If you lived where I did, you supported the Carlton Football Club. Apart from a handful of strange people who barracked for Collingwood, Fitzroy, Melbourne, or North Melbourne, everyone followed Carlton. And teams like Hawthorn or St Kilda weren’t even heard of – they belonged on the other side of the …….. planet. And even though my parents had absolutely zero interest in sports of any kind, let alone Australian football, I was surrounded by it.
First of all, we lived a stone’s throw away from the Carlton Football Ground, nestled in the middle of Princes Park. Second, as I said earlier, almost everyone around us was a Carlton supporter, and, even in those early pre-corporate branding days, there was no shortage of team gear around – from scarves and beanies to guernseys and duffle coats, and even little navy pennants to fly on your bicycle. And then finally, the Secretary of the Carlton Football Club would pop into the school every few weeks and bring something – usually a bag of used footballs – making a big splash about Carlton “giving back to the local community”.
And like most children in Melbourne between the ages of around 5 and 75, I was obsessed with footy, and even more obsessed with my team. I had a Carlton guernsey, a Carlton beanie (they were called pom poms then), a Carlton scarf, a Carlton pennant on my bike, and best of all – the prized possession – a Carlton duffle coat.
Now the duffle coat that I had wasn’t like the ones you see today. I did a quick search on Google and pored over hundreds of images and none of these chic, trendy, and expensive-looking fashionable pieces of apparel bore much resemblance to the cheap, robust, black, ill-fitting jacket that I had. And the cost was important I think. No parent in their right mind would spend a large sum on a duffle coat because they knew that within a few weeks, with just a little bit of help from their child, they themselves (or usually the mother herself) would mangle it, add things to it, deface it, and completely alter not just its outward appearance but also seemingly its very nature and what it was created for.
Mine was fantastic. I had a big number 1 sewn on to the back. This represented my favourite player at the time, Sergio Silvagni.
Then I had a large amount of white CFC monograms and white words or phrases such as “Carlton”, “Go Blues”, and “Blues” sewn on all over the front and back of the coat. I guess what we lacked in poetry, we made up for with sheer maddening volume.
And finally, courtesy of a little promotion from The Herald, Melbourne’s now defunct afternoon daily, I had a portrait of our captain, the aforementioned Mr Silvagni (left), printed on white cloth and sewn on to my left sleeve. This was accompanied on my right sleeve by a quite complex-looking CFC monogram with the Club’s Latin motto entwined around it. The motto incidentally is Mens sana in corpore sano, which I think roughly translates to “a sound mind in a sound duffle coat”. And when I wore it, I was as proud as punch!!!
I wish I had an old photo of me in my Carlton gear but unfortunately, I don’t. However, here’s me with my daughter Devorah in hers and me with her sons Reuben and Austin in theirs.
Carlton Training with Jack
During the May School holidays of 1963, my mother and I spent a week at a guest house called Sherbrooke Marybrooke on the outskirts of Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne. I can’t remember why it was just the two of us, and I think my mother felt quite out of place because it was a very wasp-ish crowd – definitely hardly any wogs, although we did meet one fairly assimilated Jewish family. And to underline the point, meals consisted of such dishes as pea and ham soup, roast lamb with mint sauce, wine trifle, etc. To this day, that is just about my favourite menu, but let me tell you, it wasn’t the kind of food you’d be likely to get coming from an immigrant Jewish kitchen. And on top of all that, they had evening activities like a fancy hat competition and folks standing around a piano singing songs like Roll Out The Barrel, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, and Bye Bye Blackbird.
The whole week might have been a write-off for me except that I met a man who was to become a good friend for the next two or three years – Jack Milne. Jack would’ve been well into his sixties, lived on Station Street in North Carlton (just up the road from my auntie) with his wife and stepdaughter, Cherry, and he was just the loveliest guy. We struck up a beautiful friendship and when we returned to Melbourne, I would see him once or twice a week.
Now Jack was a mad Carlton supporter, would probably now be a member of the Unofficial Selection Committee, and never missed a Carlton training session, which in those old pre-professional days, were all held on Tuesdays and Thursdays between around 5pm and 6pm because the players all worked at regular jobs. And since I was also a budding young “mad Carlton supporter”, he’d often drive out to East Brunswick in his 30-year-old black Ford, pick me up, and take me to training with him. I can still remember sitting in that car, still remember that overpowering smell of the leather upholstery, and still remember looking across at Jack who always wore a pair of light tan overalls, heavy black work boots, a navy or black suit jacket with pens in the top pocket, and a dark grey fedora covering his mainly bald head.
We’d get to Princes Park, walk into the stadium, and then he’d tell me to go play with the other kids while he went and stood with a group of other men all dressed in a similar fashion, except that some also had long gabardine coats or were carrying Gladstone bags after a long hard day’s work. They’d talk footy – much the same I imagine as my mates and I do now – and I’d run up and down the terraces, watch a bit of training, yell out to some of the players, and generally do what a nine or ten year old does.
But my favourite part was right after training finished and the players went back into the locker rooms. It was my favourite part because Jack would take me in with him so I could actually talk to them. It was funny because thinking about it now, I realise that there was a certain pecking order. I had become friendly (or as friendly as a nine year old can get) with Peter Barry (right), Carlton’s full back at the time. So I’d always go to where he was sitting, in front of his number 18 locker, and chat with him. Being there, I would also chat with a couple of young players, Ian Collins (No. 19) and Wes Lofts (No. 20). But after that came “Turkey” Tom Carroll (No. 22), our gun full forward, and he was a higher-tier player who didn’t really engage much with me. Similarly on the other side was the great Gordon Collis (No.17), and he was also a tad out of bounds. So, I’d just talk with Peter Barry and occasionally with Collins and Lofts, but often glance over at Carroll or Collis or Maurie Sankey (No.16). And when no-one was looking, I’d get really brave and look way over at the No.1 and No. 2 lockers to see the real Carlton champs – Silvagni and …… Big John Nicholls, the greatest of them all. One time, after Nicholls had just taken a shower and was butt naked, he walked past me and accidentally stood on my foot, which was encased in one of those old-fashioned footy boots made of cast iron, or at least very strong leather. It hurt for a week!!!! Collins and Lofts thought it quite funny and chuckled loudly.
So, I’d while away my time, talking, ogling, collecting autographs (yes, even of Big Nick), and having a blast. Then on the way home, you couldn’t shut me up. I’d be jumping up and down in my seat (without a seat belt in those days, no doubt), telling Jack all about what I’d been doing. And he’d be telling me stories about what those guys did at the games, and stories about old Carlton players like Clover and Vallence and Chitty and Hands and Deacon – all stories I’ve since forgotten. He’d also tell me stories about his family and the war and what Carlton and Brunswick were like in the ‘30s, and other such things. We’d get home and he’d come in and have a cuppa with my parents, and then they’d talk about grown-up things. He was a most amazing man, and after we moved away to the Eastern suburbs, I really missed those times I spent with him. But he certainly instilled in me a love of Carlton and a love of story-telling, and I’m forever grateful to him. Cheers, Jack.
My First Game
Some time earlier, during the cold winter months of 1962, after lots and lots of nagging, my father finally relented and took me to my first game. I was nine years old. The fixture entry read “Fitzroy vs Carlton”, and since these were two neighbouring suburbs, there was a pretty fierce rivalry. Not quite to the same extent as that great rivalry, Carlton and Collingwood, but still enough to be a tense match.
So we trotted off to Princes Park, got in rather cheaply my father later thought, and took up a spot on the Northern wing. The game started just after 2pm and it was an exciting game. I couldn’t really recognise any of the players, but to be fair, they were quite far away and were moving pretty quickly. But my father seemed concerned, and he kept looking around and saying things like “Where are all the people?” and “It looks like an awfully small crowd” and “Why is no-one here?”
None of that really bothered me because I was beside myself – finally at a real game, with my father no less, at Princes Park, watching Carlton. But for the whole first half, my father kept up with those same questions: “Where is everyone?”, “Does it really take this long for the crowd to pick up?”, and on and on and on!
At half-time, a friend from school walked past and I said hello. He said hello back and then asked me “Hey, do you know what the score is at Fitzroy?” I said “Nooooo! What’s at Fitzroy?” And he answered “What? The game! Fitzroy vs Carlton! What do you mean what’s at Fitzroy???”
You see, in those days when two teams played, their reserves (or seconds) played a curtain raiser at the same venue. But then their Under 19 team (or thirds) played at the same time at the opponent’s home ground. We had gone to see the Carlton Under 19s team play the Fitzroy Under 19s team. No wonder I didn’t know any of the players and no wonder the crowd was a few hundred rather than the usual twenty to thirty thousand. My father and I were suitably embarrassed.
My Real First Game
On Saturday 18th August 1962, we tried again. We again went to Princes Park, this time for the Carlton vs Collingwood game – the clash of the traditional rivals. These two teams have played each other in so many big games, including Grand Finals, that there has even been a book published about it called, not surprisingly, “The Great Rivalry”. And what a contrast from the last time. The ground was packed – the official attendance figure was stated as 32,550, and two of them were my father and I, plonked on the Northern wing again, elbow to elbow sardine-style with the other 32,548.
And it was a most unforgettable game. “Turkey” Tom Carroll kicked six goals from full forward, as did Collingwood’s captain Murray Wiedeman, but Carlton won by 42 points, and there was much yelling and screaming and cheering and jumping on that Northern wing. I was initiated, I saw my first live game, and the first of many Carlton victories over our great rival.
However, I didn’t see that much of it. I, and this may come as a shock to some of the people who accompany me to football games, was engrossed in the Football Record, the official program that you buy at a game. You see, it had a page like this one, which allows spectators to keep track of how many goals (and behinds) each player scores. And being obsessed with figures and numbers, I fell in love with that page. So much so, that one of the men standing near us said to my father “The little bloke seems to be more interested in the statistics than the game”. My father smiled, a little bemused. But it was water off a duck’s back to me. I had found the way I loved watching footy (and Carlton), and I never looked back.
And the funny thing is, even in this digital age where any one of about five different apps on my phone can give me, for each player, not only the exact number of goals and behinds he’s scored, but also his total possessions, kicks, handballs, contested possessions, marks, and tackles, I still annotate the scores in my Footy Record. And if I watch the game at home, I rule up a sheet of paper and do it the same way.
I’ve even trained my daughter Sarah to do it and I suspect we’ll be passing it on to the next generation of obsessive Carlton supporters.
And that seems to be the way it works. Whichever way you follow footy, whether it be the team you support, the place you sit, the meals you eat before, during, and after a game, even the way you keep score – all of that gets passed on through the generations. Since my parents weren’t interested in it, I was the first in my family, although you could say that my old friend Jack started me off. But I’m not the last, and my daughters and my grandsons are following in my footsteps. And looking over at most of my friends, even the ones who support teams other than Carlton, it’s exactly the same for them. Every one of them has passed his “rituals” onto his kids, and I daresay every one of them could tell a story similar to mine. It was part of growing up in Carlton, but it’s also part of growing up anywhere in Australia, and especially growing up as a child of immigrants.