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"Are you Syd's son?" - Denver's story

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

Denver Alvis has supported Carlton since he and his Sri Lankan parents set foot on the tarmac at Essendon Airport almost 50 years ago. It was August 1968, and Denver’s Uncle Sherlock, who’d migrated to Australia three years before, was there to greet him with a dark Navy Blue scarf.

In the decades since, Carlton has meant everything to Denver, who recounts with affection how his football club and its people accepted him into the fold. 

Recently, Denver returned to the old ground, to complete the sentimental journey on the Ghosts of Princes Park tour. On the strength of that glorious sojourn, Denver has shared his very personal story of the Carlton Football Club and the very special place it holds in his heart and mind.

I was born in Colombo in 1964. Back then, Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was then known, was a British colony. Due to political and ethnic uncertainty, our family was keen to immigrate to Australia. Finally after 10 years of trying, our family got their Australian visas.   

We caught a flight from Colombo to Melbourne via the Philippines about a month before Carlton won the ’68 Grand Final. Melbourne was always going to be the destination as we already had relatives based here. It’s here that I have to make mention of my Uncle Sherlock, a really important character. Uncle Sherlock came to Australia three years before and became a one-eyed Blues supporter - I think because he got caught up in the excitement of (Ron) Barassi coming to Carlton – and as each family member joined him in Melbourne he wrapped another Carlton scarf around them. As such, most of us – uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and cousins – followed Carlton from the time that we landed.

Denver Alvis as a young boy. (Photo: Supplied)

As time went on I started going to the games at Princes Park and I got more and more into it. I rocked up for the first time in 1969, at about the same time I got my first Carlton jumper. That was fantastic. I stood with my cousins and uncles on empty beercans on the concrete terraces and saw the Carlton players in full flight. I can still see ‘Jezza’ (Alex Jesaulenko) now - what an unbelievable player he was – and I took an immediate liking to Syd Jackson.

With the support of my Uncle Sherlock, I came to the decision that I would wear Syd’s No.5. I was so proud to stand in the outer with all the Carlton people, carrying that number on my back.

As I was the only dark face in the crowd because the White Australia policy was still in, all the Carlton mums and dads took a shine to me. I still remember the comments – “Are you Syd’s son? You do look like him” – and you couldn’t get the smile on my face. To be honest, that was one of the first times when I, as an outsider, saw the warmth in Australian people. No-one pointed the finger saying “What’s he doing here”. I was made to feel welcome.

In the years and the decades since, I have continued to support the Blues and the names of myself, and ten members of my family, including Uncle Sherlock, can be found on the wall near the football club’s reception desk. I haven’t missed a game in Melbourne, and I was there on Grand Final day ’95. For that I have Uncle Sherlock to thank, because from the time we landed up to and including ’95 we’ve won eight flags in 27 years – that’s a flag every three and a third years. 

Though my Dad died in 1971 not long after the family arrived in Australia, Mum followed Carlton throughout. She was one-eyed Carlton and the ’95 Grand Final was the last Carlton game she ever saw. She developed lung cancer and died the following March, but she died a happy woman.

Denver Alvis on a recent Ghosts of Princes Park tour. (Photo: Carlton Media)

To return to Princes Park and take part in the Tour evoked so many different memories for me. One involved sitting in the far corner of the top deck of the old John Elliott Stand near where it meets the Legends Stand, and seeing the kids out the back of the ground on Garton Street racing off with the footy after it was kicked through the goals by the likes of Stephen Kernahan.

I had a wonderful time on the Tour and I’ll be at the Carlton games again this year to see my football team which I know is on the rise.

Uncle Sherlock can’t make it along anymore. But it’s to him that I am forever grateful.