From: St Patrick's Coburg
Number: 6 (1940-1947)
Seconds Premiership Player - 1939
Seconds leading goalkicker - 1938 (106), 1939 (111)
Premiership Player - 1940
Grand Final player - 1946
Leading Goalkicker - 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1947
Best and Fairest - 1945
Victorian state player - 1946
The burly full-forward was introduced to Checker Hughes by a friend as a 16-year-old, and based on his tall frame he was immediately used in Melbourne's seconds side. He kicked 100 goals in his first year, repeating the feat in 1939 on route to a seconds flag - including 12 in the Grand Final - but found it hard to break into a senior forward line with powerful goalkickers like Norm Smith and Jack Mueller. During 1939 he had applied for a clearance to Carlton but was refused.
Eventually debuting in 1940, Fanning played just four games in his his first year but did enough to be recalled for the Grand Final after last playing in Round 13. On that day he went into the forward pocket, with Mueller to the ruck, and played the decoy role to perfection in allowing Smith to boot seven matchwinning goals. 1941, though, was a wipeout for Fanning after cartilage trouble prevented him from playing a game. His early years were plagued with injury due to his awkwardness and raw enthusiasm for the game.
Returning in 1942 he played 15 games for 37 goals in a disappointing Demon side which finished 8th on the ladder. In the shortened 15 game 1943 season, Fanning was one just four Demons to turn out in every game and got 62 goals for the year - including 11 against Footscray in round 12. In both 1944 and 1945 he was the leading goalkicker in the VFL with 87 and 67 respectively.
Before 1945 Fanning flirted with a move to VFA side Coburg, the local side to where he lived. He was initially offered a £500 three year contract, with a £200 signing bonus, which later became £350. He opted to say, and rewarded the Demons with a Best and Fairest season. His performance to kick 67 was remarkable considering that he had played most of the year as a follower. That year he also debuted for the Coburg cricket team.
Coburg made another attempt to sign him before 1946, but he stayed for another quality season. With the side making it to another Grand Final he kicked 56 goals from 20 games. He also played in a "North of the Yarra" vs "South of the Yarra" charity match on the King's Birthday holiday, but was on the losing south side.
For much of his career he played second fiddle to Norm Smith in the Demons forward line, but still managed to win the leading goalkicking award five times. In 1947 when Smith played just nine games Fanning came into his own, booting two hauls of nine and two of ten before his record breaking round 18 rampage against St. Kilda.
Eighteen goals from nineteen shots was by far the greatest goalkicking performance in VFL history, and the record is yet to be beaten. He had 16 to three quarter time, so the record could have been even safer if the Saints hadn't put the brakes on him in the final term. It has only been seriously troubled on a handful of occasions in league history and is now unlikely to ever be beaten.
Deservedly named at Full-Forward in the 1947 Sporting Life "Team of the Year", he accepted an offer to move to the country and join Hamilton who had offered him more than six times the salary he was earning at Melbourne. He replaced another ex-Demons Jack O'Keefe who had moved to the Hamilton Imperials. The contract had been signed mid-year, and despite desperate efforts by coach Checker Hughes and the Melbourne committee to convince him to stay he remained firm on settling in Hamilton with his wife, who was from the area.
Melbourne held up Fanning's clearance as long as they could, initially refusing it, before finally agreeing to let him go. Until the first week of the season the Demons still held out hope, until Fanning sent a letter to secretary Alex Gray explaining that he wouldn't be able to get leave from work so they shouldn't pick him for Round 1, 1948. He was offered his clearance if he played the first two rounds before Hamilton's season kicked off but he refused. The club went so far as to say they'd discuss his clearance in the St Kilda clubrooms immediately after the Round 2 game but he still declined to play. Nevertheless the club did grant him his freedom at that Junction Oval meeting.
Once he was eventually free, Fanning took Hamilton to four grand finals in six years, for two premierships, 22 goals in a game in 1950 and 152 for the season in 1952. Despite their efforts to delay his clearance, Fanning remained on good terms with Melbourne and passed on recruiting tips. He assisted with the recruitment of Ian Ridley and Clyde Laidlaw, joint best and fairest in the Western District Football League. With rumours that his work would bring him back to the city in 1950 the Demons had tried to lure him back but were unsuccessful.
After leaving Hamilton he coached Coleraine in 1953 and announced his retirement at the end of the year, but attempted a comeback with the Demons in 1954. After watching the pre-season matches he asked the club for a chance to win his spot on the list. He played one practice game but appeared well overweight at 115kg and only had one kick in the first half. He was not selected for the final list.
In 1956 he ran into legal trouble, fined £100 for betting in his bar in Apollo Bay.
Fanning died of a heart attack in Geelong Hospital in May 1993 at the age of 71.
|Round 11, 1944||Striking||4 matches|
Family at other clubs
Also coached Apollo Bay at some point. Shown as being from 'Coburg Juniors', but this is probably St Patricks Coburg. Also shown as from Prahran, though this is likely a newspaper error.
Sporting Globe - 27/04/1940
Weekly Times - 25/08/1943
Herald - 24/10/1944
Argus - 27/02/1945
Argus - 02/03/1945
Sporting Globe - 03/03/1945
Herald - 11/03/1946
Age - 14/07/1947
Portland Guardian - 08/04/1948
Age - 14/04/1948
Argus - 14/04/1948
Age - 17/04/1948
Portland Guardian - 19/04/1948
Age - 23/04/1948
Argus - 26/04/1948
Age - 26/04/1948
Football Record 1949 Finals
Age - 22/09/1949
Horsham Times - 22/09/1953
Herald - 09/04/1954
Argus - 23/06/1956
Sporting Globe - 10/08/1977
Inside Football - 07/08/1980