‘Legend of the game’: Legendary WA coach John Todd dead at 86

The AFL world is mourning the death of Western Australian legend John Todd at the age of 86, who passed away in his sleep on Tuesday following an illness.

The Australian Rules Football Hall of Famer excelled on the field but will be remembered as one of the game’s greatest coaches.

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At just 17 years and four months, Todd won the WAFL’s Sandover Medal as the competition’s best and fairest in 1955, beating Australian Football Hall of Fame legend Graham “Polly” Farmer by four points.

Todd was the youngest winner in the competition’s history, aside from 1942 winner Laurie Bowen, during which the competition was restricted to minors due to World War II.

But an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his second season in the WAFL saw him clock up just two further injury-free seasons, although it didn’t stop him being a three-time best and fairest winner for South Fremantle, a 13-time representative player of the Western Australia and a 1961 All-Australian.

He finished with 132 games for South Fremantle – including a season as captain-coach at the age of just 21 – before moving into full-time coaching at the end of his playing career.

It was a successful move with Todd capturing six premierships between 1966 and 2022, where he coached WAFL teams South Fremantle, East Fremantle and Swan Districts.

But he was also the second ever West Coast Eagles manager – there have only been six so far – and the first to take the club to the final.

In the 1988 VFL season, Todd led the Eagles to fourth place in the table, eventually losing an elimination thriller final to Melbourne by just two points.

However, Todd’s second season saw the Eagles finish 11th and the club signed Mick Malthouse to replace him.

The following season, Todd led Swan Districts to the WAFL premiership.

In addition to his 721 championship matches as a coach, Todd also coached Western Australia in 14 matches and Australia in six international rules Tests.

Todd was also the first Western Australian to coach over 700 matches.

Todd was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and became a Western Australian Football Hall of Fame Legend in 2004.

He is also featured in both the Swan Districts and South Fremantle Halls of Fame, the latter of which he became an inaugural legend.

He was also the coach of the Swan Districts Team of the Century.

On hearing the news of his death, AFL Commission president Richard Goyder said Todd “will be deeply missed by everyone”.

“John Todd has been successful in every aspect of his football journey and has influenced Western Australian football so much that he demands the highest standards and seeks constant improvement,” Goyder said in a statement.

“Winning the championship in three different clubs is an extraordinary achievement. He molded players into great teams, but I also want to recognize that John had an incredible love for the game and football people throughout his life.

“Private of being able to spend time with him in his later years, he was still a regular at matches, engaged with everyone in the world of football and was a great supporter of the game and what it could do for people and communities.

“He was incredibly tough, building his career after injury took away his playing days, and he had the highest standards as a coach, but he was also incredibly generous and was someone who made our game great, especially in WA at the time when state league football was the pinnacle of the game.

“We will all miss him deeply and we will honor his memory at our next Hall of Fame induction on June 18 as one of the greatest coaches in the history of football.”

West Coast CEO Don Pyke also paid tribute.

“John Todd was a key figure in making us the club we are today,” Pyke said.

“He was one of the club’s pioneers, operating without a real home base and with a number of other obstacles in his way.

“He is a football legend and as a club we are extremely grateful for his contribution.

“On behalf of the entire club, I offer our deepest condolences to John’s family, friends and loved ones.”

South Fremantle president Peter Christie called Todd “a legend in every sense of the world”.

He added that he is “undoubtedly the most talented player in our history” speaking on .

The Dockers also paid tribute, writing in X: “The Fremantle Football Club expresses its deepest condolences to the family and friends of WA football great John Todd, following the passing of the South Fremantle football legend on Monday.”

WA Premier Roger Cook tweeted: “A Sandover Medalist in his debut WAFL season at just 17, John Todd has left an indelible mark as a player.

“An injury may have shortened his playing career, but it couldn’t stop his passion for football – he evolved into one of the greatest coaches our football has ever seen.

“Whoever you are, Western Australians know the name John Todd.

“It’s a name that is synonymous with WA football. Worth John.

Perth Mayor Basil Zempilas posted: “Very saddened by the news of the passing of John Todd.

“When I grew up John Todd was the very successful manager of Swan Districts… and then the second manager of West Coast Eagles.

“As I got older his exploits as a player became more apparent, a Sandover medal at 17 – can you believe it? And the knee injuries that would have forced others to retire, but not Toddy.

“Then the incredible coaching record at multiple levels and at many clubs and for WA. When I made my league debut for West Perth in 1990 – we were playing the Swans at Bassendean, Toddy was there as coach. He made the occasion even more meaningful…playing against a John Todd team.

“He had his run-ins with Dennis and with West Perth, but as he got older he mellowed and as a broadcaster and broadcaster I had the opportunity to get to know his softer side. He loved football, he cared about it and he was a giant of the game.

“One of the absolute titans of the game in Western Australia. He was feared and revered, but he made us all walk higher as supporters of WA football.

“Rest in peace Toddy, thank you for the memories and incredible contribution.”

Sports journalist and former Olympian Ashleigh Nelson commented: “Honoring decorated @WAFLOfficial legend John Todd. @SFFCBulldogs and @SwanDistrictsFC will fittingly contest the John Todd Cup in their next outing.”

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