The 7 youngest players ever to make their VFL debut

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Who let long sleeves become fashionable again?

IF you’ve been living under a rock the past week you probably haven’t heard about Lewis Young.

The Western Bulldogs defender made his debut against Carlton on the weekend at the age of 18 years, 208 days – the youngest player in the AFL. Do you see the hilarious coincidence? His name is Young, and he is young! Headline writers across the country certainly didn’t miss it. What a hoot.

But how close is young Young to being the youngest Young to ever young? The answer? Not even young.

CLAUD CLOUGH (St Kilda, 1900: 15 years, 209 days)

FOR 112 years Claud Hamilton Clough, born 1884, was denied his record as the youngest player to ever debut, until researcher Stephen Rodgers found that the history books had confused him with Claude Lindsay Clough, born 1880.

Who knew Claude Clough was such a popular name?

Playing just 23 games for the Saints, Clough’s first match was notable for the fact it was St Kilda’s first ever win in the VFL. However, the Saints were only awarded the points a week after the game.

With the match against the Demons finishing in a tie, a behind recorded to Melbourne at the end of the third quarter was eventually disallowed, handing St Kilda a 1-point victory.

Clough would eventually retire from the game as a 16-year-old, and died in 1922 aged just 37.

KEITH BROMAGE (Collingwood, 1953: 15 years, 287 days)

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“BOY! Yes you. You’re up son,” the coach says as he tosses you the team guernsey.

Most young footy fans have dreamed of being picked out of the crowd to pull on the boots for their favourite team. For Keith Bromage, that was almost the reality of how his footballing career started.

First spotted by officials as a 13-year-old at Victoria Park kicking a paper football around after Magpies matches, Phonse Kyne and Jock McHale decided to keep an eye on the local kid for a couple of years before giving him a gig in the thirds in 1953.

That quickly became a gig in the seconds, before he was called up to play full-forward for the Magpie firsts in Round 17 against Richmond at Punt Road.

Kicking two goals in his first match, Bromage held his spot the next week and kicked another two against the Bulldogs, before losing his place in the team for the finals, which Collingwood would dominate on their way to the flag.

Bromage would eventually finish up at the Magpies in 1956 with 28 games and 30 goals to his name, before moving to Fitzroy where he would add another 41 games and 48 goals.

ALBERT COLLIER (Collingwood, 1925: 15 years, 297 days)

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ANYONE who’s a younger sibling knows we’re better looking, more intelligent, and generally more affable than our older brothers and sisters. It’s a fact.

We also develop faster because we copy their successes and avoid their mistakes.

So it was in the case of Albert Collier who, despite being two years younger than brother Harry, debuted for Collingwood before his sibling, who would go on to become the Magpies’ premiership captain in 1935 and 1936.

While Harry would eventually play more games (253 to 217) and kick more goals (299 to 66), Albert’s career ended with the 1929 Brownlow Medal and three club best and fairests (compared to his brother’s two).

First spotted by Collingwood secretary George Connor playing cricket for the club, young Albert was invited to train with the footballers despite legendary coach Jock McHale’s misgivings.

When made aware of Albert’s age, McHale told the lad: “All right, sonny, you can go out on the ground, but keep away from the big fellows. You’ll get killed out there.”

Unsurprisingly, Collier ran headlong into little and big blokes alike in his first training session, and was handed a Magpies jumper not long after.

TIM WATSON (Essendon, 1977: 15 years, 305 days)

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Paul Vander Haar, Tim Watson and Merv Neagle celebrate Watson’s “Sweet 16” with a shit cake and an awkward photo.

THE youngest player to debut this side of the Korean War, Tim Watson was picked up from Dimboola – 336km west of Melbourne – and dragged to the bright lights of the city to debut in 1977.

Retiring in 1991, before a brief comeback to win the flag in 1993, Watson finished his career with 307 games, 335 goals, four best and fairests and three premierships.

“It was exciting to play when I did. I didn’t reflect on how young I was until much later in life,” Watson would later say.

“It was probably too young but I didn’t and don’t feel it had any detrimental effect on me.”

Watson also had a brief stint of being “St Kilded” as the Saints coach from 1999 to 2000, before becoming one of the least worst ex-players to pursue a career in the media.

He is the father of world-class barista Jobe Watson.

WELS EICKE (St Kilda, 1909: 15 years, 315 days)

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WELLESLEY Hastings Eicke, or Wels to his mates, debuted for the Saints in 1909 as a rover before becoming one of the best defenders of the early VFL – in part because the Saints were forced to do a lot of defending.

Playing 197 games for the Saints until 1924, Eicke crossed to North Melbourne to play 21 games as captain-coach from 1925 to mid-1926, before crossing back St Kilda that year to finish his career with 218 games.

Eicke is also remembered for being the first of three captains in league history to call a head count of the other team, doing so in Round 12, 1924, against Carlton when the Saints were being soundly beaten.

It turned out that the Blues had the right amount of players, and the Saints were just a little bit shit.

Eicke eventually died aged 86 in 1980, and was one of inaugural inductees of the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

MICK MAGUIRE (Richmond, 1910: 15 years, 328 days)

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EVERYBODY knows of a Mick Maguire. He most likely ran your town pub at one stage, or was the footy club secretary when cash mysteriously went missing that one time.

This Mick Maguire debuted for Richmond in 1910 as a 15-year-old, winning their goalkicking for that season in the process. For good measure, he did it again in 1911.

While he’s not remembered as a VFL great, playing 67 games and kicking 95 goals for Richmond, Melbourne and Collingwood up until 1918, Maguire did do a bunch of stuff outside of footy.

He was a notorious welterweight boxer between 1912 and 1915, while also running the Bull & Mouth Hotel on Bourke St, roughly where Rebel Sport is now in the Bourke Street Mall.

Maguire eventually moved to Brisbane to run the Bellevue Hotel for a brief time, which was famously demolished in 1979 without any public notice, and was a favourite of comedian Barry Humphries.

Father to five daughters, two of his offspring would go on to marry English nobility after the family moved to London in the 1930s, while his youngest daughter, Lupe, married British hire car mogul Godfrey Davis.

His most famous daughter, Mary, became a Hollywood and British film star in the 1930s, starring alongside future US President Ronald Reagan in the film Sergeant Murphy.

With his daughters making a name for themselves, Maguire settled down in London to live the quiet life, only taking a short break to fight for the British Army in World War II – a great big up yours to Mary’s husband and Maguire’s (older than him) son-in-law Robert Gordon-Canning, a Fascist sympathiser.

Unable to ever really nail down the idea of chilling the fuck out, Maguire died in 1950 in London, probably whilst bedding the Queen of England and smoking multiple cigars.

LEN FITZGERALD (Collingwood, 1945: 15 years, 349 days)

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COLLINGWOOD certainly had a knack for spotting talent early.

A few days short of his 16th birthday, Len Fitzgerald debuted for the Pies in Round 1, 1945, with future Collingwood champions Neil Mann and Bill Twomey.

Magpie legend Syd Coventry, who had watched Fitzgerald develop his footy as a Collingwood schoolboy, said at the time that Len was “a well set-up lad, and has already developed the poise and purpose of a veteran.”

Playing mostly as a defender, Fitzgerald delivered on his early promise, playing every game in his debut season as an integral part of the Collingwood machine. By the end of the 1950 season, he’d played 96 games and kicked 49 goals and was well on the way to becoming a Collingwood legend.

Then, in one of the most shocking moves in Australian Football history at the time, Fitzgerald joined SANFL club Sturt for the 1951 season, with rumours abounding that the move had happened thanks to Collingwood powerbroker and “colourful businessman” John Wren, who owed a favour to a political ally in South Australia.

With nothing to lose given Sturt was offering him more money and a better job outside of footy, Fitzgerald jumped on the opportunity and became one of SANFL’s greatest ever players.

After three games the Sturt hierarchy handed him the captaincy, and midway through the season they gave him the keys to the coaches’ box. By the end of his playing career, he had three Magarey Medals, three club best and fairests, and 22 games in State of Origin.

Fitzgerald was an inaugural inductee in the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996, and died aged 77 in April, 2007.

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