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'Bloodbath' year Blue dies

15. 1945 - "The Bloodbath" Grand Final Carlton Member, Pearl Fletcher, shares her memories of the notorious "Bloodbath" Grand Final in 1945

Ken Hopper, a 17-game half-forward flanker and senior-listed player in Carlton’s premiership season of 1945, has died at the age of 93.

Born in South Melbourne in June 1924, but raised in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Hopper played for Pascoe Vale alongside another future Carlton player, the late Allan Greenshields. 

Hopper was called up for his Carlton senior debut, against Melbourne, in the opening round of the infamous 1945 season. Sporting the No.2 on his back, he took his place on a flank alongside Alex Way and Charlie McInnes, players who would later make the cut for “The Bloodbath”.

The Redlegs accounted for Carlton by 21 points in that opening round, but Hopper maintained his presence in the seniors for a further 13 games on end. However, he was omitted in the wake of the team’s three-point loss to Essendon in the 14th round, when the visitors’ Bill Brittingham goaled after the siren.

For the next month, Hopper sought form in the secondsand won a recall from senior coach Perc Bentley and the match committee for the 19th round match with Geelong. Regrettably, he was again dropped despite the Blues’ 94-point hammering of Geelong at Princes Park. 

Named as an emergency for the Grand Final, Hopper took his "gear" to Princes Park, but watched on from the sidelines when the Bob Chitty-inspired Carlton juggernaut powered its way to the ’45 flag. 

A recent photo of Ken, proudly sporting the 1945 team photograph. (Photo: Carlton Media)

Though he didn't win 'em and wear 'em in "The Bloodbath”, Hopper was part of Carlton’s celebratory bus tour to Sydney and Canberra the following year. The tour, which ferried Carlton players and officials to such destinations as Gundagai, the Blue Mountains, Bateman’s Bay and Sydney Harbour, was fully-funded by the club as fitting reward for the team’s landing of its seventh and hardest-earned pennant. A highlight for Hopper was meeting the then Prime Minister Robert Menzies (later Carlton's No.1 ticket holder) in Canberra.

All the way, Hopper and his trusty Kodak captured precious moments in sepia – from the first roadside luncheon stop at Dandenong through to the sand and surf of Manly, and everything in between. A classic image of Bob Chitty looking down from a balcony at the Australian War Memorial was taken through Hopper's lens.

Some 63 years later, Hopper graciously availed his unique Box Brownie snapshots to the football club and its Members and supporters – and shared his precious recollections of the tour with this reporter.

“In those days most teams usually took off on yearly trips to wind up the season, but the money wasn’t around then and our trips were usually confined to Bendigo or Ballarat,” Hopper said back in 2008.

Carlton players Vin Brown, Jim Francis, Ken Hopper and Dzongkha Williams. (Photo: Supplied)

That trip was absolutely tops. To head off interstate was something that never took place in that era and to think we were heading to Sydney and Canberra on a premiership trip was just unbelievable.”

Hopper turned out twice more for the old dark Navy Blues in 1946 before accepting a transfer to rival club Hawthorn. As fate would have it, Hopper’s last hurrah for the old dark Navy Blues came in the 14th round match of ’46 against the Mayblooms at Princes Park, when Ken Hands, the only surviving member of Carlton’s 1945 and ’47 premiership teams – booted a lazy five.

That Hawthorn match also brought down the curtain on the career of Carlton’s acting captain on the day, Rod “Madcap” McLean (father of Ricky, grandfather of Brock), whose 128 senior appearances took in the premierships of 1938 and ’45.

Carlton Premiership captain Bob Chitty at the Australian War Memorial. (Photo: Ken Hopper)

At Glenferrie Oval, Hopper was afforded greater opportunity and found his niche as a capable utility who could play anywhere. From 1947 to ’51, he racked up 66 senior games for his second club, during which time he earned a handsome reputation as a most popular and respected team man.

Hopper was later rewarded with Hawthorn Life Membership, having served as President of the Hawthorn Past Players Association on no less than seven occasions.

Ken Hopper, the 601st player to represent the Carlton Football Club at senior level, died on Thursday (June 29). He is survived by his daughters Vicki and Coralie and their partners John and Barry, grandchildren Lauren, Olivier, Shane, Bailey, Colin and Alex, and great grandchildren Marcel and Mathilde.

A funeral service for Ken Hopper will be held at Le Pine Funerals, 1048 Whitehorse Road, Box Hillthis Wednesday, July 5, commencing 10.30am, with a private cremation to follow.