The amazing exploits of John Reedman, one of SA’s greatest sportsmen

He’s been called “the most remarkable sportsman to have emerged in the first 70 or 80 years of the state’s history” and earned standing ovations from thrilled spectators – yet many South Australians today aren’t familiar with the name John “Dinny” Reedman. Now, he’s being inducted into the South Australian Sport Hall of Fame.

Feb 15, 2024, updated Feb 27, 2024
John "Dinny" Reedman was a remarkable all-rounder who led local clubs, captained state football and cricket teams, won handfuls of premierships and represented Australia in a Test against England. Photo: SANFL

John "Dinny" Reedman was a remarkable all-rounder who led local clubs, captained state football and cricket teams, won handfuls of premierships and represented Australia in a Test against England. Photo: SANFL

John Cole Reedman died in Adelaide 100 years ago. A memorial drinking fountain with his name on it sits outside Adelaide Oval. He was a postman with four kids who is considered “one of the greatest all-round sportsmen Australia ever produced”.

Now, a century after his death in 1924, Reedman is to be inducted into the South Australian Sport Hall of Fame.

So who was John (also known as Jack or Dinny) Reedman and what did he do? As it turns out, it’s more a case of what didn’t he do.

Here’s the short version: Reedman captained South Adelaide Football Club for 10 years and won five flags, captained North Adelaide for five seasons and won another three, captained South Australia and represented it four times and then coached the basketcase that was West Adelaide, lifting it from last to its first ever premiership in one season.

He’s credited with introducing the “loose man” concept to football and was one of the first inductees into the Australian Football Hall of Fame, and later, the SA Football Hall of Fame.

But there was no footy over summer. Luckily Reedman also loved his cricket, and the first-class bowler and batsman for South Adelaide and North Adelaide captained the state team for six seasons.

While playing for South Australia his magnificent catch at Adelaide Oval had legendary England batsman Dr W.G. Grace out for two runs and earned a standing ovation, and he also represented Australia in the 1894/5 Test series against England.

Oh, and in his spare time he was a champion long-distance swimmer.

John Reedman. Photo: Wikpedia

Born in 1866, Reedman first came to notice in 1884 while playing park lands football for Medindie, and his journey through the sport tracks its colonial evolution into the modern competition.

He played for Hotham in the Adelaide Suburban Association, featuring in its 1885 premiership team before becoming captain and leading the club to another flag in 1886.

Hotham joined the South Australian Football Association in 1887, with Reedman again captain, and the club then changed its name to North Adelaide (not the modern club) before merging with Adelaide.

Reedman then left to play with South Adelaide, was made captain and stayed there for a decade, leading his team to five premierships.

In 1898, the introduction of “electorate football” forced players to represent their local team, so Reedman moved to North Adelaide Football Club, which he captained from 1901-05 and won three flags, while also playing on the state team and serving as skipper in 1903.

In 1908 he retired from playing but was appointed coach of West Adelaide Football Club, which had finished dead last the previous season; no surprise after winning just 25 of the 146 games it had played since forming.

But Reedman was up to the challenge, working his magic and inspiring West Adelaide to its first flag that very year – the first coach to take a team from bottom to top in a season.

“After the memorable match when West beat Norwood on the bell, people stayed behind, and as the veteran drove through the oval gates in a cab he received an ovation. A unique tribute,” it was reported.

The club was so pumped that it then beat Victorian Football League champions Carlton Football Club to become Champions of Australia.

Reedman bowed out of West Adelaide on a high and returned to North Adelaide for one last season as a player and captain, before finally hanging up his boots at 43, after a 23-year career across four clubs during which he reportedly missed only one game.

But that was just his football. Now let’s talk about cricket.

The first-class player had a long innings from 1887 to 1913, playing for South Adelaide and North Adelaide.

In 1901 he scored the highest aggregate in district cricket with 529 runs at an average of 53.77 and a top score of 188, and was also SA’s leading bowler.

He made his debut for South Australia against Victoria in 1888 – and was out for a duck. But Reedman recovered and made his mark, and in 1891 the handy fielder thrilled an Adelaide Oval crowd by dismissing a famous batsman in Lord Sheffield’s touring team.

“Dr W. G. Grace was batting, and George Giffen sent down one of his characteristic ‘overhanging’ deliveries to the distinguished international,” The Register recorded.

“With a mighty hit Grace endeavoured to pull the ball to the ropes, but it was cocked high in the air. Reedman, who was fielding near the ropes, ran in almost to where the umpire was standing at square-leg and caught the ball with one hand as he slid along the ground. The doctor was dismissed for 2 runs in that innings. It was a marvellous catch, and hundreds of old time followers will be able to recall the ovation which greeted Reedman.”

The local star was also part of the 1893/94 Sheffield Shield-winning team and the following season represented Australia in a Test against England in Sydney.

Reedman went on to captain South Australia from 1900-06, and in a state cricket career covering 76 games to 1909 he scored more than 3000 runs and took 114 wickets.

The John Reedman Memorial Drinking Fountain was erected in Creswell Gardens near Adelaide Oval in 1929, five years after his death. Photo: Madeleine Ryan/History SA

The inspiring all-rounder finally retired from an astonishing sporting career that had left its mark.

But in his later years, the once famously fit Reedman suffered from “indifferent” health following an operation, and in 1924 he died in hospital aged only 58.

“The news of the veteran’s death reached the Adelaide Oval on Saturday afternoon during the progress of the final A grade match between East Torrens and Sturt, and the flags were at once lowered to half-mast,” The Register reported in a glowing obituary.

“Shortly afterwards the game was adjourned, and Vic Richardson (captain of Sturt) announced the event from the ground. The spectators and players thereupon removed their hats and stood for a few minutes in silence as a tribute to the memory of the departed.”

The Register said of Reedman: “His death has removed a former athlete of outstanding prominence. His achievements as an interstate cricketer and footballer and as a swimmer will be vividly remembered by the older followers of sport.”

With Reedman laid to rest at North Road Cemetery in Nailsworth, and all who played with and cheered him long gone, consider the following quotes to assess how his sporting achievements and personal attributes are remembered a century later.

“Widely regarded as the most remarkable South Australian sportsman to emerge in the first 70 or 80 years of the state’s history,”

“His magnetic personality inspired men to deeds of greatness.”

“Lanky but lithe, Reedman was formidable in the air and like a terrier when the ball hit the ground, but it was his leadership qualities and tactical acumen which marked him out from the crowd.”

“He was a wonderfully fine captain. He got every ounce out of his men. He handled the young players splendidly, and always gave them a word of encouragement.”

“A wonderful comrade, lion-hearted, keen, a magnificent loser and possessed a delightful sunny temperament.”

Wisden Cricketer’s Almanac says of Reedman: “He was an effective but not a graceful batsman, a useful change bowler, and a really great fieldsman, being a sure catch, covering much ground and having a splendid return to the wicket. He never toured England, but for some years he enjoyed a big reputation in his own country.”

So, if you ever find yourself in the park outside Adelaide Oval and notice an unassuming drinking fountain, go and wet your whistle, read the plaque and be cast back to a time when nearly everyone in South Australia knew the name and exploits of John ‘Dinny’ Reedman.

The latest inductees to the South Australian Sport Hall of Fame will be announced at Adelaide Oval on March 1. For details and tickets, go here. Read InDaily throughout February as we reveal this year’s inductees.

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