The then 22-year-old Ian Stewart was certainly not one of the pre-Brownlow favourites in 1965 and indeed his teammate and captain Darrel Baldock was rated a better chance. Baldock had run equal-second two years earlier and had completed another brilliant season.
In the final wash-up, Baldock would finish third in the 1965 count with 18 votes, two behind Stewart and Noel Teasdale who each scored 20 votes. To have two players from the same club finish in the top three was a rarity in itself, but this was a special year for the Saints as the club finished on top of the home-and-away ladder for the first time in VFL history.
Stewart won the medal on countback as he had polled more three-vote games than Teasdale. He was ranked best afield in six games and scored two votes in one other game. Teasdale had been best on ground five times in the umpires’ eyes, scored two votes on one occasion and had one-vote games three times.
Rightly, in later years Teasdale was awarded a retrospective medal when the League decided that equal vote getters deserved equal recognition. It has been argued cogently that a man polling in more games should have been declared the winner if there was going to be any tie-break system. By that differential, Teasdale had polled in nine games and Stewart in seven.
But back to Stewart.
In 1965, votes were awarded in 17 of the 18 games. No votes were awarded on the weekend when the Victorian team was playing interstate. Incidentally that game against Carlton was one in which Stewart starred as he was not in the state team. Teasdale was part of the Big V side.
Of the 17 games in which votes were awarded, Stewart missed Round 6 with an injury, was sidelined by flu in Round 9 and in Round 14 suffered a hip injury sustained in the opening minutes of Round 14 which sidelined him for Round 15 and 16. In Round 7 he had left the field in the final quarter.
So he only completed 12 of the 17 eligible matches. That equates to 70 per cent of eligible games.
In those days the League shuffled votes so we do not know which games he received votes for. We do know that winning teams supply the three-vote getter 95 per cent of the time. St Kilda lost three of Stewart’s 12 completed matches so it is reasonable to assume that he was rated best in six of the 10 winning games he played.
Of course this is only guesswork and it needs to be pointed out that his skipper Baldock polled five three votes. Between them that is 11 best on grounds out of 17 matches and in a star-studded team it demonstrates the dominance of the Tassie pair. Baldock incidentally missed only one game all year – the Round 7 game against Fitzroy which Stewart oddly enough, was unlikely to have polled votes as he was not listed in the best in any newspaper reports.
Voting is by nature a subjective exercise. Looking at the best listed in Footy Week that year each club had an assigned writer. By his listings Stewart was most likely to have polled votes in Round 2, and 18 for sure and possibly Rounds 4 and 13. Stats wise those were his best games. The order of St Kilda’s best players roughly aligns with the Sporting Globe listings.
But whatever way you look at it Stewart’s effort of winning the medal despite effectively missing four games remains an immense achievement.
(In a quirky sidelight, Stewart ran second to Baldock in the club’s best and fairest count).