The late Jim Clark remembers the passing comment of an ex-serviceman, one of the 63,000 who crammed into Princes Park on the afternoon of the most infamous of all Grand Finals.
“Of ‘The Bloodbath’ I heard a fella say ‘I was at the wrong war’,” Clark declared.
So many tales, tall and true, have been told of the 1945 Grand Final in the six decades since Carlton and South waged hostilities in the first major sporting happening in Melbourne since World War II. This was in a year of victory and peace, and independent news accounts detail a scrappy opening brought on by nerves and the inclement conditions. Yet few chronicle the episodes of violence that prompted the salacious Truth newspaper to run images of the bloodied visages of Bob Chitty and Ken Hands by the screamer “PICTURES OF BASH FROM BASH-BALL”.
“The Carlton-South premiership match was the game’s greatest blot and the most repugnant spectacle League football has ever known. What should have been the League’s 1945 glamour game slumped into a loathsome brawl in which players in both teams resorted to the vilest and most cowardly breaches, obscene language and blatant disregard for football rules,” Truth’s unnamed correspondent wrote.
Carlton’s formidable captain, Bob Chitty took out South’s kids Ron Clegg and Billy Williams with merciless intent in the second quarter of The Bloodbath. Chitty Chitty bang bang as it were. And yet Clark, who stood South Melbourne’s Jack Danckert at the time, blames South’s Jack “Basher” Williams for igniting the powder keg soon after.
“I hate saying this about ‘Basher’ because he was a good guy, but he king-hit Ken Hands. That was the first moment of violence. ‘Handsy’ was just a kid who, in the future, was to have a wonderful career, and he coached Carlton,” Clark said.
“Ken was in his first year, he was only 19 and ‘Basher’ hung one on him and dropped him. I can still see Rod McLean and one of the other senior players carrying him in. It must have happened just before half-time for me to see that.”
Williams memorably declared that Hands’ malaise “must have been sunstroke”.
Clark knows better.
“When the dustup began at the top end of the ground, I was fortunately down the other end on the half-back flank on the city side and the young fellow I was on, Danckert, started to head off,” Clark said. “Anyway I grabbed him by the arm and I said, ‘Where are you going?’ He said, ‘Up into that’ and he was a hundred yards away. I said, ‘Don’t you think things are a bit more peaceful here?’ and he said, ‘Oh yes, yes’ and he succumbed to that thought.
“When the siren went at the finish of the game we shook hands and he said to me, ‘Jim, thank God you grabbed me when I got a rush of blood’. I said, ‘Listen, you know why I grabbed you? If you went I had to go and I didn’t want to go’ ... and I really meant it.”
For the record, 62,986 people, many of them returned service men and women, filed through the turnstiles to see The Bloodbath. For most it was standing room only. “The social club wasn’t there then and that was a big hill to the back; it was a heck of a crowd,” Hands said.
The Bloodbath’s inevitable sequel came at Harrison House, where no fewer than 10 players were summoned to answer a collective total of 16 offences committed in the contest.
Carlton, to use the oft-uttered phrase, “won the fights and the game”. It was an historic victory, for no other team had won a Grand Final from fourth since the introduction of the Page-McIntyre system in 1931.
The seventh premiership in Carlton’s history was seven years in the making, and a personal triumph for two leviathans of the club – the senior coach Percy Bentley and the President, Ken Luke.
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