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.
“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.
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.”