Best-on-ground in this Saturday afternoon’s Round 10 Richmond v St Kilda clash at the MCG will win the annual Ian Stewart Medal. It is a small acknowledgement to the only player in VFL/AFL history to win Brownlow and Premiership Medals with two teams – from the clubs he won them with.
Ian Stewart was a sensation for St Kilda after crossing from Tasmania for the 1963 VFL season. A star for the Saints across eight seasons he was a key cog in the Allan Jeans coached team that won the 1966 Premiership. With Two Brownlow Medals and the same number of club Best & Fairests, he is widely regarded as one of the finest players to wear the Red, Black and White. Club Historian Russell Holmesby, goes so far as to suggest he is the greatest Saint of them all!
Richmond Legend Kevin Bartlett was nearly as effusive in his autobiography, KB: A Life in Football. “Ian was your purist’s centreman. He was a craftsman, who had lovely timing with his kicking, and I don’t think anyone his size has been a better mark,” Bartlett said.“He was truly a legendary player, and I doubt you could name a better centreman to have ever played the game.” Which goes a long way to explaining the shockwaves in 1970 that surrounded the news that the Saints had traded their star to Richmond.
In exchange for their 27-year-old champion, St Kilda received Two-Time Richmond Premiership winning centreman Billy Barrot. While Stewart is quite rightly remembered fondly by both clubs, Barrot was no slouch either. A member of one of the most revered centrelines in VFL/AFL history. In the days before State of Origin he was a regular in the Victorian team often at the expense of Stewart.
In an era where these kinds of ‘blockbuster trades’ didn’t happen, how did a club champion and a future AFL Hall of Fame Legend swap places? To answer that question let’s take a look at how the two men in the middle remembered the events of that off-season many years later.
After having a disappointing end to the 1970 season, culminating in a quiet Preliminary Final that the Saints lost to eventual Premier Carlton, Ian Stewart began contemplating a change of scenery. He explored options in Western Australian and even hinted at retirement but all wasn’t what it seemed. “It was a bluff, me saying I was going to give the game away,” Stewart said. “But I’d lost my way and lost motivation. I was a bit wayward. I ended up in Western Australia, but it was a whole charade.”
While Stewart was in Perth in the early stages of planning his great escape, the ripple effects were starting to be felt at Punt Road. Despite being in and out of the side in 1970, Barrot still had visions of reestablishing himself in the Richmond team in ’71. That would soon change though. “Clubs from South Australia and Western Australia were on the phone saying, “Do you want to come over here, Bill? So I knew there was a bit of trouble in the background,” Barrot said. “They were all asking me what I wanted to do for the next year, so I knew something was going on.”
The pieces were moving in Stewart’s favour, and he had a man he knew well from Moorabbin to thank for it. “Alan Schwab was part of that. He was assistant secretary at St Kilda before he went to Richmond – that’s how I got to know him,” Stewart remembered. “’Schwabby’ (Richmond secretary Alan Schwab) and I orchestrated the whole thing,” Stewart said.
Despite Stewart and Schwab’s best-laid plans, not everyone at Richmond was onboard with the plan.“Ray Dunn (Richmond president) told me after I had to leave that, at the committee meeting about me, I got beaten by one vote,” Barrot remembered of the day he learned his time at Tigerland was over. “It was part of the power struggle between Graeme Richmond and Ray; I was just the meat in the sandwich. They were meeting together – Ray Dunn, Allan Cooke, Alan Schwab and Tommy (Hafey) – and it was all set up,” Barrot said.
Even decades after the fact, it was a moment that Barrot keenly felt. “It hurt me a lot; getting the sack from Richmond broke my heart,” Barrot said. “You see, I’d put so much effort into being good at something . . . I drove myself more than hard – stupid hard. I gave it everything I had. I couldn’t have given it anymore.”
With a champion centreman to bargain with, it was now time for the Tigers to entice the Saints to the negotiating table. “We sort of manufactured a situation,” Stewart remembered. “Where Richmond got St Kilda interested in Barrot with no mention of me.” Presented with the ‘infectious’ Barrot, desperate for a chance to prove the Tigers wrong, Saints President Graham Huggins was sold. “For want of a better way of putting it, Huggins fell in love with him,” Stewart recalled.
With all the pieces now in place, the Tigers true intent was finally revealed when Stewart made a request for a transfer to Punt Road upon Barrot’s signing with the Saints. Stewart, and the Tigers, sold it to the Saints as an opportunity to obtain Barrot without the need for a transfer fee, but the AFL Legend remembered it a little differently years later. “It was a sting,” Stewart would recall. “But it was a good sting.”
While Richmond definitely go their man, the initial reaction to the earth-shattering trade was that the Saints had got the better end of the deal. Barrot was both the younger and more explosive of the two and, despite his injury-interrupted season in 1970, was expected to have more good football ahead of him.
Unfortunately, from a St Kilda viewpoint, it didn’t turn out that way. Despite starring on debut with three-goals, Barrot would be replaced at halftime the next week and never wear the Red, White and Black again. Shipped off midseason he would round out 1971 with 12 games in the Navy Blue of Carlton. Despite finishing in the top 10 of their best and fairest, they would be his last games in the VFL. The end to his career perhaps hastened by a half-time scuffle with Coach Ron Barassi in the last round of the season.
Stewart reinvigorated rediscovered his form at Richmond and won the Brownlow Medal in 1971. Two years later he would play a starring role in the Tigers 1973 Premiership win over Carlton. Recognised by the AFL as a Legend in the Hall of Fame, Stewart was named as Centre in the VFL/AFL Team of the Century a position he holds in the St Kilda Team of the Century too. A member of both clubs Halls of Fame, his at Richmond was also honoured with selection in their Team of the Century. Perhaps ironically though, he was overlooked for the centre position with Billy Barrot selected ahead of him.
With Stewart back to his best in 1971, it is another cause for Saints fans to wonder what-if? St Kilda took on Hawthorn in the Grand Final of that year without the services of Stewart or the man traded in for him. They would fall just seven points short of their second flag, what might have been if Stewart was still there in the middle? It is for this reason, among others, that the day St Kilda traded a Dual-Brownlow Medallist will be long remembered.
First awarded in 2004, the Ian Stewart medal has been an initiative to celebrate a legend of both their clubs. The winner of the award on Saturday will join an illustrious list of names.
|2004||Austinn Jones||St Kilda|
|2005||Nick Dal Santo||St Kilda|
|2006||Lenny Hayes||St Kilda|
|2007||Leigh Montagna||St Kilda|
|2008||Stephen Milne||St Kilda|
|2009||Brendon Goddard||St Kilda|
|2016||Seb Ross||St Kilda|