Local boy Webster, 90 years young, on Carlton then and now

Former player Peter Webster celebrates his 90th birthday on Saturday 6 August.

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.

At the far right is the old Webster family home, 761 Drummond Street, North Carlton. Also pictured is the grassway where Peter first kicked a football.

“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?”

Peter Webster, Carlton footballer, by the picket fence, Princes Park.

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.

Peter Webster (at right) with former Carlton teammate Ron Robertson, at the old Carlton ground in 2016.

“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.”

Tony Pickett returns, talks Curnow and the Carlton connection

Tony Pickett returned to IKON Park and was blown away by the recent redevelopment.

CHARLIE Curnow’s unofficial fan club probably runs into the tens of thousands thesedays… and chief amongst them is Tony Pickett, who more than 40 years ago carried the exhilarating forward’s No.30 on his back.

Pickett, the former Carlton wingman who today lives quietly in retirement near the Bay of Fires on Tasmania’s idyllic east coast, was a welcome visitor to the place he remembered as Princes Park, having earlier reunited with some of his old contemporaries – the likes of Rod Ashman, Rod Austin, Wayne Harmes, Trevor Keogh, Mark Maclure, Val Perovic and Geoff Southby – over lunch at their traditional inner city go-to trattoria, Maria’s in nearby Peel Street.

Pickett was blown away by the new IKON Park redevelopment – a far cry from the place he knew in his maiden season of 1976.

“This is an unbelievable facility. If you’re a player here you’ve got no excuses,” Pickett, who turns 70 in January, said.

The Ian Thorogood-coached Carlton senior squad of 1976. Tony Pickett sits in the second row, second from the left.

“I remember the Heatley Stand and walking into reasonably dim rooms. There were weights there back then, but only a limited supply, and it didn’t matter whether you were 12 stone or 18: you lifted the same weights.”

Recruited to Carlton from North Launceston on the recommendation of the Club’s 102-game former centreman Berkley Cox – co-incidentally an old schoolmate of his father – Pickett joined Carlton on the eve of the 1976 season (as did the fleet-footed North Hobart wingman Leigh McConnon) and was billeted out to a Reverend and his wife at a premises within walking distance of the ground.

He fared well on Geoff Ablett in a practice match with Hawthorn and was promptly handed the No.30 vacated by the late Vin Waite. As he said with some modesty: “I was lucky in that I think it was Bryan Quirk who retired the year before, so there was a gap on the wing and I happened to be the man on the spot”.

“I can’t remember when it happened, whether on the following Tuesday leading up to the opening round, but they said to me ‘If you sign up you’re in the first game’. Well, how could I resist that? That’s how it all happened really,” he said.

Tony Pickett circa 1979.

Conscious of the need for speed if he was to progress, Pickett was as ready as he could ever be for the rigours of League football, having worked on his pace in the immediate years preceding the move.

“I was as slow as a wet week when I was 13, 14 and 15, so for about five years in a row I trained with the sprinters who were preparing for the Devonport, La Trobe and Burnie Gifts,” he said.

“Over five or six years I gradually got quicker, I grew a little bit and I cut the gap down – and I became more competitive with it which helped with my football.”

Adjudged the Club’s best first-year player, Pickett booted four goals on debut in what was an opening round baptism of fire involving Collingwood, and was a member of the 20 that fell agonisingly short of North Melbourne in the ’76 preliminary final. Incredibly, he was jetting in and out of Hobart for the first eight games as he balanced his footy with a career in teaching.

Finding his place across midfield, Pickett turned out for the old dark Navy Blues in 60 senior appearances through four seasons in total. Regrettably, an injury to the hip bone brought premature end to Pickett’s career after the Round 11 match with South Melbourne in 1979 – a premiership season under Captain-Coach Alex Jesaulenko’s watch.

In the end, Carlton wingers Peter Francis and the late fellow Tasmanian Michael Young emerged, and ultimately made it to the podium – and that’s football as Pickett readily attested.

“I wouldn’t change anything,” declared Pickett, who also agreed to a substantial to-camera interview for the Club’s archive in reflecting on his time in the League football industry.

“I had a brief but interesting career at Carlton, I made some great friends which is what I remember most of my time here, and I still follow today’s teams from afar – and whenever Charlie kicks a goal I always point the number out to my wife.”

A son gifts his late father’s guernsey to Carlton

The Navy Blue guernsey worn by Life Member Graham McColl has found a new home back at Carlton.

THE dark Navy Blue guernsey worn by the late Carlton ruckman Graham McColl through his one and only senior League season of 1958 has found a new home back at the old ground.

The No.36 long sleeve woollen garment, lovingly maintained by Graham’s wife of 65 years Dorothy, was generously handed over for inclusion in the football club archive, along with various football records of the day, by their son Glenn.

“I think this is the right place for Dad’s guernsey to go. I’d hate to see the old jumper just rot away,” Glenn said.

“I haven’t got any kids to pass the guernsey on to, and with the new Blues museum I think it’s fitting. I know Dad would be chuffed as Carlton meant so much to him.

“The same with the records. They have nowhere to go and I’d rather they go to the club than wind up on eBay.”

Glenn McColl proudly displays his late father’s No.36 long sleeve, which he has generously donated to the Carlton Football Club archive.

Glenn, a Parks Auditor with the City of Melbourne, is, as with his sister Meryl, a lifelong Carlton supporter.

“I was brainwashed from a very early age,” Glenn conceded of his true Blue ties. “When I was about four or five, my grandfather took me to the Carlton ground to watch my Dad out on the field. After the game, my grandfather would take me into the room to see Dad, and I’d go into the inner sanctum with my autograph book.

“Sometimes I’d follow Dad into the rooms at half-time. A memory I have of these experiences is seeing the bootstudders quickly working their craft. The players were so very good to me too and if you ask me to nominate a favourite I have a soft spot for Bruce Doull for the way he went about his football and because he was such a nice man. I also had a great relationship with Rod Ashman.”

Graham McColl, whose association with the Club would endure for more than a quarter of a century – but not as he anticipated – passed away back in March after a short illness in Geelong Hospital.

Recruited to the Club from neighbouring VFA outfit Coburg, McColl – a Life Member of Carlton – completed his debut with Bill Arch and Chris Pavlou in the Round 2 match of 1958 against North Melbourne at Princes Park – but he was just 10 games into his maiden season when he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

McColl suffered the injury in the night Grand Final against St Kilda at the Lakeside Oval that September. He resumed training the following March, only to break down with the same injury, and at 24, his League career was over before it had begun.

Princes Park, March 1959. Graham McColl, wearing his No.36 long sleeve guernsey, breaks down with a recurrence of the ruptured ACL incurred the previous September. An anxious Carlton Senior Coach Ken Hands watches on as McColl is assisted from the ground by trainers, and at 24 the budding ruckman’s career is over.

The proverbial silver lining came with McColl’s subsequent pursuit of recovery techniques – which in turn piqued his interest in becoming a club trainer – and so it was that McColl embarked on his new career at Carlton, rising through the ranks of the support staff from thirds, to reserves and ultimately seniors.

In the premiership season of 1981, McColl’s contributions to Carlton as trainer were rewarded with Life Membership – the same year in which three-time premiership player Mark Maclure (who wore McColl’s No.36) and the late Graeme Whitnall were similarly honoured.

By then, McColl’s son had been on hand for each of the five Carlton premierships including the ’68 droughtbreaker, with more to follow. To quote Glenn: “It was a fantastic era for Carlton and I was truly blessed”.

“It’s been a long time between drinks since 1995, with an entire generation of Carlton supporters who haven’t experienced success, so it’s fantastic to see the progress today’s players are making,” he said.

“And the next Carlton premiership will be the greatest of them all because it would have been the hardest earnt.”

In a lovely postscript to this story, members of the McColl family were out in force at Marvel Stadium on Sunday to savour the Carlton team’s 36-point win over the visiting Greater Western Sydney . . . and maybe Graham was looking down.

“I know Mum was especially chuffed to have attended having not been to a live match in about 40 years since Dad last worked at the Club,” Glenn said.

“It was terrific for her and for all of us to be there for the win – a great result for the club – and to see Josh Honey running around in Dad’s old number and kick a goal was a genuine highlight.”

The McColl family and members of extended family at Marvel Stadium on Sunday. Pictured from left to right are Liam Whiteside, Bill Whiteside, Dorothy McColl, Glenn McColl and his partner Jacqui Kinder, Meryl Whiteside (née McColl) and Max Kinder. This photograph was posted at the main change by Meryl Whiteside (née McColl) on Facebook with the caption: “For Dad. Go Carlton, half time”.

Vale Bruce Williams

The Blues will wear black armbands this week in honour of former player Bruce Williams.

FORMER Carlton rover Bruce Williams, a member of the Blues’ 1962 Grand Final 20, has passed away on the Gold Coast after a long illness. He was 83.

Williams, who was receiving palliative care, passed away in the lounge room of his home in Burleigh Waters on Monday, his wife of 61 years Lesley and daughter Krista by his side.

It was on the cusp of the 1959 season that Lesley – Williams’ then girlfriend whom he’d met a local dance – accompanied the Carlton hopeful on the move from Morwell. On arrival, they were billeted out to a home in Linda Street in nearby Coburg, and as Lesley recalled: “We stayed with a lady named Mrs Smith, her husband and their little girl because Mrs Smith took in borders”.

Williams was eight days shy of his 20th birthday when he followed the captain Bruce Comben down the race and onto Princes Park for his first Carlton game – the opening round match of the ’59 season.

Named on a half-forward flank for that match with Essendon, Williams took his place alongside another debutant John Williams (no relation) – whose son Mark also represented the club at senior level – in what was Ken Hands’ first match as Senior Coach. Harry Beitzel umpired that contest, and the home team – with the late Sergio Silvagni at full-forward, booting four of his five match-day goals in the opening term – got up by 14 points.

The left-footed Williams – sporting the No.7 later worn by Wayne Johnston, Brett Ratten and now Matthew Kennedy – made an immediate impression, earning his club’s Best First Year Player Award in season ’59. His 62 senior career games would take in another five seasons as the recognised No.1 rover to Graham Donaldson (and later John Nicholls), all of them under Hands’ watch.

The Carlton team in Round 4, 1959: Bruce Williams is the first player on the left in the front row.

Williams was there in ’62 when the Carlton players, by virtue of a drawn preliminary final with Geelong and victory in the replay, were effectively spent by Grand Final day. But he was amongst the better performers on that last Saturday in September, booting three of the Blues’ eight goals, after accruing six in the three lead-up finals combined.

Ian Collins, Carlton’s 1968 premiership player and later its Chief Executive and President, was a member of that ’62 Grand Final team. Of Williams, Collins remembered a genuine ball winner and a personable teammate.

“Bruce was one of our three on-ballers with ‘Stringy’ (Leo) Brereton and Peter Falconer,” Collins recalled.

“He used to find the ball all right. He wasn’t overly quick, he didn’t have an abundance of pace, but he was a nice kick, he kicked about as many goals as he played games (56) and was a handy player.

“On top of that, he was a real good bloke.”

On completing his time at Carlton, Williams wasn’t lost to the game. After a protracted struggle to obtain a clearance, he was lured back to Morwell as assistant coach by his old Carlton teammate Donaldson, but took the helm with the seniors when Donaldson was hospitalised. He was appointed Morwell’s permanent Senior Coach in 1966 and he later relocated to the Riverina, firstly to Berrigan as its resident coach, and later Ganmain.

“Bruce and I lived in Wagga for some time, and he worked as a bookmaker there,” Lesley said. “But he got itchy feet and found another coaching job in Queensland with Palm Beach. He took Palm Beach to a premiership and we lived in the area ever since.”

Williams was the 724th player to represent the Carlton Football Club at senior level since the formation of the VFL in 1897, and as Lesley explained he supported the old dark Navy Blues to the end.

“He loved Carlton, heart and soul. He watched every match his old team played and he was so encouraged to see the change in the team’s fortunes,” Lesley said.

“Carlton meant so much to him. The Club gave him his start in football.”

Bruce Williams is survived by his beloved wife Lesley, eldest son Craig, daughter Krista Arnold, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

His youngest son Paul passed away of motor neurone disease 12 years ago.

The Carlton players will wear black armbands as a mark of respect to Williams, in Saturday night’s match with Adelaide at Adelaide Oval.

The Carlton team, which included first-gamer Bruce Williams, for the season opener v Essendon – Saturday 18 April 1959 at Princes Park

B:           Bruce Comben (c)                  George Ferry                     John Nicholls
HB:         Denis Zeunert                        Bob Crowe                        John James
C:           Graham Gilchrist                     Laurie Kerr                       John Chick (vc)
HF:         Bruce Williams                        John Williams                   Don Nicholls
F:           Gerald Burke                          Sergio Silvagni                   Leo Brereton
R:          Graham Donaldson (dvc)          Kevin Clarke                      John Heathcote
Res:       Doug Beasy                            Brian Buckley

Coach:  Ken Hands