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“Bloodbath” Blue dies... and then there was one

Former Carlton half-forward Alex Way has passed away at the age of 89. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
Former Carlton half-forward Alex Way has passed away at the age of 89. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

Former Carlton half-forward Alex Way, a participant in the infamous “Bloodbath” Grand Final of 1945, has died after a short illness.

Way’s sudden passing yesterday at the age of 89 means that Ken Hands is the sole surviving member of the Blues’ ’45 Premiership team, almost 70 years after football’s most fearsome contest.

Informed of the news last night, Hands replied: “Isn’t that so very strange? Someone asked me only the other day who was left from ’45 and I said ‘Well I’m still here, but there’s another I haven’t seen or heard from for ages, and that’s Alex Way’”.

“I know that Alex played in ’45 and he was there in the Premiership year of ’47, but he followed Ron Savage to Tasmania and was there for a long time,” Hands said.

“One thing that sticks in my mind with Alex was that he was a beautiful kick. I can remember him one day at the Richmond ground marking a kick-in from full-back then drilling it through the goals with a drop. He really was a wonderful kick.”

Way’s death follows the passing of fellow ’45 combatant Doug Williams at the age of 91 in August.

And while Hands alone lives to tell the tale, his memory of “The Bloodbath” is somewhat clouded, courtesy a “Basher” Williams forearm delivered with stunning ferocity in the second quarter.

Way, the nephew of former Carlton footballer of the 1920s Jack Way, joined the club from neighbouring Coburg Rangers towards the end of the Second World War. He was just 18 when he took to the field for the first of 32 senior matches in dark Navy - in the second round of 1944 against Hawthorn – thus becoming the club’s 590th senior player.

Sporting the No.4 later made famous by Stephen Kernahan and (now) Bryce Gibbs, Way found his niche on a flank through 16 matches of the following season, but was still considered a surprise call-up (at the expense of the suspended Fred Fitzgibbon) for the Grand Final against South Melbourne, having not turned out for the seniors for a month.

With the MCG unavailable due to its use as a transit centre for American troops, Princes Park played host to the ’45 Grand Final before an incredible turnout of almost 63,000 people, many of them returned servicemen in slouch hats.

More sympathetically dubbed the “Peace and Victory” Premiership, “The Bloodbath” degenerated into a rolling brawl after quarter time, as members of both outfits went at eachother with fists, elbows, knees, boots and whatever else.

The 1945 Premiership Team. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

Carlton’s maniacal captain Bob Chitty, together with resident ruckman Ron Savage (who paradoxically took out the Blues’ Best and Fairest award that year), copped eight match suspensions for various charges, as did South’s aptly-named Don Grossman.

“Basher” Williams, meanwhile, was rubbed out for a lazy 12 matches for a host of on-field misdemeanors, including “adopting a fighting attitude”.

But Way made his mark in a pivotal play moments before half-time in “The Bloodbath”. Intercepting a clearing pass from South full-back “Gentleman Jim” Cleary, he completed a juggling mark, played on and speared a crisp footpass to Ron Savage, who promptly handballed to Albert “Mick” Price for a telling goal.

The 1945 Grand Final would serve as the pinnacle of Way’s playing career. He’d manage a dozen senior appearances in ’46, but thereafter mostly represented the Blues’ reserve grade XVIII.

His last hurrah for Carlton at senior level came in the 10th Round of ’48 - appropriately enough against “The Bloods”, only this time at the Lakeside Oval where the visitors got up by 41 points with Fred Davies and Ray Garby booting five goals apiece.

Way's subsequent foray into the Apple Isle saw him chase the leather for the City and Longford clubs in the original Northern Tasmanian Football Association, and he also found work for the railways as a fitter and turner.

He returned to the mainland in 1963 to help his older sister Val tend to their ailing mother at her home in Melbourne’s south-east – and there the siblings remained for the rest of their adult lives.

Way was admitted to Malvern’s Cabrini Hospital on Monday after developing pneumonia.

Though he never married, he is survived by Val and members of extended family all of whom he loved dearly. His younger brother Tom died a little more than a month ago.

Way’s nephew John Way talked of a soft-spoken, private character who always maintained a keen interest in those close to him and his beloved Blues.

“Uncle Alex remained loyal to Carlton despite leaving the place pretty early in the piece to follow Ron Savage to Tasmania,” John said.

“He was a lovely bloke, a man of integrity who followed his heart and did whatever he did to the nth degree. He was a perfectionist.”

The funeral service for Alex Way is to be held at St Paul’s Catholic Church, 122 Jasper Road, Bentleigh this Thursday, November 13, commencing at 10am, with the burial to take place at Fawkner Cemetery at 1.30pm.