Bob Pratt
1930-1939; 1946
158 games
681 goals
Premiership Player 1933
VFL Leading Goalkicker 1934, 1935
Leading Goalkicker 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1939
Swans Team of the Century
AFL Hall of Fame Legend


At the height of the Great Depression, unemployment reached 32 per cent, meaning hundreds of thousands of Australians were out of work. During this period of untold hardship, many took consolation in sporting achievement. For football lovers, joy came in the chiselled form of South Melbourne star Bob Pratt.

He belongs in that exclusive echelon of players who not only transcend a sport but transform it.

Following a stellar junior career at Mitcham, Pratt raised the interest of Hawthorn and Richmond before, thankfully, joining South. He debuted at 17, and in his first season of VFL football, kicked 43 goals from 18 games, playing on the half-forward line. By the time he'd turned 19, Pratt lined up as the club's full forward. 

His rise to prominence coincided with South Melbourne's newfound sense of ambition and ingenuity. In response to the impact of the Depression, the VFL established the Coulter Law, which capped weekly player payments at £3. The new rule also meant strict player transfer rules.

The club's vice president, Archie Crofts, owned a state-wide chain of grocery stores and wanted to invest in playing talent. With Victorians now virtually unattainable, he saw great potential in recruiting and employing Western Australians, who'd been among the hardest hit by record unemployment rates. Nothing of its kind had occurred before, and it heralded a golden era.

Soon, South Australians and Tasmanians joined them, with the team becoming known as 'The Foreign Legion'. Legendary Richmond captain Jack Dyer later described them as having “the greatest collection of stars I've ever seen.”

The sublime talent of Bob Pratt was fundamental to the success of this era, and teammate and Bloods champion Laurie Nash once wrote of Pratt: "Some of the things I saw him do I have never seen repeated by any other player.”

Eloquently recalling one of Pratt's high marks as the most outstanding mark he'd ever seen, Nash said, "Pratt made a lightning run, uncoiled and soared. He didn't look for a rise off the back of the pack. The first contact he made was when his boots touched their shoulders, and he propelled himself for a second urge upwards.”

"I had to rub my eyes in disbelief because he kept going up until his fingertips encased the ball, and when he had it firmly gripped, he began his descent. He somersaulted over the top of the pack and landed flat on his back. No other man in the world could have done it."

With the team's growing popularity, Crofts sensed an opportunity to leverage the club as a bastion of community spirit. Leading into the 1932 season, he transported players and supporters to a summer seaside banquet. He hosted a carnival at the Lake Oval, held athletics meetings featuring Bloods players and organised a Cinderella Ball. Membership ticket sales soared.

With the locals sensing hope, the players delivered. In his first season as the club's premier forward, Pratt had kicked 50 goals after nine matches. He finished with 71, and although a 26-point semi-final loss ended their season, supporters of the Bloodstained Angels remained optimistic.

In 1933, Pratt debuted for Victoria, chosen ahead of Collingwood champion Gordon Coventry to lead the Big Vee’s attack. He impressed in kicking 11 goals. Pratt carried that form back to the Bloods and, in the season's final round, kicked his 100th goal, becoming the first South Melbourne player to do so and just the third in the game's history.

New captain-coach Jack Bisset guided the Bloods to the 1933 Grand Final. A seven-goal victory over Richmond delivered the club's eighth premiership in front of an Australian record crowd of 75,754. Pratt kicked his third goal in the final minutes to finish the year as the League's leading goalkicker with 109, one ahead of Coventry. 

According to renowned Swans historian Jim Main, "The Bloods celebrated the premiership with a dinner at the South Melbourne Town Hall, and late in the night, rubbed salt into Tiger wounds by riding through the streets of Richmond in a charabanc."

In Round 3 of the 1934 season, after kicking 18 goals in the opening fortnight, Pratt sent Bloods supporters into a rollicking rapture. During the final quarter, in 12 mesmerising minutes, he kicked eight goals to finish the match with a club record 15 majors. By Round 13, Pratt had again kicked 100 goals in a season.

Producing some of the most spectacular aerial feats the game had ever seen sent Pratt into superstardom. Records were swept aside, and the public couldn't get enough of the young champion. His engagement to Olive Sundstrom gave him love, balance, and perspective.

He kicked an incredible 150 goals in 1934, an all-time AFL record he now shares with Hawthorn's Peter Hudson, who replicated the feat in 1971. The Bloods lost the Grand Final to Richmond that year, amid speculation that South players were offered bribes to 'play dead'. 

During Grand Final week, Pratt reported a £100 bribe that came his way, with the source suspected to hold connections with Melbourne's notorious underworld figures. Post-match, in the bowels of the MCG, Pratt and teammate Peter Reville confronted several teammates in heated scenes.

Earlier in the year, Pratt resigned from his position within Crofts’ company and personally negotiated a lucrative deal with Melbourne’s evening newspaper, The Star, gaining employment as a supervisor of newsagents. 

In Bloodstained Angels: The Rise and Fall of the Foreign Legion, Mark Branagan and Mike Lefebvre said, “For The Star, Pratt’s signing was a scoop not just for his public relations potential in touring newsagencies. The paper smartly ensured it had the first call on the ‘exclusive’ on the great forward’s every thought and throw away line. With his goalkicking record, Pratt was now the most popular footballer in the game.”

His Grand Final luck didn't improve the following year, either. For the third season in a row, he kicked over 100 goals, but roughly 48 hours before the 1935 Grand Final against Collingwood, calamity came. As he stepped off a tram on Prahran's High Street, a truck carrying five tonnes of bricks, ironically driven by a South supporter, swerved straight into the Bloods' champion. 

In the collision, Pratt was thrown onto the footpath, suffering lacerations to both legs and injuring his ankle and thumb. Despite South naming him in their side that evening, it soon became clear he'd be taking no part in the decider. Without him, the Bloods kicked 7.16 to lose by 20 points.

"I didn't see him until he practically hit me. I just jumped out of the way, but (the truck) caught my leg, tore the leg out of my trousers, the heel off my shoe and threw me across the bonnet," Pratt told The Age.

In 1936, South Melbourne topped the VFL ladder, losing just two games for the season. They won through to a fourth consecutive Grand Final but were inconsolable following an 11-point loss. It proved to be the end of an incredible era.

Persistent ankle injuries dogged the remaining years of his career. At the end of 1939, he joined VFA club Coburg and, in his second season there, kicked an astonishing 183 goals. After that season, Pratt joined the Royal Australian Air Force, serving as a corporal for the remainder of World War II.

When he retired after an attempted comeback in 1946, Pratt's career average of 4.31 goals per game was a VFL record. Many regard him as the greatest full forward of his time, with his aerial wizardry attracting a following never seen before. Pratt passed away in 2001, aged 88, and he remains the Swans' all-time leading goalkicker with 681 from 158 games.