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Whitten, Edward James (Ted) (1933–1995)

by W. F. Mandle

from Canberra Times

It may seem offensive to say so, but there have been better footballers than Ted Whitten. In my own time of following the greatest game of all, I could mention Baldock, Jesaulenko, Farmer and Skilton. Previous generations would mention Bunton (senior) and Coleman. Today, Wayne Carey bids for a place among the immortals.

Yet it is fair to say that the passing, long may it be delayed, of those of the above who are still with us will not be marked by anything like the near Ayatollah-like effusions of grief, ceremony, laudation and funereal pomp that have followed EJ's untimely death.

One doubts if even the death of Sir Donald Bradman will evoke such emotion. There will be the political tributes, and considerably more imperial ones; but sorrow will be austerely voiced, and Sir Donald is unlikely, the hand of death all too clearly upon him, to be paraded around the Adelaide Oval or the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The only possible contender for the type of obsequies afforded Ted Whitten would be Dawn Fraser. She too had his larrikin, and, let it be said, self-publicising — in the nicest possible way — streak.

Australia's best-loved sportsmen have that rebel affinity. Doug Walters rather than Arthur Morris; Keith Miller rather than Neil Harvey; Johnny Raper rather than Reg Gasnier. Talent is not all there is to it.

I claim no immunity to the charge. In May 1970, I chose to go to the Western Oval to see Footscray play Hawthorn in order to witness Whitten break Dick Reynolds' record. It was to be Ted's last game: the club had told him so. Take up thy record (since surpassed) and go.

Unprepossessing at the best of times, the Western Oval was particularly bleak and wet that day. I had forsworn the match of the day between Carlton and St Kilda. No greater love. An inspired Footscray held a comfort able three-goal lead for the first half — comfortable because in the murk and mud a goal was a gem. But the Hawks drew with in two points at three-quarter time. In a desperate sodden last quarter no side scored a goal: Footscray managed three points, Hawthorn two. They'd done it for Ted.

The media had already made Whitten a living legend. Whitten was more than a footballer, even to a then Adelaide-based Pom. He was Footscray and Melbourne, just as Dawn Fraser is (old) Balmain and Sydney, and Doug Walters is the Dungog bush. Whitten has quite wrongly been seen as a Victorian. He was a suburban Melburnian. From that base he, and Australian Rules football, draws its strength. The Big V on Ted's chest represented the VFL in the days when it was Melbourne, plus that outer suburb, Geelong. From him, interstate football was Melbourne against Adelaide and Perth. He knew where the players played.

Ted Whitten represented a somewhat neglected aspect of Australian identity; differences between, and strong loyalties to, cities of birth and location. Australia's cities differ surprisingly greatly given the generally homogeneous nature of our society and our relatively small population.

It is not merely the Sydney Melbourne rivalry, it is the feeling Adelaideans have for their city, and the differences they see between it and, say, Perth. Likewise for all city dwellers: and all bushies. No two Australian cities look anything like alike. Compare that with England.

Melbourne recognised that in Ted Whitten. He wasn't given a state funeral last Tuesday. He was given a Melburnian send-off.

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Citation details

W. F. Mandle, 'Whitten, Edward James (Ted) (1933–1995)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/whitten-edward-james-ted-27937/text36499, accessed 17 November 2019.

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