WHENEVER discussion turns to representative football - particularly pre-State Of Origin - John Nicholls’ name invariably dominates. Nicholls, with 31 appearances for Victoria, is forever consigned to history as the Big V’s most capped player.

But few would know that another former Carlton great who chased the leather way back in the pre-VFL days, also features prominently in the vaunted Victorian football fable – the legendary John ‘Tiger’ Gardiner after whom the oldest surviving grandstand at Ikon Park is named.

For it was Gardiner who captained Victoria in the first interstate fixture formally recognized – the intercolonial match with South Australia at the old East Melbourne ground on Tuesday, July 2, 1879 – to mark Separation Day when in 1851 Victoria separated from the colony of New South Wales.

It’s more than 140 years now since Gardiner led them out – a vaunted team of outstanding VFA footballers, amongst them George Coulthard, generally acknowledged as Carlton’s first star and best afield in this historic match.

Gardiner’s Victorians were each decked out in blue knickerbockers with red, white and blue jersey, cap and hose; captain McMichael’s Croweaters, to their eternal credit, in all dark blue. Gardiner won the toss and pointed to the Fitzroy Gardens end.

Eddie Betts and Jack Martin disclose who the biggest trash talkers in the league are (including a notable anecdote from 'Fev').

The Argus correspondent reported that Victoria-South Australia intercolonial match “proved a great attraction” to the 10,000 people who turned out to see the home team emerge emphatic victors, seven goals to none.

Peter Pindar, covering the contest for The Australasian, noted a gathering of 5000 patrons at the match “besides those who viewed it on the cheap from neighbouring heights”.

“Considering the little practice they have had together, the Victorian team played splendidly, working together as one man, and sinking all thought of individual glory in desire for the common weal; the style in which was played to each other being the theme of general admiration,” the journalist noted.

“For Victoria, Coulthard was certainly the best among many good, but Downes and Robertson ran him hard, and Goer, Lording and Rannard were not far behind. Sillett played better than he has played this season, and Gardiner was also to the fore along with Gibson, Miller, M’Kenzie, and Gunn.”

Gardiner was at the forefront of what was a long and illustrious Carlton connection with Victorian representative football, with Nicholls the pre-eminent figure. As The great man said this week: “I’m still proud to hold the record of 31 games for Victoria. That’s a record that will never be broken.

Nicholls also noted that his predecessor as Carlton ruckman, the late Ken Hands, captain and coached Victoria, and that so many others were worthy Victorian representatives.

Similarly, the alternative states were represented by our heroes in Blue – and with the State of Origin for Bushfire Relief match all but upon us it’s timely to name both a Victorian and All Stars line-up of Carlton players of the past.

In this instance, players have been named according to where they played in their formative years – hence Alex Jesaulenko is included in the All Stars even though he regularly represented Victoria in the pre-State of Origin days. Also named in the All-Stars is Carlton’s Premiership Captain-Coach Brighton Diggins, who initially represented West Australian club Subiaco and Simon Minton-Connell, Carlton’s most capped Tasmanian state rep.

The six-time South Australian state player Peter Motley - an All-Australian in 1983 and ’85, and Fos Williams Medallist for South Australia in its match with Victoria at Football Park in the ’85 year - is ineligible for selection, on the basis that each of his representative matches came before he joined Carlton from Sturt.

VICTORIA ex-CARLTON AFL, 1897 - 2020

B: Bruce Comben, Stephen Silvagni, Geoff Southby

HB: Bruce Doull, Bert Deacon, John James

C: Garry Crane, Greg Williams, Chris Judd

HF: Wayne Harmes, Horrie Clover, Wayne Johnston

F: Ken Hands, Harry Vallence, Jim Buckley

R: John Nicholls (Capt.), Sergio Silvagni, Rod Ashman

I/C: John Gardiner, Brendan Fevola, Jack Howell, David McKay

ALL-STARS ex-CARLTON AFL, 1897-2020

B: Brighton Diggins (WA), Robbert Klomp (SA), George Bailey (WA)

HB: Ken Hunter (WA), Jon Dorotich (WA), Andrew McKay (SA)

C: Ern Henfry (WA), Patrick Cripps (WA), Scott Camporeale (SA)

HF: Peter Bosustow (WA), Stephen Kernahan (Capt.) (SA), Alex Jesaulenko (ACT)

F: Mike Fitzpatrick (WA), Mark Maclure (NSW), Wayne Blackwell (WA)

R: Peter ‘Percy’ Jones (Tas.), Craig Bradley (SA), Mark Naley (SA)

I/C: Phil Maylin (SA), Warren Jones (Qld.), David Kernahan (SA), Simon Minton-Connell (Tas.)