Inspired by the Spirit of Carlton’s recent trip to Kukerin, home of Ross Ditchburn, we will present each week a profile of a country town and the players that they have provided for the Carlton Football Club.
Bacchus Marsh is a leafy relaxed town 50km west of Melbourne, home to superb fruit and veg and some excellent pubs. This town has been a great one for providing players for the Carlton Football Club. The most famous of which was the legendary Harry ‘Soapy’ Vallence. Other players from the town include Jack Skinner, Keith Shea, Les Carr, Les Watkins and the great Ollie Grieve. Premierships, leading goalkickers, best and fairests and a legend, we have a lot to thank the town of Bacchus Marsh. Read on to find our more about each of these past players for the mighty Blues.
Henry Francis ‘Soapy’ Vallence is a true legend of the Carlton Football Club, and one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time. In a stellar 204 game VFL career between 1926 and 1938, he kicked 722 goals – a club record that stood for more than fifty years, until it was eventually bettered by another champion, Stephen Kernahan, in 1997.
Vallence came to Princes Park as a 20 year-old from Ballarat League side Bacchus Marsh. At 183 cm and 80 kg, the lean youngster soon impressed, and was nicknamed ‘Soapy’ because he was a slippery customer when the ball hit the ground – especially in wet weather. He was also a powerful, accurate kick and a brilliant high mark. The name stuck, and he wore it proudly throughout his career.
He made his debut for the Blues in 1926, wearing guernsey 22, and soon won a regular place in the team as a creative half-forward. Then in 1929 he was offered a chance at full forward, and never looked back after he topped Carlton’s goal-kicking list with 64 majors. In 1931 he was the club (and the League’s) top scorer with 86 goals, and in 1932 had his best return with 97. Only Geelong’s George Moloney did better that year with 109.
On four separate occasions Soapy kicked 11 goals in a match, and two of those games were finals; the first Semi in 1931 and the Preliminary Final in 1932. He was a renowned big-occasion player, and never went missing when the contest was fiercest. In eight of his twelve seasons with the Blues, he was our major goal-scorer, as well as a standout performer in each of his five appearances for the Victorian state side.
In 1937 Soapy’s form tapered off, and he was dropped to the seconds. Thinking his time at Carlton might be up, he agreed to join VFA team Williamstown. But Carlton’s new coach Brighton Diggins wouldn’t hear of his star leaving, and talked Soapy into staying just one more year. It was a wise decision for all concerned. Regaining confidence and touch, Soapy had another stellar season. He slotted another 81 goals as the Blues won their way into the 1938 Grand Final, and beat the strong favourites Collingwood by 15 points. Carlton’s game plan – which included playing Vallence wide on one half-forward flank, and bombing the ball long to stand-in full forward Ken Baxter – unbalanced Collingwood, and the final score flattered them.
A familiar and popular face at Princes Park for many years after his playing days were through, Harry “Soapy” Vallence was honoured as one of nine foundation members of the Carlton Hall of Fame in 1987. Barely four years later, on July 25, 1991, he passed away peacefully at the age of 86.
Click this link to see a Harry Vallence image gallery featuring pictures from his family collection.
Another quality footballer whose career at Carlton was prematurely ended by military service in World War II, Jack Skinner was recruited from Bacchus Marsh, the same club that provided Carlton with star forwards Harry Vallence and Keith Shea (he also played for neighbouing team Darley). He started out as a speedy half-forward flanker, before evolving into a clever and hard-running centreman whose third and last season at Princes Park was his best.
Prior to Skinner’s first senior game in 1939, Carlton selector Horrie Clover claimed that Jack was the fastest man over ten to twelve yards (11 metres) to have trained with the club. Skinner was also originally a right foot kick, but changed to his left when he found that it brought him greater distance. This obviously helped his cause, because he was the only new recruit to force his way into Carlton’s team for the opening round of 1939, on the day when the Blues unfurled their previous year’s Premiership pennant, before taking on South Melbourne at Princes Park.
Skinner played his debut match at half-forward – alongside Jack Wrout and Paul Schmidt – and the reigning Premiers thrashed the Swans by 9 goals. As the season progressed, Carlton often seemed hungry for more glory – but defeats by Richmond in both of our meetings, as well as a couple of other shock losses mid-year, saw the Blues tumble out of finals contention to a disappointing fifth-place finish by year’s end.
In September 1939, just as the VFL final series got underway, Australia was drawn into its second major conflict in a generation. Great Britain had declared war on Germany, so her dominions had followed suit. Within weeks, Skinner, and many thousands of other young Aussies volunteered for military service – just as their fathers and older brothers had done in the Great War of 1914-18. Jack joined the Militia, whose primary duty was the defence against invasion of Australia’s mainland.
Over the following five years, Jack soldiered on in the service of his country. He rose to the rank of Corporal, and was finally discharged in June, 1946 – almost a year after the end of World War II, and nine months after Carlton defeated South Melbourne in the 1945 ‘Bloodbath’ Grand Final.
A brilliant, gifted footballer who played his first senior match for Carlton before his 18th birthday, Keith Shea was a valuable member of Carlton’s 1932 Grand Final team, and a star for the Blues in the harsh years prior to World War II. After an all too brief stay at Princes Park, he was lured to Western Australia at the peak of his career.
Shea was recruited from Bacchus Marsh as a junior prodigy. Although lightly-built, his wiry frame was deceptively strong. He was quick, beautifully balanced, very capable overhead, and kicked long off his preferred left foot. Still just 17 years old, he forced his way into the Carlton senior side half-way through the 1932 season, and only injury kept him out from that day on.
Remarkably, Shea played under different captains in each of his six seasons with the Blues. In order, they were Colin Martyn (1932), Frank Gill (1933), Maurie Johnson (1934), Charlie Davey (1935), Jim Francis (1936) and Ansell Clarke (1937). Amidst the deprivations of the Great Depression – indeed, because of them – VFL football continued to draw huge crowds throughout the thirties, and players were comparatively well paid. Therefore, places in every team were highly prized and hotly contested.
In just his eighth game for the Blues, Shea announced his arrival with a slashing performance on a half-forward flank against Richmond in the 1932 Second Semi-Final. Although the Tigers won comfortably in the end – by four goals – they couldn’t subdue the youngster in navy blue guernsey number 8. Shea’s creativity, accurate foot-passing and two opportunist goals made him a thorn in Richmond’s side all day.
A player whose career flamed brightly yet briefly across the fabric of the Carlton Football Club, Keith Shea tragically died of cancer on February 27, 1951. He was just 36 years old
Wearing guernsey #34, Carr played 9 games after debuting in Season 1947.
Les Watkins played a single game for Carlton, running out in Navy Blue in 1938. Watkins would debut in the same game as Arthur Sanger in the #18 Guernsey. Sanger went on to wear that same Guernsey for the rest of his 117 game career at Princes Park. Watkins also managed to kick a goal in this game.
Watkins was born in Heathcote and recruited from Bacchus Marsh
Throughout our long and proud history, the Carlton Football Club has traditionally produced exceptional full-backs. For seven seasons immediately after World War II, Carlton’s champion custodian of the goal square was Oliver Kelvin ‘Ollie’ Grieve – a brilliant, close-checking defender who was a glorious high mark and a powerful, driving drop-kick.
Grieve came to Princes Park from his home town of Bacchus Marsh in 1942, but managed only six matches in his debut season before his football career was interrupted while he served his country in war. Already a reservist, he was called up by the Australian Army in July 1942, and spent the next three and a half years in uniform. Gratefully unscathed at the war’s end, he came home to anchor the defence in the Blues’ 1947 Premiership team, and twelve months later, finished runner-up in the 1948 Brownlow Medal.
With Grieve settled in at full-back and the equally brilliant Bert Deacon at centre half-back, Carlton’s defence was the launching pad of the Blues’ magnificent, last-gasp Premiership triumph in 1947. Trailing Essendon by five points inside the last minute of the Grand Final, Carlton’s captain Ern Henfry pumped the ball long out of the centre to a contest at half-forward. The ball spilt from the pack and was pounced on by flanker Fred Stafford, whose neat left foot snap went sailing between the posts to give Carlton an astonishing victory by one point.
However, perhaps the one game that stamped Ollie Grieve as one of the greats of his era was Carlton’s humiliating defeat by Essendon in the 1949 Grand Final. Spearheaded by their sensational full-forward John Coleman, Essendon thrashed the Blues by 73 points. One report from that match said (in part); ’by half time, star players on each side had been singled out and roughed up – with the exception of Coleman – who Grieve was beating on sheer ability.’
Coleman had started the game needing six goals to crack 100 for the season. However, by the last change Grieve had been heroic in keeping the Bomber star to only two successful shots at goal from a mountain of opportunities. Still, Essendon were ten goals up and in complete control. Throughout the last quarter the Bombers thought only of getting the ball to Coleman by hand or by foot, and in the end, he achieved his dream when he punted through number six with only a minute or so left on the clock. Coleman got his reward, but Ollie Grieve won universal admiration for his grit and determination against enormous odds.
The following year, Grieve took up an appointment as playing coach of Bendigo League club Eaglehawk, and later rounded off his playing days with Sunraysia club Irymple. Some years afterward he moved to Perth, where he passed away prematurely at the age of 58 in February, 1978. In 1994, Ollie Grieve was remembered with deep affection when he was inducted into the Carlton Hall of Fame.