Ken Hands, Carlton’s last surviving member of both the 1945 and ’47 premiership teams, turns 90 on Wednesday - and in the lead-up to the big day, club luminaries joined family and friends in celebrating the significant milestone with the former captain, coach and best and fairest.
Rarely do you see the Nicholls brothers Don and John together - but Hands originally had a hand in their recruitment to Carlton and there they were, photographed flanking their former teammate beneath his old No.1 guernsey, at a birthday gathering at Richmond at the weekend.
In a previous interview for the publication Out of the Blue, Hands reflected on the recruitment some 60 years ago of Don and his younger brother John Nicholls, the latter considered Carlton’s greatest player ever to lace a boot.
“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 said.
“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.
“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.
Left to right: John Nicholls, Ken Hands and Don Nicholls beneath Ken's framed No.1 guernsey at Hands' 90th birthday celebrations.
“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 an interview for the aforementioned book.
“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.”
Also present for Hands’ 90th birthday celebrations was the former Fitzroy half-back of the 1940s and ‘50s Bill Stephen - as were Hands’ daughters Janet and Robyn, son John, grandchildren Callum, Alastair and Louise and all staff of Ken Hands Agencies.
Recruited to Carlton from amateur club Geelong Scouts, Hands’ lifelong association with the club commenced in the closing days of the Second World War. Considered one of the most significant figures in Carlton history, Hands represented the old dark Navy Blues in 211 matches between 1945 and ’57. From ’59, Hands commandeered Carlton teams from the coach’s box, taking the ’62 team to the VFL Grand Final.
Though he made way for Ron Barassi on the eve of the 1965 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, induction into its Hall of Fame and subsequent elevation to Legend status.
More By Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media
Happy 70th birthday to Peter McKenna.
From the Blueseum.
Career : 1977
Debut : Round 2, 1977 vs Fitzroy, aged 30 years, 225 days
Carlton Player No. 864
Games : 11
Goals : 36
Last Game : Round 18, 1977 vs Melbourne, aged 30 years, 337 days
Guernsey No. 27
Height : 191 cm (6 ft. 3 in.)
Weight : 86 kg (13 stone, 8 lbs.)
DOB : 27 August, 1946
One of the game’s all-time great full-forwards, Peter Julian McKenna created yet another headline when he was traded by Collingwood to Carlton at the age of 30 in 1977. Often described as the “pop star footballer,” McKenna had played 180 games and kicked a mammoth 838 goals in 11 seasons for the Magpies, but by 1975 he had fallen out of favour at Victoria Park, and was often playing with the seconds.
Midway through that year, McKenna was severely injured when an opponent’s knee crashed into his lower back during a Reserves match. He was rushed to hospital, and had part of one kidney removed. Although that incident ended his season, he was keen to play on in 1976, so Collingwood sent him across Bass Strait to Devonport to assess his future. In 17 games with the Tassie Magpies, McKenna booted 79 goals and re-ignited his desire to play VFL football. However, when he approached Collingwood about a comeback, he was told there was no longer a place for him on their list.
Meanwhile, Carlton was struggling with the anguish of losing the 1976 Preliminary Final to North Melbourne by a solitary point. When the news broke that McKenna was open to offers, the Blues match committee decided that he was worth taking a punt on, and negotiations resulted in a swap of players between the two clubs. Collingwood asked for, and got 1972 Premiership wingman David Dickson. McKenna got Carlton’s number 27 guernsey, and the opportunity to make the Blues attack his domain.
At first, McKenna’s arrival at Princes Park was not universally popular among the Carlton faithful, because until then he had been a despised rival, and many Blues supporters believed that he was past his best. Only those who recalled his stellar 1970 season (when, in four clashes against the Blues, he had kicked bags of 8, 9, 9 and 6 goals respectively) thought he might have something left to offer.
Well, was the McKenna experiment a success? Probably not, because it failed in its primary objective of getting the Blues into another final series. Carlton wound up the year sixth on the ladder, and it was obvious by mid-season that McKenna was a spent force – particularly after he was quoted as saying that he hated playing against Collingwood. Still, he had some memorable moments - especially early on – when his deadly accurate right-foot drop-punts produced 24 goals in five matches between rounds 3 and 7.
Overall, McKenna averaged better than three goals a game in his 11 matches as a Blue, and his VFL career ended on a positive note when he steered through his last four goals in Carlton’s big win over Melbourne at VFL Park, Waverley in round 18. On that same day, a young Ken Sheldon kicked six goals, and a barrel-chested teenager named Wayne Harmes impressed on his debut in guernsey number 54.
In 1978, McKenna was cleared to VFA club Port Melbourne. Later, he also turned out for Geelong West and Northcote before his retirement in 1980. When his playing days were over, he became a long-serving football commentator for the Channel 7 network.
While at Collingwood, McKenna recorded two pop songs; Things to Remember and Smile, both of which made the Melbourne singles charts. Later he published a book; My World of Football, which was floridly subtitled; “the candid, provocative, innermost thoughts and technical secrets of an Australian football hero.”
He was a regular on Melbourne television in those days, and in 1971, he joined Daryl Somers as the first co-host of Hey Hey It’s Saturday, which was broadcast on Saturday mornings by Channel 9. But after eight episodes, the Magpies told him to choose between television and football, so he was replaced by Ossie Ostrich.
McKenna began his working life as a teacher at Fairfield state school, a job that lasted only until he became a VFL star. After a varied business career and almost two decades as a football commentator, he was appointed a chaffeur to the Victorian Parliament in 2004.
Happy 70th birthday to John Leatham.
From the Blueseum.
Career : 1967
Debut : Round 3, 1967 vs North Melbourne, aged 20 years, 249 days
Carlton Player No. 796
Games : 2
Goals : 0
Last Game : Round 4, 1967 vs Melbourne, aged 20 years, 256 days
Guernsey No. 45 (1967).
Height : 183 cm (6 ft. 0 in)
Weight : 76 kg (12 stone, 0 lbs.)
DOB : 23 August, 1946
Only the second Blue to wear guernsey number 45 in a senior game for Carlton (after Gil Lockhart in 1966) John Leatham was a speedy wingman recruited from Maffra Rovers in the North Gippsland Football League. He donned the navy blue strip for two consecutive games early in 1967, but couldn’t settle in at Princes Park, and his career was over by season’s end.
Leatham made his debut for Carlton against North Melbourne at Princes Park in round 3, 1967. His centreline partners on that cloudy afternoon were Ian Robertson and Cliff Stewart, and the Blues ran out comfortable winners by 16 points.
The following week in round 4, Carlton’s unbeaten run continued when a sharp Blues combination shook Melbourne off early in the contest, and then thrashed the Demons by ten goals. Although just about every Bagger got a swag of possessions, the match committee still made changes for round 5, and Leatham was one of those omitted.
No doubt deeply disappointed, he played only one or two further Reserves matches before deciding to forsake the dream of VFL football, and was back playing in the country only a few weeks later.
Here at the Blueseum, we believe that John was the first ex-player to contribute information to his own biography – and for that we are most grateful.
Happy 70th birthday to Ken Jungwirth.
Career : 1967
Debut and Only Game : Round 12, 1967 vs Fitzroy, aged 20 years, 346 days
Carlton Player No. 800
Games : 1
Goals : 0
Guernsey No. 47
Height : 183 cm (6 ft. 0 in.)
Weight : 78.5 kgs (12 stone, 5 lbs.)
DOB : August 3, 1946
A 183 cm utility originally from Murrumbeena High School, Ken Jungwirth played four games for Melbourne in 1966, only to be delisted by the Demons and picked up by the Blues. In round 12, 1967 at Princes Park, he made a brief appearance off the bench in his one and only senior game for Carlton against Fitzroy.
The ladder-leading Blues were expected to have little trouble with the last-placed Lions on that Saturday afternoon, but the visitors came to play and trailed by just 4 points at three-quarter time. Only the steadiness of key forwards Brian Kekovich (four goals) and Wes Lofts (three) eventually got the home side over the line by 8 points.
While the resurgent Blues continued to build toward the triumphant Premiership victories of 1968 and 1970 under legendary coach Ron Barassi, Jungwirth finished off 1967 with Carlton Reserves. In the off-season, he was cleared to VFA club Prahran, and was a reserve in the Two Blues Grand Final line-up that lost to Preston.
Happy 50th birthday to Richard Dennis.
From the Blueseum.
Career : 1987 – 1991
Debut : Round 2, 1987 vs Collingwood, aged 20 years, 247 days
Carlton Player No. 943
Games : 57
Goals : 40
Guernsey No. 3
Last Game : Round 21, 1991 vs St Kilda, aged 25 years, 9 days
Height : 185 cm (6 ft. 1 in.)
Weight : 82 kg (12 stone, 13 lbs.)
DOB : 31 July, 1966
Premiership Player 1987
Like his fellow West Australian Peter Sartori, Richard ‘Rocky’ Dennis was a boom recruit for the Blues whose career was derailed by a serious injury before it really got going. A versatile forward from East Perth, Dennis arrived at Princes Park in 1987 with good mate Steve Da Rui amid big expectations, and played in a Premiership team in his first year. But mid-way through his second season, one of his knees gave way, and from then on he was never quite the same player.
Dennis stepped into the spotlight in Perth when he starred for the Royals as a teenager during 1985-’86. At 185 cm, his strong marking allowed him to play as a key forward, although his agility at ground level made him more suited to a flankers’ role. Carlton believed that he could develop into a real attacking weapon alongside Stephen Kernahan and Sartori, and so presented him with the number 3 guernsey recently made famous by the Blues’ 1981 and ’82 Premiership captain Mike Fitzpatrick.
Dennis made a dream start to his new career, celebrating a win over Collingwood on debut at Waverley Park, and quickly establishing a regular place in a powerful Carlton line-up. Quick for his size and a good distributor of the ball on his preferred right foot, his form was so consistent by July that he was selected in the WA State of Origin team that met Victoria at Subiaco, and was narrowly beaten in a superb contest. Dennis quickly showed that he was a strong, fearless overhead mark that could fly with the best of them.
By finals time in the AFL, Carlton had claimed the minor premiership by 4 points over Hawthorn, and by coincidence, met the Hawks twice more on the way to claiming our 15th flag on Grand Final day. Dennis was consistent and reliable in both matches, yet he surely must have thought he was dreaming when he and his team-mates paraded the Premiership cup around the pulsating MCG on that hot and sunny afternoon.
Sadly, that optimism lasted only another few months. In March 1988, Rocky represented WA twice more during the AFL Bicentenary Carnival in Adelaide, and his stature in the game moved up another notch. But in mid-July, when Carlton met Collingwood in the match of the day at the MCG, the football gods turned their backs, and his world caved in around him. The game is fondly remembered by Carlton fans as the stage on which Carlton’s champion defender Stephen Silvagni soared to an impossible height in taking one of the greatest marks of all time - but it also included the awful moments when two Blues; Dennis and Warren McKenzie, had their careers brought to a crash-stop when their knees buckled under them and ended to their seasons. The injury sustained by Dennis was done in his typical fearless approach on the ball where he took a mark running with the flight of the ball. He pirouetted in the air and landed on the soft MCG turf whereupon his body twisted with his momentum but the knee didn't.
It was almost a year before Dennis returned to Carlton’s senior team, and although he was selected in the WA state side for the match against Victoria in May, it was plain to see that the edge had been taken off his confidence. His cause wasn’t helped by Carlton’s form slump, either. As the Blues slid from third in 1988 to eighth in 1989, Dennis played ten matches. That fell away to six in 1990, and another six in 1991.
Never a club to dodge the hard decisions, Carlton told Dennis that he was being put up for trade, and found a suitor at North Melbourne. The ‘Roos sent handy utility Ron De Iulio to Princes Park, and Rocky Dennis crossed to Arden Street in a deal that certainly fell Carlton’s way. De Iulio became a minor cult figure in his 100-plus games in navy blue, while Dennis lasted just one season with the northerners, kicking six goals in 13 matches.
Ultimately, the Richard Dennis story is a minor tragedy. But the bottom line is that in one special season, he climbed to the pinnacle as a footballer, playing for his state and winning a Premiership medal. No doubt he yearned to play much longer, but there are many other 100-gamers who would cheerfully swap their careers with his.
By 2000, Dennis was back at East Perth, in a mentoring role for the clubs' younger players.
50 Games: Round 12, 1990 Vs Brisbane Bears
1987 - 9th Best & Fairest
1989 - 4th Reserves Best & Fairest
1991 - Equal 4th Reserves Best & Fairest
Happy 60th birthday to Alan Mangels.
From the Blueseum.
Career : 1974 - 1980
Debut : Round 15, 1974 vs Richmond, aged 17 years, 348 days
Carlton Player No. 847
Games : 88
Goals : 25
Last Game : Round 9, 1980 vs Essendon, aged 23 years, 300 days
Guernsey No. 10
Height : 179 cm ( 5 ft. 10 in.)
Weight : 80 kg (12 stone, 8 lbs.)
DOB : 29 July, 1956
Alan Mangels was a gifted footballer who seemed born to play for the Old Dark Navy Blues, although ultimately, his career didn’t do full justice to his ability. Prior to playing 88 games over seven seasons from 1974 to 1980, Mangels made history as the youngest player ever to sign with the Carlton Football Club when he was recruited at the tender age of 10 years and 314 days on June 9, 1967.
At that time, Mangels was in the midst of a close association with the Blues through his grandmother Margaret, who was the sister of Carlton’s legendary 1945 Premiership captain Bob Chitty. As well, Alan’s father; Alan senior, had represented the Blues at Under 19 level, and played in successive Premierships for the thirds in 1948 and 1949 – the latter as captain. Therefore, much of the Mangel’s family’s social life revolved around the club, and Alan was coached in the skills of the game by his father almost as soon as he could walk.
In 1967, Alan officially wore the colours of Carlton onto the field for the first time as captain of our inaugural Little League team. That same year, his family moved house from the northern suburb of Merlynston – in Carlton’s recruitment zone – to nearby Oak Park, in North Melbourne’s territory. So, to ensure that Alan played his future football at Carlton, the Blues took the extraordinary step of registering the promising youngster as an Under 19 player before he had even reached the age of eleven!
Mangels played his first game with the Under 19’s two years later, and soon dazzled some good judges with his ability. Thanks to his father’s diligence, Alan could drop-kick with accuracy and penetration off both feet, was strong in the air for his size, and had plenty of tenacity. The only drawback to his game was that he wasn’t naturally quick, but he read the game well and was a consistent ball-winner.
In 1974, Mangels graduated from the Under 19’s to Carlton’s Reserves team, where he was given the honour of wearing the number 10 guernsey previously carried by champion rover Adrian Gallagher. Assigned to the centre or as a ruck-rover, he quickly found his feet, and put together a series of eye-catching displays. Although it was obvious quite early that he was ready for elevation to senior level, he had to wait for that opportunity until round 15, when Carlton took on Richmond on a Sunday afternoon at the MCG. In a low-key debut however, he spent most of the game on the bench, watching on as the Tigers toppled Carlton by 30 points. Two more games from the pine followed, before he was included in Carlton’s starting line-up at last - and kicked his first career goal - in a 22-point victory over St Kilda at Moorabbin in the last game of that season.
Mangels’ career really began rolling in 1975, when he established himself on a centre wing for the seniors, and played 19 matches, including Carlton’s narrow Semi Final defeat by Richmond. He saw finals action again in 1976, when the Blues lost a nail-biting Preliminary Final to North Melbourne by one point, and finished the year off with a personal triumph. Over that season, he notched up 14 senior appearances. In between, he dominated another dozen or so Reserves games to such an extent that he was a clear winner of the Gardiner Medal as Best and Fairest in the competition.
As so often happens, that honour seemed to jinx Mangels career thereafter. Injuries began taking a toll, and others stepped up while Carlton began building toward the glory of the 1979 Premiership. Alan played 19 games in 1977, and 14 more in 1978, although he was left out of Carlton’s finals campaign, and never got the chance to savour the adrenalin rush of the MCG in September again.
After missing out on a place in the Blues’ 1979 Premiership squad, Mangels seemed to be recapturing his best form when he played the first nine games of 1980 in succession. But when he was told that the club intended to trade him to Melbourne as part of the Greg Wells transfer fee, he flatly refused and requested an immediate clearance to Geelong. As these situations so often do, the matter dragged on well into the latter half of the year before a deal was eventually struck, and Mangels departed for Kardinia Park.
Although potentially his best football was still ahead of him at that time, ankle and hamstring strains plagued the rest of Alan’s career. He was a star for the Cats in their 1981-82 Reserves Premiership double, but managed only another 13 senior matches before retiring in 1983, with 101 VFL games and 31 goals to his credit.
After leaving Sleepy Hollow, Mangels joined his local GFL club St Albans for a few seasons, the Saints were unstoppbale in the mid 1980's playing in four Grand Finals in five years including premierships in 1984 and 1985. Mangels then headed north to settle in Queensland.
50 Games: Round 18, 1977 Vs Melbourne
1972 - Under 19s Most Serviceable Award
1974 - Reserves Best & Fairest Award
1976 - 2nd Reserves Best & Fairest
1976 - Gardiner Medal; VFL Reserves Competition Best & Fairest