HENRY Gardner always reckoned Princes Park’s oldest grandstand was named in his honour.
No matter that the missing letter ‘i’ distinguished his surname from the former Carlton player and President John ‘Tiger’ Gardiner, whose moniker has long graced the top of the edifice. As Henry argued, “If Tiger’s got naming rights I’ll claim bragging rights”.
Since 1990, Henry - or ‘H’ as he was endearingly known – dutifully served as Maintenance Manager at Ikon Park. Born in Stawell, Henry completed an apprenticeship as a pastry cook, but never furthered his career in the profession. That said, batches of bite-sized sausage rolls and apple pies he so lovingly prepared were for years shared with football club colleagues who couldn’t get enough.
At Carlton, there wasn’t a floor or wall Henry hadn’t touched. If you didn’t find ‘H’ up a ladder replacing a light globe, you’d catch him behind the wheel of his motorised buggy, whether en route to Gate 4 to replace a broken padlock or the Legends Stand concourse to shovel up a magpie carcass.
As he lived in a converted flat to the rear of the Heroes Stand, Henry took great pride in the ground he treated as if it was his own home - and always respected the history and love of the place shown by the Carlton faithful. Trespassers were dealt with accordingly.
Henry called a spade whatever he wanted - and woe betide you if ever you crossed him or the staff and players he loved so dearly. To a man and woman they loved him back, as his support was unwavering at any hour of the day or night.
He was no Giorgio Armani either. With the notable exception of the 2017 AGM, when a Life Membership well-earned was bestowed upon him, Henry rarely wore a suit and tie.
One personal memory relates to the Ghost Tours of Princes Park - usually held on balmy Tuesday evenings through summertime - when Carlton Members could tread the hallowed turf. At a point in the tour, when Members gathered by the interchange bench in the shadows of the old Elliott Stand, there was Henry at the ready to ring the old time bell from a nearby vantage point.
Those honeyed chimes took anyone within earshot back to the halcyon days of ‘Pompey’ Elliott and ‘Hackenschmidt’ Clark.
Henry only recently clocked up 30 years of loyal service to the Carlton Football Club and was fittingly acknowledged by the club’s CEO Cain Liddle, in an all-staff email last Thursday week.
“More than a Maintenance Manager, a day wouldn’t go by when Henry hasn’t been called on to help with anything from security, maintenance, repairs, deliveries, locks opened, flat tyres – you name it,” Cain wrote at the time.
“Always the first point of call for access to the ground or security after hours, Henry’s ‘never say no’ attitude is a true reflection of his commitment to Carlton and genuine support to all staff and players across the years. Congratulations and thank you Henry from all of us at CFC, both past and present, and let’s hope we can celebrate this in the appropriate way in the not too distant future."
On Tuesday morning, another all-staff memo was circulated - this time by Martin Shannon, for 33 years the Venue Manager - advising that Henry would be retiring on 30 September this year.
“The tool kit and ladder will be stored away, and the fishing gear and esky packed in the campervan, as Henry starts the next chapter of his life and well-earned retirement,” Martin wrote.
What nobody realised at the time was that Henry had passed away in his flat overnight, his big heart having stopped beating as he slept in his bed.
Cruelly, there would be no farewell. No retirement. No gold watch for ‘H’.
News of Henry’s untimely passing at 70 soon reverberated around the football club. Staffers making the best of it in isolation in Melbourne were left reeling, as were players and officials cocooned in a Perth hub.
Then came the tributes...
What a wonderful man H was, sad to hear the news. He was a huge part of the club and in particular Princes Park/Optus Oval.— Matthew Lappin (@skinnylappin) August 11, 2020
His golf buggy was legendary
“At Carlton, there wouldn’t be a floor or wall that Henry hasn’t moved or put in. He would have touched every part of it,” the long-serving Carlton administrator Shane O’Sullivan said this week.
“Henry was such a likeable person. He used to greet me with ‘G’day lad’. I hate thinking about the number of times he took calls from me any time of the night or day.
“When he reached 30 years’ service last week I said to him: ‘Every time my name came up on the phone you must have wondered ‘What does the bugger want now?’. He told me he was looking forward to his retirement and shooting off in his Winnebago... he was quite comfortable about it all.
“The saddest thing about it all now is that Henry won’t get that amazing send-off involving the staff, a players’ guard of honour and a lap of the old ground... and he deserved it too.”
Ian Prendergast, the Carlton Chief Commercial Officer not long back at the Club for which he turned out in 65 senior games in another life, remembered Henry as a model of authenticity and a “Carlton constant” – a part of its DNA during his time at the Club.
Dennis Armfield, who gave his all through 145 senior appearances in Dark Navy, also tweeted: “Absolutely loved this man. A man of many talents who literally did anything for anyone. Gone but never forgotten”.
Henry is survived by his brothers David and Garry; sisters Sandra, Susan and Rhonda; brother-in-law Ken; sons Jason and Ryan; daughters-in-law Sally-Anne and Karyn; and grandchildren Caidan, Morgan, Xavier and Baylie.
The Ald. Gardiner Stand may have resonated with Henry, but the Heroes Stand - the place where this much-loved character lived and died – somehow seemed the better fit for the working-class hero known simply as ‘H’.
Carlton senior players will wear black armbands into Saturday night’s 12th Round match with Fremantle at Optus Stadium as a mark of respect to the late Henry Gardner.