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“The Don” dies at 98

CFC TV: Don McIntyre CFC TV were fortunate to speak to Don McIntyre about his memories of the 1938 Premiership.
“Don” McIntyre – the last surviving member of Carlton’s 1938 Premiership team and as such its only surviving pre-World War II Premiership player – has died suddenly at the age of 98.

McIntyre, who also earned the Angus Travill Medal for club champion in 1937, passed away this morning after minor surgery at Epworth Hospital. A bachelor all his life, he had spent his final years at Vasey RSL Care in East Brighton.

Sporting the famous No.2 Navy Blue guernsey also worn with distinction by the likes of John Nicholls, Greg Williams and (now) Troy Menzel, McIntyre represented Carlton in 100 senior games between 1935 and ’42 – the first of them against Footscray, the last against Fitzroy.

His death comes just two months prior to the 75th anniversary of the’38 Grand Final – September 24 – when Carlton, led by captain-coach Brighton Diggins, prevailed over Collingwood before a then record attendance of 96,486.

That day, McIntyre took his place in a back pocket alongside Frank Gill and Jim Park, who would later pay with his life during wartime service in New Guinea. He would be part of a history-making 15-point victory in that match, for it broke a 23-year Premiership drought – Carlton’s longest in 117 seasons of VFL/AFL competition.

“As far as I was concerned it was unexpected to get there [to Carlton] and to play as many games as I did . . . I had a charmed life, no doubt about it,” McIntyre said, in a final interview with this reporter five years ago.

Daniel Gordon McIntyre was born in Geelong on March 5, 1913, and as a child followed the local Geelong team with unbridled enthusiasm. “I used to go with my grandfather and hardly missed a game down there through the early teen years,” he remembered.

“Being a very enthusiastic young supporter I thought it was the best thing that could happen to you, to get down to Corio Oval and see them play on a Saturday afternoon. I can still remember the first Brownlow Medallist, “Carji” Greeves, number 20, playing in the centre, “Jocka” Todd, Cliff Rankin and so on.

“I well remember the ’25 Grand Final that Geelong won. That was Geelong’s first premiership in the Victorian Football League and the first time the Grand Final was broadcast. The two of us went down to Yarra Street in Geelong, to the RSL, and we stood there and listened to the broadcast of the 1925 Grand Final. That was quite a thing.”

In the early 1930s, on completion of his education, McIntyre pursued a career as a junior schoolteacher. His vocation prompted relocation to Pakenham, where he served in 1933 and ’34 before entering teacher’s college the following year.

A cousin of the late Ken McIntyre after whom the finals system was named, McIntyre combined his studies with local footy, lining up at full-back for Pakenham District. The team experienced a successful season, but, to use racing parlance, fell at the final hurdle.

“In 1934 we played Nar Nar Goon in the Grand Final in the most appalling conditions – ankle deep mud – and lost by a point,” he said. “Whose fault was it? Mainly the slippery ball. They handled it better.”

As fate would have it, Pakenham’s President was an avid Carlton supporter - not surprising then that a couple of Carlton talent scouts found their way out to the ground to entice young Don. As McIntyre said: “they came up to watch a game and interview me, and that was it. The next thing was an invitation to join them and start training”.

“In those days there was zoning and the question of clearances was a bit tricky and caused a fair bit of discussion, but I stepped out of Geelong without any trouble,” McIntyre said. “I got the clearance when it was submitted.”

McIntyre joined Carlton in 1935, turning out for the first of 100 senior games in the seventh round against the Bulldogs at the Western Oval. Successes both individual and collective would surely come his way.

It says much of his selfless character that McIntyre saw fit to donate his much coveted individual awards to the club for which he so ably served – the Terry Ogden Memorial Medal for Most improved Player in 1936; the Angus Travill Medal and Robert Reynolds Trophy for best and fairest in 1937; and the 1938 VFL Premiership Medal

At the time he respectfully asked that he not be quoted regarding the donation, for the last thing he wanted was fanfare. But he was firm in his resolve that the Carlton Football Club was where his collection truly belonged, particularly now that some space in the foyer of the new $20million facility had been earmarked for a rotating exhibition of artefacts from Carlton’s illustrious history.

McIntyre’s first cousin James McIntyre said that McIntyre suffered an apparent heart attack in hospital after a reasonably simple surgical procedure, “which at his age was always on the cards”.

“At 98, it’s not a bad innings is it,” James said. “The one thing we all hoped for was that when it happened it wasn’t long and drawn out – that it was quick – and it was.”

James described McIntyre as “fiercely independent” and “very private all his life”. “He used to play the cards close to his chest and he found it hard to let go. Even at 98 he was very much in control of his own affairs,” James said.

“He was a voracious reader and until a degenerative problem cost him his sight in one eye he was a regular visitor to the library.

“And he still followed the Blues. When games were played at Princes Park he’d drive from his home in Surrey Hills to Princes Park to find a car park by 12 noon. He’d sit there and eat his sandwiches and drink from his thermos before wandering into the ground.

“He saw Carlton play at Etihad a couple of times, although he wasn’t mad on the place. But he still had his views on who should be playing and where and he was Carlton to the end.”

Don McIntyre is survived by his cousin James and two lifelong personal friends. Funeral arrangements are yet to be finalised, but the Carlton players will wear black armbands into Friday night’s match with North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium as a mark of respect.

The following are Don McIntyre’s unique recollections of the Carlton Football Club of another time. The interview was recorded in 2008, in the lead-up to the 70th anniversary of the 1938 Grand Final victory.

Joining Carlton, 1935

I was very impressed from day one with the management of Carlton. They were a remarkably impressive lot of blokes. There was Dave Crone, who was in his last year as President; then Ken Luke who everyone knows was such an outstanding man to be in charge of whatever he undertook; (the secretary) Harry Bell who was the assistant librarian at the State Parliamentary Library; and Bill Bryson the treasurer. ‘Horrie’ Clover was still around, serving on the committee having recently retired; and the whole lot of them were very impressive for someone of my age . . .

For the time, bearing in mind that the real estate wasn’t all that impressive, the Heatley Stand was relatively new and the facilities were just fair. The training room was basically a bare room with a few lockers, tables and what have you and the bathing facilities were just so-so. I well remember being set back the first time I went into the shower room and there was one enormous bath there which took either four or five in and quite often you’d be in there with four or five others because there weren’t enough showers to go around. So Carlton’s facilities back then, when compared with today’s facilities, were equivalent to a third rate country club more than anything else.

I remember my first game. It was a game at Footscray. I went out and it was the first time Carlton had actually been beaten by Footscray, and by and large it was a fairly miserable occasion. I was a back pocket all the time.

Throughout the whole time I was there the team was fairly good and on most occasions would finish somewhere like fourth, fifth or sixth. I think we were fourth in ’37 and lost the semi-final, and then in ’38 we won it from second or third and for the next three years or so we were around about the middle. So there was nothing really outstanding about the team for the whole time that I was there.

The number 2

I wore the No.2. I had no choice in the matter, I was just given it, and it became a very famous number as it turned out.

Harry “Soapy” Vallence

The outstanding character really in the public eye who was at the last stage of his career was Harry Vallence. He was a remarkable bloke Harry. He had a very good personality, and got on with people very easily indeed, whether on Sunday social occasions down at Mornington or at other social places around. He had a very good singing voice and after a drink or two he could easily be talked into entertaining the people who were there.

The Depression

It was a bit tricky really. I started at the [Melbourne] University in ’36 doing part-time work there, and I was out at Box Hill High School. I knocked off during training times at four o’clock, got a train in from Box Hill and a tram up from Elizabeth Street for training.

Being in the middle of the Depression, jobs were more important than training and as a result all the fellows made sure they did the right thing at work. The main thing was people worrying about how on earth they were going to get jobs and those who did were on low wages and so on, which meant that the standard of living was not very great.

Training, Princes Park

There were no lights on in those days and it was quite dark by five o’clock, so those who could turn up for training did.

I was one of the lucky ones because I could get out there a bit earlier, but I then had to work in with university lecturers - some of which started at six o’clock and seven o’clock - and after training I had to go to those . . . so in that sense it was a bit hard to mix both.

Career calling

I was on the maths/science side. I had three years at Box Hill high School and then a year at Swinburne Tech because you could get a bit of time off with the night classes there to attend training and so on. I then gave that away and joined the weather bureau, which was about 1938.

The Air Force took over from the Weather Bureau in 1941, so that limited me for the next five years, then afterwards I joined the uniformed airforce RAF College at Point Cook and spent the last 28 years there.

Brighton Diggins

He was a big fellow with a good personality and very charming smile. He was one of the luckiest fellows who ever played. He came from South Melbourne, captained and coached the premiership team in his first year of ’38.

I remember at the premiership dinner in the old Hotel Argus in Elizabeth Street we were all seated and ready to start eating and there was no Brighton around. After about ten minutes I remember him coming to the door, stood up, held both hands arm like this, both full of notes, and he had been collecting whatever he could from his betting at double figure odds before the season ever started. He was very, very lucky that bloke.

Bob Chitty

Bob came later on. He really started in ’38 and I had three and a bit years after that, so Bob really hadn’t hit his straps until the time I disappeared from the scene. Bob wasn’t as intimidating as one or two others could be whenever they got riled up, but he had the really good, hard physique reminiscent of some of the good half-back flankers that rule the roost in the game at the moment. Bob was one of those types physically – he was very strong and robust.

Player payments

The Coulter Law applied and as far as I know, without delving around into anyone else around the place to see if they had private arrangements or not, it was a straight three pounds a week – which, after all, when the basic wage was somewhere between five and six – half a season was particularly attractive to nearly everyone, particularly the players, especially the young married ones.

Season 1937

“I’ve reflected on that year quite a lot. I was never outstanding and was very, very lucky to win that (the club best and fairest). At the time we didn’t have very many outstanding top quality Brownlow Medallists in the place and as a result if you were consistent you had a fair chance of rating fairly well from the point of view of getting an award of some sort. There were far more talented players than I. Keith Shea was probably the most talented left foot stab kick, “Mick” Crisp won the best and fairest twice. It was quite even and I’m not being modest – just genuine. There were half a dozen others who could have got it just as well. It’s hard to believe it all happened 70 years ago. I’m not very good at history and really, I think the present and the future are the important things. The memory gets a bit dim, so it comes as a bit of a shock occasionally to think back to what it was like, and it WAS 70 years ago.

Grand Final day, 1938

The older southern stand stretched around to bay 14 or 15 at the time, and then there was quite a lot of standing room. In this particular game, the Grand Final against Collingwood, the ground was closed at half-past one because it was chock a block full. There were 97,000 there and the pressure of the people standing in the area at the sou-west corner where the opening was for the groundsmen and the like to go on, broke the fence . . . and quite a number . . . hundreds or thousands or so, were distributed around the outer side between the boundary line and the fence. Getting into it as far as I was concerned, the crowd was so thick that when you got in through the members area there it was almost like playing a quarter or two before you even got to the dressing room to get in.

My memory of the game itself is pretty dim in the main. I’ve thought about it on a number of occasions. The only impression I have is that there was nothing close or exciting about it, as it was around about the two to three-goal margin most of the time and that’s the way it was at the end. On recollection it wasn’t a very high standard game at all.

[The celebrations], I found, were a bit tame. I don’t know why – it was just a recollection. I didn’t drink in those days, so that was one thing. They had a couple of entertainers doing the usual things of singing and telling stories . . .  and Harry Vallence was the only one worth listening to when he and a couple of other players got up to sing a song or two. But by and large it didn’t impress me too much, but of course when you’re a non-drinker in that sort of atmosphere it colours the outlook a little bit – and also, you’re a bit weary after having played the game and going on towards midnight after that.

It was our first premiership since 1915. Yes, it was a great occasion for one person in particular and that was Newton Chandler the secretary . . . he had that marvellous career as secretary and how old was he when he died? 101 or 102. He was one of the outstanding personalities at the club.

That was Harry Vallence’s last game. It was a nice way for him to go out and he doubled up really, when he went to Williamstown the following year and Williamstown won the premiership.

Final game

The 100th game of course was early in ’42, about the fourth game, and I was just ‘so so’ as far as any sort of form was concerned and I was very lucky to make the hundredth. I’d been in the Air Force for about 12 months at that stage and on the Monday I was on the troop train going to Townsville and, later on, to New Guinea. So I was very lucky from that point of view to make the hundred.

The theme song

I doubted that any of us knew the words. It didn’t rate really highly with us. The song must have been introduced later.

Wartime

I had about half a dozen postings around different islands and finished up in the second tour in Borneo on the north west coast.

I was in a unit that was waiting for the RAF to come along and take over and we were very late coming back. I then went to Tasmania for three years so there was no contact around here with the football club at all until well after my football career had finished and I just got out of touch for a long while after that. In fact I more or less got out of touch completely. I had other interests, so football just became a passing interest after I retired really.

About Carlton

My greatest impression was to go in with a group of people who were keen about the club, so interested in doing well and taking a keen interest in the players too as they came along, and just the general atmosphere - it was a very pleasant, friendly club indeed.