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.