The man who would be Carlton’s first Brownlow Medallist deftly adjusted the dial of his trusty bakelite radio. Flicking the knob with those long fingers famously used for plucking the pigskin of a Saturday afternoon, Bert Deacon pierced the crackle when he found station 3DB.
It was early on the evening of Wednesday, September 3, 1947, and Bert and his dear wife, Jean, having already kissed goodnight to their baby boy Brian, pulled up a couple of armchairs at their modest home in Preston’s Hawker Avenue. There they lent a collective ear to the station’s broadcast of what would prove an historic medal count.
As the votes were being cast, Deacon fully anticipated Richmond’s Bill Morris to emerge with the gong ... not that he and his better half particularly cared. “Bert hadn’t thought about the Brownlow Medal and I didn’t even know what a Brownlow Medal was. I was a country bumpkin,” said Jean, in an interview with this reporter a few months prior to her death in August 2009.
“We had some friends, Jack Costello and his girlfriend Carol, who ran the Preston Hotel in High Street, who also came around to listen. When Bert’s name was announced the visitors went out to their car and returned with beer and sandwiches, and by the time reporters turned up there was a beer and sandwich waiting. The other thing I remember that night was that Bert’s brother-in-law (former St Kilda footballer William Maslen), who lived in Coburg at the time, rode his bike across to shake hands with him.”
With votes awarded by field umpires on a basis of three for first preference, two for second and one for third, Deacon accrued four first preferences, three seconds and five thirds to emerge the victor with 23 votes. He overhauled St Kilda’s Harold Bray by two votes.
As The Herald’s famed football writer Alf Brown declared. “Great consistency – he was awarded votes in 12 out of 18 games – helped Deacon to win the trophy. He scored four first votes and was equal first with Bill Morris (Richmond) after the first votes had been counted. With three seconds he crept to second place after the second votes had been counted – Bray led 21 to 18 – and with five third votes he won the medal from Bray, who did not score a point when the third votes were counted,” Brown wrote.
The record books show that Deacon represented Carlton in 106 senior matches from 1942 through to 1949, including the famous “Bloodbath” Grand Final against South Melbourne in 1945 and the last gasp Grand Final victory over Essendon in ’47. He also represented the Big V in 1947, ’48 and ’49 and was barely 50 matches into his senior career when he won the coveted Brownlow.
The late Jim Clark, one of the last surviving members of the premiership teams of which Deacon was such an integral part, was recently asked to declare the best Carlton footballer he ever played alongside. “Oh easy,” came the reply. “Berty Deacon ... class .... one of the greatest ever. He was a Preston boy, married a girl from Kerang, and Bert and I were great cobbers. I got my first break with the seniors in 1943 and had the privilege of playing alongside him. He was not only a great footballer, but a bonza feller and a real gentleman. There will never be a better footballer, in my opinion, than Berty Deacon.
“Berty was around six foot and a half (184cm) but he had such long fingers he rarely dropped a mark, and he was a pro runner too – nearly every footy club had two or three pro-runners. He won the Brownlow Medal in ’47 – a premiership year – and to win the Brownlow in a premiership year would have to be a prestigious Brownlow because a premiership team would have a lot of other chappies taking votes. But Berty had such superiority and he was as fair as fair as fair.”
It says something of the character of the man that barely 24 hours after his famous Brownlow win, Deacon and Ken Luke paid an impromptu visit to Deacon’s teammate Ron Hines, who was convalescing in Heidelberg hospital. A photograph which later appeared in The Herald shows Hines congratulating Deacon on his win with a handshake, as Ken Luke proudly watches on.
The great Horrie Clover echoed the sentiments of all at Princes Park, who saw Deacon as a worthy recipient of the precious medal. “I am very delighted that a Carlton player should at long last win the medal,” Clover told a reporter from The Sun. “Without fear of contradiction I can say Bert Deacon is a great player and a great chap.”
Objective observers such as Alf Brown also concurred. “Football followers will applaud the selection of Bert Deacon as the winner of this year’s award. He is one of the most brilliant players in the game – a sure, spectacular mark, a fast and clever ground player, and a defender whose courageous clearing dashes often put his side into attack,” Brown wrote. “Deacon, who is vice-captain of Carlton, is the best mark of a wet ball I have seen. He has remarkably big hands and this, undoubtedly, accounts for his ability to take spectacular finger-tip marks with either a greasy or dry ball.
“The field umpires’ votes for the Medal show that they have placed great emphasis on fairness as well as on ability. Deacon is scrupulously fair . . . ”
Bert Deacon was tragically lost to the football world when, on January 3, 1974, he suffered a fatal heart attack. Though only 51, the boy from the northern suburbs had dedicated 34 years to his beloved Blues.
On New Year’s Eve, 1991, Deacon’s famous medal was stolen from his widow’s purse during a house break-in. Thankfully, Jean received a replacement medal, struck when then-chief executive commissioner of the AFL the late Alan Schwab heard of her plight.
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