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The ultimate goal-saver

Ted Potter played 182 games for Collingwood between 1963 and 1972. - Collingwood,Collingwood Magpies
Ted Potter played 182 games for Collingwood between 1963 and 1972.

There are few higher tributes that can be paid to a footballer than to be voted their team’s best player in a finals series.

That says you stand up when it matters most - when the battle is at its fiercest and the stakes are highest. There is no better measure of a player’s ability to play well in big games.

At Collingwood, the trophy for Best Player in a Finals Series is named after one of our greatest figures, Bob Rose. The award itself was first presented as early as 1926, and Rose’s name was added to it in 1988. It has been won by many of the club’s biggest names, including Syd Coventry, the Collier brothers, Len Thompson, Des Tuddenham, Nathan Buckley, Gavin Brown, Peter Daicos, Scott Pendlebury and Dane Swan.

With the Pies back in September action again, it seems like the perfect time to pay tribute to some of those who have won this award over the years.

To see more on the Bob Rose Award, including a full list of winners, check out the page on Collingwood Forever.

Collingwood's 1966 finals series is mostly remembered – apart from the heartbreaking result in the Grand Final – for skipper Des Tuddenham's heroic seven-goal haul that almost single-handedly dragged his team over the line in the nail-biting Second Semi-Final.

So it might come as something of a surprise to learn that Tuddy didn't win the club's award for best player in the finals series that year. Instead, that honour went to unassuming defender Ted Potter.

But those who followed Potter's career closely would not have been surprised. For a start, he was a classic big game player. Potter loved the challenge of playing on the opposition's best player, and he particularly loved doing so in the big games, regularly saving his best for finals and other vital matches.

But he also seemed to have a special love of playing on St Kilda's wizard, Darrel Baldock. The 'Doc' was one of the most brilliant players of his era, but many Collingwood fans struggled to understand what all the fuss over Baldock was about: he rarely caused the Pies too many problems.

And that was largely down to Potter.

Potter held down important defensive posts for the Magpies for a decade after his debut in 1963. As first a full-back and later a centre half-back he had the misfortune to come up against some of the most brilliant forwards the game has ever known – including famous names such as Carlton's Alex Jesaulenko, Richmond's Royce Hart, Geelong's Doug Wade and Hawthorn's Peter Hudson. And, of course, Baldock.

He regularly bested, or at worst broke-even, with them all. His battles with Baldock were memorable, and a highlight of the Collingwood-St Kilda clashes of the time. One former teammate said the contests were so engrossing that other players were tempted to just stand back and watch. They would go at each other from start to finish, trying to outwit each other, with Baldock pitting his exquisite skills against the tenacity, determination and close-checking of the Collingwood defender.

Best finals performers: Ken Turner.

And in 1966, the two September battles they fought were ones that Potter won convincingly. Baldock kicked two in the semi but had little influence on the game as Potter blanketed him thoroughly. He didn't make it into the Saints' best players on Grand Final day either, despite another two goals. Potter had done everything he could to get the Pies over the line, and the club recognized his efforts with the Best Player in Finals Award.

His coach, Bob Rose, loved Teddy Potter as a player.

“He was a coach’s dream,” Rose said in 1991. “He was one of the finest tacklers I’ve seen, played very tight, was quick and a good mark. He was also a fitness fanatic. He is one of the players I rate very, very highly, and I will always remember him for his fabulous performances against the best players in the VFL. And he did it every time he fronted up to them — it was amazing."

Potter played just his 50th game in 1966, but by then was already regarded as one of the game's best defenders.

He had started his footy life as a rover, while playing as a 13-year-old with the thirds for his home town team of Rutherglen. He moved to Melbourne to complete high school at about the same time his older brother, Robert, who was a promising footballer, decided to try his luck at Victoria Park. Ted pretty much just tagged along for the ride. Robert made the seconds list but couldn't be spared from the family farm, leaving Ted to finish high school while living with his aunt in Greensborough. Collingwood asked him to play a couple of games with the under-19s in 1961 as a 16-year-old, but he spent most of that year playing local footy with Greensborough.

Best finals players: Licuria's night of nights.

In 1962, however, he spent a full season with the under-19s, sometimes on the half-forward flank and later at full-back, finishing second in the team's best-and-fairest count. He also won McLeod High School's decathlon championship, and the Northern Division High Schools’ 440 yards title, while also being elected school captain.

Ted was hoping to get a taste of reserves football in 1963, but after starting the season in the thirds he found himself at full-back in the seniors by Round 5! Most of Rutherglen turned out to watch that day as he lined up against Melbourne’s Barry Bourke in a game at Victoria Park. The kid held him to two goals and never really looked back, missing only one game for the rest of the year and winning a £100 award from GTV 9 for the most successful full-back of the season.

And that's the way things remained for the rest of the decade. At just over 187cm, Potter was a good height for a key defender, and he had a wiry build that made him deceptively strong. He had long arms which came in handy for spoiling, a good and safe pair of hands and outstanding judgement. He was also good at ground level, exceptionally cool under pressure and provided a wonderfully reliable, consistent defensive presence. He revelled in the physical contests, loved playing tight to his man and rarely gave his opponent any breathing space at all.

Potter’s off-field persona mirrored the on-field version (though he did suffer badly from pre-match nerves, it rarely showed). A physical education teacher by profession, his two favourite hobbies at the time were fly-fishing and collecting gemstones. He was introverted, quiet and unassuming, but universally respected.

In the end Ted Potter managed 182 games before injuries prompted his premature retirement at the end of 1972. He was respected by teammates and opponents alike for his courage, consistency and tenacity. He also took with him a unique record for the longest goal-free career in VFL history – he did not kick a single goal in any of his 182 games.

As any Magpie fan of the 1960s would tell you, he might not have kicked any, but goodness knows how many he prevented.