As we have moved closer to the present in our examination of Brownlow Medal winners, we have on occasion encountered quite a few who were soccer or rugby players. There have been others who crossed to ocean and ventured into the northern hemisphere to play American football.
Those transitions were rather natural from the regard that the sports all involve running and kicking a ball. We do not mean to imply that switching betwixt these sports is easy, because the players we have examined that have accomplished this feat were top echelon footy players, obviously, having been declared best and fairest in the entire VFL/AFL and often receiving the same accolade from their teammates, but only that similar skill sets were utilised.
Today’s subject, however, made a switch after the end of a long footy career to the sport of cricket, where it was his natural athletic abilities and not his experience as a footballer that came into play.
We are referring to the 1970 Brownlow Medal winner, Peter Lawrence Anthony “Wheels” Bedford (11 April 1947), the nine-season South Melbourne Swans and then Carlton Crows player for two seasons who was a proficient batsman and bowler for Victoria both before and during his footy career.
Originally from East Melbourne, where he played footy for the side fielded by Christian Brothers College Victoria Parade, his senior level Australian Rules football began with the VFA with the Port Melbourne Football Club.
The Borough was quite competent in the 1967 season, finishing second on the ladder of the 10 teams then in the league. Port beat number one Dandenong convincingly in the semi finals. Dandenong returned the favour against Sandringham in the preliminary final, setting up a rematch with Port in the Grand Final.
Bedford’s contribution to that Grand Final was two goals kicked, but the more remembered aspect of the game was when Port Melbourne nearly walked off the ground, led by captain-coach Brian Buckley in protest over the disparity of free kicks, 26 for Dandenong versus nine for Port Melbourne before the end of the first half. That controversy was one of the most well-known in the history of VFL/VFA play and was recognised as one of the 150 Greatest Moments in Australian Rules football history in the 150-year history of the sport in 2008.
After that incident, Bedford received overtures from the SANFL to play for Port Adelaide and also the SA cricket team, thanks to the exhortations of a certain cricketer of more than slight renown by the name of Sir Donald Bradman.
Peter Bedford decline and instead made the climb to the VFL in 1968, just past 21 years of age in round two, where South Melbourne battled to a draw with Hawthorn. Even though technically a VFL rookie, his VFA experience found him being productive from the start, with 24 goals, 19 behinds and 417 disposals in his first season. South Melbourne was not so fortunate that season, winning only six times to conclude the 20 round home-and-away season ninth on the 12 team ladder.
Things were much the same in 1969. Bedford performed well and was recognised for the first time as South Melbourne best and fairest. The side again finished ninth.
Bedford’s 1970 Brownlow Medal season was also good for South Melbourne. The home-and-away season now consisted of 22 rounds. Bedford kicked 50 goals, second-best of his career, 34 behinds and a career-high 553 disposals. South Melbourne wound up fourth on the ladder before losing to the Saints, who were still riding the surge of their 1966 premiership, in the semi final that found the final siren going off with South Melbourne 53 points in arrears. Bedford was again the club’s best and fairest. His 25 Brownlow votes were four better than Footscray’s Gary Dempsey.
The 1970 season was essentially Bedford’s zenith, at least in terms of the success of the side. The club slid precipitously from 1971 – 1976. In 1972 and 1975 they won only two games and the other seasons were only marginally better. Bedford was last relevant in Brownlow voting in 1973 when he tallied 11 votes.
Peter Bedford did what he could, but without the cast to support him from his rover position, or forward on those occasions when South Melbourne needed him to kick a goal, there was little that he could hope to accomplish individually. He was best and fairest three more times. Once in 1971 and including those dismal seasons of 1973 and 1975. He led the team in goal kicking for three seasons from 1971 – 1973 and served as captain from 1973 – 1976.
Bedford went over to Carlton in 1976. He played just eight games during his two seasons there. He subsequently went back to the VFA and Port Melbourne.
His VFA career encompassed 178 games during which he kicked 325 goals, quite impressive given that he spent a lot of time as a rover, and it was as a follower that he was named to the Swans Team of the Century in 2003, sometime after the club had relocated to Sydney. He also played representative level footy for Victoria on 13 occasions, in which he scored 11 goals.
Port Melbourne also selected him for its team of the century and he was inducted into Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
His time as a cricketer deserves some mention. He played 39 matches for the state, some in 1966 – 67 before joining the Swans, and the rest in 1972 – 73 when his footy career was in full swing. His stat line was 1602 runs at 28.10 and 45 wickets at 33.40. He scored a century with 134 not out against Western Australia in the 1969 – 70 season.
Later that same season he produced his best bowling figures. He was part of the squad that helped Victoria win the Sheffield Shield.
Playing cricket before, during and after footy has to be viewed as something of a singular accomplishment, although we do not claim that he was the only person to ever divide his abilities between cricket and footy, but to do it at such a high level over such an extended period, it would have to be said that Peter Bedford set the bar for generations of athletes to follow.