It is 50 years ago today – August 30, 1971 – since Ian Stewart became a triple Brownlow Medallist, winning the game’s most prestigious individual award for the third time, in his first season with Richmond after moving from St Kilda. Tony Greenberg takes up the story . . .
Ian Stewart’s Brownlow Medal win in 1971 was the culmination of a remarkable inaugural season at Richmond.
Late the previous year, the dual St Kilda Brownlow Medallist and champion centreman had traded places with two-time Tiger premiership hero centreman Bill Barrot in a sensational swap that rocked the football world.
Debate raged for months following the emotion-charged Stewart-Barrot exchange over whether Richmond or St Kilda would win on the deal.
In the end, it was no contest.
Barrot never felt comfortable at Moorabbin and after just two senior appearances with the Saints was cleared to Carlton where he spent the rest of the ’71 season (and, to his credit, finished in the top 10 in the Blues’ Best and Fairest).
Stewart, on the other hand, had a massive instant impact with the Tigers. He returned to his brilliant- best form after a couple of ordinary years at St Kilda, where injuries had taken their toll.
A revitalised Stewart played a prominent role in helping lift Richmond back into the finals after the Club had fallen by the wayside in 1970 following its 1969 premiership triumph.
He combined superbly with champion centre half-forward and fellow Tasmanian Tiger Royce Hart, just as he’d done at St Kilda with Darrel Baldock, thrilling Yellow and Black barrackers with his sublime football skills.
Stewart entered the 1971 Brownlow Medal count as one of the top fancies following his excellent season, and he duly saluted, attaining legendary status as a triple winner of the coveted award, alongside Fitzroy’s Haydn Bunton, Essendon’s Dick Reynolds and South Melbourne’s Bob Skilton.
He polled six best-on-ground votes and three ones, to take out the ‘71 Brownlow with 21 votes, from Essendon’s Barry Davis, Hawthorn’s Peter Hudson and St Kilda’s John McIntosh, who all finished with 18 votes.
In a post-Brownlow interview with ‘The Sun’ newspaper, Stewart said: “All I wanted to do was to play a good season with Richmond and prove my worth, that I was value.
“Anything else is extra and I’m very conscious that I owe it to Richmond.
“I want the Richmond players, and club as a whole, to share in the honour.
“They’re part of it – and a very big part of it.
“I will admit when I came to Richmond this year in the big swap, I set certain goals for myself.
“One was to play every game for Richmond; the other was to try to appear in the finals for the Tigers this year.”
A few days later, in the ‘Sporting Globe’, Stewart expanded on his feelings about Richmond to 1958 Brownlow Medallist and former St Kilda star Neil Roberts.
“I owe Richmond the world,” Stewart said.
“(Tommy) Hafey has given me fitness and at last I believe in it.
“I am going to start training for 1972 – straight after the Grand Final.
“I’m really going to start playing football from now on. In 1965 and 1966 things came easily and you know that anything that comes easily is not appreciated.
“The ensuing four years were full of trouble. I was savaged by bad luck and injury, but even in those days, despite my success, I had no endurance.
“I’ve grown to love football now and Richmond have done it for me. The Tigers are a family – an open family with everyone pulling together performing his own little task.”