Remembering Ron Rhodes, a Blueboy born and bred

Tony De Bolfo pays tribute to former Blue Ron Rhodes.

AS IS so often the case, the life story of the one-game player lost to the club after an all-too-brief on-field foray is of more interest than the 300-gamer with whom everyone in the football world identifies.

So it is with Ron Rhodes, a one-game Carlton senior player of 67 seasons ago, who died recently at the age of 88.

Ronald Thomas Rhodes was born on November 17, 1932, the son of Thomas Lewis Rhodes and Ruby Agnes Ryall – a cousin of Keith Ryall, the visionary behind Leigh Creek’s Kryal Castle. Ron was the youngest of three brothers, with Frederick (who died at a young age) the first born, and Keith the middle child who also turned out for Carlton.

The ‘Mick’ Price-coached Carlton Reserve Grade team of 1954. Ron Rhodes is the player standing third from the left. Second from the right in the same row is Peter Bevilacqua, League football’s only known Italian-born footballer. Seated with his legs crossed in the front row, second from the right, is Harvey Dunn, the first League footballer ever recruited under the father/son rule.

Ron was part of the fabric of the Carlton neighbourhood. He spent the first 70 years of his life in the family home at 667 Drummond Street, North Carlton, having been schooled at Carlton North Primary at Lee Street, and later Princes Hill Secondary College in the shadows of the Legends Stand.

He was recruited to the Carlton Football Club from neighbouring Princes Hill on the cusp of the 1950 season when the club’s Under 19 team of which he was part fell to the unbeaten Essendon by a miserable point in the Grand Final. That season, Ron was recognised with the Most Serviceable Award donated by the club’s 1938 Premiership defender Frank Gill.

Ron progressed through the Under 19s and reserves, stringing together games as a ruckman/ruck rover with the occasional appearance in defence. Named as an emergency in Carlton’s reserve grade Premiership team of 1953, Ron was frustrated by four breaks to his left hand through the course of the ’53 season.

The following year, Ron featured in the team photograph with Carlton’s reserves – amongst them the captain Harry Sullivan, football’s first father/son recruit Harvey Dunn and the game’s only Italian-born League footballer Peter Bevilacqua.

July 1953. John James, a future Brownlow Medallist, supports Ron Rhodes, whose left hand, broken on four separate occasions through the course of the season, is supported in a sling (photo below).

In mid-June 1954, Ron was hospitalised with a kidney injury sustained in a reserve grade match with Hawthorn. Three weeks later, Coach Percy Bentley called his name for his Carlton senior debut.

Donning the No.36 now worn by Josh Honey, Ron followed the captain Ken Hands down the race and onto Princes Park for his one and only senior appearance – specifically the Round 11 match of Saturday, July 3, 1954 between Carlton and St Kilda.

That afternoon, Ron fulfilled duties as ruck-rover in a Carlton following division which included ruckman Bill Milroy and rover Jack Mills. Regrettably the home team lost that match to the visitors 9.16 (70) to 12.10 (82), and of the 22 who took to the field in Dark Navy only Peter Webster and Ron Robertson are still living.

Ron parted company with the Carlton Football Club at the end of the ’54 season and never pursued a playing or coaching career elsewhere, as his work away from the game became a focus.

An electrician by trade, he was for years employed with the Melbourne City Council, connecting electricity to premises within the council’s jurisdiction and installing meters accordingly. At the time of his retirement in 1995, he was as a foreman in charge of the council’s various work teams.

Ron’s life took an incredible turn for the better in April 1984 when he accompanied friends on a holiday to the Philippines. There he met, fell in love with and ultimately married Alicia Montero, a single mother making ends meet working as a sales rep for a Rice Milling Business.

The Rhodes family home in North Carlton. It was here in October 1986 that Ron and his Filipino wife Alicia exchanged marital vows in a private ceremony.

Ron met Alicia in Manila through mutual friends, and as the relationship flourished, Ron travelled to the country several times until they tied knot in Manila on January 6, 1985.

Ron returned to Australia two months after the marriage and by August 1986 had arranged for his wife Alicia’s and stepson Michael’s passage to Australia. On October 8 of that year, he and Alicia again exchanged marital vows, only this time under Australian law, in a private ceremony attended by close friends and relatives at the Drummond Street home.

He then completed the protracted step-parent adoption process to fully legalise his parentage to Michael, whose surname is now formally “Rhodes”.

In 2002, having lived most of his life in Drummond Street, Ron vacated the old Rhodes home in Carlton. Together with Alicia, he headed north to Lalor to be closer to their son Michael, daughter-in-law Jem and grandchildren Michael and Gabriel.

The Rhodes family – clockwise from left rear Michael, Michael (jnr), Jem, Gabriel, Ron and Alicia.  

Ron maintained a solid fitness regimen and was a regular at the local gymnasium well into his 80s. He was mowing the lawn at the front of his home when he suddenly collapsed and could not be revived.

“Dad never liked any fuss, so I guess the silver lining to all this is that he went as he would’ve wanted – quick, with no long decline at a nursing home or hospital – just mic drop and outa here, may God bless his soul,” Michael said.

“He was a good man, he was my Dad, and he and his family treated me no differently to a biological son.”

Ronald Thomas Rhodes is survived by his wife Alicia, son Michael, daughter-in-law Jem and grandchildren Michael and Gabriel.

He was the 682nd player to represent the Carlton Football Club at senior level since the formation of the VFL in 1897 – and his love for Carlton never abated.

“Dad was Navy Blue through and through, being born and bred in Carlton,” Michael said.

“He followed the Carlton teams through the decades, and did not miss watching a single Carlton match on TV.

“Dad’s house was always adorned with Carlton paraphernalia and the door chime carried the club’s theme song. He lived and breathed the Blues. He felt the club’s ups and downs, the joys and disappointments, and he passed on that passion to me and the next generation of our family.

“We do truly feel grateful for the club’s validation of Dad’s previous history with the club . . . and with that, whenever the Bluebaggers play, you can be assured that there will always be a Rhodes screaming at the top of their lungs ‘Carn the Blues!’.”

The Carlton team, featuring Ron Rhodes in his one and only senior appearance, v St Kilda at Princes Park – Round 11, Saturday, July 3, 1954

B: 15 Bruce Comben 25 George Ferry 37 Bernie Moran

HB: 30 George Stafford 33 Peter Webster 16 John Brown

C: 28 Graham Gilchrist 21 Ron Robertson 19 Denis Zeunert

HF: 10 John James 18 Max Wenn 17 Doug Beasy

F: 1 Ken Hands (c) 26 Noel O’Brien 23 John Chick

Ruck: 2 Bill Milroy 36 Ron Rhodes 9 Jack Mills

Res: 3 Harry Sullivan 11 Laurie Kerr

Coach: Percy Bentley

Join the Spirit of Carlton at the 1981 and 1982 Premiership Reunion

Don’t miss your chance to mingle with club greats at this momentous occasion.

JOIN members of Carlton’s 1981 and 1982 premiership teams to celebrate the 40th and 39th anniversaries of the Club’s famous Grand Final victories over Collingwood and Richmond.

Held in the Victory Room at Marvel Stadium on Friday 30 July, this unmissable event will provide the opportunity to mingle with former club greats as well as a number of current AFL and AFLW Blues to relive two memorable moments in the history of the Club.

Guests will enjoy a delectable two-course lunch and premium beverages, with special guest speakers and entertainment throughout the function.

Tickets are now on sale. Click here to secure your place now.

Function details:

Date: Friday 30 July

Time: 12pm

Location: Victory Room, Marvel Stadium

Dress code: Smart casual

Big Nick pays tribute to the late Ken Greenwood

A tribute to former Carlton ruckman, Ken Greenwood

FORMER Carlton ruckman Ken Greenwood, who shared following duties with  the likes of Brian Buckley, Graham Donaldson, John Nicholls, Maurie Sankey and Sergio Silvagni through the 1960s, has died at the age of 79 after a long illness.

Recruited to Carlton after taking the South Bendigo Football Club’s best & fairest honours, Greenwood, wearing the No.5, plied his ruck craft through 55 games for the Blues under the watch of coaches Ken Hands and Ron Barassi.

John Nicholls remembered Greenwood, a member of Carlton’s 1962 Grand Final twenty, as a capable footballer deprived of opportunity.

“They (Carlton) got him from the Bendigo League, but he was a bit stiff because there were quite a few of us on the scene at the same time – Brian Buckley, Serge (Silvagni), Maurie Sankey and myself – and like ‘Bucks’ (Buckley) he couldn’t get much of a look-in,” Nicholls recalled.

“Ken was a big raw-boned bloke, a bit like Brian Buckley, but probably found it a bit hard to get games . . . and I know I wasn’t going to stand aside for them.

“But he went to Footscray, was a good player there and if memory serves he also served the Bulldogs as an administrator for which he was highly-regarded . . . and he was a good man to go with it.”

Greenwood, who later rounded out his playing career as captain-coach of VFA club Preston, famously came to Barassi’s aid at the end of the ’65 season, when senior coach and player were amongst a squad of 52 Carlton footballers and officials on an end-of-season trip to New Zealand’s North and South Islands.

How The Sun News-Pictorial captured Barassi’s drama on Mt. Cook

During the New Zealand foray, both Greenwood and Barassi found themselves in a diabolical predicament in climbing Mount Cook – New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3724 metres – and as Nicholls remembered “they were told not to climb it because they wouldn’t get down”.

The newspapers of the day reported that Barassi had survived a near-death experience on the mountain, having been caught on a ledge at 5000ft.

The following was Greenwood’s recollection of that experience, as told to this reporter in 2015 on the 50th anniversary of the Mt Cook foray:

“We were staying at this chalet-type hermitage at the base of Mount Cook for about three days, and on this particular day the sun was shining, we weren’t doing too much and Barassi said ‘Does anyone feel like going for a walk?’.

Three or four of us set off on the walk up this mountain – Johnny Gill was one and I really can’t remember who else – and we found this track through mountain scrub. After a while, Johnny Gill said: ‘This is getting too far for me – I’m going back’ – so ‘Barass’ and I pushed on.

I said to Barass, ‘How far do you want to go?’ and he said ‘Let’s climb until two o’clock, three o’clock or whatever’. Now I was a boy scout, I’d done a lot of hiking, and I knew we were getting up into the snowline and it was a bit rugged.

We kept pushing on and pushing on, and I thought ‘Well I’m not going to squib it, I’ll keeping going with him’, and as we got higher and higher it got pretty dicey.

Barass was ahead of me and he got us into a situation where we were both climbing quite vertically up the rock – and he got onto a ledge, grabbed a rock above his head to pull himself up, but couldn’t because it was too high. And he couldn’t come back down either because he’d slip, so he effectively became stuck there.

Prior to that, as we were walking along, he said to me: ‘I don’t help you, you don’t help me – let’s do this together’ – which I thought that was silly as you’d always help someone if they got into trouble.

Anyway, he was stuck there on the ledge, he wasn’t moving, his hands were getting wider and wider and I could see that he was getting a bit worried. I was below him, I was quite safe and I said to him ‘You need help don’t you’.

‘Yeah I do,’ came the reply.

So I managed to get up on the ledge with him, put my arm around him and steady him. This enabled him to inch along to another rock, which gave him stability. We were then able to sit down together and he turned to me and said ‘That was close’ and I said to him ‘Well we had to help eachother – we were at a height that was dangerous’.

When Barass said ‘We’ve gone far enough’, we then had to get back down. But when you’re walking down a mountain you get this feeling of falling over and somehow we lost our way. We saw snowdrifts happening and rocks disappearing, and we knew we couldn’t go on the snow. So we got to another ledge where the only alternative from there was to jump onto another ledge. It was a drop of more than 10 feet and Barass said ‘Look, I’ll jump first, then catch you when you jump’. So he jumped, falling forward, and he managed to grab hold of a bush on the way to cushion his fall. But he cut his hand open and I could see the blood even though he put his hand behind his back so I couldn’t see it, and I knew then that because he only had one good hand he couldn’t catch me.

He then said to me ‘Come on, you can do it’, but I was long-legged and lanky and I told him I had a feeling that I did what he did he wouldn’t be able to stop me. But he kept saying to me ‘Come on, you can do it’ and eventually I did it.

We eventually made it back. His hand was cut open, we were both covered in scratches and bruises and we both copped the park ranger who was waiting back at the hermitage for us. He tore strips of us for doing something without telling anybody, for forcing them to send out a search party and for basically putting ourselves in danger – we got a real dressing down and I never saw Barassi look so sheepish.

By the time we had climbed Mount Cook I’d already had a season with Ron, so I knew that he was a driven man. At Carlton he made an enormous impact. He was a breath of fresh air for us young blokes with his whole demeanour, his attitude and his drive for football. It was just terrific and we loved him. Barass had that gritty determination to succeed no matter what, just like on the mountain where he wanted to keep going and going just to prove that he could do it.

Did I save Ron Barassi’s life? I don’t like to say that. Anybody could have done it. The thing was he had nowhere else to go, he was stuck there and if he moved he would have fallen. He just got himself into a terrible predicament on a ledge that wasn’t safe.

We both understood the danger we were in, and in a quiet moment not long after I remember him saying to me, ‘Thank God we were both able to help eachother’. In the years since we have had that special bond and whenever I bump into him now we have a quiet chuckle.”

Carlton senior players will wear black armbands into Saturday night’s match with Brisbane at Marvel Stadium as a mark of respect to the late Ken Greenwood.

New Player Highlight Videos for 2021

At the moment we are going through the 1988 season and taking out the highlights which will be collated for 2022. Meanwhile in 2021 we get to enjoy an entire season of player highlights videos from the 1987 season.

These are the videos that have most recently published so far in 2021, expect many more as the year progresses!