A great epoch in 20th century Carlton history has ended with the passing at 91 of dual Premiership player and coach Ken Hands.
Hands died peacefully last night, surrounded by his son John and daughters Janet and Robyn. That morning, he was farewelled by his protégé and fellow ruckman John Nicholls, Carlton’s greatest player.
Recruited from amateur club North Geelong, Hands’ lifelong association with the football club commenced in the closing days of the Second World War.
The last man standing from both the victorious 1945 “Bloodbath” and ’47 Grand Final teams, Hands represented the old dark Navy Blues in 211 senior appearances between ’45 and ’57 – the latter season as Nicholls’ on-field mentor.
Regrettably, Hands had no real memory of the infamous ’45 Grand Final with South Melbourne at Princes Park. South’s Jack ‘Basher’ Williams saw to that.
Ken Hands won Carlton’s Best & Fairest award in 1953. (Photo: Carlton Media)
But the late Carlton half-back Jim Clark was an eyewitness, and forever blamed Williams for igniting the powder keg – despite Williams’ protestations that the lanky kid in the No.1 guernsey “must have suffered sunstroke”.
“I hate saying this about ‘Basher’ because he was a good guy, but he king-hit Ken Hands. That was the first moment of violence. ‘Handsy’ was just a kid who, in the future, was to have a wonderful career, and he coached Carlton,” Clark once said.
“Ken was in his first year, he was only 19 and ‘Basher’ hung one on him and dropped him. I can still see Rod McLean and one of the other senior players carrying him in. It must have happened just before half-time for me to see that.”
A club Best & Fairest in 1953 and Victorian captain/coach in 1954 and ’57, Hands assumed the Carlton Senior Coaching position from Jim Francis in 1959 (which acrimoniously ended the pair’s lifelong friendship) and he commandeered his players to the 1962 Grand Final before vacating the position to Ron Barassi.
Though he made way as coach on the cusp of the ’65 season, Hands’ place in Carlton history was already assured – and along the way he was rewarded with his naming in the club’s Team of the 20th century as Deputy Vice-Captain (and as resting ruckman to Nicholls), induction into its Hall of Fame and subsequent elevation to Legend status.
Ken Hands in action, 1946. (Photo: Supplied)
Two years ago, Hands paid his old club a very special visit to view a display of his items of memorabilia amassed over his stellar playing career. He had availed his glorious collection of memorabilia to the football club – some 70 years after he completed his senior debut at Princes Park, against St Kilda in the 5th round of 1945.
Hands approved of the showcasing of the old No.1 Carlton woollen long-sleeve guernsey (which he inherited from the ’38 Premiership player Frank Anderson) worn through 200 senior appearances for the mighty Blues.
“I had to stand out in ’44 because I was tied to Geelong. I was 18 when I first played in ’45 and I was the youngest then,” said Hands in recalling how it all began.
“In those days I was still living with my family in Highton, about five miles out of Geelong. I used to ride a bike to Geelong station, catch the train up to Melbourne to play, then catch the train home that night. I did that for five years and never missed a game.
“I remember all the khaki in the crowd towards the end of the ’45 season. Our soldiers were returning from the war and at Princes Park the club arranged a spot for them on the hill – there were no seats then – so they could watch the Carlton games for nothing.”
In October 2016, Hands celebrated his 90th birthday in the company of John and Don Nicholls, both of whom he helped recruit some 60 years before.
“In those days the coach, the captain, the secretary and a few others used to do the running around Victoria trying to sign players,” Hands once told this reporter.
“I can recall going up there not long after Don had won the best and fairest in the Ballarat League when he was 14 or 15, and that’s who we went up to sign.
Ken Hands with current skipper Marc Murphy, 2013. (Photo: Carlton Media)
“We were at the Nicholls farm outside Primrose talking to the boys’ father when John and Don got off the bus. I can still see John now with his short pants and great big tree trunk thighs and I can remember saying to Perc Bentley, ‘God, have a look at him!’ And the old man said, ‘Well, if you get one you’ll get them both’.”
John and Don followed Hands down the race and onto Princes Park in the opening round of 1957, in what doubled as ‘Big Nick’s senior debut – and the latter learned much from the then Carlton ruckman and captain as he revealed in a previous interview.
“Apart from his coaching, Ken showed me by example what a good captain should be; of the advantage it was for a team to have a strong leader – a ruckman for preference, but a leader who set an example, who will protect the players, who will kick that valuable goal when needed and will give the necessary lift to a side. Certainly Hands did this,” said Nicholls.
“In his years as coach, Ken taught me the importance of the use of the body in marking duels and ruck duels, and how to go about getting your body between your opponent and the ball.”
Hands’ beloved second wife Janet died in 2016 He is survived by his daughters Janet and Robyn son John, and grandchildren Alistair, Callum and Louise.
“To us, Dad was Dad, a loving father and grandfather,” John said. “His legacy at Carlton will live forever as will the name and reputation in the business world, but to us he was just our loving and generous Dad and Pa.
“He loved the club and could never have imagined going anywhere else, even when presented with the opportunity. Dad loved the Carlton Football Club with all his heart.”
A private funeral for Ken Hands will be held in the ensuing days, with a “Celebration of Life” planned for early 2018 (details to be confirmed).