Official Website of the Spirit of Carlton Past and Present

Remembering Maurie

Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media  

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.


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


Black, white and blue all over – Remembering Harry

Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media  

Harry Sullivan, Carlton’s 31-game senior forward (and later full-back in Collingwood’s historic 1958 grand final victory), has died at the age of 84.

Just 17 years of age and a student of Brighton Technical School when he first came to Princes Park in 1949, Sullivan experienced individual and team success in his maiden season with the under-19s as a club best and fairest and premiership player for the ’49ers.

Progressing through reserve grade ranks, Sullivan got the call-up for his first senior game in the Round 18 match of 1950, against South Melbourne at Princes Park. Following Carlton captain Ern Henfry down the race, Sullivan booted one goal in a match in which the home team emerged 12-point victors, and the great Ken Baxter slotted five in his final senior appearance.

Sullivan, who first wore Jack Silvagni’s recently-vacated No.2 and later the No.3 of the current captain Marc Murphy, was seen as a future centre half-forward and heir apparent to Baxter - the only member of all three of the Blues’ 1938, ’45 and ’47 teams and a leading club goalkicker on six occasions.

Regrettably, Sullivan was quite literally unable to get the score on the board, with his first 15 matches up front yielding just 12 goals in total.

In 1953, Sullivan was briefly trialled in Carlton’s defence with largely unspectacular results. He finished off the season with grand final victory at reserve grade level, but after his 31st and final senior appearance – against Melbourne at the MCG in the unlucky 13th round of ’54 – he successfully requested a clearance to Collingwood.

In early 1956, Sullivan was given the opportunity to ply his craft at full-back and it was there that he made the most of Dame Fortune’s intervention. His 78-game tenure with the black and whites took in the Grand Final loss to Melbourne in ’56 and the sweetest of victories against the arch foe, then striving for their fourth flag in as many years, in ’58.

Carlton's under-19 premiership team of 1949. Harry Sullivan is the fourth player from the left in the back row. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

That year, Sullivan also represented the Big V.

The 30-game former Carlton centreman Ron Robertson, one of Sullivan’s few surviving teammates at Princes Park, remembered his contemporary from schoolboy football days.

“I go back a bit further with Harry to the days when I was at the Bendigo junior technical school and we’d sometimes play city teams,” Robertson said.

“I can remember one day we played a team from the city, can’t remember which team it was, but Harry lined up at full-forward and kicked 12.

“The game was played at the Showgrounds, we were thrashed by the city team and Harry was a very dominant player. He was a monster of a kid compared to the rest of us.”

Robertson, a fellow member of Carlton’s ’53 reserve grade premiership team, remembered that the Club’s senior coaching fraternity may have lost a little patience with Sullivan up front, “which is probably why he went to Collingwood and found his niche as a defender”.

In 1960, and as a consequence of the pressures of his burgeoning business interests, Sullivan at 28 surprisingly gave League football away.

Harry Sullivan died on February 5. He is survived by his wife Jan, sister Ann, sons Peter, Bret, Mark and Tim, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Another son, John, predeceased him.

A notice for Sullivan placed by his family read: “You were talented, charming, loving, generous, brave, and a true gentleman”.

Such sentiments were shared by Robertson. As he said: “Harry was a good bloke, a gentlemanly sort and a lovely person”.

More By Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media


Tributes paid to the life of Brian

John Nicholls leads the victory lap for the 1970 Grand Final. Brian Bearman is pictured on the far left wearing the tie. (Photo: C & J Stuckey Pty Ltd Photographics)

John Nicholls leads the victory lap for the 1970 Grand Final. Brian Bearman is pictured on the far left wearing the tie. (Photo: C & J Stuckey Pty Ltd Photographics)

Tributes are being paid to the long-serving Carlton statistician Brian Bearman, who died recently at the age of 82.

Brian’s working relationship with Carlton took in the Barassi era and beyond, and spanned almost 40 years. His loyalty to the club was rewarded with Life Membership in the club’s Premiership year of 1987.

Five years previous, Brian’s brother Ken was awarded Life Membership for services as timekeeper. In 2000, Brian’s son Lewis was similar recognised for his contributions as a statistician – “three Life Members of the Carlton Football Club none of whom ever played a game,” as Lewis observed.

Born on November 12, 1933 in Manchester, Brian Bearman, together with his brothers and parents, boarded the first Australian-bound passenger ship from the UK after the Second World War. The Bearmans made the move as Brian’s grandmother was advised that a warmer climate was in the best interests of her health – and she pitched for Australia because she heard you couldn’t get a decent cup of tea in South Africa.

On disembarking the vessel in Brisbane in 1947, the Bearmans settled in the city, only to relocate to Melbourne five years later.

When Barassi accepted the role of Carlton Captain-coach on the cusp of the 1965 season, Ken Bearman was already keeping time for the club. According to Lewis: “Barassi wanted a statistician and Ken said to his brother ‘you love the club – you can do that’.

“And that’s exactly what happened. From ’65, Brian started keeping stats with people like Margaret and Grant Salomon and his good mate the late Ron Bromley. Then in 2000 when Wayne Brittain took over and replaced a lot of statisticians with a lot of computers, Brian stayed on for a couple of years with the Carlton Heritage Committee.”

James Koochew, Brian’s successor as Carlton’s head statistician in 1994, said that he was but a young man of 26 at the time “and Brian had been doing the job for longer than I’d been alive”.

“I remember that Geoff Walsh made the announcement that I was taking over and Brian was the first bloke to stand up to offer his congratulations,” James said.

“That was a measure of the man. He was a true gentleman.”

In more recent years, and though his friendship with Stephen Gough, Brian fulfilled duties as a guide at the National Sports Museum. But he remained an active Carlton supporter to the end.

“There’s a photograph of Dad running a victory lap with ‘Big Nick’ and the Carlton players after taking stats in the 1970 Grand Final,” Lewis said. “That moment was one of the joys of his life – to run the victory lap with them.”

Brian Bearman died peacefully in Cabrini Palliative Care. He is survived by his beloved wife of 54 years Ruth, son Lewis, daughter Tanya now living in the United Kingdom, and four grandchildren.


Vale Allan Greenshields

Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media

The late Allan Greenshields (left) with Ken Hands, the only surviving member of Carlton's 1947 premiership team. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
The late Allan Greenshields (left) with Ken Hands, the only surviving member of Carlton's 1947 premiership team. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

Former Carlton footballer Allan Greenshields, the 20th man who never got a run in the 1947 grand final, has died at the age of 90.

With Greenshields’ passing, Ken Hands becomes this club’s only surviving member of the ’47 premiership team – and Hands is also the last man standing from the ’45 “Bloodbath”.

Though Greenshields managed just 16 senior appearances for the Old Dark Navy Blues, not a day went past that he didn’t think about what might have been on that last Saturday in September ’47.

As 20th man on that fateful afternoon against Essendon, he took his place on the timber alongside Ken Baxter, the only player of that era to represent Carlton in the two premierships that bookended the Second World War - 1938 and ’45 - as well as ’47.

These of course were the days prior to interchange and, as fate would have it, Greenshields never got the call-up. When Freddy Stafford sunk Essendon with that match-winning snap in the dying moments of the ’47 Grand Final, Greenshields was still watching on in his dressing gown.

“Have I thought that it might have been me in that position?,” said Greenshields in a recent interview? “Oh absolutely . . . absolutely . . . it would have been nice”.

“I didn’t get a run and that was tough because we were struggling all day long. We were behind Essendon all day and Essendon should have won it because of all those behinds. We’d kicked something like eight straight to half-time and they’d kicked 8.11.

“We finished up winning it by one point (13.8 (86) -11.19 (85)) as you know . . . and on the fence, where the coach (Percy Bentley) sat with the selection committee, they were imploring Perc to put me on because we weren’t getting the result we were looking for - and Freddy Stafford hadn’t had a touch for the whole game.”

Carlton's 1947 premiership team on grand final day. Allan Greenshields is pictured on the far right.

Greenshields remembered that as the match wore on, members of the Carlton’s brains trust gained voice as they called on Bentley to make a change.

“They (the selectors’) were saying ‘Put Allan up for Fred, but he (Bentley) wouldn’t do it. He said, ‘No, we’ll just wait a bit longer’,” Greenshields said.

“Well as it happened, the ball came out from a throw-in by the boundary, landed in Fred’s arms and being a right footer he turned around and goaled with a left foot snap of all things . . . 25 yards out from goal, right through the centre.

“So he (Bentley) was vindicated and I was left lamenting,” (laughs).

Born in the southern Mallee town of Rainbow in 1926, Greenshields relocated to Melbourne through his employment with the bank in 1942 and turned out in games for Pascoe Vale the following year - losing out to the competition’s best and fairest Des Rowe by a single vote.

On the recommendation of the renowned Carlton recruiter Newton Chandler, Greenshields put pen to paper to play for the club - and the rest, as they say, is football history.

Greenshields’ last hurrah in Dark Navy came against Melbourne at Princes Park in the sixth round of 1949, and he went out on a high when he slotted both of his Carlton career goals in a 39-point victory over the Redlegs.

Later that same year, he turned out for St Kilda, for the first of 57 appearances over six seasons at the Junction Oval.

But Greenshields heart forever beat Blue, and he supported Carlton until the end.

Allan Greenshields' wife of 22 years Millicent died in 1977. He is survived by his sons Mark and John, daughters Sue and Jackie, and grandchildren Tom, Kate and Jack.

The Carlton footballers will wear black armbands as a mark of respect to the late Allan Greenshields in Saturday night’s match with Collingwood at the MCG.


Carlton’s reluctant recruit passes away

Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media

The late George Ilsley.
The late George Ilsley.

George Ilsley, Carlton’s homesick rural recruit who earned legendary status in the Bendigo Football League, has died at the age of 84.

Born in the Murray River town of Koondrook in 1932, George Ilsley’s prodigious football talents were such that by 14 he was representing the neighboring Kerang club at senior level.

In 1949 Ilsley joined Eaglehawk for what would become a lifelong association both on and off the field with the Bendigo League’s Two Blues. There in ’53, Ilsley finished runner up in the League’s Best and Fairest to Sandhurst’s Noel Evans – the same year Eaglehawk took the pennant under the watch of its captain-coach, the Carlton Premiership player Ollie Grieve.

By then, Ilsley had made his mark as a big occasion player and matchwinner of renown. Though he stood just 174cm in his long stops (and specially heeled boots) he tipped the scales at 80kg. Ilsley was regarded as the Bendigo Football League’s most accomplished centre half-forward, and performed just as capably in the back half.

During the ’53 season, and almost certainly at Grieve’s urging, Ilsley trialed briefly in five Carlton reserve grade matches. The following year, match permits were arranged and Ilsley turned out at senior level, albeit briefly.

Wearing the No.27 (co-incidentally worn by Grieve who remains Carlton’s games record holder in the guernsey), Ilsley, then 22 years old, lined up on a half-forward flank against South Melbourne, in what was the opening round of the ’54 season.

George Isley, in the lead-up to his first senior game for Carlton, together with Denis Zeunert, Princes Park, 1954.

That Saturday afternoon at the Lake Oval, Graham Kerr, Noel “Nobby” O’Brien and Denis Zeunert also turned out for the visitors for the first time.

Ilsley booted a goal in that game, which went South’s way by five points in a nail biter. The following week he turned out in an injury-depleted outfit which fell 29 points adrift of Melbourne at Princes Park.

Not long after, Ilsley advised coach Percy Bentley that he was going home.

Back at Eaglehawk, Ilsley took over from where he left off, earning Best on Ground status when the Two Blues beat Kyneton to claim the 1957 BFL flag. Between 1958 and ’60 he captained and coached Eaglehawk, before briefly defecting to Northern United in the Golden City Football League.

Flying Ilsley! One of many high-flying marks taken by George Isley for Bendigo against Ballarat, in a best-on-ground performance at Queen Elizabeth Oval in a representative match, 1956.

In 1962, Ilsley was adjudged Best and Fairest in the GCFL, then returned to Eaglehawk to eventually rack up more than 350 senior games. During that time, he also represented the BFL in more than a dozen inter-league matches.

In 1965, Ilsley was appointed Ground Manager for the Eaglehawk Football & Netball Club at Canterbury Park – a position he held until he passed.

Throughout it all, Ilsley was constantly acknowledged for his lofty on-field achievements, as Life Member and Hall of Fame member of both Eaglehawk and the Bendigo Football League; and centre half-forward in the Two Blues’ Team of the Century – a team which included fellow former Carlton players Grieve, Rod Ashman, Alf Baud, Des English, Fred Jinks and Greg Kennedy.

Ten years ago, Ilsley was further acknowledged when Eaglehawk’s Best and Fairest trophy was renamed the George Ilsley Medal.

Ilsley’s eldest grandson, Mick Ilsley, said his grandfather never harboured any regrets about what might have been with his VFL career.

“My grandfather was very content with his life and how it all panned out. He was later asked to try out at Geelong and numerous other League clubs but he just couldn’t be lured down,” Ilsley said.

“He always said football in the big smoke wasn’t for him. He didn’t like the hustle and bustle of city life and he loved the country.

“He was a very quietly spoken man. He didn’t like to talk about himself or his football exploits, and we actually had to talk him into attending the Bendigo Football League Hall of Fame to be inducted because he didn’t want to go.

“This was because he was never one to dwell on the past. It was more about the future and his family.”

Ilsley died suddenly at his home on April 8. He is survived by his beloved wife Mollie, sons Terry, Chris, Mick and Gerard, and their extended families.

A service of thanksgiving for the life of the late George Ilsley will be held in the Mulqueen Family Chapel, 15-25 Bridge Street, Bendigo on Thursday, April 14, at 11.00am. The funeral cortege will leave at the conclusion of the service for the Eaglehawk Lawn Cemetery, by way of Canterbury Park, the home of the Eaglehawk Football Club.

More By Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media


There is also a fitting memorial piece written Richard Jones on George's impact on the Eaglehawk Football Club.


Vale Ivan Rohrt, 1920-2016

Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media

Former Carlton President Ivan Rohrt has passed away.
Former Carlton President Ivan Rohrt has passed away.

Former Carlton President Ivan Rohrt, a member of George Harris’ famed Progress Party and a key figure in the establishment of the old Social Club, has died.

Rohrt, whose role as Melbourne City Councillor proved vital to the club’s interests through a golden era both on and off the field, passed away on Wednesday afternoon in a Camberwell nursing home just a fortnight shy of his 96th birthday.

Rohrt’s son Richard said his father simply died of old age – “and he’d always joked that he’d already seen his epitaph at the club”.

“Dad’s surname was often confused with Jack Wrout’s and he remembered that after Jack died he was sitting in the stands when the cheersquad raised the banner upon which were the words ‘RIP JACK ROHRT’.

“Dad felt terrible for Jack’s family and came home saying ‘I’m really spooked – I’ve just seen my name on an RIP’.”

Ivanhoe Borch Rohrt, the son of a Norwegian-born father and English-born mother, was born in the South Gippsland town of Yarram on March 23, 1920.

In an interview with this reporter for the club’s publication “Out Of The Blue” some years ago, Rohrt talked of how he “always had a soft spot for Carlton”, particularly after fate dealt its hand.

That happened when Rohrt’s father, a local cream carter, was advised by a GP that it was in the best interests of his health to ditch the heavy labor and find employment elsewhere.

In 1940, the Rohrts took over the running of North Carlton’s famous watering hole The Rising Sun Hotel (now the chic Italian food and wine providore Enoteca Sileno) at 920 Lygon Street.

“There were 32 pubs in Carlton and we always reckoned we had the best beer,” Rohrt said of The Rising Sun. “If you didn’t support Carlton then your pub was no good, and that was why I was a Carlton supporter.”

In those carefree days, cars were scarce and supporters would tram it to the pub, down a couple of thirst-quenching ales, then hotfoot it up Richardson Street and through the turnstiles into the old ground. Rohrt, who later combined civic duties with those of his family’s hotel business, unhesitatingly declared Saturday “the busiest day of our week”, and such was the frenetic nature of matchday pub life that he was rarely able to get to Princes Park.

Until one day when Carlton got him.

“It was Melbourne Cup morning 1964 and two fellows came in off the Lygon street entrance. One of them said to me ‘Are you Councillor Rohrt?’, and I said yes that I was a Melbourne City Councillor for 15 years (and a member of three major committees, including the finance and public works committees),” Rohrt said.

L to R, Russell Ohlsen, Ivan Rohrt, Mark Maclure, syd Jackson, Alex Jesaulenko and Ian Thorogood, circa 1976. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

“Initially I thought they were ratepayers coming to talk to me about a hole in the footpath or something. Anyway I said to them ‘I’ll get back to you when I settle down here’.

“It got a bit quieter in the next half an hour and I said ‘What can I do for you two?’ and the taller man said ‘My name is George Harris and this is Eddie Fakhry. You’re a city councillor – would you be interested in joining the (Carlton Football Club) reform group?’. Naturally I said ‘Well, I’ll have to ask the missus’ and my wife Joan was not fussed. After a couple of days of giving it some thought I rang George Harris and said ‘Yes, I’m prepared’.”

Rohrt believed that he was approached to join the Harris ticket in late 1964 after the late Don Chipp rejected an initial approach. Incredibly, he had never previously met any of Harris’ running mates, but was unfazed nonetheless.

As he said: “It was a very exciting time because it opened up a new era for me, and a hotel keeper being involved in the main sport in the area was a good business move too”.

Not withstanding his role in the Barassi putsch, Rohrt’s impeccable connections with the City of Melbourne ensured that he would be a key player in future negotiations to secure funding for just such an entity – and yet the process took a substantial personal toll.

“It was one of the most stressful times I had in public life. My hotel licence was hanging on it and it was a very worrying time for me. I’d put a lot of time into getting the money for Carlton,” Rohrt said.

“It’s been on my mind now and again for many, many years. After the council meeting  was over and we got this money to build the social club, one of the councillors said to me ‘You’re in a bit of trouble, Rohrt’. I said ‘What trouble?’ and he said ‘you’ve got a pecuniary interest. I said ‘pecuniary interest?’. I thought that was putting a quid in your pocket.

Regardless, Rohrt resolved that it would be in his best interests to step aside, albeit temporarily.

“I rang George (Harris) and told him that because I was a hotel keeper I’d run the risk of losing my licence if I was challenged and there’d be a gaol term associated with this,” Rohrt said.

“I said ‘George, I think I better resign’ and George understood.”

At a subsequent meeting, influential Carlton powerbroker Sir Leo Curtis addressed the faithful and strongly urged Harris to reinstate Rohrt if ever a vacancy became available.

“That (a vacancy) happened a few months after that speech and I was grateful to get back onto the board because I loved the club and helped them so much,” Rohrt said.

The Carlton Social Club was officially opened by the former Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies prior to the first round match with Geelong at Princes Park on April 15, 1968 – the same day the precious talent who was Brent Crosswell made his senior debut in Dark Navy.

By the end of ’69, the social club had generated profits of more than $150,000, vindicating the extraordinary lengths to which men like Rohrt had gone.

A Vice-President at Carlton, Rohrt was later elevated to the Presidency with Harris’ departure. His reign as President was somewhat rocky. On March 31, on the eve of the 1976 season, John Nicholls resigned as Captain-Coach and five days later Secretary Allen Cowie suddenly died.

And yet it was under Rohrt’s watch in that same year that Carlton secured the American-based company Avco for what was then the largest sum ever pledged to a VFL club - $135,000 over three years.

Richard Rohrt said his father was of a time “when Carlton was a family . . . and he loved every minute of it”.

“It really goes back to the old fashioned days when the President and members of the Committee would all gather for training, get their two pennies’ worth in with the match committee and the Chairman of Selectors who was Jack Wrout, then retire to the committee room’s bar where Dad would open up,” Richard said.

“As a man, Dad was tall and well-presented, and nothing was ever a problem. He was one of the longest-serving members of the Melbourne City Council representing the Labor Party and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for anyone. He wanted to represent as many people as he could.”

Rohrt is survived by his beloved wife of 67 years Joan (now 90), son Richard, daughter Susan and six grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are yet to be finalised.

Carlton players taking to the field for Friday night’s Nab Challenge match with Sydney will wear black armbands as a mark of respect to Ivan Rohrt and the club’s late long-serving bootstudder and Life Member Dennis Turner.

More By Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media