Former Carlton footballer Maurie Fowler, who completed an emotional return to the club just a few years ago, has succumbed to the insidious Motor Neurone Disease at the age of 70.
Diagnosed less than 12 months ago, Maurie was almost totally incapacitated by the disease with which Neale Daniher is currently grappling, and for which there is no cure. Maurie’s own struggle has since been touchingly told by Maurie’s stepdaughter, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton, by way of an article in the Herald Sun.
“My stepfather, Maurie Fowler, was diagnosed with MND less than a year ago and the progression of the disease was ferocious and unrelenting,” Kristen wrote.
“In the early hours of Monday morning he passed away. Mum was curled up beside him.
“Towards the end, Maurie could move only his right hand a little, with great effort. But his eyes followed everyone across a room and the day before he died he listened to Carlton win and he squeezed my hand as tight as he could when I promised him we would look after Mum.”
It’s more than 50 years since Maurie Fowler first donned the famous dark Navy Blue guernsey. It came in the opening round at Princes Park on Anzac Day 1966 against Richmond.
Recruited to the club from Kyabram in the Goulburn Valley, Maurie was one of three senior debutants for Carlton that day. Also named were Traralgon’s Max Thomas and Dalyston’s Ian Robertson, who would soon enough savour the grand final successes of 1968, ’70 and ’72 – as would Kevin Hall with whom Maurie shared the pine as 20th man for that match.
By the time he trudged from the field at Glenferrie Oval in the 9th round of ’66 against Hawthorn, Maurie had turned out for his eighth and final game, taking with him a lifetime of memories.
Five years ago, those memories were recently rekindled for Maurie on his return to the Carlton Football Club, to the place that was home for an all-too-fleeting moment of his sporting career. This reporter accompanied him on that sentimental journey of the old ground, one of the truly special moments in retrospect
Maurie’s Carlton homecoming meant much to him, so much so that in March last year he came back again – this time with his son Mark, Mark’s wife Lenny and their children Kayne, Caleb and Amy.
Together they were photographed by Maurie’s old No.29 locker – just as Maurie was in that maiden 2012 homecoming.
On that occasion, Maurie was prompted to reflect on his time at Princes Park and pen the following first-person account of what it was like to take to the field in the colours of Carlton.
MY JOURNEY TO CARLTON
I was so lucky to get a game for Carlton. The club could quite easily have turned its back on me between 1963 and ’66, but for each of those years Carlton gave me another chance.
I first came under the club’s notice as a centre half-forward in Kyabram’s Under 17 premiership year of 1960. I felt comfortable playing at centre half forward, but because I was too short for this position at Carlton I had to try and make it as a rover, which I found extremely difficult.
Carlton first invited me to try out in 1962, after I’d played two games for the Kyabram senior side as a 17 year-old. From ’62 until ’65 included I’d take my holidays in February/March, come to Melbourne to train, play in the practice games and be lucky enough to make the final training list each year… only to return to Kyabram.
In ’63 I was actually offered 12 senior games at Carlton under coach Ken Hands, no matter how I played. I refused, basically because I was worried about relocating to Melbourne and had doubts about whether I could actually make it as a rover. In retrospect, by not accepting Carlton’s offer to play in those 12 games I probably ruined my chances of a long-term League career.
When Ron Barassi was appointed Carlton Captain-Coach in 1965 I was tempted to move to Melbourne, but again I returned home, hopeful of playing in a premiership side with Kyabram. Kyabram had been defeated by Shepparton, then coached by Tommy Hafey, in the 1963, 64 & 65 Goulburn Valley Grand Finals and I dearly wanted to be around to experience Grand Final success.
But in 1966, together with three other members of Kyabram’s 1965 grand final players Dick Clay (Richmond), Ross Dillon (Melbourne) & Frank Fanning (Footscray), I made the move to Melbourne to try my luck.
Maurie Fowler, Carlton footballer, circa 1966.
Although I only played eight senior games and about 14 games in the reserves and considering I did not capitalize on the opportunity I had been given, I regard my time at Carlton as an incredibly exciting time in my life.
Barassi was one of three coaches during my time at Carlton, together with Hands and Jack Carney. I have to say that playing under Barassi was probably the highlight of my entire football career. In those days the only access a country kid had to any League footballer was by way of the back page of The Sun and there was this intrigue with Barassi. I always believed, even back in ’66 that ‘Barass’ would coach Carlton to a premiership(s).
I remember how apprehensive I was on that first night I went to training in 1962. As I was only 17, I used public transport to get to training from North Balwyn where I was staying with my cousin.
The late Allen Cowie, the Carlton secretary at the time, took me into the rooms and introduced me to some of the players. It was strange, because I knew all the players’ names, but no-one knew mine.
After these quick introductions I was invited to get changed and go out and train. I remember that I was so nervous that I struggled to run a couple of laps. I also remember wearing my Kyabram jumper (Essendon colours) with number 27 on the back and whenever I got the ball during training other players would call for me to kick to them by referring to me as “Essendon” or “27”. It was terrific when the practice games started and players began to remember my name. I was fortunate enough to show a bit of form in my first practise game and after that it was like I’d been at the club for a year or more.
It’s hard to convey the feeling I had when I heard I was selected to play in my first game in 1966 against Richmond. I still remember walking into the changeroom and opening locker 29 (my number) to prepare for that game. I looked to my left and beside me at locker 28 was the 6’6” Peter (Percy) Jones. To my right at locker 30 was strongman ‘Vinnie’ Waite and one up from him at locker 31 was Ron Barassi. I felt totally overawed and that “what the hell am I doing here?!!!” feeling was only accentuated every time I felt like a “nervous pee” and on the way to the toilet passed Serge Silvagni and John Nicholls who both had thighs bigger than my waist.
It’s nice to say that I was part of winning Carlton teams; that I kicked the winning goal against South Melbourne at Princes Park in 1966 and that I can still rattle off the numbers worn by the players in that year.
It’s also nice to experience a contentment and pride in later life, knowing my family and my grandchildren can say “my Dad/Pop played for Carlton”.
My time at Carlton provided me with an opportunity to experience a lifestyle largely supported and financed by football. I became a much-travelled player and for the next 15 years moved throughout south-eastern Australia thanks initially to my time there.
On leaving Prices Park, I, along with other ex-Carlton players Ian Nankervis & Bobby Lane, played with Williamstown in the VFA. After one season at “Willy”, which was also a great place, I was transferred in my employment to Shepparton where I played a season with Mooroopna in the Goulburn Valley League before going home to Kyabram.
I then embarked on a coaching career which took me to Palm Beach-Currumbin on the Gold Coast, Robinvale in the Sunraysia League, Hay (Mid Murray League) and Cobram (Murray League).
During my 13-year coaching experience the net return was 10 finals appearances for three grand finals, two premierships and one runner-up.
I doubt that I could adequately explain how I felt the day I returned to Carlton. The honest truth is that it was quite incredible to think that the club would be at all interested in me, and how I viewed my time at Carlton.
I guess I’ve always thought that because I only played eight games I was never really part of the club after 1966. For that reason, the Carlton experience has remained more a personal feeling of satisfaction for me.
But having returned, it became a bit more than that. Now I think of the “not so famous” guys who played for Carlton, who would get a huge kick out of going back to the club and being treated like I was.
I actually left feeling “important” and thinking (for the first time in my life) that no matter how many games I had played, I was a part of the history of the Carlton Football Club forever.
Maurie Fowler at the No.29 locker with son Mark, grandsons Kayne 11 and Caleb 9, granddaughter Amy 4 and Mark’s wife Lenny – March 5, 2016.
I was most impressed with all the facilities including the Membership Shop & Bistro and the player facilities are sensational.
My reaction to seeing my old No.29 locker was to immediately include Heath Scotland in my Supercoach & Dreamteam sides! That’s true, but seriously it was a terrific feeling.
With regards to me giving any advice to young guys trying to make it in League football today, to do so would probably make me a bit of a hypocrite because the advice I would give today would be the advice I should have given myself 50 years ago.
But if asked, I would have to say; “Your football career will be great for as long as you are playing but be aware that it won’t end there”.
“It will be with you for life.
“Your football career provides so many positive personal, social and emotional benefits/feelings for you all the way through”.
Family and friends are invited to attend a memorial service to celebrate the life of Maurice John Fowler at the Ocean Grove Football Club, Shell Road, Ocean Grove, next Wednesday, May 17, commencing at 11.30 am, with a private cremation to follow.
The Carlton players will honor Maurie’s memory by wearing black armbands into Saturday’s match with St Kilda at Etihad Stadium.
To help in the fight against MND, please support the Cure for MND Foundation.
More By Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media