Former Carlton full-back Brian Henderson, a member of the club’s youngest senior team ever fielded, has died in Wagga Wagga two days prior to his 74th birthday.
Recruited from neighbouring Brunswick City, Henderson was adjudged the Under 19s’ most serviceable player in 1960 and ’61 before completing a two-season reserve grade stint.
It was during his time with the thirds that Henderson met his future wife Joan Matthews . . . and where else but at Princes Park.
“I met him at the Carlton Football Ground,” Joan said this week. “I used to stand behind the goals at the Heatley Stand end and see him in the grandstand.
“He’d be there having played half a game with the reserves after being dragged out of the Under 19s. I think they burnt him out as he also worked on the railways and played once a week for them.
“Anyway he started coming down from the Heatley Stand to speak to me. That was in 1961 or ’62 and we married in ’63.”
Henderson got his first senior call-up in Carlton’s eighth-round match of 1964. Wearing the No.38 now on the back of the Irishman Ciaran Byrne, he was named at full-back for the team which met South Melbourne at the Lakeside Oval.
The match went the visitors’ way - 12.14 (86) to 8.13 (61) – with the late Wes Lofts, a future premiership player in the last line for Carlton, booting five goals from full-forward.
Brian Henderson pictured in action on the left. (Photo: Supplied)
Henderson was four days shy of his 21st birthday when he lined up against Richmond, in what was his second and final senior appearance for the Club the following Saturday. He formed part of the 'Baby Blues’ - Carlton’s youngest ever 20 (average age 22 years 15 days) – of whom Greg Hardie at 19 years 21 days was the youngest and Sergio Silvagni (25, 350) the oldest.
The match, which resulted in a three-point win to the home team at Princes Park, was notable for an incident in which the Tigers’ Fred Swift uprooted a behind post after grabbing it to halt his momentum – prompting a Carlton trainer to hold the post upright for the game’s duration.
The day after Henderson’s last hurrah (Sunday, June 14), The Beatles jetted in to Melbourne to be greeted by the then Lord Mayor and avid Carlton supporter Sir Leo Curtis – a moment recreated in print by the famed cartoonist for The Age, Sam Wells.
The Mayor and The Beatles, The Age, June 15, 1964.
Ken Greenwood, named alongside Henderson in the back pocket for both the South and Richmond games, remembered the latter as “a nice young bloke”.
“Brian was a local bloke who, while not quite up to senior standard for the long haul, was quite a handy type,” Greenwood said. “He stood 6’1 in the old measurement and tipped the scales at 12 and a half stone, and for most of his time through the thirds and seconds basically played as a backman.”
“The Blues had a bad year in ’64, finishing 10th of 12 which at that time was their worst year on record. That brought on the sacking of Ken Hands for Ron Barassi as senior coach and the cleanout. I suspect ‘Barass’ may have put a line though Brian’s name, but he wasn’t on his own there.”
A football journeyman, Henderson later pursued his career with Brunswick in the VFA then joined Epping in the Diamond Valley – the school of hard knocks according to Joan.
“He went mad at me because I grew up with the Diamond Valley League and when he played his first match he said ‘Why didn’t you tell me it was so bloody hard?’,” she recalled.
Brian Henderson in 1964. (Photo: Supplied)
Henderson then accepted the role of playing coach with Nathalia during which time he mentored the Richmond great Francis Bourke. He then returned to the Diamond Valley as playing coach of Lalor, then committed to “paddock football” in Urana on the Riverina where he and Joan eventually settled.
For a brief period, Henderson served as assistant to Palm Beach-Curumbin coach and former Carlton rover Maurie Fowler, who died earlier this year.
Coaching, it seemed, was Henderson’s true vocation, and according to Joan it was the former Carlton secretary Allen Cowie who first sewed the seed.
“Brian remembered Allen telling him: “Whatever you do, think of coaching rather than playing’, because he really rated the way Brian handled the players”.
A long-time resident of Urana, situated between Lockhart and Jerilderie, Brian Henderson died on Friday, June 16 at Wagga’s Calvary Hospital.
He is survived by his wife Joan, three children and their respective spouses, 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Brian Henderson’s first game, Carlton v South Melbourne
Lakeside Oval - Round 8, Saturday, June 6, 1964
B: Sergio Silvagni (c), Brian Henderson, Ken Greenwood
HB: Vasil Varlamos, Graeme Anderson, Barry Gill
C: Cliff Stewart, Ian Collins, Jim Pleydell
HF: Kevin Hall, Tony Thiessen, John Gill
F: Maurie Sankey (vc), Wes Lofts (dvc), Trevor Best
R: John Nicholls, John Reilly, Ian Nankervis
Res: John Goold, Greg Hardie
Coach: Ken Hands