Gunnedah Bulldogs Australian Football Club (AFC), North West NSW AFL competition founder and Gunnedah sporting icon Brian Lenton was bestowed induction into the inaugural NSW AFL Hall of Fame last Friday evening.

During a function held at the Sydney Cricket Ground – the venue of first AFL match played in the state in 1881 – Lenton had the distinguished privilege to be inducted as one of only 100 members selected for the Hall of Fame throughout 140 years of AFL in the NSW state.

Emphasising the enormity of the occasion, contributions of 100 players, coaches, administrators, umpires, and media personalities alike were honoured to the inaugural Hall of Fame and Lenton was recognised among an elite group of people for his personal efforts that span from 1956 until the current day.

Accompanied by his family, consisting of his lifelong partner and wife Judy, their children Nathan and Natasha, brother Alan as well as Gunnedah AFC legend and life member Scott Hardy, Lenton accepted his recognition as one of the 100 inductees honoured and was acknowledged through his countless hours of dedication toward the sport of AFL.

In the words of the NSW AFL Hall of Fame selection committee, the purpose of the event was to “recognise and enshrine players, coaches, umpires, administrators, volunteers and media representatives who have made a most significant contribution to the game of Australian Football in NSW since its inception in 1880”.

Due to his lifelong passion and dedication to AFL as a player, coach and administrator that has spread through AFL leagues around the state, Lenton secured his elevation into the top echelon of AFL stalwarts and accurately fit the criteria set by the NSWAFL in honouring their inductees.

Lenton, who grew up in the south west NSW town of Whitton in the AFL eccentric Riverina district, was a primary driver of AFL North West – now known as a well-established AFLNSW affiliated league.

On the back of Lenton, the AFLNSW registered league can be traced back to 1977 where Lenton founded the Gunnedah Bulldogs AFC and was a pioneer in the formation of competition AFL league football in Northern/North Western NSW.

In a playing capacity, Lenton showed signs in his teenage years as star on the rise, a teenager that exuded elite promise when gaining selection for his first representative side in selection for the ACT under 19s in the 1960s.

When graduating from the junior ranks in the nation’s capital, Lenton pursued and played consistent first grade AFL in Canberra, but it was in the country areas where his generous personality began to prosper.

Firstly, Lenton had a major influence on leagues throughout the Riverina, with an innate ability to recall every man, his best friend and the wives of those he played with in a playing and administrating capacity through various sides during his AFL stint in that district.

However, it was upon landing a job as a Coca Cola representative in 1973 that enabled Lenton’s passage to Gunnedah and within that coincided his two true loves – AFL and meeting his now wife of 56 years, Judy.

Together and nestled into Gunnedah, Brian and Judy – predominantly Brian in his new engagement through his job opportunity combined with Judy’s unwavering support – spent countless hours travelling the vast kilometres of the North West district, personally housing potential players and tapping into the prosperity of a potential competition through like-minded AFL enthusiasts.

Brian and Judy Lenton.

Their partnership and determined persistence influenced members around the AFL North West district, creating an opportunity for aspiring and intrigued AFL footballers in the region.

All without a skerrick of influence from the outside, Lenton’s previously calibrated and journeyed wealth of personal experience and AFL knowledge was the catalyst in what the AFL North West competition has had the luxury to enjoy today.

“Back when we were aiming to get football competition started in the (North West NSW) area, there was no (Sydney) Swans side or any other real influence within the area – it was basically manual labour,” said Lenton, reflecting this as is his proudest achievement upon his Hall of Fame induction.

“So a lot of hours driving to other towns to get it going – that’s probably something I’m pretty proud of and to see the competition still going today makes me feel as I say quite proud,” Lenton said.

A determination to promote and enhance football in the northern area of NSW, Lenton seized the opportunity to promote AFL in communities, such as sleepy and rugby league-orientated towns like Coonabarabran, Moree, Wee Waa, Narrabri, Gunnedah and Tamworth and all throughout the New England as far as Glen Innes.

Lenton was full of praise for those who have helped him achieve his emphatic milestone, quickly deflecting his personal achievement of induction by redirecting it toward the “abundance of help” he received along the way.

“You don’t do it on your own, it’s nice to be recognised but as I say there’s always help along the way,” Lenton praised.

Understandably, Lenton is a life member of the Gunnedah Bulldogs club and upon the gesture of honouring his legacy through the exclusive NSWAFL Hall of Fame, a few of his proudest moments are of a personal note.

That is of those closest to his heart – his family.

Son, Nathan, was a regular Sydney division one AFL footballer for Western Suburbs – also a club Brian represented in his heyday – who as a junior represented the NSW AFL under 19s and coincidentally, were coached by fellow Hall of Fame inductee Terry Daniher who is a fellow NSW country lad from Ungarie that went on to become an Essendon legend and AFL recognised Half of Famer.

“Nathan was full forward in the NSW first 18 versus Victoria where they played in Wagga Wagga when Terry (Daniher) was coaching it,” Lenton said.

“One of my more proud moments and I pinch myself to have met Terry, but so proud of Nathan at the time too.”

Although a late start due to the lack of opportunity for women’s AFL in country areas, daughter Natasha kept the Lenton legacy alive, playing in the inaugural women’s Poochettes 2020 season for Lenton’s beloved Gunnedah Bulldogs where they won the premiership that season.

Brian Lenton and daughter, Natasha Fischer.

That same season, grandsons Jake and Chad (Natasha’s sons) also represented the Gunnedah Bulldogs club as pups in the under 14s competition.

All the while, Brian nestling himself into his regular post of the timekeeper’s slot on the balcony of Wolseley Oval, one that he still operates for the Gunnedah AFC to this day and fondly proud that his lifetime of dedication to AFL has filtered through the family tree.

“That’s also a proud moment, seeing Nathan achieve what he did but Tash winning a premiership in her first year and her two boys, my grandsons represent the club too – couldn’t be more proud of that,” a reflective Lenton expressed.

However, it is an injustice not to acknowledge Lenton’s personal achievements in the red, white and blue of the Gunnedah Bulldogs.

Through his 47 years involved with his cherished Bulldogs, Lenton has a resume to envy: five premierships – two as captain-coach, three as coach alone, four AFLNW league Best and Fairest titles, a five-time AFLNW leading goalkicker and the record for most goals kicked in an AFL North West league match with 21 – he’s done it all.

Understandably, the only moment he afforded himself personal recognition was his selection at centre-half forward and captain-coach of the 40-year anniversary side the Bulldogs club unveiled in 2017.

Even that took the strenuous convincing of four other selectors to convince him that him he was worthy of the honour.

Always humble, Lenton is quick to divert his accolade into the hall of fame as something he never sought.

“It was an honour to be there and mingle with some greats of the game on a national level, let alone solely NSW,” he said.

“Household names of AFL like Tony Lockett, Paul Kelly, Wayne Carey, the Daniher family.

“Craig Davis is another, a Tasmanian bloke that I played against in the 60s and he used to come up and stay with Judy and I to help get our (AFLNW) competition going.”

He was also quick to acknowledge the other inductee from the AFL North West.

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