Leigh Matthews

Leigh Raymond Matthews AM (born 1 March 1952) is a former Australian rules footballer and coach. He played for Hawthorn in the Victorian Football League (VFL) and coached Collingwood and the Brisbane Lions.

Leigh Matthews
Statue of Leigh Matthews outside the MCG
Personal information
Full name Leigh Raymond Matthews
Nickname(s) Lethal, Barney Rubble
Date of birth (1952-03-01) 1 March 1952
Place of birth Frankston, Victoria
Original team(s) Chelsea (MPNFL)
Height 178 cm (5 ft 10 in)[1]
Weight 86 kg (190 lb)
Position(s) Midfielder, forward
Playing career1
Years Club Games (Goals)
19691985 Hawthorn 332 (915)
Representative team honours
Years Team Games (Goals)
19711982 Victoria 14 (29)
Coaching career3
Years Club Games (W–L–D)
19861995 Collingwood 224 (125945)
19992008 Brisbane Lions 237 (142923)
Club total
461 (2671868)


2 (200)
1998 Australia 2 (110)
Representative total
4 (310)
Total 465 (2701878)
1 Playing statistics correct to the end of 1985.
3 Coaching statistics correct as of 2008.
Career highlights




Sources: AFL Tables, AustralianFootball.com

Squat, short-legged and barrel-chested, Matthews earned the iconic nickname "Lethal Leigh" due to his physical as well as skillful style of play.[2] He is officially recognised as the "best player of the 20th century" according to the AFL, is a Legend in the Australian Football Hall of Fame, on the Hawthorn and AFL Teams of the Centuries and is one of the most successful AFL coaches of all time.[3] He is now an AFL commentator on television with the Seven Network and on radio with 3AW.

Playing career

Early career

Matthews played his junior football at the Chelsea Football Club. He joined Hawthorn at the age of sixteen, having already played senior suburban football. Part of a footballing family, Matthews' brother Kelvin had played 155 games at Hawthorn and Geelong. Matthews made his senior debut for the Hawks in round 16 of the 1969 season against Melbourne as a forward pocket, crumbing around the feet of Hawthorn's champion full forward, Peter Hudson. Matthews kicked a goal with his first kick and went on to kick at least one goal in each of his five games that year, winning the club's Best First Year Player award. By midway through 1970, Matthews had earned a regular place in the team as a rover rotating forward. He was immediately impressive, kicking 20 goals from 16 games for the season.


Though still a teenager, Matthews became one of the most important players in a dominant Hawthorn team in 1971. He developed an uncanny ability to win contests, especially near the goals. He kicked 43 goals at an average of 1.9 in 1971 and earned his first of fourteen Victorian guernseys, his first of eight Hawthorn Best and Fairest awards, and his first of four playing premiership medallions.

On 17 July 1971, Matthews notoriously felled one of the game's fairest and best rovers, Barry Cable, with an elbow to the head. This was the first in a series of occasional violent lapses that punctuated, and ultimately soiled, Matthews' stellar career, culminating in his conviction for criminal assault arising out of an on-field incident in 1985 described below.

In round two of 1972, Matthews destroyed North Melbourne, for the first of what would end up being many times. He kicked 8 goals in the absence of Hudson (who suffered a season ending knee injury the previous week). Matthews kicked another six goals against South Melbourne in round 18 and finished the season with 45 goals at 2.1 per game. He won his second club best and fairest – before his 21st birthday. Matthews made his presence felt early again in 1973 with an amazing 11 goal haul against Essendon in round 3, also amassing 42 possessions in the same game. The rest of his season was comparatively quiet, however his total of 51 goals from 19 games was an impressive figure given the increased time he spent in the midfield. By 1974, Matthews had become one of the toughest and most damaging players in the game. Strong, quick and almost impossible to tackle, Matthews regularly turned matches with brilliant solo efforts. Against Collingwood in a semi final Matthews proved the difference with 7 goals from 24 disposals. He went on to win his third best and fairest, averaging 21.8 disposals and kicking 52 goals for the season.[4]

After six seasons in the VFL, Matthews established himself as a superstar of the competition in 1975, winning the Coleman Medal as the League's leading goal kicker, with 67 goals (68 including finals), while averaging 22.9 disposals per game. While 67 goals was an unusually low tally, it was a rare result for a non-full forward to lead the competition. He started the season brilliantly with 47 goals in the first 12 games, including five bags of 5 or more. His 6 goals from 28 kicks in round 9 against Footscray was a highlight. He was unable to maintain this pace in the second half of the season and could manage only 21 goals in his last 11 appearances. Hawthorn made the Grand Final, however they fell to North Melbourne, with Matthews going goalless on the day.

Another brilliant season in 1976 confirmed Matthews as one of the best players in the game. He kicked more goals than most Full Forwards, while also being one of the most effective ball winners in the game. For the season Matthews kicked 71 goals at 3.2 per game and averaged 22.5 disposals, winning his fourth Best and Fairest. His best game for the year came in a Qualifying Final against North Melbourne, when he had 31 kicks and kicked 7 goals from 13 scoring shots. It was an immense performance in a hard fought win. Hawthorn again played North in the Grand Final, and although Matthews was not amongst the best this time, his second premiership medal was just reward for a brilliant season.

In the 1977 season Matthews went from being from one of the best players in league to one of the best of all time, with what was among the greatest individual seasons by any player in history. Matthews posted career highs in kicks, marks, handballs and goals, averaging 27.1 disposals per game and kicking 91 goals at 3.8 per game. He had 41 disposals in round 10 against Melbourne, but the peak of Matthews’ form came during the last eight games of the home and away season, during which he averaged 29.8 disposals and 5.1 goals. He kicked 7 goals and had 30-plus disposals three times in seven weeks and finished the season with another 30 disposals and 6 goals against Essendon in round 22. He won Hawthorn's best and fairest for the fifth time. Matthews 91 goals that year was a record for goals kicked by a non-full forward, until it was broken in 1990 by Collingwood's Peter Daicos (where Matthews was then coaching).

Matthews' performances in 1978 further confirmed his status as the game's number one player, as he added another 71 goals to his career tally and averaged 25.5 disposals and a career high 6.4 marks, in a year that saw him win his sixth best and fairest and his third premiership medallion. The Hawks again played North Melbourne in the grand final, but this time a best afield display of 28 disposals and 4 goals by Matthews ensured the win for Hawthorn.

Matthews was on track for another stellar season in 1979 before injury forced him out of all but two of the last 10 games of the year. A 7-goal performance against Richmond in round 5 was a highlight in a season that saw him spend less time in front of goals and more in the midfield.


In 1980, Matthews became the captain of Hawthorn, a position he held until his retirement in 1985. He was also selected as the captain of the Victorian State of Origin team for the only time in his career, and he won his seventh club Best and Fairest. Matthews spent less time in the forward line and while it was the first time since 1971 that he averaged less than two goals per game, his 26.9 disposals per game was second highest in the league.[5]

Hawthorn opened the 1981 season against Melbourne in round 1 and Matthews, under a slight injury cloud, lined up at full forward to great effect. He took 10 marks and kicked 11 goals. Matthews missed five games between rounds 3 and 8, before returning to his customary role, alternating between the forward line and midfield, for the rest of the season. He maintained impressive form for most of the year, averaging 23.5 disposals and 3.0 goals in his 16 games. Matthews finished the season as Hawthorn's leading goal kicker for the first four consecutive years.

After three seasons interrupted by injury and inconsistent form, Matthews returned to his best in 1982, winning the inaugural Players’ Association Most Valuable Player award (which was later renamed, in Matthews’ honour, to the Leigh Matthews Trophy). He kicked 7 goals in round 16 against North Melbourne and two weeks later against Collingwood kicked 8 more and had 25 disposals. Matthews averaged 22.5 disposals and 3.4 goals per game for the year and won his eighth Hawthorn best and fairest award.

Matthews' earned the nickname "Lethal" for his reputation for giving (and taking) very hard bumps, and in 1982 this reputation was enhanced to the point of legend when he famously collided with a behind post at Windy Hill and broke it.[6] A piece of the post (measuring about one metre) broke off, hitting the boundary umpire, after Matthews ran into its base. It is believed that, to comply with a VFL directive, groundsmen at Windy Hill had glued an extension to the top of the post which broke loose after Matthews collided with it. At the time, commentator Lou Richards called him a "He-Man" due to his large size and strength.

Going into his fifteenth season in the VFL, Matthews showed no signs of slowing down in 1983. He averaged 22.3 disposals and 2.9 goals in his first twelve games, before, in round 15, he made the move to full forward and remained there for the rest of the season. He went on to kick at least three goals in each of the last 10 games of the year, including the Grand Final, in which he kicked 6 goals, 5 behinds in his fourth premiership win. For the season he averaged 20.1 disposals and 3.6 goals per game.


The 1985 season was Matthews' last as a player. During a wild game vs Geelong which was marred by numerous brawls and reports, Matthews struck Geelong player Neville Bruns in an off-the-ball incident, breaking his opponent's jaw. Geelong's Steve Hocking exacted swift retribution, breaking Matthews' nose and an all-in melee ensued. No report was laid by umpires against Matthews. However, the 'behind play' incident had been captured on camera. After much public outcry, the VFL launched an investigation and subsequently deregistered Matthews for four weeks. He was also charged with assault and fined $1000,[8]> (His conviction was later overturned on appeal.)

Matthews 332nd and final game was the 1985 Grand Final loss to Essendon.

Upon retirement, Matthews had scored 915 goals, which remains the highest tally by a non-full forward. At the time of his retirement, it was the fourth-highest tally by any player; he is now seventh all-time. Matthews also accrued 202 Brownlow Medal votes in his career, currently the sixth-most of all time. His tally was the most by a player who has not won the award.

Coaching career


Following his retirement, Matthews turned to coaching, becoming assistant coach at the Collingwood Football Club before taking over as head coach from Bob Rose after 3 rounds in 1986. He coached 224 games in ten seasons with the Magpies. Under his guidance, Collingwood won one premiership, in 1990, Matthews' fifth premiership medallion, and for which he would later be retrospectively awarded one of his four Jock McHale Medals. In that Grand Final, Collingwood beat Essendon, ending the 32-year premiership drought generally referred to as "the Colliwobbles." Matthews was sacked after the 1995 season following an unsuccessful season finishing 10th.

Brisbane Lions

After three years, Matthews was coaxed out of retirement by the struggling Brisbane Lions, who had won the 1998 wooden spoon. Matthews' impact at the Lions was immediate, lifting the team from the bottom to fourth in 1999, before making the finals again in 2000.

In 2001, Matthews famously used the "Predator" quote "If it bleeds, we can kill it", to inspire his team for its Round 10 game against Essendon, who sat atop the ladder, was the defending premier, and had lost only two of its previous thirty-four games. Brisbane finished as 28-point victors. Throughout the remainder of the season, the Lions were undefeated, eventually meeting and once again defeating Essendon in the Grand Final for their sixteenth consecutive win, and the first AFL premiership in club history. The winning streak would eventually end at twenty games when they were defeated by the West Coast Eagles in early 2002.

This would be the first of three consecutive premierships for the Lions. Matthews led Brisbane to consecutive triumphs over Collingwood in 2002 and 2003. A bid for a fourth consecutive premiership was brought undone by Port Adelaide in 2004. These wins gave Matthews a total of eight premiership medallions as a player or coach. His tenure crested at this point; after 2004, the Lions would not reach the finals again, and never finished higher than 10th on the ladder.

In 2007, he coached his 200th game with the club, making him the first person to play or coach 200 games with three different clubs.

Matthews' coaching style at the Lions was reportedly incredibly strict, although obviously successful. Despite his four premierships as a coach, Matthews never coached a team to the minor premiership—though he did finish second with Collingwood twice and second with Brisbane three times.

Matthews resigned from his position as Brisbane coach on 1 September 2008 stating that he "felt the time was right".[9][10][11]


Playing statistics

 G  Goals  B  Behinds  K  Kicks  H  Handballs  D  Disposals  M  Marks  T  Tackles
Led the league for the season only
Led the league after finals only
Led the league after season and finals
Season Team No. Games G B K H D M T G B K H D M T
Totals Averages (per game)
1969 Hawthorn 325746015756N/A1.40.812.
1970 Hawthorn 321620272494829753N/A1.31.715.
1971 Hawthorn 3223434744384527111N/A1.
1972 Hawthorn 321455043249481107N/A2.12.420.62.322.95.1N/A
1973 Hawthorn 31951484264747381N/A2.72.522.42.524.94.3N/A
1974 Hawthorn 32152523945344772N/A2.52.518.82.521.33.4N/A
1975 Hawthorn 32368484525050273N/A3.
1976 Hawthorn 32271424167949567N/A3.21.918.93.622.53.0N/A
1977 Hawthorn 3249157514144658133N/A3.82.621.
1978 Hawthorn 3237158463123586147N/A3.12.520.15.325.56.4N/A
1979 Hawthorn 313302523710033755N/A2.31.918.27.725.94.2N/A
1980 Hawthorn 31732343649345778N/A1.
1981 Hawthorn 31648362928437698N/A3.02.318.35.323.56.1N/A
1982 Hawthorn 3227455383111494109N/A3.42.517.
1983 Hawthorn 322795136478442127N/A3.62.316.53.520.15.8N/A
1984 Hawthorn 3247752318127445111N/A3.
1985 Hawthorn 32156362107228277N/A2.71.710.03.413.43.7N/A
Career 332 915 722 6017 1357 7374 1505 N/A 2.8 2.2 18.2 4.1 22.3 4.5 N/A

Coaching statistics

 W  Wins  L  Losses  D  Draws  W%  Winning percentage  LP  Ladder position  LT  League teams
Season Team Games W L D W % LP LT
1986 Collingwood 19127063.2%612
1987 Collingwood 22715031.8%1214
1988 Collingwood 24158164.6%214
1989 Collingwood 231310056.5%514
1990 Collingwood 26196175.0%214
1991 Collingwood 22129156.8%715
1992 Collingwood 23167069.6%315
1993 Collingwood 20119055.0%815
1994 Collingwood 231211052.2%815
1995 Collingwood 22812240.9%1016
1999 Brisbane Lions 25187072.0%316
2000 Brisbane Lions 241311054.2%616
2001 Brisbane Lions 25205080.0%216
2002 Brisbane Lions 25205080.0%216
2003 Brisbane Lions 26178167.3%316
2004 Brisbane Lions 25187072.0%216
2005 Brisbane Lions 211011047.6%1116
2006 Brisbane Lions 22715031.8%1316
2007 Brisbane Lions 22911245.5%1016
2008 Brisbane Lions 221012045.5%1016
Career totals 461 267 186 8 58.8%

Honours and achievements

Brownlow Medal votes
Season Votes
1969 2
1970 3
1971 10
1972 16
1973 23
1974 15
1975 10
1976 23
1977 34
1978 3
1979 6
1980 16
1981 11
1982 17
1983 5
1984 4
1985 4
Total 202
Green / Bold = Won
* = joint winner
Red / Italics = Ineligible

Playing Honours



Coaching Honours




Post-career honours

Matthews was named "Player of the Century", inducted as an inaugural official Legend of the Australian Football Hall of Fame, the highest individual honour that can be bestowed upon a football personality. He was also named in both the AFL and Hawthorn Teams of the Century, in the forward pocket for the AFL and as rover for Hawthorn. In 2002, the AFLPA MVP award, of which Matthews was the inaugural recipient, was renamed the Leigh Matthews Trophy.

Matthews is one of only three Australian rules footballers recognised as a Legend of Australian Sport in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, alongside Ron Barassi and Ted Whitten.[14]

Outside football

Before coaching the Brisbane Lions, Leigh Matthews made several media appearances as guest commentator. He has now returned to do special commentary of AFL matches on Seven Network.[15] He commentated the 2008 Finals as well as the 2008 Grand Final. He is also a commentator of the game for 3AW and a feature writer and commentator for the Herald Sun.[16]


  1. "Hawthorn's pocket rockets". Hawthorn Football Club. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  2. Holmesby and Main, 2011, p. 542.
  3. Blake, Martin (26 September 2003). "'Lethal' on verge of code's elite level". The Age. Melbourne: Fairfax Digital. Retrieved 28 June 2010.
  4. "AFL Tables – Leigh Matthews – Statistics".
  5. "AFL Tables – 1980 Stats – Season Records".
  6. Craven, Jessica (23 August 2011). "Lethal Leigh Matthews makes every post a winner in 'legends' remake". heraldsun.com.au. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  7. Gordon, Harry. The Hard Way. Lester-Townsend Publishing Pty Ltd. p. 194. ISBN 0-949853-42-9.
  8. "Memories are made of this – realfooty.com.au". The Age. Retrieved 15 September 2002.
  9. Morton, Jim (1 September 2008). "Leigh Matthews quits as Lions coach". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 4 September 2008. Retrieved 28 June 2010.
  10. Morton, Jim (1 September 2008). "Lethal leaves Lions". FOXSports. Retrieved 28 June 2010.
  11. Broad, Ben (1 September 2008). "End of era at the Lions". Australian Football League (AFL). Archived from the original on 16 June 2012.
  12. Leigh Matthews' player profile at AFL Tables
  13. Leigh Matthews' coaching profile at AFL Tables
  14. "Legends of Australian Sport". Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  15. Pierik, Jon (24 June 2011). "Seven chases Taylor but Ten exits broadcasts". theage.com.au. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  16. 3AW Football (20 December 2010). "Leigh Matthews 3AW". 3aw.com.au. Archived from the original on 1 April 2012. Retrieved 31 March 2012.


  • Holmesby, Russell; Main, Jim (2011). The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers: Every AFL/VFL Player Since 1987 (9th ed.). Bas Publishing.
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