CHAMPION FOOTBALLER BOB SKILTON OAM ELEVATED TO LEGEND STATUS IN THE SPORT AUSTRALIA HALL OF FAME
After his beloved Sydney Swans ended their season on the weekend, pioneering Australian Rules footballer Robert John “Bob” Skilton OAM is being celebrated by the nation’s most prestigious sporting club.
Skilton is among a select group to win three Brownlow Medals, Australian Rules Football’s highest individual accolade, and today is being honoured as the 47th Legend in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
Skilton said he is extremely proud and humbled to be Elevated to Legend status in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, given the outstanding quality of recipients who have been bestowed with the honour.
“To be looked upon, or to even just to be considered as a part of such an incredible group of people, I’m just so proud,” he said.
“I remember when I was first inducted, I couldn’t believe the people I was mixing with. These were people that I had looked up to and to be considered as one of them was, and is, just so special.”
The champion footballer was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame as an Athlete Member in 1985 in recognition of his highly valued and distinguished contribution to the sport of Australian Rules Football.
He represented South Melbourne in 237 games during a career spanning from 1956 to 1971, kicking 412 goals while playing as a rover, and later coaching the club and Melbourne.
Nicknamed “The Chimp”, Skilton commanded respect across the VFL and captained South Melbourne from 1961 to 1971, being the champion player on nine occasions.
He also represented Victoria with distinction in national carnivals and was named as the rover for both the AFL and South Melbourne Teams of the Century.
Bob Skilton OAM being presented with his Sport Australia Hall of Fame Legend trophy and induction certificate at a private celebration this week
Standing: Max Papley, Lorraine Papley, John Herriot, Val Herriot, Leon Wiegard, Samantha Findlay, Peter Bedford, Andrew Plympton AM, John Bertrand OAM, Iain Findlay, Brett Skilton
Front: Louise Bedford, Bec Skilton, Bobby Skilton OAM
The annual Elevation of Sport Australia Hall of Fame Members to Legend status is the most celebrated sporting honour that can be bestowed on an Australian.
Legend status provides the chance to honour Members who have distinguished themselves at the highest level and become a part of Australia’s rich sporting folklore. Skilton joins the likes of Sir Donald Bradman AC, Dawn Fraser AC MBE, Cathy Freeman OAM, Rod Laver AC MBE, Ian Thorpe AM, Shane Warne AO, John Eales AM and Wally Lewis AM as a Legend of Australian Sport.
Sport Australia Hall of Fame Legend and Chair, John Bertrand AO, said it was the perfect time to confirm that Skilton would become the newest Legend in the prestigious organisation.
“Bob Skilton had the rare distinction of being a player beloved by the supporters of South Melbourne while also being respected across the competition for his brilliance as a footballer, but also for his courage and fairness and commitment to the game,” Bertrand said.
“To win three Brownlow Medals over a period of a decade speaks to a footballer who was able to sustain his excellence and consistency while overcoming the challenges that elite athletes confront in their careers.
“Skilton is the true definition of a Legend. He was an inspiration when playing and continued to inspire others to strive to get the best out of themselves.
“He emphasises everything that is good about sport in this nation and the Sport Australia Hall of Fame is delighted to announce his Elevation to Legend status.”
Sport Australia Hall of Fame Members must be retired for 15 years before being considered for Elevation to Legend status.
The annual Elevation of Legend/s is voted by the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Board based on recommendations by the Selection Committee.
Further announcements including the new inductees into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame will be made in the coming weeks.
Robert John “Bob” Skilton OAM
Robert John “Bob” Skilton earned widespread respect across the VFL for his talent, leadership and sportsmanship during a stellar career representing South Melbourne.
A highly skilled rover who excelled from the midfield through to the forward line, Skilton was an exemplary kicker with superb evasive skills, which made him a favourite of fans.
The diminutive Skilton, who stood 171cm, was highly courageous despite his stature and earned significant respect for his attack on the ball.
His excellence and sportsmanship is highlighted by the Brownlow Medals he claimed in 1959, 1963 and 1968 as the VFL competition’s best-and-fairest player.
Skilton, who grew up in Port Melbourne, is among a select group of players to win the Brownlow Medal three times and rates among the best footballers to play the game.
He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 and feels incredibly proud to be Elevated to Legend status, with the admiration he holds for his peers.
“I’ve always been in awe of the absolute skill level of the other Hall of Fame athletes. The ability of some of those guys is incredible,” he said.
What Skilton has treasured the most during his time in football and as an Athlete Member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame for four decades is the quality of the people he has met.
“You’ve only got to spend a short time with any professional athlete to realise how dedicated they are in everything they do. You must have the absolute desire to succeed,” he said.
“And training? You’re not going to succeed if you don’t train or if you don’t have a good work ethic.
“In a sense you have to be a little bit selfish. You have to be prepared to sacrifice time and social events. But you also have to know when not to be selfish, which is fundamental in a team environment.
“But when you meet a Hall of Fame athlete, the one thing that stands above the rest is that they’re just all remarkably humble, fantastic people.”
Born in 1938, Skilton credits the guidance of his parents Robert and Rita, along with several teachers, as critical to his long-lasting career in football as a player and a coach.
His father was a stickler for honing his talent and encouraged Skilton to develop the skill to kick with both feet, which was a factor in his brilliance as a player.
“I was very lucky to have the right people around me and I had some very good teachers. I owe a big part of my success to my parents, especially my dad in the early days. He was a prisoner of war and I was seven by the time he came home,” he said.
“We would go down to Fishermans Bend and kick the footy and he wouldn’t kick it back to me unless I kicked it with my wrong foot. We’d spend hours kicking left foot, right foot. I owe my ability to kick with both feet to him.”
His father had run professionally prior to the war, and was instrumental in Skilton undertaking athletic training with running coach Bill Mitchell, with whom he regularly trained six days a week.
But Skilton, who represented Victoria on 25 occasions as a football player and also captained the state twice, said he wasn’t quick enough to consider a track career.
He joked that while a more pedestrian pace might well have worked in his favour in the middle of a football ground, his lack of pace did not necessarily impress his wife Marion.
“I found out very quickly when I started training with Bill and his athletes that I was really out of my league. Basically, they could run and I couldn’t,” he said.
“But I kept training with Bill throughout my career and would compete in foot running races. Marion came to watch me once and said I was so embarrassing that she was never coming to watch another race again.
“If I had to have any disappointments, it would be that I would have liked to have been a bit quicker. But I suppose sometimes it worked in my favour, as some of the other blokes were too quick.
“When you’re playing, you have to be prepared to change what you’re doing and change it quickly because that oval ball doesn’t always do what you think it’s going to do. So I guess there were some upsides to being slow.”
Skilton’s only finals appearance in his 16-season career with South Melbourne came in 1970 and he still laments the lack of team success. He said he would swap all of his individual accolades for the chance to share a premiership with his mates.
“I’d still swap them for a premiership because when it’s all said and done, you’re playing a team sport and there’s nothing like team success,” he said.
But he said the lasting friendships he forged with teammates including Peter Bedford, John Heriot, Max Papley and Herbie Matthews, among others, were a prized part of his life.
Skilton loved representing Victoria alongside fellow Sport Australia Hall of Fame Legends Ron Barassi AM and Ted Whitten OAM, and other champions.
He took particular delight in presenting the AFL Premiership Cup to his beloved Sydney Swans at the MCG in 2012 after their triumph over Hawthorn in a thrilling grand final.
“To be honest, I thought they had made a big mistake, because I thought, ‘With my luck, there’s no chance they’ll win,’” he said.
“But it’s one of the proudest sporting moments of my life and I’m just so grateful to the club for asking me.”