Blues ’64 Brownlow Medallist rubs shoulders with Cripps & Co.

Brownlow Medallists met when Gordon Collis linked up with Patrick Cripps at IKON Park.

By Tony De Bolfo

IT’S 60 years this August that Gordon Collis was declared the winner of League football’s highest individual honour. Today, Carlton’s oldest surviving Brownlow Medallist returned to the old stomping ground where he posed for an historic photograph with the Club’s most recent Medal recipient Patrick Cripps.

Now 83, Collis – the former Carlton centre half-back – rubbed shoulders with Captain Cripps, coach Voss (Brisbane’s 1996 Medallist), assistant coach Aaron Hamill and a number of current players including Tom De Koning, Alex Cincotta and Mitch McGovern – a fellow key position defender with whom Collis compared notes.

Collis also viewed the current squad’s training session at IKON Park with another welcome visitor, the four-time Carlton premiership ruckman and Club best-and-fairest Peter ‘Percy’ Jones. He later posed in front of locker No.17 – the number he wore on his back in 95 games through seven seasons under coaches Ken Hands and Ron Barassi.

Gordon Collis meets AFL Senior Coach – and fellow Brownlow Medallist – Michael Voss.

“It’s been quite memorable,” Collis said of the experience. “To have been made to feel welcome is a big thing and the players and coaches I have met have been so engaging.”

By his own admission, Collis – a Carlton Life Member and Hall of Fame Inductee – maintains a fairly low profile – and part of the motivation in returning to his former Club was to be pictured with Cripps to appease a long-time business acquaintance across the Nullarbor.

“My friend in Albany has an interest in football history and had asked if I had a photograph I could share,” said Collis, who tomorrow heads to Albany on a five-week road trip.

“So I thought a bit outside the box and have been very fortunate to jump in a photo with Patrick Cripps.

“I’ve always been impressed with Patrick as a leader. He’s been quite outstanding. There’s no doubt he sets a terrific example on the field, both at ground level and in the air.”

Gordon Collis at the No.17 locker, the guernsey in which he played 95 games.

Recruited to the Club despite Fitzroy’s advances, Collis joined Carlton on the eve of the 1961 season and ironically completed his senior debut against the Lions in the second round of that year.

Collis learned of his 1964 Brownlow victory by way of a radio broadcast from VFL headquarters at Harrison House – the votes having been called by the former Carlton dual Premiership coach Perc Bentley, the then chairman of the League’s Permit and Match Arrangement Committee.

Then 23 and a game short of his 70th for the Blues, Collis secured the coveted Charles Brownlow Trophy (the club’s third after Bert Deacon and John James) with 27 votes from Hawthorn’s Phil Hay and Esssendon’s Ken Fraser, the joint runners-up with 19.

Six days later, Collis was named Carlton best and fairest ahead of Ian Collins and John Nicholls.

Having earned the respect of the football world for his consistent showings at centre half-back, Collis was destined to turn out in just 26 more senior matches for Carlton, before illness precipitated his retirement at just 26 following the 1967 Preliminary Final loss to Geelong.

It’s a little-known fact that Collis actually laboured with a duodenal ulcer from his teenage years and through the duration of his entire League career.

“I played my whole career with the ailment and it was pretty destabilising at times,” Collis recalled.

Gordon Collis with his 1964 Brownlow Medal.

“I actually had a haemorrhage at the time that I played and there was no cure for it, so all I could do was somehow control it with diet. I would have dearly loved a longer playing career, but with that issue and a stress fracture in the foot I was quite proud of the fact that I was able to live with that adversity.

“With medical science advancements as they are, I was fortunate in the long run, as in around 1990 it was discovered there was a bug in the system that caused the issue, and if it was knocked out there was a good chance of recovery. A gastroenterologist at St Vincent’s named Greg Whelan, set me up on this course of antibiotics and I haven’t had a problem since.”

In pondering the 60th anniversary of his Brownlow victory, Collis conceded “I sometimes have to scratch myself as a realisation that this time has actually gone by”.

And as he said: “I actually doubted whether I’d actually reach this age, because I had a bit of a chequered run with my health”.

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