Ian Harlow Stewart
son of Aldo Liberale Cervi and Anita Cervi (née Stewart) who separated three years after his birth, is a former Australian rules football
Australian rules football, officially known as Australian football, also called football, Aussie rules or footy is a sport played between two teams of 22 players on either...
er with Hobart in the Tasmanian Football League (1962), and in the Victorian Football League with St Kilda (1963–1970) and Richmond (1971–1975). He later coached South Melbourne and Carlton, and was an administrator at St Kilda.
Stewart is one of only four men to win the then-VFL
The Australian Football League is both the governing body and the major professional competition in the sport of Australian rules football...
's top individual award, the Brownlow medal
The Chas Brownlow Trophy, better known as the Brownlow Medal , is awarded to the "fairest and best" player in the Australian Football League during the regular season as determined by votes cast by the officiating field umpires after each game...
, three times, and is a Legend of the Australian Football Hall of Fame
The Australian Football Hall of Fame was established in 1996, the Centenary year of the Australian Football League, to help recognise the contributions made to the sport of Australian rules football by players, umpires, media personalities, coaches and administrators. It was initially established...
. He will always be remembered as one of the truly great exponents of Australian football, a player with the rare blend of skill, concentration and courage who formed partnerships with two of the greatest forwards the game has produced, Darrel Baldock
Darrel John Baldock , commonly nicknamed "The Doc" and "Mr Magic", was an Australian rules football player and state politician who in 1966 was the first captain of a premiership-winning St Kilda Football Club. Baldock was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame as a "Legend"...
and Royce Hart
Royce Desmond Hart is a former Australian rules football player and coach who played for the Richmond Football Club in the Victorian Football League between 1967 and 1977, and coached Footscray between 1980 and 1982.Hart was a supremely gifted, determined player who was acknowledged by all in his...
. Coincidentally, all three men hailed from Tasmania during a period when the country's smallest state contributed some unforgettable talent to the national game.
As a teenager growing up in Hobart, Stewart turned out for the Macalburn club and spent spare time watching Tasmanian Football League club North Hobart training and playing. The North Hobart players knew him well and were bemused when he joined North's archrival, Hobart. Stewart started there in 1962 as an eighteen year old. After just four senior games, Stewart impressed sufficiently to earn selection for the state team to play against Victoria. This was a great opportunity to display his talents: playing in the centre, he was matched against Alastair Lord, who went on to win the Brownlow medal that year. At the end of the season, Stewart paid his own way to Melbourne in an attempt to break into the Victorian Football League (VFL). Stewart was keen to play for St Kilda. The Saints had been vigorously recruiting players from all over the country in an attempt to win their first ever premiership. They had a number of Tasmanian players in their ranks and the previous year had recruited the Apple Isle's star player, Darrel Baldock. Like virtually every young footballer in Tasmania at the time, Stewart idolised Baldock and wanted to play alongside him. Several other VFL clubs were impressed by Stewart's performance against Victoria and wanted to sign him, while St Kilda believed he needed another year in Tasmania to develop. However, he leveraged the interest of the other clubs and St Kilda won the services of the determined teenager.
Stewart's arrival in the big time was subdued. He arrived at pre-season training with his own guernsey as he was too shy to ask the club to provide one. His debut game on the wing was quiet due to a heavy knock, but this was not noticed as another Saint rookie, Carl Ditterich, played a blinder on his debut and absorbed all of the attention. Clearly, the Saints were putting together a brilliant team. The club's supporters realised as the season unfolded that they had an equally good player in Stewart. Possessing the most valued asset that a midfielder in Australian football can have – balance – Stewart was also a prolific ball winner and consummate user of the ball once it was in his sure grip. His ability to pass the ball to Baldock bordered on the telepathic and he was an excellent overhead mark for a small man. St Kilda coach Allan Jeans quickly realised that the new boy needed to be in the play as much as possible, so he was switched into the centre, where he remained for the rest of his career. The Stewart-Baldock combination drove the Saints into the finals, where they were unlucky to lose the semi final to Melbourne due to inaccurate kicking in the last quarter.
Success appeared tantalisingly close to the game's perennial under-achievers. However, controversy derailed the Saints' 1964 season. The club's administration had decided to accept an offer to relocate to outer-suburban Moorabbin, thus abandonning their spiritual home of almost one hundred years. The furore lasted for months, although history showed that the club was actually ahead of the times in their strategic thinking. The emotion over uprooting the club was a distraction for the team (which slumped to sixth on the ladder) but not for Stewart. He won the club's best and fairest, in what proved to be the first of a string of individual accolades.
Premiership Success, Then Burnout
The 1965 season and the move to Moorabbin was a huge success. Starting with more than 51 000 at the opening game, the Saints packed them in at their new home. In Round 9, in front of more than 72 000 at the MCG, St Kilda seized top place from Melbourne with a big win, then held on for the remainder of the season to win the minor premiership for the first time. The momentum continued; two days after the last game, Stewart was a surprise winner of the game's highest award, the Brownlow medal. He had tied with North Melbourne's Noel Teasdale, but the medal went to Stewart on a countback (Teasdale received a retrospective award 24 years later). Then St Kilda won into the Grand Final in a thrilling semi final against Collingwood decided by only one point. The medal win did not deflect Stewart's concentration – he dominated. His team were into only their second Grand Final, the first for 52 years. As St Kilda had not won a single premiership in its 93-year existence, it looked like history in the making.
Essendon surprised by also beating Collingwood to advance to the Grand Final. Anticipation got to the inexperienced St Kilda players and coach; they got a bit too "up", overtrained during the week and were floundering come the big day. The Bombers, finals veterans, made them pay dearly and had the game won by three quarter time. Stewart went down fighting and was named his team's best player. He had shown a distinct liking for the big game during his finals performances.
The following season, the Saints jumped out of the blocks and after winning the first eight games there was speculation that they could go through undefeated. Naturally, talk like that precipitated a slump, and by the last game, they were in danger of sliding right out of the finals if they lost. Thanks to Baldock, the Saints pulled a tight game out of the fire and went into the finals as equal favourites for the flag. Meanwhile, Stewart, after another brilliant season, was favoured to win a second Brownlow. On the night, he polled 21 votes, winning by four from Carlton star John Nicholls. However, in the semi final rematch (from the previous year) with Collingwood, Stewart was blanketed by Colin Tully and the Saints went down by ten points. Stewart bounced back with a best afield performance the following week, guiding his team to a revenge win over Essendon and keeping alive the dream of a first flag.
The 1966 Grand Final
The 1966 VFL Grand Final was an Australian rules football game contested between the Collingwood Football Club and St Kilda Football Club, held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne on 24 September 1966. It was the 70th annual grand final of the Victorian Football League , staged to...
stands as one of the celebrated games of Australian football. Two evenly-matched teams went at it for 100 minutes and the forever-mythologised result – a one-point win by the least successful club over the most successful club – retains its dramatic impact to this day as the Saints have yet to win another flag. Stewart was brilliant, a driving force all day, cementing his reputation as the best player of his type in the game. To cap the year, he also won All-Australian selection and a second club best and fairest. Aged 23, Stewart had achieved everything worth achieving in just four years in the VFL.
After reaching the summit, it was a lot harder to go back up. St Kilda suffered a premiership hangover and missed the 1967 finals, then battled into fourth place for the 1968 finals. They only got there thanks to an eight-goal win over Geelong in the final round but, facing the same opposition in the semi final, lost by 44 points – a 92-point turnaround in a week. On the day, Stewart lowered his colours to West Australian Dennis Marshall, who dominated the game. Stewart was made captain for 1969, but the team could manage only seventh place and tension arose between the captain and his coach, Allan Jeans. Stewart resigned the position at season's end, then went missing for pre-season training.
Although Stewart returned to play the 1970 season, and the Saints made the preliminary final, he was clearly unhappy. Struggling with injury, his relationship with Jeans was still strained and he was sometimes played out of position at half-forward. He had no impact on the only final game he played, and made it clear he wanted to leave the club. Some thought that Stewart was finished at 27 years of age.
The Famous Swap
In 1971, the idea that two star players would be traded for each other was uncharted territory for Australian football (although Richmond was to be once again involved in controversy in 1975 when they pushed their luck too far and swapped the future Brownlow medallist Graham Teasedale, state representative ruckman Brian "The Whale" Roberts, and talented half-back-flanker Francis Jackson for South Melbourne's John Pitura
John Pitura is a former Australian rules footballer who played with the South Melbourne and Richmond Football Clubs in the Victorian Football League during the 1970s....
, who was only to play 38 senior games at Richmond in three years).
The VFL had only recently sanctioned transfer fees, which usually amounted to no more than a couple of thousand dollars, but top line players did not swap clubs, and certainly not dual Brownlow medallists. Stewart wanted to break that trend, but he knew that the prevailing culture demanded that he be discreet. He let Richmond secretary Allan Schwab (who had worked briefly at St Kilda a few years earlier) know that he would be interested in moving to Punt Road if a deal could be worked. Stewart's rival during the 1960s for the title of best centreman in the VFL was Richmond's Billy Barrot. The two had parallel careers, and although Stewart was acknowledged as the better player, the Victorian selectors had played Barrot 11 times, Stewart only three. The two men were a stark contrast: Barrot was a burst player, specializing in the booming drop-kick into the forward line (often from the centre circle into the goal-square) and the extravagant gesture; and, although devastating and spectacular, he was also moody and undisciplined (Barrot had a habit of kicking his opponents). After dominating in two premiership victories, the Richmond hierarchy felt that Barrot's faults outweighed his attributes and that his time was up at Punt Road.
Richmond used the Barrot situation as a pretext to recruit Stewart, who had told St Kilda he would probably go to Perth and find a coaching job in the league there. Gradually, Richmond stimulated St Kilda's interest in recruiting Barrot when it became clear that he would not be continuing with the Tigers. When the Saints were eventually prepared to sign Barrot, Stewart made a late request to go to Richmond, ostensibly saving St Kilda a transfer fee. Stewart described the situation as a "sting...but it was a good sting".
The football community was stunned by the trade; its likes had never been seen and the debate was on as to who had the best end of the deal. A large group of irate Richmond supporters vented their emotion in an angry scene at the club's AGM. As one of the most popular players at Punt Road, Barrot was still performing on-field and he admitted to heartbreak when told that he had effectively been sacked. Barrot was the younger man and it was felt that St Kilda had pulled a great con trick on the Tigers. It took just a few weeks of the new season to prove this view wrong.
Rebirth In Yellow and Black
Wearing the number 2 in which Roy Wright won two Brownlow medals, Stewart burned from the start of 1971 and rapidly gained favouritism to win another Brownlow medal. Meanwhile, Barrot lasted two games with the Saints, was dropped and then cleared to Carlton by mid-season. There, he played a handful of games for the Tigers' old rivals, but had a physical confrontation with coach Ron Barassi at half time in the last round of the season. Barrot walked away from VFL football forever, just days before Stewart was voted the game's fourth triple Brownlow medallist, and the first player to win the award at two clubs. He starred in Richmond's semi final victory over Collingwood, which set up a tantalising clash with St Kilda in the preliminary final, with Richmond hot favourite to win and advance to the Grand Final. On a very wet day, the Saints gained some vengeance for the deal by keeping Stewart relatively quiet and winning the game by five goals.
Stewart was hampered by injury during the 1972 finals, and was not fully fit for the Grand Final against Carlton. The Tigers selected him on the bench, but when he came on at half time, the game was effectively lost as Richmond trailed by 45 points. He picked up nine kicks in the second half as his team struggled in vain to bridge the gap. Better fortune attended the 1973 finals campaign. Again playing with injury, Stewart was a stand out in the three finals leading up to the Grand Final, a rematch with Carlton. In a dominant win for the Tigers, Stewart was at his best with eighteen possessions. After injuring his leg in the third term, Stewart was moved to half forward where, noticeably limping, he booted two clever goals to keep Richmond on track for their eighth premiership. Now, Stewart had won Brownlow medals and premierships at both clubs, a unique feat in VFL/AFL history.
However, following his 200th game in mid-1974, Stewart announced his retirement from the game, much to the chagrin of the Richmond supporters, who presented a signed petition in an attempt to get him to reverse the decision. One of his last games was the infamous "Battle of Windy Hill" match against Essendon on 18 May, when Stewart kept a cool head among the brawling and booted a match-winning five goals. The Tigers were powerful enough to go on to another premiership without him. Then Stewart decided to come back for 1975, but he managed only five games before injury again forced him to quit, aged 31.
Just months after his last game, Stewart took a punt by taking on the coaching job at the embattled wooden spooners, South Melbourne. He was lured to the job by ex-North Melbourne administrator, Ron Joseph, who was on a short-lived appointment at the club. The Swans were the worst performed team since the war, and their finances were beginning to spin out of control. Over two seasons, Stewart performed a minor miracle by hauling the team up to eighth in 1976 and then the following year the Swans made the finals for only the second time in 32 years. The thrilling campaign to make the 1977 finals was highlighted by a withering run in the last six weeks of the season and a bold stroke by Stewart. He switched Graham Teasdale (a forward struggling so badly that he was thinking about returning to a bush league) in to the ruck and Teasdale dominated to the extent that he won the Brownlow medal in a canter. The fairytale ended the next week when the Swans were crushed by Richmond in an elimination final.
Surprisingly, Stewart now left the Lake Oval.
Carlton decided to replace their coach and wanted a big name to take over, so they immediately contacted Stewart. It was a fateful decision – Stewart's perfectionism did not always make him a great communicator and he fell out with a number of the Blues' key men. After a thrashing from Richmond in the opening round of 1978, matters went from bad to worse. Captain Robert Walls left for Fitzroy; his veteran teammate Peter Jones
Peter Kevin "Percy" Jones , the son of Kevin and Mollie Jones , is a former Australian rules footballer who played 249 games for the Carlton Blues in the VFL...
(who, like Stewart, had started his career with North Hobart) was relegated to the reserves; club favourite Adrian Gallagher
Adrian Lindsay Gallagher is a former Australian rules footballer in the Victorian Football League.He was also an outstanding cricketer in his youth and received many offers to play in England, but preferred to stay in Melbourne over the Australian winter and play football for Carlton.Gallagher made...
was removed from his assistant coaching position. All three had crossed swords with the irascible coach.
Just a few weeks into the season, Stewart quit the club, citing a heart attack. Speculation was rife that he had actually suffered a nervous breakdown, a view that was supported by the fact that he had been charged by the police (under the name of Ian Cervi
) for exposing himself to daytime shoppers in Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick
Elsternwick is a suburb in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 9 km south-east from Melbourne's central business district. Its Local Government Area is the City of Glen Eira...
, when parked opposite the Elsternwick Post Office, but it is certain that he quit before he was sacked. Certainly, Stewart was fit enough to resume as South Melbourne coach in 1979. He could not modify his hard-driving style and the personality clashes continued, but overall he got the best out of the limited material available at South Melbourne.
In reality, Stewart's three year stint with the Swans developed into a holding pattern for the team as the club flirted with, then agreed to, a move to Sydney. With the threat of liquidation constantly hovering over performances, Stewart got the club to a creditable sixth in 1980, but overall they lost more than they won in this period. Stewart's role as coach in 1981 was made all the more difficult when he had his driver's licence cancelled for two years, when he was found guilty of having driven dangerously, and having failed to stop after an accident. Stewart continued to give opportunities to young players and publicly backed the relocation, then handed the a player list in reasonable shape for the move, at the end of the 1981 season.