50 years ago: An immortal enters the stage

ON the afternoon of Saturday, May 3, 1969, a shy, softly-spoken kid from Jacana followed John Nicholls down the race and into football immortality.

It happened in the fifth round of the ’69 season, against South Melbourne at Princes Park – for Bruce Doull the first of 356 senior appearances through 18 seasons of a truly grand career for Carlton.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Doull’s senior debut – and on the eve of Sunday’s match with North Melbourne, the legendary Carlton figure recounted a tale which would suggest he could quite easily have played for Geelong or even North, had fate not intervened.

In a wide-ranging to-camera interview with this reporter by the No.11 locker a little while back, Doull – who was born in Geelong – recalled his childhood passion for the Pivotonions.

“I used to wear my Geelong jumper to school, but I didn’t really have a football background in Geelong, I didn’t play at Geelong at all,” Doull said.

“I was nine years old when we (the Doull family) came up to Melbourne, to Broadmeadows. I joined Jacana through friends at school. That was Under 13s and that was the first period of football for me.

“In the early years each club had a boundary . . . and ours was in the northern suburbs. I was half a street within Carlton’s zone, the other was North Melbourne’s.”

In truth, Doull’s father (and Rod Austin’s father as it happened) settled into new houses on the Carlton side of Camp Road, the dividing line separating the Carlton and North Melbourne zones. Also in the neighbourhood were the families of Wayne Harmes and Shane Robertson – fellow Carlton Premiership players who all lived on the right side of the divide.

Doull cut his footballing teeth at Jacana through the Under 13s, Under 15s and Under 17s (curiously as a ruckman), before joining Robert Walls as a Carlton Under 19 hopeful in 1966. For Doull, on-field progress was slow. As he said: “I played a lot of games in the Under 19s, a lot of games in the reserves, and was in and out of the firsts for a long time”.

Recounting his somewhat delayed emergence as a bona fide senior competitor, Doull offered a forthright response.

“I think it was because I just wasn’t a very confident person . . . I also had an injury in my early years, a dislocated collarbone which wouldn’t go back into place, and I had to have it pinned – so I was out for a long time with that,” he said.

“Then when I did get back in I got a hit from behind and got a fractured cheekbone, which put me out for a few weeks . . . I don’t know whether I lost confidence or what, but I just wasn’t aggressive enough for that style of footy at the time.

It was at this crucial moment in time that the perceptive Carlton senior coach Ron Barassi intervened.

“He (Barassi) really tried to help. He sent me off to do judo training to learn how to fall, which I don’t think a lot of people wouldn’t have been doing in those days, and he also sent me to a psychologist just to try and get some confidence in me,” Doull said.

“When we were training, if we were doing circle work he (Barassi) would call my name out to get involved – even if I was on the other side of the ground he’d just yell it out – otherwise I probably would have just hung in the background.

“He (Barassi) was a massive influence on me. I was very scared of him. Very scared of him. He was the coach, you were the player and that was it. But I appreciate that he took the time to (help) . . . and I can’t thank him enough for the start.”

Named 20th man for that first senior outing against South and wearing the comparatively obscure No.4, Doull took his place on the pine alongside Barry Gill – and when the call finally came though from the coach’s box, Doull replaced Alex Jesaulenko no less.

Sadly, Doull remembers precious little of his first on-field sortie.

“I don’t remember anything about that game, nothing at all,” he said. “In those days they’d call you over on the Thursday night to tell you that you were playing. That’s what would have happened.”

But history records that Doull did get to sing the song post-match, the home team having accounted for the Bloods by 25 points – 20.17 (137) to 17.10 (112) – with the resident ruckmen John Nicholls and Peter Jones each contributing three goals to the winning tally.

The Carlton-South Melbourne contest of Round 5, 1969 was not without incident.

Volatile Carlton full-forward Ricky McLean was reported for the second time in eight days and duly outed for two matches by the Tribunal for having used abusive language towards field umpire Ian Coates.

‘Barass’ was also the subject of a League investigation in respect of his umpiring remarks for which he was later reprimanded in writing.

But for one of the most revered football figures ever to lace a boot, a glorious career awaited.

Bruce Doull bio

DOB: September 11, 1950
Carlton Player No.: 811
Senior career: 1969-1986
Senior debut: Round 5, 1969 v South Melbourne, aged 18 years, 234 days

Games: 356
Goals: 22
Last Game: 1986 Grand Final, v Hawthorn, aged 36 years, 16 days
Guernsey nos.: 4 (1969-71) & 11 (1972-86)

Premiership Player: 1972, 1979, 1981 & 1982
Best and Fairest: 1974, 1977, 1980 & 1984
Norm Smith Medallist: 1981
Carlton Hall of Fame: 1987 (elevated to Legend)
Carlton Team of the Century half back: 2000
AFL Team of the Century half back