Greig and Bernie Smith. They’re in, taking our total up to 62.
And now one needs to make subjective decisions about people they may have never seen play. Without wading deeper into a rhetorical quagmire, some of the 1996 inductees I would have no objection to being in the Hall of Fame would be Syd Coventry, Bob Davis, Gary Dempsey, Russell Ebert, Robert Flower, Bernie Quinlan, Jack Regan, Bob Rose, Albert Thurgood, Jack Titus, Ivor Warne-Smith and Doug Wade.
In my opinion, a Hall of Fame should only be for the non-arguables. If there is any serious discussion or doubt, they’re out. By making it more exclusive it would raise it to another level, and render the need for a different class of inductee, the “Legend”, needless.
I’ve been following St Kilda all my life and have been a member for 20 years. There have been some great players run around for the Saints in that time, but in my opinion, only two that are Hall of Fame worthy: Robert Harvey (who is in), and Nick Riewoldt.
When in doubt, leave them out. That would be what I would do, and then it would truly be a Hall of Fame.