IT’S ALMOST 70 years since Peter Webster first turned out for four quarters with the Carlton seniors. It happened against the old enemy Collingwood in the inhospitable environs of Victoria Park on the afternoon of Saturday 8 August 1953 – and as Webster recalled, the late Murray Weideman also lined up at centre half-forward in his first senior hitout for the black and whites.
“I actually got picked to play on what was my 21st birthday the previous Thursday,” said Webster, who celebrates his 90th birthday this Saturday (6 August).
“I was in the fire brigade and at home in bed at the time because I was on night shift. I remember answering a knock at the door at our house at 761 Drummond Street and standing there was a photographer from The Herald. The photographer asked ‘Are you Peter Webster?’, I said ‘Ýes’ and he said ‘You’ve been named in the Carlton senior team for Saturday’.”
“The photographer was keen on getting a pic, so I took him down to the fire station and he snapped me holding a ‘firey’s’ helmet . . . and I remember there was a celebration at a nearby hall in North Carlton.”
For the local boy who would serve his club through 97 senior matches in seven seasons, Drummond Street was where Webster first got a feel for the leather air conveyance.
“Drummond Street had a grassway through the middle of it and I used to kick a footy there,” he recalled. “I also went to the local Princes Hill Primary School, which was a block away from the ground, and from the time I was a young guy I played for Carlton – a couple of years in the fourths, a couple in the thirds, a couple in the seconds and finally the firsts.
“My background was only ‘Carlton, Carlton, Carlton’ – and it was the same for others like George Stafford, Alan Streeter and Dick Gill, whose Dad Frank was a club champion for years.”
Collingwood got up by 17 points at the Magpies’ nest in that 15th Round contest of ’53, but Webster’s memory of that senior appearance relates to a lovely pre-match moment involving the team’s resident ruckman.
“I remember heading down the race with Jack (‘Chooka’) Howell, who was running alongside with his arm over my shoulder to help me steady the nerves. I thought that was nice,” Webster said.
“It seems so long ago that that happened. Where have all the years gone?”
Ultimately, Webster forged his 97-game, seven-season Carlton career as a centre half-back, sharing defensive duties with half-backs John James and Denis Zeunert, the full back George Ferry, and the back pockets Bruce Comben and an emerging talent named John Nicholls.
Webster saw the best of James and unhesitatingly declares the 1961 Brownlow Medallist the best Carlton footballer of his era.
“I always admired John James,” Webster said. “He was only 5ft 9 and his kicking was a little ragged, but he was as tough as nails. When I saw him approaching the ball I wouldn’t go near him because he’d beat anybody trying to stop him getting it.”
Along the way, Webster pitted his skills against the game’s finest – Footscray’s Ted Whitten (“a player who wanted to play everywhere on the ground”), Melbourne’s Ron Barassi (“got him for about a quarter once when he pushed forward”), Geelong’s Fred Flanagan, South Melbourne’s Ron Clegg, Essendon’s Ken Fraser and North Melbourne’s John Brady – the latter “the best of them” according to the soon-to-be nonagenarian.
“The only message I ever got in a game was to pick up Fitzroy’s half-forward Owen Abrahams, who was a damned good footballer,” Webster said of yet another formidable foe. “(Murray) Weideman and I didn’t get on too well as he used to sneak up from behind, but one day I raced in and laid one on him.”
Webster 97th and final senior appearance for Carlton coincided with the 44-point loss to Melbourne in the 1959 semi-final. At 27, his time at Princes Park was cruelly curtailed by injury.
“I hurt the main ligament on the inside of my right knee in a practice match in my final year, this was my kicking leg and it was wobbling around,” Webster said.
“I sought out a few doctors to get the knee fixed, but no-one was interested. They (the club) even sent me to a specialist in Collins Street, but he wouldn’t touch it either.
“After doing my knee I thought I’d go coaching. Merbein offered me a job of captain-coach for 33 pound a week, plus a house rent-free for the first 12 months, and I was on eight pound a week at Carlton.
“At the time I didn’t even know where Merbein was, but when I found out it was up near Mildura where it was nice and warm and with no rain, I jumped at it, because I never liked playing in the rain.”
Webster recalled the then Carlton committeeman and former Premiership player Jack Wrout trying to talk him out of the Merbein gig.
“Jack said to me ‘You know you’ve played 97 games . . . what about coming down for those three games and starting on the bench to get your hundred up?’. But I’d already committed to Merbein and wanted to honour the agreement,” he said.
Webster took Merbein to the finals in each of his five seasons at the helm, with his teams landing two Premierships from the four Grand Finals in which they competed. When his knee again gave way in the fifth season, Webster hung the high-cuts up for good, but he remained in Merbein with his nearest and dearest for the better part of 30 years.
For the past 15 years, Webster has lived quietly in a retirement villa in Rosebud’s Village Glen – although he still gets a regular round in at the nearby golf course and will this Saturday blow out the 90 candles when family and friends gather for his birthday party at the nearby clubhouse.
To this day, he keeps a place close to his heart for the old dark Navy Blues.
“It’s a long time ago since I last played, but I still have a soft spot for the Club,” Webster said.
“It’s a bit too far for me to come down to watch the players play thesedays, but I never miss when they bob up on the telly, and I look out for Jesse Motlop who wears my old No.3. He’s pretty raw, but he has a lot of ability.
“When I started there I was just a young kid coming through, but I always played for the jumper whenever I ran out.
“In those days every kid in the area wanted to play for Carlton and I was no different. There wasn’t much money around then, but gee, I wish to God I was playing now.”