DON Nicholls, the former Carlton centreman whose younger brother and Club Legend John followed from Maryborough to Princes Park, has died at the age of 86 after a short illness.
When Don joined Carlton as a 19 year-old in 1956, his reputation as an outstanding Victoria country footballer already preceding him. At 15 he’d taken out the League’s Best and Fairest Senior Player Award.
Don completed his senior debut for the Blues in the second round of 1956 at Princes Park – ironically against Melbourne, the team Carlton meets in Friday night’s semi final.
In July 2017, during a welcome visit to the old Carlton ground with John and family members, Don reflected on his years with the senior 20 when he wore the No.12 guernsey now on the back of Tom De Koning.
“I haven’t been back for a while, so when I look out over the ground the first thing that comes into my mind is how much the ground’s improved,” Don said at the time.
“The centre area used to be a mound of black mud where the cricket pitches were placed. I remember that Bruce ‘Bugsy’ Comben lost a contact lens in there once and everyone was wallowing around in the mud looking for it . . . they found the contact lens too.”
“To avoid the gluepot, play was down one wing or the other. Players found a way around it.”
In those days long stops and woollen sleeves were in vogue, and only one match-day ball was ever used. Consequently on wet days, players were actually weighted down by what they wore, and the air conveyance invariably lost its shape.
Not that it particularly phased Don.
“I was always keen to play here come down and they wanted me to come down earlier, but I wanted to finish my schooling in Maryborough,” Don said. “I was on my own when I first came down and all my family came down of a Saturday.”
Adjudged winner of the Terry Ogden Memorial Trophy for the Club’s Best First Year player in 1956 (with ‘Big Nick’ following suit in ’57), Don represented Carlton in 77 senior matches between the Melbourne Olympic year and 1961.
Little brother John, on debut, joined Don in the opening round of the 1957 season against Hawthorn – and the rest, as they say, is football history.
Carlton’s 1968 premiership player and former Chief Executive and President Ian Collins, who completed his senior debut in the opening round of 1961 against St Kilda on a day the Nicholls brothers played, remembered Don for his versatility.
“Don could play half-forward, centre and half-back. The thing with him was his versatility,” Collins said.
John Nicholls, the Premiership captain of 1968 and ’70 – and ’72 as Captain-Coach – described his brother, affectionally known as ‘Donny’, as a child prodigy in terms of his football ability.
“Donny was 15 years of age when he won the best and fairest in the Maryborough League and 16 when he took out the Courier Trophy in the Ballarat League, which was the best of all the country leagues,” John said.
“He played at a time when unfortunately bad treatment for an ankle injury really cost him. He should have kept playing. He was a good athlete and excellent exponent of the drop kick and he could play in a number of positions, whether half-forward, centre or half-back.
“When I followed Donny down to Carlton in ’57 I started off in the back pocket. At one stage Donny was playing half-back and I was always accused by my late wife Janet of kicking the ball to my brother.
“Donny was my brother and my friend forever.”
The players will wear black armbands as a mark of respect to the late Don Nicholls, Carlton player No.701, at the MCG on Friday night.
The Carlton Football Club also acknowledges the passing last Friday of four-game rover David Browning, the Perth recruit who completed his senior debut in Round 3, 1955 – a year before Don Nicholls.
|Don Nicholls’ first senior game
Round 2, 1956: Saturday 21 April
Carlton v Melbourne
|Backs:||Bruce Comben||Keith Robinson||Vic Garra|
|Half-backs:||Denis Zeunert||George Ferry||Bob Bosustow|
|Centreline:||John Chick||Doug Beasy||Max Ellis|
|Half-forwards:||Laurie Kerr (vc)||Peter Webster||Bob Crowe|
|Forwards:||Bill Milroy||Graham Donaldson||Ron O’Dwyer|
|Followers:||Ken Hands (c)||Kevin Clarke||Kevin Bergin|
|Reserves:||Don Nicholls||Vin English|