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

The AFL world is mourning the death of West Australian legend John Todd, aged 86, who died in his sleep on Tuesday following an illness.

The Australian 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 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 pageant’s history, apart from 1942 winner Laurie Bowen, when the pageant was restricted to minors due to World War II.

But an ACL injury in his second season in the WAFL gave him just two more injury-free seasons, although that didn’t stop him from being a three-time best and fairest winner for South Fremantle, a 13-time Western Australian representative and a 1961 All-Australian.

He ended up playing 132 games for South Fremantle – including a season as captain-coach aged just 21 – before becoming a full-time coach after his playing career ended.

It was a successful move as Todd won six premierships between 1966 and 2022, coaching WAFL sides South Fremantle, East Fremantle and Swan Districts.

But he was also the second coach of the West Coast Eagles in history – there have only been six – and the first to take the club to the finals.

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

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

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

In addition to his 721 league matches as a coach, Todd also coached Western Australia in 14 matches and Australia in six International Rules Tests.

Todd was also the first West Australian to coach more than 700 games.

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

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

He was also the coach of the Swan Districts team of the century.

On news of his death, AFL commission chairman Richard Goyder said Todd would be “sorely missed by all”.

“John Todd has been successful in all aspects of his football career and has made such an impact on football in Western Australia that he has demanded the highest standards and strived for continuous improvement,” Goyder said in a statement.

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

“Privileged to spend time with him in recent years, he was still a regular match attender, involved with everyone in football and a huge advocate of the game and what it can do for people and communities.

“He was incredibly resilient, he built a career after an injury that took away his playing days, and he had the highest standards as a coach, but he was also incredibly generous and he was the person who made our game great, especially in WA during when state football was the pinnacle of the game.

“He will be greatly missed by all, and at the upcoming Hall of Fame induction on June 18, we will honor his memory as one of the greatest coaches in football history.”

West Coast CEO Don Pyke also paid tribute.

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

“He was one of the pioneers of a club that operated without a proper home base and with a number of other obstacles in its way.

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

“On behalf of everyone at the club, my deepest condolences go out to John’s family, friends and loved ones.”

South Fremantle chairman Peter Christie described Todd as “a legend in every sense of the world”.

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

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

WA Premier Roger Cook tweeted: “John Todd, a Sandover medalist in his first WAFL season aged just 17, has left an indelible mark as a player.

“Injury may have cut short his playing career but it couldn’t stop his passion for football – he has developed into one of the greatest coaches our game has ever seen.

“Whoever you barrack for, West Australians know the name John Todd.

“It’s a name synonymous with WA football. Bye John.”

Perth Mayor Basil Zempilas posted: “Deeply saddened to learn of the death of John Todd.

“When I was growing up, John Todd was a hugely successful Swan Districts coach … and then the second coach of the West Coast Eagles.

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

“Then an incredible coaching record at many levels and at many clubs and for WA. When I made my league debut for West Perth in 1990 – we played the Swans at Bassendean, Toddy was back there as coach. It made this opportunity seem even more important… to play against John Todd’s team.

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

“One of the absolute titans of the game in Western Australia. He was feared and respected but we all made sure we got taller as WA fans.

“Rest in peace Toddy, thanks for the memories and amazing contribution.”

Sports reporter and former Olympian Ashleigh Nelson commented: “In tribute to decorated @WAFLOfficial legend John Todd. @SFFCBulldogs and @SwanDistrictsFC will be fittingly competing for the John Todd Cup at their next outing.”

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