The Pelaco Oscar Award was a short-lived accolade for the best and fairest player, as voted for by players, in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL). An example of it, awarded to John Halbert MBE AM in 1958, stands proud behind glass in the Our Footy, Our People, Our Stories exhibition that celebrates 145 years of the league at the State Library of South Australia.
John, who turns 85 in September, was a player for Sturt Football Club - the Double Blues - from 1955-1968, represented SA in interstate competitions before AFL was formally established, was a coach, and held numerous positions in administration up until 2008.
He played 244 games for Sturt, was best and fairest for the team in 1958, 1960, 1961 and 1964, captained the team in its premiership-winning years of 1966-68, won the Magarey Medal in 1961 and was a runner up in 1955, 1958 and 1960, was the All Australian centre man in 1961, took Glenelg and Sturt to grand finals in the early 80s, was awarded an MBE in 1969 for services to sport and work amongst young people, an AM award in 2009, and is an Australian Football Hall of Fame member.
While the Magarey Medal is the greatest award he received as a player, the Pelaco Oscar Award, made of bronze and marble, still has a fond place in his heart.
"That award was very pleasing because it worked on the votes given by players of the opposition. At the end of each game, the players had to give three votes to who they thought were the best players of the opposing team. It said to me in a pleasing way that opposition players thought I was playing well," he said.
And it's these humbling and honourable factors that seem to ring true when he thinks about how he played the game.
"It's a result of my upbringing. I decided if I was going to play, I'd play to the best of my ability and the right spirit. I was a ball player, an honest player, and I tried to maintain that for my playing career," he said.
It's just one feature of the exhibition, a collaboration between the State Library and the SANFL History Centre. It also has medals, posters, photographs, trophies and fan memorabilia, a sketchbook from GW Cox jewellers showcasing their Magarey Medal designs dating back to 1932, hours of video highlights of SANFL football, and information about how the West End brewery would paint its chimney in the colours of the grand final's winning team each year. Speaking of which, there is a photo on display with John and his teammates unveiling Sturt's colours of the chimney after the team's 1968 premiership win.
It wasn't John's intention to enter League football; He'd played a couple of games with Sturt colts as a secondary student in 1954, and the following year he was attending teacher's college and had planned to play football for the teachers in amateur league. But one Friday, his mother picked up The Advertiser and saw his name had been listed for a Sturt trial at 12 noon on Saturday.
"Mum said 'you may as well have a try' and I must have played reasonably well as they wanted me to train early the following week," he said.
Alas, he donned the number 15 guernsey - a number he kept his whole playing career - and went on to play 244 games, kick 253 goals, and captain three winning premierships, all within 1955-1968 and with Sturt.
John was known for being a good mark and played in the centre - a formula that worked for him in getting opportunities and making the most of his five foot, ten-and-a-half inch height.
"I noticed most of the centre men used to cover large areas, and some players like Jimmy Dean (South Adelaide) and Lindsay Head (West Torrens) would travel some distance, and I thought I wouldn't be able to keep up with them. So I played as a 'stay-at-home centre man'. Undoubtedly one of my best skills was a good mark, and I found if I hovered around the centre, there'd be plenty of opportunities for me to mark the ball," he said.
John became captain of the team at a great time of change at the club; players including Tony Goodchild, Len Fitzgerald and Clayton Thompson were all retiring, leaving a young and inexperienced team that ended up taking the wooden spoon in 1961. In 1962, Jack 'Jacko' Oatey came in as coach, John became captain, and the following year, Victorian league players such as Colin Saddington (Richmond), Ted Langbridge (Richmond), Malcolm Hill (Hawthorn) and Dodger Ryan (North Melbourne) were recruited as players.
"They gave us some strength, we started to be better as a team, and some of the younger ones became more accustomed to playing senior football."
It took time to build up, but the team played a grand final in 1965, and then won five in a row from 66-70.
John was still able to hold his head up high to the end; he missed the 67 grand final because of a broken leg, and the 68 one because he'd ruptured his quadricep to the point he wouldn't be able to play in the next season. About to turn 32 and after 14 years, he decided it was time to call it a day. But, he could still take home the pride that he was captain for both those premiership teams and unveil the Sturt colours at the brewery each time.
Outside Sturt, John also played 17 games representing South Australia in interstate competitions.
In the late 1970s, opportunities arose to be a coach. In 1977 he was coaching Sturt's reserves team while working at the South Australian College of Advanced Education, and he took a year's study leave in mid-1977. Upon his return, Sturt asked if he'd coach the reserves again in 1979, but then he got a call from Glenelg asking if he'd coach their team. He took the role and held it until 1982, during which time he took the team to two grand finals. By the end of 82, he decided it was time to leave that club and returned to coach Sturt after Jack Oatey's retirement. He coached them for two years, one of which was to a grand final, but no win.
"It was very disappointing," he said.
Since then, he held various roles in administration and business, including as chairman of the South Australian Football Development Foundation, a member of the AFL Laws Committee, to name a few.
Having seen football from different perspectives, it's clear that passion for the sport at a grass roots level drives him.
"When you grow up with it as I did as a little boy, I've always loved the game and I particularly loved how we played it in SA and how we continue to play in SA," he said.
"I enjoy our local football, the league-played SANFL - the nature and the format I like.
"I still go to watch my beloved Sturt on Saturdays."
Attending its launch in early June, he's pleased with the exhibition.
"SANFL has been a huge part of the total gamut of SA's history over that period, from when it really started up in 1877," he said.
"It's a wonderful reminder of the number of years of football over our lifetime."
Our footy, Our people, Our stories: 145 years of SANFL runs until October 16 at the State Library of South Australia, corner North Terrace and Kintore Avenue, Adelaide. Visit History - SANFL for more information.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.