OLD on-field contemporaries have paid wonderful tribute to the uncompromising former Carlton centreman Berkley Cox, who died in Launceston General Hospital on Monday 13 May at the age of 90. 

Wearing the No.9 of the current captain Patrick Cripps, Cox represented the club in 102 senior matches between 1958 and 1965, including the 1962 Grand Final. He was named amongst the Blues’ best players afield in all four matches of the ’62 finals campaign and in ’65 was named Best Clubman and awarded Life Membership.

Cox was recruited to Carlton from NTFA club City-South, the club having unsuccessfully sought to lure his father Albert ‘Tracker’ Cox 32 years earlier. In an interview with this reporter nine years ago, Cox recalled sharing digs with a number of Tasmanians who had crossed Bass Strait to try their luck at Princes Park.

“We lived in a house in Melbourne with another friend of ours who’s passed away called Allan Wilson. It was called ‘The Tasmanian Embassy’ because all the Tassie players who used to come over went there,” Cox said.

“There were a few blokes over from Tassie at the time – Maurie (Sankey), John Heathcote, Johnny Chick and myself.

“One thing I remember is that when we had to move out of the flat in Coburg we had to get rid of the empty bottles (longnecks) – and when the chap came to collect them he said he’d never seen so many. He said, ‘Do you mind if I ring The Herald (evening newspaper)?’, to which we replied ‘You better not’.”

Berkley Cox and Peter Jones, Life Members Luncheon, Kew Golf Club, April 2019.

Cox was selected for his first Carlton senior match against the old enemy Collingwood, on the afternoon of Saturday, August 9, 1958 at Princes Park. He was named on a half-forward flank in the starting 18, which included the club’s greatest footballer John Nicholls in a back pocket.

“Berkley was a lovely man. He was four years older than me and he wasn’t all that young when he came over,” Nicholls said.

“His best place was in the centre and by gee he was tough. He was a clone of Ian Collins and he had a bit of trouble at the Tribunal on occasions. I reckon he got four weeks for accidentally bumping a boundary umpire named Cliff Green.

“Berkley was always a great Carlton man. Even after returning to Tassie he remained a great Carlton advocate and he always kept an eye out for a future Carlton footballer.”

A case in point – the prodigiously-gifted Campbell Town footballer and future dual Carlton Premiership player Brent Crosswell. Though Crosswell and Cox never met, the former acknowledged the latter as “the man who alerted Carlton of my existence”.

The three-time Carlton Premiership rover, club Best & Fairest and Team of the Century rover Adrian Gallagher recalled Cox’s welcome presence when ‘Gags’,  then 18, ran out for the first time as a senior player, against St Kilda at the Junction Oval in May 1964.

In that particular game, Cox whacked St Kilda ruckman Carl Ditterich of all people – an offence which later earned him a four-match suspension – and as Gallagher reminded in a previous interview: “Berkley was my size, but he looked after me. He was at locker number 9 and I was at 10”

“Cox’s Clone” – the Carlton Hall of Fame Hall of Fame Legend, 1968 Premiership player and former CEO and President Ian Collins - vouched for Nicholls’ assessment of the Tasmanian’s on-field physicality.

“Berkley used to throw more punches in a game of football than a boxer in a ten-rounder,” Collins said.

“Not long after Berkley got to Carlton he broke a leg in one of those practice matches in the sticks, so he had to overcome that setback. He played half-forward and in the centre, and in the ’62 Grand Final he was part of the centreline of Kick, Cox and Collins.

“Berkley was always popular amongst his teammates. He was a good friend of Bob Crow’s. Unfortunately another has fallen from the perch.”

Cox’s on-field Carlton career was bookended by years of sterling service to City-South, and his contributions to the Redlegs and to the game in Tasmania speak for themselves -

140 matches 1954-57, 1966-69;
Captain-coach, 1968-69;
NTFA premiership player 1954, 1956, 1966;
City State premiership player 1954, 1966;
Club Best and Fairest 1967;
Tasmanian National Carnival representation 1966 (Hobart);
Six-time Tasmania state representative 1955-66;
City-South Team of the Century (centre); and
Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame inductee 2005.

On his return to the Apple Isle from Carlton, Cox married his beloved June Keep - a fellow Tasmanian who died last year - and together they raised five children; Felicia, Jennifer, Linda, Stuart and Sarah. Linda was born with Down Syndrome which prompted Cox to coach the football team at St George’s special school, and he was a lifelong supporter of the Special Olympics.

As indeed he was of Carlton.

“Dad loved Carlton. Being a Life Member was a source of great pride,” Felicia said this week.

“He maintained friendships all of his life with old footballers and those associated with football like Ian Collins, ‘Bobby’ Crowe, Paul ‘Badger’ Luttrell, Graeme Wilkinson and Wesley Lofts. My brother is named Stuart Wesley after him and his four sisters; Marie (deceased), Joyce, Barbara and Suzanne are all staunch Carlton supporters.

“Like a lot of ex-footballers he became a publican. He taught us children a lot of life skills - like how to use your elbow to disable your opponents without alerting the umpire! In later years he enjoyed collecting Apple labels and oil paintings, growing tomatoes and strawberries.”

In April 2019, Cox jetted in from Launceston with his son to for what would be his last official Carlton engagement - a gathering of Life Members at Kew Golf Club. On that occasion he was photographed for posterity with another fellow Taswegian, the four-time Carlton Premiership ruckman Peter ‘Percy’ Jones.

Perhaps the Carlton Secretary Gerald Burke put it best in the 1965 Annual Report when, in noting Cox’s recognition as Best Clubman, he wrote: “This newly innovated award has been won this year by a player who is renowned for his value as a Clubman in all respects, and as a player who gives support and encouragement on the field when it is most required. To Berkley we trust this award conveys the attitude of all at the Club towards him”.

The Carlton senior players will wear black armbands into Friday night’s match with Sydney at the SCG as a mark of respect to the late Berkley Cox.