J. Herbie Matthews
191 games
17 goals
Premiership Player 1933
Brownlow Medal 1940
Runner-Up in Brownlow Medal 1937, 1941
Best & Fairest 1936, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1943
Captain 1938-1945
Captain-Coach 1939
Coach 1954-1957
Swans Team of the Century
AFL Hall of Fame


The best preparation for tomorrow is to give your all today. In this regard, Herbie Matthews was a footballer ahead of his time. He loved playing the game, and Saturdays couldn't come quickly enough, but Tuesdays and Thursdays were pretty important, too.

He lived with his grandparents in their Fairfield home as a young player. Twice a week, to get to training, he ran. To get home, he ran. Training, of course, was at the Lake Oval in Albert Park. It was 12 kilometres away.

Matthews' style of play reflected his attitude towards physical fitness. Unlike his contemporaries, who primarily played a stop-start game, he preferred a running game. His strengths were his endurance and his speed. Taking the game on and breaking the lines set him apart, as did his precise delivery by foot.

Recruited as a 17-year-old from VFA club Northcote, Matthews made an immediate impression, breaking into the strong South team to play 14 games, including a final, in 1932. The club had emerged from a period of mediocrity with a renewed sense of dare, and Matthews' football reflected that.

A key component to implementing the club's vision was the newly appointed playing coach, Johnny Leonard. A Western Australian champion, he won the 1926 Sandover Medal and multiple Subiaco best and fairests. The Bloods' power brokers were ecstatic when he took the job.

The South Melbourne team were affectionately known as The Bloodstained Angels, but when local magnate Archie Crofts employed Leonard and a posse of Perth-based footballers, football writer Hec de Lacy joked that the club's moniker should become the Swans, in reference to the WA's state bird emblem. 

The players responded well to Leonard's methods. He liked discipline and purpose. As the son of Herb 'Butcher' Matthews, who played for South alongside the great Roy Cazaly, Herbie played with a hard edge to go with his speed and silky skills. As highly talented recruits arrived from all over Australia, Matthews' selection was never in doubt.

In March 1933, now with Jack Bisset in charge, local expectations reached fever-pitch as 4,000 supporters arrived to watch the newly assembled star-studded South team train. They didn't disappoint, facing Richmond in that season's Grand Final, claiming the premiership with a resounding 42-point win. In a forward pocket, Matthews was one of the Bloods' best.

While the team upheld its high standards, the Grand Final losses of 1934 and 1935 are viewed as opportunities lost. Collingwood captain Harry Collier led his team to the '35 flag and told The Argus how a mid-year three-game exhibition series against South changed the course of the season.

"I'm honest enough to admit we weren't the best side. South was a mile ahead of everybody, but we tossed them. And I reckon the mid-season trip we made to Brisbane and New South Wales to play exhibition games against the Swans won us that premiership."

"The Southerners were a mile ahead of the field on points, and even at that stage were a lay-down misère for premiers. Up there, we blew up a few theories about South, who were supposed to be invincible that year. They weren't far from it either," Collier said.

In 1936, following another heartbreaking Grand final loss, Matthews won his first Swans' best and fairest award. He'd win five overall. In Bloodstained Angels: The Rise and Fall of the Foreign Legion, Mark Branagan and Mike Lefebvre praised his impact, "Matthews had continued his graceful development as the League's outstanding wingman. Resourceful, highly skilled and rarely beaten, Matthews had finally arrived as a genuine star of the VFL."

The Swans take great pride in their rich Brownlow Medal history, with the club’s players winning the prestigious award more often than any other club in the League. Matthews' own illustrious Brownlow record commenced in 1936 when he finished third, and in 1937, he was runner-up to Essendon legend Dick Reynolds. 

Johnny Leonard saw Matthews dominate a 1937 carnival match for Victoria against his Western Australians, labelling him “The ideal natural born champion footballer,” and said that “There is nothing one can teach him, for there is nothing he needs to learn.”

The Swans team was in decline, though, with Matthews appointed captain in 1938. In 1940, playing as a centreman, he tied with Collingwood's Des Fothergill to become South Melbourne's first Brownlow Medallist. At the time, the League's countback rules couldn't split the pair, and incredibly, the VFL gave both players replica medals, as the genuine item remained at League headquarters.

It took 49 years to rectify, but in a 1989 ceremony, both Matthews and Fothergill were presented retrospectively with the 'real deal'. When asked about his on-field instruction that night, Matthews replied, "Yes, I was a talker out on the ground. I was the captain, and I had to make sure that every player was doing their best, and to get the best out of them, I had to use my voice."

"If they didn't go, they knew. I didn't pull any punches at all, and it wouldn't matter who it was. If they weren't doing their job, if they were pulling out, or not going for the ball, I used to get into them."

As the impact of World War II began to take hold in 1941, a certain level of guilt surrounded players and supporters, with the game grappling to reconcile its place within a society gripped by uncertainty. Eventually, Prime Minister Robert Menzies supported the view that footy served “a valuable psychological and social purpose, in addition to contributing money for patriotic funds”.

In light of the dire situation, Matthews led the Swans players in accepting a significant pay cut, stating, "Officials, members and supporters generally could rest assured the players would go after the winning of matches with even greater determination."

In September 1945, with the war officially over, South Melbourne reached the VFL Grand Final. For the final time, Matthews captained the team in the most violent decider in history, with the match against Carlton colloquially known as The Bloodbath.

After the match, which the Swans lost by 28 points, the umpires didn't finish writing their reports until 6.30 pm. A total of nine players were reported— including Matthews for throwing the ball away after a free kick was given against him—and the match was hardly a fitting farewell for the Swans' champion midfielder.

However, he returned in 1954 as the club's senior coach and was later named as a wingman in the Swans Team of the Century. One of the original Swans' Hall of Fame inductees and the fifth player elevated to Bloods Legend status, Matthews’ contribution to the red and white is held in the highest regard. 

And in 2013, the Matthews family legacy was formally recognised with inclusion on the Swans Heritage List. To go with Herbie's 191 games, his Dad played 33, his brothers Norm and Don played 28 and 31 games, respectively, while his son, Herb Jr., played 82 games as a courageous and reliable back pocket.