Benetti briefly appeared for the local Carlton Stars and represented Carlton in a single reserve grade match in 1955 - only to be recalled to the Parade team under the school rules of the day. He did not represent the Blues for the remainder of the ’55 season, but completed his apprenticeship in their reserve grade teams through 1956 and ’57.
Benetti earned a number of honourable mentions for his performances in the curtain-raisers, but his progress was interrupted by a foot ailment, which precipitated the removal of a right foot toe nail and the top of one toe of the left foot, which cost him many games in his second season.
He finally broke through in the third round of 1958, completing his senior debut against Geelong at Princes Park in the No.8 dark Navy Blue guernsey now worn by Matthew Kreuzer.
Benetti was named on a half back flank in that match, alongside Peter Webster at centre half-back and the late Denis Zeunert.
Webster, one of the few members of that particular team still living, remembered Benetti as a physically aggressive type.
“He was a very solid player. You’d probably say he was a good honest player and he was certainly hard at it,” Webster recalled.
John Benetti and first cousin Sergio Silvagni at an Old Paradians function in 2011. (Photo: Anthony De Bolfo)
Dubbed “Tank” by supporters for his tree-trunk thighs and fearless, straight-ahead style of play, Benetti earnt early praise. The journalist Damon Mills, in an article for Sports Novels in 1958 (which carried the headline “Benetti is Carlton’s atom bomb of the half-back flank”) wrote: “He (Benetti) thrilled with his relentless pursuit of the ball, a brilliant flying mark and a speedy clearing dash”.
According to football folklore, Benetti also earned the nickname "Troubles" over the journey, for making a habit of complaining to the club’s Chairman of Selectors Jack Wrout whenever he was omitted from the seniors.
But he will be remembered for gamely contributing to his team’s last line of defence in the losing Grand Final of 1962, and for being named amongst his team’s better contributors through that finals series.
And he also represented Victoria against South Australia the following year.
Benetti’s final game for Carlton came against the arch foe Collingwood in Round 16, 1965, on the occasion of Berkeley Cox’s 100th senior appearance.
On completion of his senior League career, Benetti joined VFA outfit Oakleigh as Senior Coach, and, later, VAFA A-Grade team Ivanhoe in 1972 and ’73.
A little known fact is that Benetti also helped build the since-demolished Olympic Tyres Scoreboard at the Garton Street end of Princes Park.
A massive stroke suffered years ago cruelly robbed Benetti of his speech and severely incapacitated him, but never dimmed his love for the game. He would often be seen as an interested spectator at Carlton matches, and in late 2010 gathered with his old schoolmates when Parade College’s greatest team of VFL/AFL footballers was named.
John Benetti is survived by his wife Irene, daughters Janine and Sue, and son Glen. Another son, Peter, died in early September.
Funeral arrangements are yet to be finalised.
By Tony De Bolfo
Tom Simmons, whose football prowess at Princes Park in the post-World War II years of Henfry and Deacon was more than matched by his prodigious talents as a professional athlete, has died at the age of 84.
By the time he was recruited to Carlton from Northcote District juniors in Melbourne’s inner-city north, Thomas Edwin Francis Simmons’ reputation on the track preceded him. Standing six foot in the old measurement, he had taken the 100 and 200-yard championships of Melbourne Technical Schools, together with the high and long-jump titles, and had also triumphed in the 220-yard dash at the Inter-Technical schools championship at Olympic Park.
At Carlton, he would later combine football with cricket commitments, as would “Mick” Price and Jim Baird, his club contemporaries.
Simmons earned Carlton’s Best First-Year Player award in 1948 – the first of just two seasons at senior League level - during which time he alternated between half-back and half-forward.
Wearing the famous No.2 of John Nicholls, Greg Williams and (now) Troy Menzel, Simmons completed his senior debut barely a month after his 19th birthday. He would string together 27 senior appearances for the Blues through 1948 and ’49, having been adjudged their best first-year player.
Simmons’ rare litheness was on show in what was an all-too-brief League football foray. His impressive speed, long-kicking and high-marking, together with his insatiable appetite for the contest, made him a formidable foe. An old teammate, the late Laurie Kerr, said of Simmons: “He looked and performed like Mighty Mouse on the field”, and the noted field umpire Harry Beitzel rated the player a champion in the making.
Allan Greenshields, the 16-game Carlton Premiership player of 1947 who later pursued his career with St Kilda, is one of Simmons’ few surviving contemporaries.
“Tom was a good athlete. He had a very good body and a good pair of legs,” Greenshields, now 87, said.
“I went to St Kilda in mid-’49 and I reckon he was still there then. I remember him as a half-back flanker who got a few games and went well, although he got injured and couldn’t play anymore.
“But he was another player up against me, which is why I thought ‘I’d better get out here’. There were just too many blokes in for my position.”
Tragically, Simmons’ football career ended before it had effectively begun. In a pre-season practice match in 1950, he buckled with serious knee damage which later warranted two separate surgical procedures.
Simmons took on professional foot running as he completed a remarkable recovery, taking out the Terang, Ararat, Maryborough and Port Fairy Gifts as backmarker through the summers of 1950 and ’51. Clearly he could still run the straight lines.
But while he again committed to Carlton to help fill the void left by the recently-retired full-forward Ken Baxter, he was never able to emulate his footballing feats, although he did follow up as a field umpire in the sticks.
Simmons married his sweetheart Lorraine the following year, and later forged a successful career as an industrial chemist for companies such as Revlon and Estee Lauder. He and his wife raised a family of seven children, and he was a regular at Carlton games for many years long after his on-field career had ended.
A funeral mass for Tom Simmons is to be held just down the road from the old Carlton ground, at St. Carthage's Church, Royal Parade, Parkville, this Friday (October 11) from 11am.
A private burial is to follow.
The Simmons family very kindly provided photos from Tom's private collection to the Blueseum. Please CLICK HERE to see pictures from Tom's time at the Blues and his running career.
By Tony De Bolfo
Three generations of the Flynn family have fittingly set aside Grand Final week to return to the place once “owned” by Carlton’s first Premiership captain of the 20th century, the great Jim Flynn.
On the hallowed turf at the old Carlton ground, clan members came from various parts of regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne to stand in tribute to ol’ Jim - a three-time Premiership player in the Jack Worrall-coached teams of 1906, ’07 and ’08.
Photographed for posterity were the following descendants;
Mandy Allen (Flynn’s great granddaughter, aged 41), Kelli Gayfer (great granddaughter, 42), Di Flynn (daughter-in-law, 66), Paul Flynn (great grandson, 36), Pat Flynn (grandson, 70) and Shane Flynn (great grandson, 33).
Also in the frame were Thomas Gayfer (great-great grandson, two months), Jade Gayfer (great-great granddaughter, six), Grace Gayfer (great-great granddaughter, four), Charlie Flynn (great-great grandson, four), Joe Allen (great-great grandson, 10), Sam Allen (great-great grandson, 12), Georgia Allen (great-great granddaughter, 13) and Tilly Flynn (great-great granddaughter, six).
Of those appearing in this historic photograph, only Pat knew Flynn in person, and only then as a boy of 12.
“He (Flynn) was a great man, a great old person,” Pat said. “He was very fond of his grandchildren and I was the eldest of them. I used to go rabbiting with him and a couple of dogs in a horse and gig on his farm up at Wilby, which was just south of Yarrawonga.
“Jim was a farmer. He farmed wheat and he had a few sheep and cattle on a few hundred acres at that farm, which I think was called Glenview. He used to take me on the horse and gig into the general store in Wilby twice a week. We used to collect the mail and a few groceries at the store and it’s no longer there now.
“He also suffered from Parkinson’s Disease in his later years. I can remember at dinner time he’d be at the table and his knife would be shaking on the plate. But my fondest memories are of going rabbiting with him and heading into Wilby in the horse and gig.”
Pat remembered that Flynn found a soft spot for the Wilby Football Club.
“People well into their 80s who live up there remember him and still speak very highly of him,” Pat said. “Going to the football at Wilby, he had a particular spot on the fence at which he stood, and he’d give advice to members of the team.”
He added that his grandfather never recounted tales of the old days at Princes Oval (other than extolling the virtues of his old mentor Worrall), “and all the old photos which used to grace the walls of the old house are gone now”.
Fortunately, some precious mementoes remain – like the Premiership caps, medallions and certificates hard won and dear – which for years now have graced Pat’s menswear store, Flynn’s of Wangaratta.
As Pat said: “They’re displayed on the wall of the shop and they’re looked at by many, many people. They’ve created a lot of interest.”
James Edward “Jim” Flynn was born in Geelong on March 21, 1871, the son of John and Ellen Flynn (nee Moloney), natives of Tipperary in Ireland. John and Ellen had completed the eight-week voyage to Melbourne from Plymouth aboard the sailing ship Percy the previous year - during which time their two year-old son Thomas had died of a fever and was buried at sea in the presence of Captain James Cooper, passengers and crew.
Little is known of Flynn’s early life, but his football exploits have been documented. He had a run with Benalla, then Collingwood in the old VFA days and for a brief period Canterbury, but later turned out for Geelong in 74 senior appearances through six seasons from 1897 - including the team’s maiden VFL appearance against Essendon at Corio Oval.
Carlton's first premiership captain, Jim Flynn. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
Flynn joined Carlton in 1903 (Pat believes it was on Worrall’s sayso) after landing work as a barman, and contributed to the cause as both ruckman and defender through 77 matches in eight glorious seasons. As mentioned previously, Flynn was a member of Carlton’s three consecutive Premiership teams – the third of them (1908) after having been talked out of retirement by the coach.
In Flynn’s first season, Carlton rose in the ladder standings from sixth to third. Such was his impact, Flynn was named vice-captain in the following year, as right hand man to the former Geelong ruckman Joe McShane.
When McShane stepped down at the end of 1904, Flynn assumed captaincy duties. Such was his reputation as a genuine leader that the Punch correspondent of 1907 was drawn to write “he was as Napoleon, Wellington, Julius Caesar, Great Scot and Kitchener . . . ”
By 1910, Flynn was considered lost to football, until fate again played its hand. In the wake of the sensational withdrawals of Doug Gillespie, Alex “Bongo” Lang and Doug Fraser amid bribery allegations, captain-coach “Pompey” Elliott persuaded Flynn to complete yet another comeback for Carlton, in the 1910 semi-final with South Melbourne.
Flynn was 39 at the time.
After that one last tilt at League football, Flynn pursued his business interests, in acquiring the St James Hotel. In October 1911, he married a local St James girl, Ellen Cleary. Together they would raise six children – Edward, Mary, James, Alicia, John and Anastasia.
Sometime later, he put the hotel on the market and relocated with his family to the farm at Wilby.
There he worked the land until August 1955, when he died not long after falling and breaking his hip.
This week, some 68 years after Flynn’s passing and 35 more after he last laced a boot, ol’ Jim’s memory was perpetuated by the clan.
By Tony De Bolfo
Fifty years after knocking Essendon over in the big one, surviving members of Carlton’s Under 19 Premiership team of 1963 have gathered at Percy’s Pub in Carlton to reminisce.
The gathering, which included 15 members of the victorious 20, was championed by the best player afield that day, Peter Smith, who took some months to locate fellow Premiership players - including Carlton’s Team of the Century rover Adrian Gallagher, and others like the club’s former Senior coach Denis Pagan, who turned out for the Unders twice in that all-conquering ’63 year.
Smith, who set the ball rolling in publicizing his push for the 50th anniversary reunion, hailed the gathering an enormous success.
“The past players were all over the moon with the turnout,” Smith said. ”We’d never reunited before, so we’re hoping we’ll meet at least once a year from now on to catch up for lost time.”
Smith, then a 17 year-old wingman with the Unders, was adjudged best player of Carlton’s ’63 finals series, which culminated in its 38-point Grand Final victory over Essendon - 12.11 83 to 6.9 45. That win iced a very tasty cake given that the Carlton team was anchored to the bottom of the ladder with only one win from the first seven matches that season - only to win the last 13 on the trot including the GF.
Bizarrely, the Carlton players had to wait three weeks to realize their dream, as Essendon and Richmond drew the Preliminary Final. The Bombers duly won the Prelim replay and earned the right to meet Carlton on Grand Final day, October 12, 1963 – at Bacchus Marsh’s Maddingley Oval of all places.
Smith wisely lobbed at the pub armed with nametags. As he said: “It’s 50 years after all, so without the nametags we would have been struggling”.
“The reunion gave all of us an opportunity to talk about things that had been forgotten,” he said. “For example, Brian Gorman was suspended for four weeks in the second semi and it had slipped my mind. He reminded me that he snotted an Essendon bloke and turned up to the Grand Final to watch on, but got crook, had his appendix out and missed the celebrations.”
Smith said that all past players took the liberty of raising a glass to their former Carlton coach Tom Brooker (“the blokes would have run through a brick wall for Tommy”), together with their old captain John Morrison, Chris Challenger, Clive Gordon and John Kemp, all since deceased.
Other players from the ’63 year - Gerry Nagel, Alan Grace, Bob Cohen, Doug Thomas and Robert Guest - couldn’t be located for the purposes of the reunion, and as Smith suggested, “Maybe we’ll track them down in time for the 51st”.
By Tony De Bolfo
With the clock counting down to auction day, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity exists for a Carlton collector or collectors to acquire the extensive lot of Alex Jesaulenko’s football memorabilia in its entirety.
The Alex Jesaulenko Collection, carrying an estimated worth of $370,000, is to be auctioned at Charles Leski Auctions in Hawthorn East on the evening of Thursday, September 26.
A total of 158 lots (with the exception of lot 13, the No.25 dark Navy Blue guernsey worn by Jesaulenko into the 1970 Grand Final which cannot be authenticated and has been withdrawn) are to go under the hammer.
Each lot, in part, tells the whole of the story of one of the greatest Australian Rules footballers ever to lace a boot – a four-time Carlton Premiership player, Carlton and AFL Team of the Century representative, and a Club and League Legend who is Alex Jesaulenko.
With the Carlton Football Club’s 150th year looming, the vast collection of items carefully managed by Jesaulenko’s late wife Annie – including premiership medallions, trophies, mounted footballs, guernseys both club and representative, blazers, certificates, letters, slides, photographs and scrapbooks – carries enormous historical significance.
Particularly precious items include Jesaulenko’s 1979 Premiership Medallion which he earned as the game’s last Grand Final-winning captain-coach, and the 1976 Players’ Association trophy – the first ever awarded – in 1975.
Jesaulenko evades four Tigers. (Photo: Supplied)
Also available is fragile 8mm footage shot by Jesaulenko of his various international sporting tours, including that which involved Carlton and the Dallas Cowboys.
“You’ve got Carlton players interacting with American gridiron players, and footage like that is years ahead of its time. There wouldn’t be any other footage shot of Carlton in that location. There was no TV crew around then.”
As the club has a blanket policy of not purchasing items of memorabilia, it relies on the goodwill of Carlton-friendly collectors to avail precious items on loan for future display at the club, like those making up The Alex Jesaulenko Collection.
Max Williamson, sports specialist at Charles Leski Auctions, described the collection as “probably the best football collection we’ve had . . . and Alex Jesaulenko is the iconic Carlton player”.
“We’ve had a few others players’ collections, which included Premiership trophies of their particular period, but the difference here are the scrapbooks collected by his wife, together with the photographs that were ordered from the newspapers, which are pretty complete,” Williamson said.
“The reality is that unless you’ve got someone really major – and Carlton possibly has – then the collection won’t remain intact.
“It did happen with Shirley Strickland’s collection, when a group of collectors got together to make an offer for the whole thing. In the end, the items were withdrawn from auction and acquired, which was in keeping with what Shirley actually wanted – and ultimately on-sold to the National Sports Museum.”
By Tony De Bolfo
With news filtering through that Kade Simpson is to ditch his sizeable beard in support of the noble cause of Down Syndrome Victoria, time is of the essence in celebrating Carlton’s facial-haired heroes.
After much time and effort (few beards could be found in any Carlton team photographs from the 1890s through the 1960s), a 22-man team of Bluebeards dating as far back as the 1860s, has been selected for your personal enjoyment and edification.
And it’s a team that quite literally grows on you.
Amongst the bearded best is Jack Donovan, Carlton’s captain and the competition’s Champion of the Colony in the pre-VFL years of the 1870s, together with Henry Finch Rix, who was part of an outstanding outfit which took out the Premiership hat trick of 1873, ’4 and ’5.
Donovan’s actual playing position cannot be verified, but he slots nicely into the first ruck role given the following prose of a journalist of the late 1880s who so eloquently wrote:
“There are many thousands of the community who will well remember the days when,
Donovan stout, with a mighty rush,
Through the serried ranks of the foe would crush,
Leaving behind in a shapeless mass
A dozen of coves on the slippery grass.”
Donovan, Rix and the good Alderman John “Tiger” Gardiner are welcome inclusions from the early days, as are the bushy-faced Blueboys of the VFL/AFL era. Making the cut (pardon the pun) from this period are no fewer than nine Carlton premiership players - Rod Ashman, Peter Bosustow, Bob Chitty, Brent Crosswell, Bruce Doull, Wayne Harmes, Robbert Klomp, Brad Pearce and Robert Walls, the club captain of 1977-78 and Premiership coach of 1987.
Named captain-coach of the coveted Bluebeard outfit, Walls was staggered to learn that a 22-man team could actually be sourced . . . “and I’m very proud to be captain-coach”, he dryly suggested.
Carlton great Rod Ashman. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
“I went with the full beard around the mid-1970s,” Walls said. “It was something that just grew over Christmas holidays and when I let it go for four or five weeks I thought ‘Oh I’ll just let it go’. So if I had to put it down to anything I’d say it was just laziness.
“I stuck with it for about 27 years until 2002 when I opted for the goatee. I remember I was in Ireland on one of those International Rules tours and for some reason I thought ‘Oh bugger it, I’ll shave part of the beard off and go with the goatee’.”
Walls said he had looked back on photographs of Carlton teams he had coached “and I’m the only bloke wearing a beard”.
“But after a while, nobody takes any notice,” Walls said. “It just becomes part of you.”
Current players Zach Tuohy, Andrew Walker and of course “Simmo” are there, with Zach earning bragging rights as the only bearded Blue with a “ginge tinge”.
Ashman, Doull and Walls made Carlton’s 22-man Team of the 20th Century, with Bob Chitty named as one of four emergencies.
Doull and Harmes are also Norm Smith Medallists, with Doull the only bearded member of the AFL Team of The Century’s starting 18.
Brad Pearce, pictured here with Peter Turner and Scott Camporeale in the mid-1990s. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
It must also be said that some licence has been taken with the inclusion of Chitty, who sported his gargantuan facial growth for the plum role of Ned Kelly in Rupert Kathner’s film feature The Glenrowan Affair, which was shot on location in Benalla in the late 1940s.
So here it is – a 22 of bearded Blues who would undoubtedly beat most clean-shaven opponents by a whisker.
Best 22 Bluebeards
Backs: Robbert Klomp, Geoff Hocking, Greg Sharp
Half-backs: Zach Tuohy, Bruce Doull, Bob Chitty
Centres: Kade Simpson, Wayne Harmes, Alan Mangels
Half-forwards: Peter Bosustow, Robert Walls (c-c), Brent Crosswell
Forwards: Brad Pearce, Andrew Walker, Brad Fisher
Rucks: Jack Donovan, Brad Shine
Rover: Rod Ashman
i/change: Denis Collins, Mark Williams, Wayne Deledio
sub: Henry Rix
President: John “Tiger” Gardiner