This weekend Brent Harvey plays his 427th AFL game and in doing so breaks the record for most VFL/AFL Games played. To recognise this momentous achievement The Sportress has declared the week ‘Boomer Harvey Week’: a week-long celebration of the North Melbourne champ and his record we believe will last forever.
Today we continue our ‘Boomer Week’ celebrations by taking a look at the men who have held the VFL/AFL Games Record.
To avoid bestowing the status of record holder on each of the 144 players who took the field in the opening round of the opening season, an arbitrary line in the sand had to be drawn. For this purpose The Sportress acknowledges the record from the first player passing the 250 game milestone.
Jock McHale, a man more renowned for his coaching, was the man to break this mark in the 1916 First Semi Final between Collingwood and Richmond. He was a hard working centre man he was well known for his speed, cunning and nouse.
His playing career ended in 1920 having amassed 261 game a mark that would remain a record for 5 years. His durability as a player was more than replicated as a coach where his career spanned 38 seasons and encompassed 714 games, a record that survived 66 years after he hung up his clipboard. The Grand Final winning coach each season is presented the Jock McHale Medal.
Richmond took on Essendon in Round 16, 1925, at fullback in his 262nd for the Tigers was Vic Thorp. A close checking defender with a racking kick who would also back his judgement and sure hands to win the ball. Widely regarded as the finest defender of his era, Thorp won two ‘Champion of the Colony’ Awards (The equivalent of the Brownlow today) and was named fullback in Richmond’s team of the Century.
His career ended after the next game the last of the 1925 season having advanced the games record to 263 games. For many years after his retirement the Richmond Best & Fairest Award was known as the Vic Thorp Memorial Shield.
Goal kicking colossus Gordon Coventry broke Thorp’s 10 year hold of the record, playing his 264th game against Hawthorn in Round 11, 1935. By the time his career came to a close in 1937, he was the first man to play 300 games (306) and held nearly every goal kicking record in the book.
He was a key cog in the Collingwood ‘Machine Team’ winner of four consecutive premierships from 1927-1930. Big and strong he was nearly impossible to dislodge once he had front position. This made him the perfect target for the Magpies midfielders including Brownlow Medallists Syd Coventry, Harry & Albert Collier as they went about wining flag after flag.
His goal kicking feats are mind-blowing. First man to kick 100 goals in a season. First man to kick 1000 career goals. First man to kick 50 or more goals for 13 consecutive seasons. Kicked a then record 17 goals in one game. Won his club goal kicking award every year from 1922-37, which is also record. His career total of 1299 goals remained an AFL record for over 60 years after his retirement.
These exploits have been recognised by both his club and the AFL. The Collingwood Leading Goal Kicking award is named the Gordon Coventry Trophy and Etihad Stadium has the Coventry End named in is honour.
After a 14 year Coventry reign a new man took ownership of the record. A man who’s career had him equal parts feared and revered. Jack “Captain Blood” Dyer.
“Anything goes” Dyer would remark “as long as you get away with it.” It was this approach that saw him earn the deserved sobriquet, Captain Blood, and allegedly break 64 collarbones. Six Best and Fairest Awards and only one suspension suggests he was remarkably good at getting away with it.
At the conclusion of his playing career he became a popular media performer. His ‘Dyerisms’ like “Bamblett made a great debut this week and even better one last week” and “Mark Lee’s long arms reaching up like giant testicles” had viewers in stitches and tuning in each week to hear more. You can read more here or here:
He is a Tiger Immortal and is recognised as such in the club’s Hall of Fame. He has also been honoured with a statue at Richmond’s headquarters at Punt Road and the club’s Best & Fairest Winner each year is awarded the Jack Dyer Medal.
The year after Dyer reached his milestone the player Essendon regard as their finest ever, Dick Reynolds, set a new mark.
‘King’ Richard is Essendon royalty: a triple Brownlow Medallist (one of only 4 men to do so), 7 time Essendon Best & Fairest Winner and 4 time Premiership Captain-Coach.
His contemporary, and fellow 3 time Brownlow winner, Haydn Bunton was always effusive in his praise of the Bomber Champ. Bunton would remark that Reynold’s marking and handball wizardry along with his deadliness around goal made him the best footballer he ever saw.
On his retirement in 1951, Reynold’s had extended his AFL Games Record to 320 games. In 2002, Essendon announced their 25 greatest players, nobody was surprised when Reynolds was announced as Number 1.
“It’s got to be a do-or-die effort. It’s got to be a determined effort. You’ve got to show me all the guts and determination you’ve got in your body. You’ve got to inspire me with this last-quarter finish. You’ve been in front all day and you have to stay there”
With those words the always inspirational Ted Whitten completed his last address as playing coach in his 321st, last, and record breaking game in 1970.
Footscray’s favourite son, Ted Whitten will always be known as Mr Football. He was a footballer comfortable and able in any position on the ground. So much so that a magazine poll to pick the best player in each position saw Whitten come out on top at both Centre Half Forward and Centre Half Back.
After donning the Big V of Victoria 29 times in his career, he was a tireless supporter of State of Origin football. As Chairman of Selectors he implored the later generations of Victorian representatives “don’t let the Big V down”. After victories he would famously let all and sundry know that “we stuck it right up ‘em”.
In 1995, only weeks before his death, Whitten clearly suffering from the effects of a stroke and his battle with cancer, was driven around the MCG before a State of Origin game, his son Ted Jnr by his side and Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’ playing over the sound system. Anybody, who like me, lucky enough to be there will never forget it.
Mr Football’s mark of 321 games stood for three years before it was passed twice in 1974.
John Nicholls of Carlton and Kevin Murray of Fitzroy were both neck and neck in pursuit of Ted Whitten’s games record. So tight was the race that when Carlton faced Fitzroy in Round 9 of that year Nicholls drew level with Whitten on 321 with Murray lining up opposite in game 320.
Nicholls is widely regarded as Carlton’s finest ever player, during the club’s 140th anniversary celebrations in 2014 he was officially recognised as such. Universally known as ‘Big Nick’ although not overly tall he made up for this with unrivalled ruck smarts and imposing presence.
Kevin ‘Bulldog’ Murray is one of the game’s most decorated players. He won the Fitzroy best and fairest and amazing nine times he also had an extraordinary Brownlow record. He had four top 3 finishes including his 1969 triumph. At 31 he was one of the oldest winners of the medal and it was a nod to his durability. At this stage of his career he required a back brace to play.
As 1974 was drawing to a close Murray and Nicholls were still neck and neck. A mouth-watering match involving the two players with most games played was looming in Round 20.
It was not to be however, Carlton advising their finest son, at training following their round 17 loss to South Melbourne, that he had played his last match. A decorated career at an end after a league record 328 games, three premierships and five Best and Fairest’s.
This left Kevin Murray to the end of the 1974 season to set his own mark. Which he did and extended to 333 games before retiring after the Lions’ Round 22 loss to Geelong.
Both players worthy holders of the record, even if it was so very brief for Nicholls. Both were inaugural members of the AFL Hall of Fame in 1996 and rightly recognised with Legend status.
I know what you are saying, it is very hard to believe that the Games Record would fall twice in the same season. Well, you really won’t believe me when I tell you it did again in 1980.
John Rantall of Fitzroy (330 games) and Kevin Bartlett of Richmond (314) both entered the 1980 season with Kevin Murray’s record in sight.
It wasn’t the neck and neck race of 1974. Rantall had transferred from South Melbourne for the 1980 season after Swans coach Ian Stewart told him he was not in their plans. He took ownership of the record in the Lions’ victory over St Kilda in Round 7. Two games later he retired with 336 games to his credit.
After Round 9, Bartlett had played 323 games and set sail after Rantall’s record in what was to be a special season for both him and Richmond. He broke the games record when he ran out for the Qualifying Final against Carlton.
Much like Boomer is this year, Bartlett did not limp to the record, his record breaking game was the beginning of a remarkable final series for the handball adverse champ.
He slotted 21 majors in his three finals which was a record, until Gary Ablett’s unbelievable 1989, as Richmond ran away with the 1980 premiership.
Rantall was a rebounding half-back flanker with silky skills and superb judgement. He was impressive from the start, earning his first Victorian jersey in his debut season. A champion Swan he was captain of the club in 1972 before leaving for North Melbourne in pursuit of his premiership dream. This he accomplished as a member of the Kangaroos first premiership team in 1975 winning after winning the club’s best and fairest the previous season. He is a member of the AFL Hall of Fame. He is a member of both the Swans and North Melbourne’s Teams of the Century, making him one of a rare club to do so.
Kevin Bartlett was an elusive rover with an uncanny goal sense. A sense that helped him slot 774 goals and gain the nickname “Hungry” as it was said he would rather take an impossible shot for goal than handpass to a team mate. Bartlett, like many on this list has won most of the rewards the game has to offer. Five premierships, five best and fairests, Norm Smith Medalist, three time leading goal kicker with 20 appearances for Victoria.
At the end of the 1983 season he drew the curtain on his glittering career, becoming the first man to pass 400 on his way to 403 games. Richmond and the AFL officially recognised his standing in the game with him being bestowed immortal and legend status by both respectively.
Michael Tuck arrived at Hawthorn in the 1972 season and took a number of seasons before establish himself in the senior team. He played over 60 reserves games before making the ruck rover position his own in one of the greatest teams in the history of the game.
A wiry player known for his penchant for wearing long sleeves, he was deceptively strong for his size and he could run all day. His durability meant he suffered very few injuries across his two decades in brown and gold. David Parkin once described Tuck as the greatest run-on type player he had ever seen. Despite this he was unable to win the Hawks Best and Fairest, his consistency was evident though in him placing second six times.
On his way to the game record Tuck took ownership of a number of other enviable records. Most Premierships as a player (7), most Grand Finals as a player (11) and most finals as a player (39).
His 426th and last game was the 1991 Grand Final, the fourth time he captained his Hawks to the flag.
These are the names Brent Harvey’s joins when he runs out on Saturday night. Durable, determine, dependable and champions all. Sometimes the company you keep is the greatest possible compliment, Boomer would have to agree that this is the case here.
For those egg heads like me who love footy stats be sure to check AFL Tables, , it was invaluable as both a source of information and as a time occupier. As is The Encyclopedia of League Footballers: Every AFL/VFL Player Since 1897 by Jim Main & Russell Holmesby (1992) and Every Game Ever Played (VFL Results 1897 – 1989) compiled by Stephen Rodgers (1990) and http://australianfootball.com/players