Bob Skilton
1956 - 1971
237 games
412 goals
Best & Fairest 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968
Leading Goalkicker 1959, 1962, 1963
Brownlow Medal 1959, 1963, 1968
Captain 1961-1968; 1970-1971
Captain-Coach 1965-1966
Swans Team of the Century (Captain)
AFL Hall of Fame Legend


Nobody epitomised the Bloods ethos more than Bob Skilton. A player of unshakable courage and undoubted skill, a man of fairness and integrity, he was the shining light through the club's darkest days.

Skilton grew up in Port Melbourne, where his Dad, Robert Sr, played 150 games for the Borough. The rivalry between Port and neighbouring South Melbourne was real, and when a young Skilton received an invite to play with the Swans' 4ths, he requested a release from their zone, wanting to join Melbourne instead.

Thankfully, for those of red and white persuasion, club hierarchy disapproved, and when he was seventeen, Bob Skilton debuted for South Melbourne.

Immediately, his supreme dual-sidedness caught the eye. A natural left-footer, hours spent honing right-sided skills paid dividends when he reached League level. As his career progressed, it proved virtually impossible to decipher which was, in fact, his dominant side.

"That was due to my Dad. After he came back from the war, we'd go to the park, and he'd tell me, 'I won't kick it back unless you kick it with the other foot," Skilton told Mike Sheahan on Open Mike.

Incredibly, after playing two senior matches, journalist Jack Cannon declared in the Argus that 'Skilton could win three Brownlow Medals.' Little did he know.

In Skilton's third season, 1958, the VFL world witnessed the emergence of a superstar. He won his first South Melbourne best and fairest, finished third in the Brownlow Medal, and played the first of his 25 matches for Victoria in the National Carnival. However, his meteoric rise was no fluke.

Leading into that season, Skilton began a rigorous extracurricular fitness program designed by the club's head trainer and masseuse, Bill Mitchell. Skilton trained six days a week with Mitchell's professional running troupe, improving his speed, agility, and aerobic capacity, which took his football to another level.

When he won his first Brownlow Medal in 1959, Skilton, still just 20 years old, became the sixth-youngest winner of the coveted award. At the time, he was a plumbing apprentice, and while the count reached its climax, he attended his regular class at night school.

Upon his return, approaching the family's Port Melbourne home, he found himself surrounded by neighbours and wellwishers while still unaware of the reason for their congratulations. In a stellar season, he also finished runner-up in the League's goal-kicking with a career-high 60 goals.

Enjoying one of life's golden periods, Skilton married childhood sweetheart Marion just months later, beginning a partnership that would span more than 60 loving years. The young couple enjoyed the club's vibrant social scene, and the playing group was close. When Skilton won his second Brownlow Medal in 1963, the entire Swans team celebrated with a party at coach Noel McMahen's home.

Skilton's individual brilliance meant that South supporters had a true tribal hero. Lake Oval regulars marvelled at their near-perfect rover. With the ball in his hands, they felt like anything was possible. Skilton covered the ground like no other, using his strong core and evasive skills to become a dominant force in and around the contest.

Team success, though, was what Skilton truly craved.

Ahead of the 1964 season, the Swans went on an aggressive recruitment drive. Future Hall of Famer Graeme John, 1966 best and fairest Max Papley, and the highly touted Jeff Bray and Fred Way joined Skilton and his teammates. However, the club's disappointment continued, as they finished the year in 11th place.

So, at the prime of his career, 26-year-old Skilton took over as captain-coach for the 1965-66 seasons, and the team showed great promise. His vice-captain and lifelong friend John Heriot once said, 'I really thought in '65 we had a chance, but we let Skilts down and finished a couple of games short. Bob was a great leader; it's not easy to coach players the same age as yourself.'

By his own account, though, coaching took some of the joy out of playing, and he reverted to his captaincy role in 1967.

Across the final two matches of the 1968 season, Skilton suffered a broken nose and two black eyes, receiving multiple stitches in his face. Just days later, he lay wounded in bed, listening to that season's Brownlow Medal count on the radio, with Marion by his side as their three boys, Darren, Brett, and Michael, soundly slept.

When he heard he'd won his third Brownlow, Skilton said, "That's just terrific. Give me a glass of champagne," as he threw a pillow into the air with excitement. Appropriately, he did an interview later that night with Ron Casey — bloodied and bruised in a boxing ring.

In many ways, it summed up the career of Robert John Skilton. His lion-hearted efforts ensured his rightful place among the game's greatest-ever players. But, it would be the events of the 1970 season that he holds dearest.

After the appointment of the AFL's Team of the Century Coach, Norm Smith, and Skilton's return after missing the entire 1969 season with an Achilles injury, hopes of breaking a 25-year finals drought were high.

After securing fourth place, the young Swans team awaited a semi-final showdown with St Kilda. Skilton was 31, playing his 218th league football match, when the Swans finally returned to finals football. Tragically, it would be his only chance to perform on football's biggest stage.

South were strong sentimental favourites, and Skilton will never forget that day. "I felt 10 feet tall as I broke through that banner of red-and-white streamers. It was just like I thought it would be. It's impossible to put into words how you feel as the cheers of 100,000 people hit you as you run out on the ground."

Skilton announced his retirement the following year and received a fitting farewell in the final-round win against North Melbourne at the Lake Oval. Teammates carried their club’s champion off the ground to rapturous applause.

Like many of his contemporaries, Skilton entered the coaching realm when he took charge of Melbourne for four seasons, from 1974 to 1977, but red and white surges through his veins. The famous 2005 premiership broke a 72-year drought, and an emotional Skilton celebrated a newfound respect.

Seven years later, the Sydney Swans lifted the premiership cup again. Skilton, beaming, proudly presented the trophy to John Longmire and Jarrad McVeigh, watching on in admiration as the celebrations began. Afterward, he said that moment was his proudest in the game.

By definition, a legend is an admirable person at the centre of stories stressing their miraculous deeds. Ask anyone who watched the great Bob Skilton play, and they will tell you of a legend. He played with the greatest dedication to the red and white cause.

In 1996, Skilton was selected as the first rover in the AFL's Team of the Century. The Sydney Swans best and fairest award now carries his name; he’s the Swans Team of the Century captain, and in 2018, a magnificent bronze sculpture displaying that fabled kicking technique immortalised his career at the Lake Oval.

On it, you'll find an inscription befitting the esteem in which he's held: Bob Skilton is the greatest South Melbourne Australian Rules football player ever to grace the hallowed turf of Lake Oval. He played almost half of his 237-game career at this ground between 1956 and 1971.

Brilliant, Resilient, Courageous. Scrupulously fair.