Nestled on the Pyrenees Highway a couple of hours North West of Melbourne is the idyllic city of Maryborough. The 8000 inhabitants these days enjoy a life surrounded by wonderful gold rush era architecture, it is indeed a town of good taste. In fact such good taste that they have their very own Princes Park. Do yourself a favour and visit this beautiful ground next time you are in town.
This town has been more than generous in terms of supplying football talent to the Blues. Only one name needs mentioning, Nicholls. Many say he is the best Carlton player of all time. This would be doing a disservice to many other fine players including Horrie Clover who have had the rare honour of being a Maryborough Blue.
One of the truly great players in the history of VFL/AFL football, and the man widely regarded as the finest ruckman ever to play the game, John Nicholls led the Carlton Football Club to two Premierships as captain, and a third as captain-coach, in a celebrated playing career spanning 18 seasons.
‘Big Nick’ was a skilful and inspirational on-field leader, as well as a fierce protector of his team-mates. He played his first senior match before his eighteenth birthday, and was retired – against his will - by the Carlton committee just 17 days before he turned thirty-five. In between, his career was packed with glory, controversy, heart-break, and just about every individual and team honour the game could provide.
It all began for John Nicholls in 1956, when Carlton won a tussle with Geelong to recruit his older brother; Don. The Nicholls boys hailed from Maryborough in central Victoria, where Don was a star centreman, and his bigger, barrel-chested brother was already playing senior football at the age of fifteen.
Don Nicholls adapted quickly to life in Melbourne, and to VFL football. Fifteen solid games in his debut season won him Carlton’s Best First-Year Player Award, and focussed attention from a number of other clubs on his 17-year old sibling. In the summer of that year, John joined Don in Melbourne, where he eventually gave in to the urgings Carlton coach Ken Hands, and agreed to play for the Old Dark Navy Blues
By any criteria, his career record is simply outstanding. In his then VFL-record 331^ games, he was a proud member of three Carlton Premiership teams; in 1968, 1970 and 1972. Captain of the club in 1963, 1969, 1970 and 1971, he was captain-coach in 1972, 1973 and 1974. He won our Best & Fairest award a club record five times (in 1959, 1963, 1965, 1966 and 1967) and was a Victorian state representative on no fewer than 31 occasions. No other player in the history of the game has worn the big white vee so consistently, and with such distinction.
In September 1996, Big Nick was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame as one of the inaugural Legends of the Game. At the same time, was one of six Carlton greats selected in the AFL's Team of the 20th Century. When Carlton Football Club announced our Team of the Century in May, 2000 he was the obvious and unanimous choice to lead the ruck, and from 2004, the Blues' Best & Fairest player of each year has been awarded the John Nicholls Medal.
Gary Higgins was recruited from Maryborough / Maryborough Rovers and wore guernsey #29, he played 7 games for Carlton after debuting in Navy Blue in Season 1975.
Johnson played 29 games for Carlton commencing in Season 1927. He kicked 13 goals for the Blues. Johnson wore guernsey #5.
Johnson was both born, and recruited from Maryborough.
Horace “Horrie” Clover was Carlton’s star centre half-forward of the 1920’s; a high flying, long-kicking champion who enjoyed a stellar career with the Old Dark Navy Blues, then went on to be one of our longest-serving administrators. But even before he took the field for Carlton, Clover had to conquer the odds on the battlefields of France in World War 1.
From Maryborough in central Victoria, Horrie enlisted in the 1st AIF in September 1915. After basic training, he embarked for France with reinforcements for the 7th Battalion in January of 1916. Soon pitched into the horrors of trench warfare, he fought and survived until September of that year, when he was transferred to a machine gun company and promoted to the rank of Corporal.
On Christmas day, 1916, Horrie was struck down with acute appendicitis. He was evacuated to a field hospital for emergency surgery, where the doctors discovered that his appendix was gangrenous and that his life was in danger. He was immediately transferred to London for specialist treatment, and months of recuperation. Pronounced unfit for further front-line service, he was repatriated back to Australia in August 1917, and honourably discharged in May of the following year – six months before the Armistice.
Having recovered, and keen to have a crack at senior football, Clover trained with Richmond and Melbourne before Carlton gave him an opportunity at VFL level. And how he delivered! In his first match in 1920 – ironically, against Richmond - he kicked four goals from centre half-forward, and hit the post three times! By the end of his first season at Princes Park, Clover was one of Carlton’s drawcards. Former Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies was just one of the many Carlton fans who were captivated; “he was the most artistic of high marks, unforgettable at half-forward,” said Menzies.
Horrie could kick a football, too. A balanced, deceptively quick mover, he was a glorious running drop-kick for goal. Playing against Richmond again at Princes Park in July, 1921, he let fly with a monster kick that was later measured at 86.26 metres – that’s 94 yards, 2 feet in imperial terms! And there are numerous other instances where he roosted the ball more than 70 metres. In round 12 of 1921, he slotted 13 goals in a game against St Kilda; a club record which still stands today
Although his career was largely overshadowed by the exploits of his champion brother John Nicholls, Don Nicholls was himself a stylish centreman who played a creditable 77 games for the Blues in six seasons at Princes Park.
Nicholls first attracted interest from VFL clubs when he starred for his home side Maryborough in 1955. Eventually, he was faced with the choice of joining either Geelong or Carlton, and to the everlasting gratitude of every Blues’ supporter, Don chose Carlton. He arrived at Princes Park in early 1956, and wore guernsey number 12 in his senior debut (as nineteenth man) in a heavy defeat by Melbourne in round 2 of that year.
The following week, against St Kilda at the Junction Oval, Nicholls started the match in the middle of the ground and did well, as the Blues beat the Saints by 22 points. From then on he was a regular in a Carlton side that was in finals contention mid-season, but stumbled through the last few games and missed the finals by just two points. Nevertheless, one of the real positives to come out of that disappointing year was the steady emergence of Nicholls, who played 15 solid games, kicked five goals and collected Carlton’s Best First Year Player award.
Don’s bright start to his VFL career soon focussed the recruiting spotlight on his younger, taller and heavier brother, John – who had moved to Melbourne to live with Don, but was still travelling home to play senior football with Maryborough each weekend. After inviting the youngster to training, Blues’ captain Ken Hands was convinced that the ‘other’ Nicholls had a bright future in VFL football – all he needed was confidence in his own ability.
History has since proven that Hands’ assessment was spot-on. The Nicholls boys teamed up in Carlton’s senior team for the first time against Hawthorn at Princes Park in round one of 1957, and, although the Hawks handed out a football lesson, John Nicholls began a magnificent career that would ultimately include 331 games, three Premierships, and just about every team and individual honour that the game could bestow
Bob Jacobson’s father was born in Finland, but his son was given a typically Anglo-Saxon name and grew up to embrace the national game of his family’s adopted land. In 1903, at just 18 years of age, Jacobson travelled from his home in Maryborough in central Victoria to play eight games of VFL football for the Carlton Football Club, under the autocratic coaching of Jack Worrall.
Jacobson made his debut for the Blues on a half-forward flank against Collingwood at Princes Park in round 1, 1903. While Carlton ran out comfortable winners, Bob didn’t make it onto the score sheet that afternoon, or in the following weeks when the Blues destroyed Essendon and St Kilda by 21 and 78 points respectively. Worrall banished Jacobson to the back pocket after that, and he managed only six more appearances before he was given his marching orders after another big victory over Essendon in round 10.
At least Jacobson went out on a high – that defeat of the Same Old was built on a superb defensive effort that kept Essendon scoreless for the first half, and eventually restricted them to 2.2 (14) for the whole match. More than 105 years later, that miserable return still stands as Essendon’s lowest-ever score against the Blues.
In the years after departing from Princes Park, Jacobson married and took up work as a clerk. When World War 1 began in 1914, it appears that he was deemed to be in a reserved occupation – one that was vital to keeping civil order – and so was prevented from enlisting for active service. But as casualties mounted and more and more men were needed, regulations steadily relaxed, and in December 1917, Bob was finally accepted into uniform.
He marched into Broadmeadows army camp a week or so before Christmas, only to almost immediately fall seriously ill. Sent to hospital, he was assessed as unfit for further duty, and discharged in January, 1918.
Originally from Maryborough / Royal Park, Russell "Autumn Leaves" Ohlsen played 47 games and booted 25 goals for the Blues in four seasons (1975 to 1978). He played his best football as a ruck-rover, but was unable to cement a regular place in the side. Perhaps best remembered for his extensive tattoos, he was later cleared to Collingwood, where he was part of their losing teams in 1979 (suffering a broken jaw at the hands of Trevor Keogh) & 1980.
An imposing, yet controversial figure in his all-too-brief career at Carlton, Albert ‘Bert’ Boromeo was only eight days short of his 27th birthday when he played his first match for the Blues in 1919. For reasons unexplained, he took to the field that day at Princes Park in a pair of street boots, but; "he gave decided promise, and looked every inch the footballer", according to former Carlton coach Jack Worrall, who was reporting on the match for The Argus newspaper.
A powerfully-built, natural athlete who stood 184 cm and tipped the scales at 89 kg, Boromeo had been a star follower-forward at Maryborough in central Victoria before finally agreeing to have a belated crack at VFL football with the Blues. He was a vice-like mark and a thumping kick, and his bulk and strength made him near-impossible to dislodge in any contest.
Boromeo played finals football in four of his five seasons at Princes Park, first as a follower, and later as a dangerous partner to Carlton’s champion centre half-forward Horrie Clover in attack. He quickly became a reliable big-occasion player and was chosen to represent the VFL in interstate matches each year from 1920 to 1922. But his finest moment came in the 1921 Grand Final against Richmond, when he was a unanimous choice as Best on Ground for the vanquished Blues.
Continuing a disappointing sequence of finals losses, Carlton fell to Essendon by five points in the 1922 Semi-Final, then went into decline the following year and dropped right out of contention. In August 1923, Carlton played Essendon again in round nine at Windy Hill. The Blues turned in a shocker to be thrashed by 11 goals, and that result triggered a sensational series of incidents that ended Boromeo’s career at Carlton.
Inspired by the Spirit of Carlton's recent trip to Kukerin, home of Ross Ditchburn, we will present each week a profile of a country town and the players that they have provided for the Carlton Football Club.
Bacchus Marsh is a leafy relaxed town 50km west of Melbourne, home to superb fruit and veg and some excellent pubs. This town has been a great one for providing players for the Carlton Football Club. The most famous of which was the legendary Harry 'Soapy' Vallence. Other players from the town include Jack Skinner, Keith Shea, Les Carr, Les Watkins and the great Ollie Grieve. Premierships, leading goalkickers, best and fairests and a legend, we have a lot to thank the town of Bacchus Marsh. Read on to find our more about each of these past players for the mighty Blues.
Henry Francis 'Soapy' Vallence is a true legend of the Carlton Football Club, and one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time. In a stellar 204 game VFL career between 1926 and 1938, he kicked 722 goals - a club record that stood for more than fifty years, until it was eventually bettered by another champion, Stephen Kernahan, in 1997.
Vallence came to Princes Park as a 20 year-old from Ballarat League side Bacchus Marsh. At 183 cm and 80 kg, the lean youngster soon impressed, and was nicknamed 'Soapy' because he was a slippery customer when the ball hit the ground - especially in wet weather. He was also a powerful, accurate kick and a brilliant high mark. The name stuck, and he wore it proudly throughout his career.
He made his debut for the Blues in 1926, wearing guernsey 22, and soon won a regular place in the team as a creative half-forward. Then in 1929 he was offered a chance at full forward, and never looked back after he topped Carlton's goal-kicking list with 64 majors. In 1931 he was the club (and the League's) top scorer with 86 goals, and in 1932 had his best return with 97. Only Geelong's George Moloney did better that year with 109.
On four separate occasions Soapy kicked 11 goals in a match, and two of those games were finals; the first Semi in 1931 and the Preliminary Final in 1932. He was a renowned big-occasion player, and never went missing when the contest was fiercest. In eight of his twelve seasons with the Blues, he was our major goal-scorer, as well as a standout performer in each of his five appearances for the Victorian state side.
In 1937 Soapy's form tapered off, and he was dropped to the seconds. Thinking his time at Carlton might be up, he agreed to join VFA team Williamstown. But Carlton's new coach Brighton Diggins wouldn't hear of his star leaving, and talked Soapy into staying just one more year. It was a wise decision for all concerned. Regaining confidence and touch, Soapy had another stellar season. He slotted another 81 goals as the Blues won their way into the 1938 Grand Final, and beat the strong favourites Collingwood by 15 points. Carlton's game plan - which included playing Vallence wide on one half-forward flank, and bombing the ball long to stand-in full forward Ken Baxter - unbalanced Collingwood, and the final score flattered them.
A familiar and popular face at Princes Park for many years after his playing days were through, Harry "Soapy" Vallence was honoured as one of nine foundation members of the Carlton Hall of Fame in 1987. Barely four years later, on July 25, 1991, he passed away peacefully at the age of 86.
Click this link to see a Harry Vallence image gallery featuring pictures from his family collection.
Another quality footballer whose career at Carlton was prematurely ended by military service in World War II, Jack Skinner was recruited from Bacchus Marsh, the same club that provided Carlton with star forwards Harry Vallence and Keith Shea (he also played for neighbouing team Darley). He started out as a speedy half-forward flanker, before evolving into a clever and hard-running centreman whose third and last season at Princes Park was his best.
Prior to Skinner’s first senior game in 1939, Carlton selector Horrie Clover claimed that Jack was the fastest man over ten to twelve yards (11 metres) to have trained with the club. Skinner was also originally a right foot kick, but changed to his left when he found that it brought him greater distance. This obviously helped his cause, because he was the only new recruit to force his way into Carlton’s team for the opening round of 1939, on the day when the Blues unfurled their previous year’s Premiership pennant, before taking on South Melbourne at Princes Park.
Skinner played his debut match at half-forward - alongside Jack Wrout and Paul Schmidt – and the reigning Premiers thrashed the Swans by 9 goals. As the season progressed, Carlton often seemed hungry for more glory - but defeats by Richmond in both of our meetings, as well as a couple of other shock losses mid-year, saw the Blues tumble out of finals contention to a disappointing fifth-place finish by year’s end.
In September 1939, just as the VFL final series got underway, Australia was drawn into its second major conflict in a generation. Great Britain had declared war on Germany, so her dominions had followed suit. Within weeks, Skinner, and many thousands of other young Aussies volunteered for military service – just as their fathers and older brothers had done in the Great War of 1914-18. Jack joined the Militia, whose primary duty was the defence against invasion of Australia’s mainland.
Over the following five years, Jack soldiered on in the service of his country. He rose to the rank of Corporal, and was finally discharged in June, 1946 – almost a year after the end of World War II, and nine months after Carlton defeated South Melbourne in the 1945 ‘Bloodbath’ Grand Final.
A brilliant, gifted footballer who played his first senior match for Carlton before his 18th birthday, Keith Shea was a valuable member of Carlton’s 1932 Grand Final team, and a star for the Blues in the harsh years prior to World War II. After an all too brief stay at Princes Park, he was lured to Western Australia at the peak of his career.
Shea was recruited from Bacchus Marsh as a junior prodigy. Although lightly-built, his wiry frame was deceptively strong. He was quick, beautifully balanced, very capable overhead, and kicked long off his preferred left foot. Still just 17 years old, he forced his way into the Carlton senior side half-way through the 1932 season, and only injury kept him out from that day on.
Remarkably, Shea played under different captains in each of his six seasons with the Blues. In order, they were Colin Martyn (1932), Frank Gill (1933), Maurie Johnson (1934), Charlie Davey (1935), Jim Francis (1936) and Ansell Clarke (1937). Amidst the deprivations of the Great Depression - indeed, because of them - VFL football continued to draw huge crowds throughout the thirties, and players were comparatively well paid. Therefore, places in every team were highly prized and hotly contested.
In just his eighth game for the Blues, Shea announced his arrival with a slashing performance on a half-forward flank against Richmond in the 1932 Second Semi-Final. Although the Tigers won comfortably in the end – by four goals – they couldn’t subdue the youngster in navy blue guernsey number 8. Shea’s creativity, accurate foot-passing and two opportunist goals made him a thorn in Richmond’s side all day.
A player whose career flamed brightly yet briefly across the fabric of the Carlton Football Club, Keith Shea tragically died of cancer on February 27, 1951. He was just 36 years old
Wearing guernsey #34, Carr played 9 games after debuting in Season 1947.
Les Watkins played a single game for Carlton, running out in Navy Blue in 1938. Watkins would debut in the same game as Arthur Sanger in the #18 Guernsey. Sanger went on to wear that same Guernsey for the rest of his 117 game career at Princes Park. Watkins also managed to kick a goal in this game.
Watkins was born in Heathcote and recruited from Bacchus Marsh
Throughout our long and proud history, the Carlton Football Club has traditionally produced exceptional full-backs. For seven seasons immediately after World War II, Carlton’s champion custodian of the goal square was Oliver Kelvin ‘Ollie’ Grieve – a brilliant, close-checking defender who was a glorious high mark and a powerful, driving drop-kick.
Grieve came to Princes Park from his home town of Bacchus Marsh in 1942, but managed only six matches in his debut season before his football career was interrupted while he served his country in war. Already a reservist, he was called up by the Australian Army in July 1942, and spent the next three and a half years in uniform. Gratefully unscathed at the war’s end, he came home to anchor the defence in the Blues’ 1947 Premiership team, and twelve months later, finished runner-up in the 1948 Brownlow Medal.
With Grieve settled in at full-back and the equally brilliant Bert Deacon at centre half-back, Carlton’s defence was the launching pad of the Blues’ magnificent, last-gasp Premiership triumph in 1947. Trailing Essendon by five points inside the last minute of the Grand Final, Carlton’s captain Ern Henfry pumped the ball long out of the centre to a contest at half-forward. The ball spilt from the pack and was pounced on by flanker Fred Stafford, whose neat left foot snap went sailing between the posts to give Carlton an astonishing victory by one point.
However, perhaps the one game that stamped Ollie Grieve as one of the greats of his era was Carlton’s humiliating defeat by Essendon in the 1949 Grand Final. Spearheaded by their sensational full-forward John Coleman, Essendon thrashed the Blues by 73 points. One report from that match said (in part); ’by half time, star players on each side had been singled out and roughed up – with the exception of Coleman – who Grieve was beating on sheer ability.’
Coleman had started the game needing six goals to crack 100 for the season. However, by the last change Grieve had been heroic in keeping the Bomber star to only two successful shots at goal from a mountain of opportunities. Still, Essendon were ten goals up and in complete control. Throughout the last quarter the Bombers thought only of getting the ball to Coleman by hand or by foot, and in the end, he achieved his dream when he punted through number six with only a minute or so left on the clock. Coleman got his reward, but Ollie Grieve won universal admiration for his grit and determination against enormous odds.
The following year, Grieve took up an appointment as playing coach of Bendigo League club Eaglehawk, and later rounded off his playing days with Sunraysia club Irymple. Some years afterward he moved to Perth, where he passed away prematurely at the age of 58 in February, 1978. In 1994, Ollie Grieve was remembered with deep affection when he was inducted into the Carlton Hall of Fame.