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The one that got away

Barry Cable addresses the audience after being elevated to a Legend of the AFL. (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
Barry Cable addresses the audience after being elevated to a Legend of the AFL. (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
I should say that Carlton did everything right, but in the end the timing just wasn’t right.
AFL Legend Barry Cable

With the West Australian Patrick Cripps on the cusp of what is hopefully a long and illustrious career at Visy Park, ponder the story of another fairly handy Sandgroper - perhaps the greatest Carlton player never to play for the club even though he signed on some 50 years ago.

Flick the yellowing pages of the Carlton Football Club Committee minutes back to August 11, 1964, and there you will find the following entry;

B. Cable, Perth. Signed K. Hands.

The Carlton overture to the great Barry Cable was led by Barry’s first coach at Perth – the former Carlton premiership captain Ern Henfry - who was more than mindful of the young rover’s prodigious talents.

Henfry’s old teammate at Princes Park and the then Carlton Senior Coach Ken Hands made the trip across the Nullabor to get his man by way of a “Form Four” – a statutory declaration that tied the 19 year-old Cable to Carlton for the 1964, ’65 and ’66 seasons if he wanted to pursue his playing career in Victoria.

“I signed Barry Cable,” Hands said recently. “He worked for the Master Butchers in Perth and when I got off the plane I went straight there. I took him and his girlfriend out for dinner that night and had no trouble signing him.”

Hands remembered that no money changed hands at the time and he still laments the fact that “the club wasn’t as quick on the job as it should have been” in getting Cable across.

The Carlton Football Club Committee minutes of August 11, 1964. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

But Cable, celebrating his 49th wedding anniversary when contacted in Perth this week, stressed Carlton was exemplary in the way it  handled the matter and that his decision not to join had nothing to do with the club’s actions.

“I don’t remember that Ken came to see me at Master Butchers but I do remember that he came to see me at the Perth Footy Club,” Cable said. “I then signed the Form Four which covered me for 1964, ’65 and ’66.

“Because Ernie (Henfry) was coach of Perth we had some discussions and then my wife Helen and I flew across to Carlton. I remember meeting Gordon Collis, who had just won the Brownlow, and I’d just won the Sandover.

“They (the club) put my wife and I up in an hotel just across the road at Princes Park and I had a bit of a training run at the ground where I met some of the other players.”

In 1966, during a break in the Australian Championships, Cable, then representing Western Australia, met up with Victoria’s most capped footballer, John Nicholls.

“John and someone else connected with the Carlton Football Club came to see me,” Cable said. “They tried to get me to sign again, but by then I’d worked pretty hard in Perth and got myself organised, so I just didn’t want to go. They offered me the usual, but I said no, because I didn’t want to have that on my conscience.

“I should say that Carlton did everything right, but in the end the timing just wasn’t right. The fact that I emphatically said ‘No, I’m not going to Melbourne’ put a lot of “the other clubs off, which was a good thing for me personally because other clubs were also chasing me.”

Cable was one of eleven players who signed on with Carlton in ’64. Of the eleven, only three – South Warrnambool’s Terry Board, North Hobart’s Peter “Percy” Jones and Robert “Rocky” Lane –would represent Carlton at senior level.

Board wore the dark Navy Blue guernsey into 41 senior games between 1965 and ’68; Jones emerged as a four-time Premiership ruckman, club Best and Fairest and universal crowd pleaser through 249 contests from 1966 to ’79; and Lane was a two-game player for Carlton in 1966 who 13 years later was tragically shot and killed in the line of duty as a valued member of the Victoria Police.

Cable stressed that he had no desire to move interstate despite the repeated urgings of a club which not long after landed Ron Barassi as Captain-Coach in a move which rocked the football world to its foundations. But he said he appreciated the great irony in finally making the move to Melbourne (specifically North Melbourne) in late 1969 “because I’d done everything I’d wanted to do in Perth”- and finding his niche as a feted member of North’s historic Barassi-coached Premiership teams of 1975 and ’77.

Barry Cable in action for North Melbourne during the 1976 Grand Final. 

Had “Cabes” gone to Carlton, who knows? Perhaps the Grand Final outcomes of 1969 and ’73 would have been vastly different for Blue Barry’s presence.

And he’s first to admit to a soft spot for the Bluebaggers. As he said: “I had a slight leaning towards the Blues because of Ern Henfry, who was a real gentleman and, as everyone knows, a great player”.

Barry Cable fact file

Full name: Barry Thomas Cable MBE

DOB: September 22, 1943

Place of birth: Narrogin, Western Australia

Height/Weight: 168cm/70kg

Playing career
Perth FC 1962-’69 & ’71-’73 – 225 matches, 325 goals
North Melbourne FC 1970 & ’74-’77 – 115 matches, 133 goals
East Perth FC 1978-’79 – 43 games, 50 goals

Representative team honours
Western Australia 1964-’78 – 20 games, 35 goals
Victoria 1975 – one game, 0 goals

Career highlights
Sandover Medallist: 1964, ’68 & ’73
Perth best and fairest: 1965-’69, ’71 & ’73
All-Australian team member: 1966 & ’69
Tassie Medallist: 1966
Perth Premiership player: 1966, ’67 & ’68
Simpson Medallist: 1966-’69 & ’77
North Melbourne best and fairest: 1970
Perth captain: 1972 & ’73
North Melbourne Premiership player 1975 & ’77
East Perth Premiership player: 1978
Sport Australia Hall of Fame inductee: 1986
Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee: 1996
West Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee: 2004
North Melbourne Team of the Century rover
Indigenous Team of the Century rover