|Full name||Harold Robert Pratt|
|Date of birth||31 August 1912|
|Place of birth||Brunswick West, Victoria|
|Date of death||6 January 2001(aged 88)|
|Place of death||Frankston, Victoria|
3 May 1930, South Melbourne|
vs. Melbourne, at Lake Oval
|Height||180 cm (5 ft 11 in)|
|Weight||76 kg (168 lb)|
|1930–39, 1946||South Melbourne||158 (681)|
1 Playing statistics correct to the end of 1946.
|Sources: AFL Tables, AustralianFootball.com|
Harold Robert Pratt Sr. (31 August 1912 – 6 January 2001) was an Australian rules footballer who played for the South Melbourne Football Club in the Victorian Football League (VFL) and the Coburg Football Club in the Victorian Football Association (VFA).
Known for spectacular diving and high-flying marks, Pratt topped South Melbourne's goalkicking for the first time in 1932 with 71 goals and for the next three seasons passed 100 goals. His total of 150 goals in 1934 was a VFL/AFL record which stood alone until Peter Hudson equalled it in 1971. Pratt also kicked ten or more goals in a game eight times, including 15 goals in a single game. His son, Bob Pratt Jr., also played for South Melbourne.
The son of Harold Robert Pratt and Olive Pratt (née Fosbrook), Pratt was born in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Brunswick West on 31 August 1912. He grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Mitcham, and was known as "Bob" to avoid confusion with his father.
Playing as a junior for local club Mitcham, Pratt attracted the attention of rival VFL clubs South Melbourne and Hawthorn. Whilst Hawthorn lost interest after a poor performance by Pratt in a match, South Melbourne signed him following a recommendation from the Mitcham coach.
Recruited from Mitcham, Pratt played his first game for the South Melbourne Second XVIII, against Hawthorn, on 15 June 1929. He was one of the best on the ground in a team that won 15.16 (106) to 4.9 (33), scoring four goals.
He played in the forward pocket for the Second XVIII in the 1929 First Semi-Final against Essendon, and was one of the best players for South Melbourne. He was replaced in the team for the preliminary final match against Geelong by Jack Richardson, most likely because Richardson had played 10 senior matches that year, rather than due to any disappointment in Pratt's performance (it was the prevailing wisdom that it was always better to play experienced senior players in Second XVIII finals matches); Geelong won the match.
Pratt's senior VFL career began in the first round of the 1930 season, when (aged 17 years, 245 days) he played at centre half-forward for South Melbourne, against Melbourne at South Melbourne's home ground, Lake Oval. Although South Melbourne lost the match by 25 points, Pratt kicked four goals, and was considered to be South Melbourne's best player on the day.
He played the entire season of 18 Home and Away matches, kicking 43 goals for the season — his best score was five goals in Round 10 against Fitzroy – and was second on South Melbourne's goalkicking list to the full-forward, Austin Robertson.
He was considered to have "immense promise".
Still playing at centre half-forward, he played 15 games and kicked 23 goals, becoming the equal third highest goalkicker for South. Leading VFL footballer turned journalist Wallace Sharland complimented Pratt on his pace, stating that he had plenty of "toe". South Melbourne finished seventh with nine wins from eighteen matches.
South Melbourne selected Roy Selleck, a recruit from Springvale, at full-forward, and selected Pratt at centre half-forward for the opening match of the 1932 season. Selleck was not a success (in fact he only played three senior VFL games), and he was moved to the forward flank for the second match, and Pratt was moved to full-forward for the first time. In his first game as full-forward he kicked 7 goals 1 behind.
Pratt topped South Melbourne's goalkicking for the first time in 1932 with 71 goals, fifty of them coming by Round Nine. His tally broke the previous record for goals scored in a season by a South Melbourne player, held by Ted Johnson, who kicked 60 goals in the 1924, 1925 and 1928 seasons.
On 2 July 1932, in the round nine match against Fitzroy, playing at full-forward, Pratt kicked 7 goals (The Argus noted that "Pratt was keen and accurate [up] forward", whilst The Age remarked on Pratt's "extraordinary marking and kicking") in a more accurate South Melbourne's 12.10 (82) win over Fitzroy 10.15 (75). After the match, Pratt was reported by goal umpire Greenwood and boundary umpire Treloar for striking Fitzroy's back-pocket Frank Curcio in the back, near the right kidney, in the third quarter. At the VFL tribunal hearing on Thursday, 7 July 1932, the charge against Pratt was not sustained ("Curcio said that he had no recollection of having been struck").
This was the only occasion that Pratt was reported in his entire VFL career.
South Melbourne underwent a massive recruiting drive prior to the 1933 VFL season, recruiting Laurie Nash and Frank Davies from Tasmania, Wilbur Harris and Ossie Bertram from South Australia and Western Australians Joe O'Meara and John Bowe. After a slow start, the team melded well together to win the 1933 premiership. Pratt, who kicked 109 goals for the season from eighteen matches, was "idolised by all South fans ... (who) flocked to the Lake Oval and other grounds to see him action." Pratt kicked three goals in the grand final to overtake Gordon Coventry as the VFL's leading goalkicker for the season.
Pratt had a disrupted pre-season, barely training and playing only one practice match, yet he kicked eight goals in Round One against Collingwood. At the age of just 20, Pratt had already become a fan favourite at South Melbourne. Local newspaper the South Melbourne Record wrote of his performances "Nothing gave South fans greater delight than to see Pratt soaring above the packs. The fruits of victory would not taste so sweet if Pratt failed to reap a bag of half a dozen majors."
On 19 May, in the Round 3 match against Essendon at Lake Oval, Pratt set a new club record for the most goals kicked in a game by an individual player, registering 15 goals and 3 behinds in a 42-point win. Eight of those goals came in a ten-minute spell. a record only broken since by Tony Lockett in 1995. He also kicked 12 goals against Footscray (including seven in a quarter) and 11 against Carlton and Essendon. Pratt reached 100 goals for the season in the third quarter of the Round 13 match against Carlton, the fewest games ever required to reach 100 goals in a season.
In a match against Carlton, Pratt kicked eight goals in the third quarter, which is one of the highest number of goals kicked in a quarter, by an individual in the VFL.
South Melbourne dominated the competition through the season and were considered the clear favourite to win the 1934 premiership. However, in the Grand Final, South were outplayed by Richmond, losing by 39 points, with Pratt kicking two goals to take his season tally to 150 goals. Post-match rumours of South Melbourne players accepting bribes to play poorly were so strong that Pratt and teammate Peter Reville confronted several players they suspected of playing poorly.
In addition to his 150 goals, Pratt kicked 94 behinds, which is still the record for the most behinds kicked in a season (Pratt is also second on the second on that list, having kicked 93 points in 1933).
Pratt had his best Brownlow Medal result in 1934, polling 14 votes to finish eighth, six votes behind the winner, Essendon's Dick Reynolds. For all of this, Pratt did not win South Melbourne's Best and Fairest Award (won by Terry Brain). When Pratt asked a committee member why, he was given the response "You're very spectacular but not very effective." He did, however, receive the 2021 equivalent of A$1,133 from South Melbourne in recognition of his feat.
Pratt was again a star performer in 1935, kicking 103 goals for the year and, for the third season in a row, being the VFL Leading Goalkicker (an outstanding feat, given that his teammates Roy Moore and Laurie Nash scored 52 and 51 goals respectively for the 1935 season as well).
Following a convincing win in the second-semi final against Collingwood, when Pratt kicked six goals, South Melbourne were again considered favourite to win the premiership. However, Pratt missed the 1935 VFL Grand Final through bizarre circumstances. On the Thursday night prior to the Grand Final he was clipped by a truck carrying five tonnes of bricks moments after he stepped off a tram on High Street, Prahran. Pratt injured an ankle and lacerated both legs due to the accident and was unable to play.
In response to the accident, the South Melbourne Record wrote
The initial attack on the inhabitants of Adowa by Benito Mussolini's invading army upon Emperor Haile Selassie, is no greater shock than that received by SMFC officials when they learned on Thursday afternoon, through the press, that Bob Pratt had been involved in a collision with a motor truck.
The truck driver, a South Melbourne supporter, offered Pratt a packet of cigarettes as a way of apology.
In Pratt's absence Collingwood won the Grand Final by 20 points.
Annoyed at what he considered unfair treatment by club management towards him compared to interstate recruits, Pratt first sought to leave South Melbourne for another club in June 1936, stating that he was unemployed and believed another club could find him employment. Pratt relented when local politician Robert Williams MLC found him a job in a brewery.
Perhaps driven by his financial circumstances, Pratt was the only South Melbourne player to play in every senior game in 1936. The South Melbourne players, including Pratt, had suffered a large number of injuries over the season, and the (astounding in 1936) number of 39 different men played at least one senior game that season: and, "of [that 39] Bob Pratt is the only one who has played in every engagement, and on occasions he has had to nurse injuries certain to have kept most other players out of the game".
In the first round match against Melbourne, Pratt was well held by his opponent, Harry Long, who was the best Melbourne player on the day. Pratt kicked 5 goals and 5 behinds for the match; his first goal for the day came from an "amazing mark" which he took "almost on the goal line" ("[Pratt] went from behind the pack with a tremendous leap and took the ball in his finger-tips to score an easy goal"). That first goal of the 1936 season brought his VFL career total to 500 goals (in 106 matches).
Pratt walked out on South Melbourne after round eight, 1937, believing club officials considered him part of the furniture and did not see it necessary to offer him the same benefits (such as travel, accommodation and employment) as his interstate teammates like Laurie Nash. Carlton attempted to recruit Pratt, offering to pay him to stand out of football while waiting for a transfer from South Melbourne. South Melbourne, however, refused to transfer him.
PRATT AND BUNTON
Pratt depends to a great extent upon the other players of South Melbourne. Their persistent feeding, their accuracy in passing, whether low or high, and the all-round ability of the team continually bring the ball forward and give him chances.
As an individual Pratt, with his dogged determination, his battling groundwork, and his intense concentration on the ball, is a good player. Then his remarkable agility in leaving the ground, his judgment, and his uncanny knack of twisting his body to hold the ball at any angle, make him a wonderful mark.
Added to these gifts is his uncanny goal sense. Pratt amply repays the team for the assistance it gives him. He inspires the players with great confidence in all their play, because they know that their efforts in other parts of the field will not be wasted, and the value of confidence is incalculable.
In addition, Pratt gives the team a definite purpose to which to work on its forward line. A team without a set idea of how it is to proceed up forward is like a ship without a rudder.
Further, there is the psychological effect upon the other team, which is kept wondering just how it will stop this man. Altogether Pratt has a remarkable influence. – Ivor Warne-Smith."
Pratt abandoned plans to join Carlton but continual injury problems delayed the start of his year. In April, Pratt announced he was considering a transfer to Victorian Football Association (VFA) club Preston, who were offering him £6. He advised South Melbourne that, if they would continue to pay him the usual rate of £3 a week and take the risk of his breaking down, he would not consider any other offer. If, on the other hand, South Melbourne was reluctant, he announced that he would transfer to Preston and take the risk of his leg keeping him out of the game.
The full story emerged at the end of June 1938 (30 June was the closing date for clearances), when Mr. R.T. Mullaly, the Secretary of the South Melbourne Football Club, was interviewed by Percy Taylor, the Sporting Editor of The Argus.
Mullaly explained that Pratt had sustained an ankle injury three years earlier during the exhibition match South Melbourne had played against Collingwood, in Sydney, on 3 August 1935, and that his injury in that match was so severe that he was unable to return to the field after the half-time break. Although he received immediate treatment, he was unable to play in South Melbourne's next match, against Carlton on 10 August 1935; but he was fit enough to play against North Melbourne on 17 August 1935, two weeks later (he kicked 5 goals in the match). He continued to play for the rest of the season.
Then, just two days before the 1935 Grand Final, Pratt was hit by a truck, badly injuring the same ankle. Pratt received immediate medical attention, including intensive massage treatment, and was later taken, by South Melbourne, to a leading surgeon. As a consequence of the treatment he received, Pratt was able to play in all of the 21 games that South Melbourne played in 1936, scoring 64 goals for the season. Then, in 1937, after the match against North Melbourne on 14 June 1937, Pratt complained of pain in his badly jarred ankle; his ankle was X-rayed, and South Melbourne took him to "the best bone specialist in Melbourne", who diagnosed "arthritis". They sought a second opinion; and Pratt also continued to receive extensive massage treatment as well. Pratt did not play again in 1937.
According to Mullaly, Pratt had begun training some two months before the 1938 season had started, and had played well in some of the club's practice games; only to have complained, once again, of ankle problems. He was appointed vice-captain to Herbie Matthews two weeks before the season began. Although not playing, he was retained on South Melbourne's training list and, as a consequence, was receiving £1 a week – and only seemed to become anxious about the condition of his ankle as the closing date for clearances had approached, and had asked for the club to arrange another X-ray. Mullaly thought that it was "absurd" for Pratt to contemplate gaining a clearance to another club if, in fact, he was not fit to play for South Melbourne. The two medical men consulted by South Melbourne reported, on Friday 24 June, that Pratt had arthritis and that he must retire.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, on 28 June 1938 (two days before the VFL's clearance applications closed), Pratt appeared at South Melbourne's Tuesday night training session and, despite the medical advice that had been given to him, he declared that, despite his chronic arthritis, he wanted to play again with South Melbourne, and that he would train in earnest, and was hoping (despite his lack of condition, and his long absence from the playing field) to be selected in the next few weeks. He reported that he had previously found that "he was not inconvenienced while on the field", although he did experience great discomfort for some time after each game; and, also, he said, he was confident that, although he had a chronic injury, playing VFL football would not do his injury any further harm.
Pratt went on to play seven matches in 1938 (his first, against Collingwood, was in round 11, on 2 July 1938), kicking 32 goals, including nine goals against Geelong in the final round. South finished last on the ladder that season with two wins and sixteen losses.
In 1939, Pratt played 16 games with South Melbourne, scoring 72 goals for the season. Towards the end of the season, there were many rumours that he would retire from football; and, when asked, he said that he would play the last match of the season, and implied that he would be returning to South Melbourne in 1940.
In 1940 Pratt sought a clearance to fellow VFL side Carlton. When told that he would have to stand out of VFL football for three years to do so, he signed with Coburg Football Club in the VFA; although fellow VFA side Port Melbourne, much of whose territory was shared with South Melbourne, had offered Pratt substantially more.
Also transferring to the VFA for the 1940 season was Collingwood full-forward Ron Todd, who moved to Williamstown. With former South Melbourne teammate Laurie Nash at VFA club Camberwell (and still considered amongst the best footballers in the country), and the interest generated by the VFA having legalized throwing the ball in 1938, there was talk that the VFA, traditionally the lesser of the two leagues, would now match the VFL for crowds.
In that time he continued his incredible goal scoring record, kicking 183 goals during 1941 (a mark bettered only once in VFA/VFL history, by Ron Todd in 1945), including 22 goals in a game against Sandringham. In all, Pratt played 40 games for Coburg, kicking 263 goals.
While in service, Pratt had the opportunity to play football, representing the Stores team in the RAAF competition. Playing at full-forward, Pratt helped Stores to the 1942 RAAF premiership, kicking three goals in the grand final against the "Rookies".
Pratt was discharged on 14 November 1945.
Pratt caused a sensation when he attempted a comeback with South Melbourne in 1946 aged 33; he was reported to be marking and kicking at full-forward "in something like his old style" during the pre-season practice matches.
Freely granted a clearance from the VFA back to South Melbourne, and looking exceedingly well and seeming keen to play at his best, kicked two early goals in his return match, against Carlton in the first round of the 1946 season, which turned out to be a comparatively entertaining display of football, but also rather tame and blood-less compared with the teams' last meeting in the 1945 "Bloodbath" Grand Final. During the match, Pratt received a career ending leg injury.
Interviewed at the time, Pratt said "I'm playing only for the money" but when his wife Olive interrupted and said that he would still play for nothing, Pratt replied "Well, she might be right, too."
Asked late in life why he never coached, Pratt replied "It was no trouble to me to do things that the ordinary bloke couldn't do, but if he didn't do it, I couldn't understand why."
Pratt married Olive Sandstrom on 24 August 1935 at All Saints Church of England in St Kilda, after playing against Geelong earlier that day. His teammate James Reid was best man. Over a thousand people attended the wedding, with over 400 people outside, jostling to see the couple. Two constables were required to keep the crowd away from the church doors and pickpockets took advantage of the crush of people to steal from the crowd.
Pratt worked at various times for the Melbourne Star newspaper, as an inspector of news agencies and as a sales representative for soft drink companies, as well as writing a football column for The Argus newspaper. He also raced greyhounds and played competitive lawn bowls.
Following a long illness, Pratt died on 6 January 2001 at Frankston Hospital.
"PRATT WAS GREATEST GOAL-KICKER
Pratt is my choice because he could almost do the impossible. Often he flew for the ball from almost an impossible position— perhaps on the outside of three players, and then, with an amazing twist of his body, he appeared to get his hands to the ball at an angle of 45 degrees.
Many times photographers have shown Pratt as high as an opponent's shoulder.
Pratt was not only a freak mark. He could kick goals from 60 yards out or more, and he could do it on the run and on the turn. Closer to goal his snap-shooting was remarkable.
Pratt too often had to make his own opportunities, because he was not fed by every player in front of him. In 1934 he kicked 150 goals – still a League record – and in the same season the centre-half forward kicked more than 60…
I am convinced that Pratt – the artist or freak – has no master. – Percy Taylor."
Pratt was averse to weights training, believing that it took away from the athleticism required to play football. Instead, he trained with professional sprinters, which he believed helped him as it built his initial acceleration (essential to any footballer) and aided his kicking accuracy.
His contemporaries were full of praise for his exploits:
In 1996, Bob Pratt was names as an inaugural member of the Australian Football Hall of Fame and, along with 11 other greats of the game, was immediately elevated to "Legend" status, the highest honour in Australian Football.
Sydney has named their Leading Goal kicker Award the "Bob Pratt Trophy".
His tally of 37 goals in finals football was a club record until 2008.
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