Well regarded as one of the greatest afl players of all time, Leigh Matthews was fearless on the football field. Standing at 178cm (5′10″) and weighing in at 83.5kg (13.5 stone) he was quite an unusual build for a rover.
He earned the nickname “Lethal” through his play style of fighting hard for the ball and his accuracy in front of goal. In saying this, Leigh Matthews was by no means an unscrupulous player. In fact he won 8 fairest and best awards during his career at Hawthorn.
Leigh Matthews played 5 senior games for the Hawks in 1969 in jersey number 32, and then went on to play from 1970 – 1985 in the number 3 jumper.
With a career spanning 332 games, it was a club record until surpassed by former team mate, Michael Tuck. During his 16 seasons at Hawthorn, Leigh Matthews kicked 915 goals, which placed him seventh on the VFL all-time goal kicking list (It is still the highest goal count for a non-full forward to date). His highest ever season total was 79 goals and on two occasions he kicked 11 goals in a game. Matthews headed the Hawk’s goal kicking tally six times – 1973, 1975, 1981, 1982, 1983 & 1984. He also topped the VFL goal shooting tally in 1975 with 68 goals.
Leigh Matthews captained the Hawthorn football club from 1981 to 1985, during which the Hawks won the 1983 flag. He was also in the premiership teams in 1971, 1976 and 1978.
The only real blemish to Leigh’s carrer was in his final season in 1985 when he broke the jaw of Gelong player Neville Bruns in an off-the-ball incident. He was suspended for 4 weeks and also charged by the police and fined $1000. This is believed to be one of the major contributing factors to his retirement. Leigh Matthews final game was the 1985 Grand final in which Hawthorn lost to Essendon.
The season following his retirement from playing the game, Matthews took up the coaching role at Collingwood. In 1990 he guided the Magpies to a premiership win, their first since 1958. He continued to coach at Collingwood until 1995.
In 1999 Leigh Matthews took over the role as head coach for the Brisbane Lions. He experienced more premiership success winning 3 flags in a row for the Lions in 2001, 2002 and 2003. At the end of the 2008 season, Matthews retired from coaching and his position was taken over by one of his former Brisbane premiership players, Michael Voss.
POST CAREER HONORS
Matthews was named “Player of the Century,” inducted as an inaugural official Legend of the Australian Football Hall of Fame. He was also named in both the AFL Team of the Century (forward pocket) and Hawthorn Team of the Century (rover)
In 2002, the AFLPA MVP award, of which Matthews was the inaugural recipient, was renamed the Leigh Matthews Trophy.