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.
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