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Fanning’s record lives 70 years on

Matt Burgan  August 18, 2017 4:32 PM

If footy was played like it is today, Dad would’ve been the ‘Buddy’ Franklin of 1947

ON AUGUST 30, 1947, Melbourne full-forward Fred Fanning kicked a VFL/AFL record 18 goals to help his side defeat St Kilda by 93 points at the Junction Oval.

Almost seventy years to the day, his phenomenal achievement remains – which is remarkable given the likes of Tony Lockett, Jason Dunstall, Gary Ablett Snr, Peter Hudson, Peter McKenna and Doug Wade all had stunning careers in front of goal, post-Fanning.

For the record, Fanning’s 18 majors came in his final game for Melbourne, which tallied 411 goals from 104 matches. He topped the league’s goalkicking in 1944-45 and 1947, and in 1943 at the end of the home and away season. Fanning also led Melbourne’s goalkicking five times.

A member of Melbourne’s 1940 premiership, he won the club’s best and fairest award in 1945.

Despite Fanning’s record, his son Paul, now in his 60s, says his late father felt his 18 goals wasn’t his finest football moment.

“He said his greatest record, out of all the things he achieved, besides kicking the 18 goals, is a small tin plaque that I have in my possession, from the 1947 carnival team, where he was picked as All-Australian full-forward,” he told melbournefc.com.au.  

Born in 1921, Fanning was recruited to Melbourne as a 16-year-old from Coburg.

He kicked 109 goals in the reserves in his first year at Melbourne, and 112 in his second year with the twos, including 12 in the Grand Final.

Fanning made his VFL/AFL debut for Melbourne in round one, 1940 against Essendon at Windy Hill.

He played again in rounds four, 11 and 13 and was recalled for Melbourne’s 1940 Grand Final team against Richmond. In just his fifth game, he played as a decoy for the legendary Norm Smith, who booted seven goals. Fanning was part of Melbourne’s fourth premiership – its first back-to-back flag.

His 1941 season was ruined by injury and he didn’t play a game, but from 1942-47, he kicked 406 goals from 99 games.

Remarkably, after all he achieved, Fanning left Melbourne at age 25 to coach Hamilton in south-west Victoria. It was an offer too good to refuse. He was captain-coach of Hamilton from 1948-52, before he played one season for Coleraine in 1953.

Some of his hauls in country football included 22 goals against Heywood in 1949 and 20 majors against Penshurst in 1950. In 1951, he booted 151 in 1952.

In summarising his VFL/AFL career, Paul was adamant his father was the Lance Franklin of his era. 

“If footy was played like it is today, Dad would’ve been the ‘Buddy’ Franklin of 1947,” he said.

In the 1950s, Apollo Bay, on the Victorian south-west coast, played a big part in Fanning’s life.  

Paul said his father met his future wife Valerie on the beach at Apollo Bay, a town where he bought a pub in 1953 and ran for four years.

He also played “10 or so games” for Apollo Bay; Paul and his son later played football for the club.  

Melbourne even had its trip away to Apollo Bay in the early 1950s, when Fanning ran the pub.  

“That’s why the town, more or less, supported the Demons,” said Paul.

“They actually played a practice game down there against Apollo Bay, with Ron Barassi and those blokes.”

He later ran a pub in Flemington for a few years – former Melbourne captain and dual premiership player Shane McGrath also had a pub close by in North Melbourne – as Fanning’s family became renowned for its involvement in the pub business.  

In 1993, Fanning passed away in the Geelong Hospital in 1993, aged 71.

Upon reflection of Fanning’s remarkable 18-goal feat, Paul said there was a lot more to his football story than just his goalkicking record – and it’s hard to argue with that.

“People all remember the 18 goals – that’s all they remember. They don’t remember the best and fairest, playing for Victoria so many times, and not so many people knew he was All-Australian full-forward,” he said.

“If they (Melbourne) had bought him a pub, he would never have left [the club]. 

“He left footy at 25, played seven senior seasons, missed one year entirely through a knee operation, and achieved everything in seven seasons and retired at 25. A lot of people don’t realise his story.”

And what a story it was.