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Blues' dream recruit

The Carlton team on the MCG, grand-final day 1947. George Bailey is seated second from the left alongside fellow West Australian and captain Ern Henfry.
The Carlton team on the MCG, grand-final day 1947. George Bailey is seated second from the left alongside fellow West Australian and captain Ern Henfry.

If only it was that easy for messrs Silvagni and his fellow recruiters – to land a future Carlton premiership player without having cast so much as a discerning eye. 

So it was in April 1941, when the then vice-president and resident talent scout Newton Chandler secured George Bailey in extraordinary circumstances as The Argus’ Percy Taylor reported on the second Saturday of that month.

“Without having seen him play, but acting on good reports of his ability, Carlton has signed up George Bailey, a centre half-back from Perth, who arrived in Melbourne on Monday and is now in the R.A.A.F. at Point Cook.

“Bailey, who is aged 21 years, 6ft, 1in. in height, and 13st. in weight, has played 52 games with Perth. He is said to have dash and pace, and when he visited the ground on Thursday night there was no hesitation on either side in signing him up.

“He has spent some months at training in Adelaide and played in a scratch match with West Adelaide last Saturday. Officials there spoke highly of him and regretted his departure.”

Bailey was, at the time, one of 13 Carlton players who had answered the country’s call and volunteered for overseas service. Amongst them was Jim Park, who would later lose his life in Lae, New Guinea, and Ernie Pilkington, who survived the Japanese aircraft bombing of the HMAS Vampire, even though his beloved dark navy blue guernsey went down with the destroyer.

Though short of a run, Bailey made the cut as Carlton’s 19th man for the second round match of the ’41 season, against Richmond at Punt Road – a contest won by Richmond on the same day a badly broken leg forced the retirement of Carlton’s 1938 premiership hero Jack Hale.

Bailey was amongst Carlton’s trophy winners in his maiden season. The then secretary Harry Bell, in his annual report, noted: “George Bailey is another who picks himself for the “best first-year player”. George, coming from West Australia, was at all times a very sound back player, improved as the season advanced, and appears to possess the temperament, as the greater the occasion the better he plays; therefore, he is a decided acquisition to the Club”.

In respect of Bailey’s recruitment, and indeed for most players lured to the Club at that time, there were extenuating circumstances. For this was wartime, as Bell so clearly noted in closing his report:

 . . . In these times owing to many players being in Militia camps and others engaged in war work, there is considerable difficulty in placing the best team in the field, and also of recruiting good new players and with war now in he Pacific, the position will cause more anxiety, and no doubt greater hardship, to football organisation and management.

[But] there has been no slackening of effort to obtain first-class players for the club, and already several promising players, besides one or two well-known and seasoned players, have been gained, and your Committee confidently predict that these are destined to play an important part in Carlton’s success in the coming seasons.

With the material available, and a prevailing spirit of enthusiasm and hopefulness, which contribute so largely in securing successful results, your committee looks forward with confidence to the 1942 season.

In conclusion, your committee earnestly hopes that the challenge to Christian civilisation will soon be overthrown by Great Britain and her Allies, and that these dark days may then soon be changed to joy, happiness and peace.

Bailey’s ongoing wartime service would curtail his Carlton appearances through 1943 and ’44 but he truly excelled on his return in ’45 to Perth, taking out both the Club’s best-and-fairest award and the Sandover Medal.

Bailey then applied for a clearance to rejoin Carlton in 1946, with stiff resistance from the Western Australian Redlegs, and the player was forced to stand out for a season to eventually win his release.

Bailey’s much-heralded return to Princes Park in ’47 coincided with the comebacks of many coveted Carlton players who had also completed military service, amongst them the inspirational first-year captain and fellow Western Australian Ern Henfry.

Fittingly, the Blueboys finished on top of the home and away ladder, and went on to claim Carlton’s eighth VFL premiership with a desperate, last-gasp win over Essendon, courtesy Sir Frederick Stafford and his trusty boot.

Bailey’s senior career at Carlton would encompass 58 games through 1941-’42 and 1947-’48, and would end as it had begun – with a narrow loss to Richmond at Punt Road – in the eighth round of the ’48 season.

Bailey returned to Perth, and in 1949 again turned out for the Redlegs. As player and coach he was front and centre for Perth’s two grand-final appearances in that period, before making way for Henfry, who took Perth to that long overdue pennant in the spring of ’55.

A valued and respected life member at both Carlton and Perth, Bailey remained active in West Australian football for many years after his on-field retirement, and in 1999 was posthumously honoured with selection in the back pocket of Perth’s Team of the Century.