HAYDN BUNTON – “Probably the greatest football celebrity of all time” (1938)       

Australian Football celebrates its 140th anniversary in New South Wales this year after the founding of the NSW Football Association in Sydney on 30 June 1880.
To commemorate, 140 coaches, players, umpires, administrators and media personalities from both the Elite (VFL/AFL) and Community level will be inducted into the inaugural New South Wales Australian Football Hall of Fame.
by Dr Rod Gillett.

          Haydn Bunton was football’s first poster boy

This iconic photo was taken at a publicity shoot to promote the game in 1933. He was also the ‘main lead’ in an instructional training film arranged by the ANFC in 1936.

Bunton was front-and-centre in the media in the 1930s by writing newspaper columns and appearing on radio shows. With his matinee-idol looks, he was booked for appearances at department stores and received endorsements
for all sorts of products.

Eighty years later, he was at the front of the poster of the event to select the Greatest-Ever NSW team. Flanking him was Wayne Carey and Paul Kelly. See image at foot of page.

Haydn Bunton is also the most decorated player to ever play the game.

The awards include 3 Brownlow Medals, 3 Sandover Medals (WAFL B & F), AFL Hall of Fame Legend, AFL Team of the Century, Fitzroy Team of the Century, Albury Team of the Century, and the NSW Greatest Team.

Bunton won the Brownlow Medal in his first season in the VFL with Fitzroy in 1931 at the age of 20. He subsequently won the Brownlow again the next year, and his third in 1935. He lost by one vote to another triple Brownlow medalist, Essendon’s Dick Reynolds, in 1934.

And he quite easily could have been a Test cricketer!

In a Country v City match at the SCG in 1926 Don Bradman scored 90, Archie Jackson scored 50 for City, and Haydn Bunton made a century. Former Test captain M.A. (Monty) Noble reporting on the game on radio in Sydney after the game stated:

”The match featured three potential Australian Test batsmen in Donald Bradman from Bowral, Archie Jackson, and Haydn Bunton of Albury”.

The following year Bunton made another century against City, this time compiling 144 for Country, but of course, went onto play football in the three major competitions, the VFL, WAFL, and SANFL. He also coached clubs in each of these States.

Haydn Bunton was born and bred in Albury. Bunton and his brothers Cleaver (later a Senator, long-serving Mayor of Albury and O & M football official from 1930 to 1992), and George played for Albury in the Ovens and Murray Football League.

The Bunton brothers played together in Albury’s first O & M title win in 1928 when they defeated arch-rivals St Patricks, that had won six out of seven premierships between 1921-27.

Haydn won a silver cup for fairest and best awarded on the votes of the umpires (the first of many!) and a gold watch for the most popular player donated by the Ladies Auxiliary (also the first of many!). Cleaver as vice-captain received a silver cup while brother George was presented with a pair of gold sleeve links for being the most improved.

The bitter sectarianism between the two Albury clubs led to the dissolution of Albury and St Pats , and the formation of two new clubs, West Albury and East Albury for the 1929 season with players divided into the new teams based on residential demarcation rather than their religion.

The Bunton brothers were drafted into the West Albury team that beat East Albury in the grand final. According to the Rutherglen Sun (5 June 1929) “… the Bunton combination (Cleaver, Haydn and George) had a system of their own. It was common to see Cleaver pass to Haydn who sent it on to George who either had a shot or forwarded it to Anderson”.

According to older brother Cleaver in his memoirs, A Memorable Life (1991), “Haydn was approached by every VFL club except North Melbourne and every club representative went away insulted by our mother; ordered out of the house”. Eventually she agreed if her son could be guaranteed employment, given that it was the height of the Depression.

Bunton initially received an offer of employment from Carlton which proved to be bogus, and then a substantial offer of £100 sign-on fee and £10 per game including employment from Fitzroy. However, he was refused a permit to play in the VFL in 1930 under the Coulter Law passed in March that set match payments at £3 per match.

He was banned from playing in the VFL for 12 months. He returned to coach West Albury but were beaten in the grand final by Hume Weir, made up mainly of workers constructing the new weir and waterways on the Murray.

Bunton then had a stunning debut season by winning the Brownlow Medal in 1931. He also made his interstate debut for Victoria in his first season against South Australia at the MCG. This was to be the first of fifteen games for Victoria; the highlight being skipper at the 1937 ANFC Carnival in Perth.

He was named captain for the 1932 season but relinquished the position early in the season. Polling 23 votes, Bunton won his second successive Brownlow by a margin of seven votes.

He became the first triple Brownlow medalist when his consistently brilliant play saw him win again in 1935 by polling 25 votes from his nearest rival on 17 votes.

Appointed captain-coach of Fitzroy in 1936, Bunton was finally able to exceed match payments under the Coulter Law, and in addition to his employment at a department store, he wrote a column for the  Herald and earnt 6d for every “Hadyn Bunton Football Boot” sold to make him the highest-paid footballer in the country.

Bunton stepped down as coach for the 1937 season but stayed on as captain. He led Victoria to victory at the ANFC Carnival in Perth when they beat the home team to clinch the title. It was while in Perth for the championships that Bunton agreed to be captain-coach of Subiaco for season 1938.

He won back-to-back Sandover Medals in 1938-39 and a third in 1941 for Subiaco. He surrendered the coaching position the first season to concentrate on playing.

After joining the army after the 1941 season he was discharged on the eve of the 1945 season and moved to Adelaide where he joined Port Adelaide. In a major upset West Torrens beat Port in the grand final by 13 points.

He took up umpiring in 1946 in the SANFL and was appointed the reserve umpire for the grand final.

Bunton was appointed non-playing coach of North Adelaide for seasons 1948-49.

Haydn Bunton was tragically killed in a road accident in country South Australia in 1955.

In a tribute to Bunton by cricketing great and former St Kilda and Sydney Naval footballer, Keith Miller wrote in the Sydney Sun:

“Bunton was the Bradman of football. Winner of three Brownlow and three Sandover Medals, Bunton created a record unprecedented in the history of the game”.

The best NSW origin player in the AFL each year is now awarded the Bunton-Carey Medal based on the votes of the AFL coaches.


Source: Chris Donald, Haydn Bunton: Best and Fairest, Melbourne. 2003



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