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Jo puts park memories to print

Remembering Ken Hands We look back at Ken Hands incredible vision (with thanks to John Way for the vision)

Jo O’Shannessy, a long-serving Member recently amongst the participants in the football club’s first Ghost of Princes Park Tour for 2018, has committed to print 45 years’ worth of precious memories of the old Carlton ground.

Jo, who completed the tour with her son Liam last Tuesday evening, put pen to paper in articulating her thoughts about the place and the people over five decades.

“Without question, Princes Park is my spiritual home and the Bluebaggers my tribe,” Jo said.

For Jo, allegiance to Carlton is family-driven. It’s why she still carries her late mother’s foundation Social Club badge on her keyring.

“Mum talked to me many times about ‘The Bloodbath’ Grand Final, which she of course attended with her good friend Betty Harding, who was later involved with The Carltonians.” Jo said.

“On matchdays I remember standing at the foot of the Heatley Stand with Betty, her mother and (later) her son John. Last year I attended the inaugural AFL game with my son, who’s a fourth-generation Carlton supporter.”

The following is Jo O’Shannessy’s story;

A time long ago, when there were 20 players, one of my earliest memories is of standing beside the wire-caged race, watching these huge men who smelt strongly of liniment making their tired way up the race, their boot stops scraping noisily on the concrete.

The race was ferociously guarded by a rotund man, bedecked in a navy double-breasted blazer. During the game, he was quite happy for us kids to actually stand with toes on the playing surface, but as the end of each quarter approached, he’d resume a serious posture as he shuffled us out of the way before sliding the crossover gates which formed part of the race.

Standing at the foot of the stairs into the Robert Heatley stand with my Dad . . . why that particular spot? Who knows, but such were the rituals of going to the footy.

Liam and Jo O'Shannessy, inaugural AFLW match, February 2017. (Photo: Supplied)

Even before I started attending, I used to make scrapbooks of the heroes, pasting in Albany cigarette packets that my grandfather had got players to sign. John Nicholls, John Benetti and Sergio Silvagni featured often, and Dad was a serial autograph hunter on my behalf.

I remember on game day walking to the ground beside Dad, as quickly as I could manage, from our preferred parking spot outside the zoo. I can remember the crackling leaves underfoot, kicked in frustration after a bleak day at the Park, or on other days, gleefully collected and tossed around.

It was mandatory practice to purchase six hot jam donuts as we left the ground, still in a hurry, to get home for the football replays. Sometimes you could see the Blues on three different channels.

I can recall being struck by how important Robert Menzies was - not because he was Prime Minister, but because he got a special car spot to watch his beloved Blues. I also recall all the paraphernalia – the hand-knitted navy blue ski jumpers, scarves and beanies with badges and sew-ons being the standouts.

Relive the battle, feel the passion and encounter a ghost or two. Click here to book your Ghosts of Princes Park experience.

I remember collecting and sometimes falling off empty beer cans, when desperate for those extra couple of inches to see. I remember my two years as an “official” cheersquad member, and treasuring my small, discrete triangular members badge. This meant days of arriving at the Park at 9.00am to secure a seat behind the goals, but the morning flew with curtain-raisers featuring the next generation ready to step up.

I remember going back to the ground after the 1968 Grand Final, and somehow being hoisted up the wall of the Social Club by my uncle so that I could be closer to the boys when they were presented to the crowd. There were lots of very inebriated people, but as a kid I was overcome with a feeling of being safe and secure in the company of the Blues family of thousands around me.

The Peanut Man, with his refrain “Peanuts, shilling a bag, peanuts” was a Princes Park fixture. We all bought peanuts from him - this heavy man who carted a hessian bag containing small brown paper bags around on his shoulder. The fun was admiring his accuracy in hurling the bags into the crowd, then waiting for the money to be pitched back to him. Some mean characters aimed for his head, but each week The Peanut Man returned.

Similarly, there were those involved with the half-time blanket appeal, for which cause I’m not sure: Four people, each carrying a corner of blanket, together with other spotters, would walk the perimeter of the oval retrieving coins hurled from anonymous people. Much sport!

When September came around I used to be part of the sleep-out for finals tickets. A box would be placed in the queue, with an honour system amongst supporters prevailing, although those who simply left the box and didn’t make frequent trips to affirm their commitment were frowned on by those of us who had rosters to stay for days. I have recollections of nights on a banana lounge, in a sleeping bag, outside the ground - with the occasional doze being interrupted by groups bursting into THAT song at odd hours throughout the night. I also remember Dad turning up at daybreak, with toast wrapped in greaseproof paper, and a thermos of steaming Milo.

Then of course there were the players . . .

Kenny Hunter, soaring like a fragile paper bird, and crashing so hard I would wince, before seeing him upright yet again.

Alex Jesaulenko, masterful, magical. I have a memory of listening to the Brownlow count on the radio and crying the year he was runner-up. I carry the images of the “speccies” and of the running, where “Jezza” was bent so far forward that he appeared to be on all-fours, trickling the ball along in front of him until he wanted to take full possession.

John Nicholls, this colossus of a man my mother adored. He could spread packs, take that critical mark and bag goals.

“Sos”, whose first game I remember as a gangly, bow-legged 17 year-old who had the pedigree, plus the looks Serge never owned. I shared the sense of collective outrage with the partisan crowd when late in his fine career he was pole-axed by Geelong’s Milburn, who then took glee in the crowd’s anger. Many a person thought of jumping the fence that day.

Jo's son Liam with Stephen Silvagni, 1990. (Photo: Supplied)

“Koutaman”, against West Coast in ’96, turning in the best game I remember by an individual player - 35 possessions and 18 marks, most of them hanging over packs – and the collective “woof” of the crowd as his mate Ang Christou sunk his boot into a ball off the wing.

“Sticks” Kernahan, whom I took absolutely for granted as this centre-half forward phenomenon - always there, in the heyday of extraordinary success, marking, kicking goals, straight-backed, gravel-voiced, growing mullet.

I remember taking my son, then aged eight, off for his first taste of footy, having done all the preliminary brainwashing through Carlton paraphernalia from baby days. Here began the “Nan” ritual of supplying heaps of treats designed to keep a young boy entertained for the hours required for immersion in this magical experience which was Saturday afternoon at the Park.

I recall Mum and I having discussions every week about what time we should leave for the ground. We always ended up going very early, using the parking as the excuse, but really, just wanting to make a full day of the experience. We never bought a Record because we knew our boys, and didn’t want to know the other lot anyway. As the day progressed we relocated from the seats in the Social Club to the terraces in front, because we weren’t there for the facilities, but for the game. We didn’t mind being that bit closer to the action, and always had enough “winter-gear”, including sheets of plastic for the knees, to survive the howling winds, the biting cold or the driving rain. We believed that we were valiant true supporters, who understood totally that “it was a winter sport” and we had to be there “for the boys”.

Years later, I accompanied Mum in the back of an ambulance after she’d experienced a stroke. We were making our way to the Royal Melbourne Hospital when she realised that we were heading along Royal Parade, and reminded me that we were about to pass the spot where she wanted her ashes to be spread.

Eighteen months later, on a beautiful warm and sunny January day in 2000, my son and I were met by the groundsman on Princes Park. The groundsman left us to follow the instructions I had been clearly and repeatedly given over many years. We sprinkled Mum’s ashes into the turf, on the 50 metre line, directly in front of our preferred seats on the terrace in front of the old Carlton Social Club.

And still the powerful cross-generational pull of football endures, as exemplified by the pleasure my son and I still experience, 30 years on, in going to the footy together, cheering the Women of Carlton, and joining the Ghostly Tour of Princes Park to celebrate the joys of being a Bluebagger.