On the afternoon of Saturday, July 23, 1921, the returned serviceman turned Carlton footballer ‘Horrie’ Clover set an individual club goalkicking record that still stands after 100 winters.
It happened against St Kilda in the 12th round contest at the Junction Oval, when Clover booted a lazy 13 from centre half-forward - the most gameday goals from that position in League history - and a match-day tally not bettered by any Carlton player (Vallence, Jesaulenko, Kernahan and Fevola included) in the ten decades since.
According to an unnamed reporter’s account in The Argus on the Monday after the match, a total of 17,000 spectators, amongst them the Victorian Governor Lord Stradbroke and Lady Stradbroke, bore witness to Clover’s goalkicking genius – three goals in the first quarter, three in the second, four in the third and three in the last – as the visitors inflicted a 98-point hiding.
“The only interest in the second half was as to whether Clover would equal Robertson’s tally of 14 goals for South Melbourne against St Kilda a few years ago,” the correspondent noted.
“On that occasion Robertson was fed from all directions, many times receiving the shot from men better placed than himself. Clover, however, battled for himself all day, his magnificent marking and beautiful kicking earning great applause from supporters of both sides.”
At the Carlton AGM of 1922, Clover was presented with the mounted matchday football which had been generously handed over by St Kilda officials, who saw the man take on all comers, including the great Saints backman Wells Eicke.
Fast forward to 1929, and Clover’s on-field excellence was again rewarded, only this time with a cheque for £2/2/ and a trophy as his club’s best and fairest – the first such award to be presented at Princes Park some five years before the introduction of the Robert Reynolds Trophy (now the John Nicholls Medal).
That same year, Clover’s greatness was seen by all across the Nullarbor, when he captained Victoria to its first-ever victory over a powerful Western Australia outfit in Perth.
Nicknamed ‘Pat’ because he was born on the St Patrick’s Day weekend, Horace Ray Clover hailed from the north-western Victorian town of Carisbrook, just a few kilometres from John Nicholls’ home town of Maryborough. He was the second of three Clover brothers, following Clarence Robert and preceding Colin Carisbrook.
Clover first kicked a footy for the local school at Carisbrook, his uncle having captained the Carisbrook district team to the 1906 Premiership. At the age of 16, he turned out for the Bet Bet team, which then competed in the Dunolly competition, and later a temperance team. According to The Sporting Globe’s‘Jumbo’ Sharland, Clover was already displaying “ability out of the ordinary”.
For a time Clover found work with his father mining the local alluvial sites (and it was said that the nearby Specimen Gully was the site of the first surface gold found in the colony. In later years he worked as a hairdresser, then in real estate, insurance and hotels. He was a licensee of the Astor (later ‘Percy’ Jones’ watering hole on Lygon and Elgin Street corner), the Lincoln in nearby Queensberry Street and the Prospect Hill in Kew, but he wasn’t a drinker.
Whereas many League footballers volunteered for active service having already played the game, Clover was five years from his senior Carlton debut when he volunteered for what would be a total of 972 days’ wartime. Enlisting with the 1st Australian Machine Gun Battalion in September 1915, Private Clover embarked with his unit aboard the Themistocles in January 1916, and in Europe joined the 7th in trench warfare along the Western Front.
On Boxing Day 1916, the newly-appointed Lance Corporal Clover developed what military records indicate was a gangrenous appendix. This necessitated the immediate removal of the organ, but complications arose with a double hernia, which by late January 1917 necessitated the soldier’s transfer to an England-bound ship for further hospitalisation and surgery at Wandsworth.
By August, Lance Corporal Clover was repatriated to Australia, and underwent more surgeries. His stomach, according to Clark, was “littered with scars” - but it mattered little to the Carlton cricketer-turned-footballer who throughout his days at Princes Park played with an aluminium plate encased in a leather belt to protect his lower abdomen.
Aware of the potential to aggravate the injury with every on-field movement, Clover calmly accepted the danger. As he once told a reporter: “It’s a great game and I do not mind the risk”.
Though Grand Final victory eluded him, Clover topped Carlton’s goalkicking in three of his first four seasons, including 1922, where his total of 58 was competition’s best. That same year he was appointed club captain and in 1923 took on the dual role of captain-coach.
Clover’s on-field career spanned 147 senior games through 11 seasons from 1920 to 1931 - a period broken only by illness in 1925, during which time he officiated as club secretary.
Beyond his playing days, Clover continued to serve as vice-president in 1932 and 1935-’54, and as President through 1956 and ’57.
Not surprisingly, he was inducted in both the AFL and Carlton Halls of Fame, and is a member of the club’s feted Team of the 20th Century.
Horrie Clover died in Mordialloc Hospital on New Year’s Day 1984 - and as its 90 years since he last laced his high cuts, the man’s on-field greatness can only be measured by the surviving sepia-coloured newspaper clippings of the day.
One such example is attributed to the former Carlton Secretary/Coach Jack Worrall, who penned the following for The Australasian in 1932:
“Horrie (was) a real specialist, one of the best forwards the game has seen, and the best all-round kick that has ever come under my purview. For that reason he deserves a line to himself.
He played the game like a sportsman, was a glorious high mark, and could cover a great distance by either drop, punt, or place kick - a remarkable accomplishment. Many players have been notable kicks in two aspects of the game, yet none have equalled Clover in the three branches.”
But Clover’s daughter Shirley Morgan, a sprightly 93, and her son Clark, recently shared their precious personal memories of the man they knew to help keep the blue flame aflicker.
Shirley was a babe in her mother Alberta Victoria’s arms (“there were no baby carriers then,” she said) when her father chased the leather in the latter stages of his Carlton career.
“He was a very good father and he loved our family. My Mum always said that he spoiled us as children, that if we wanted the top brick on the chimney he’d get it for us,” Shirley said.
“He was very generous, very fair and he was a good boss because he was a licensee in three hotels and everybody seemed to like him.
“He also loved Carlton, because he served the club for 40 years.”
Clark Morgan fondly remembered his maternal grandfather’s sense of humour.
“He could tell a good joke and he was a real prankster,” Clark said.
“I can remember him walking into a room, taking his jacket off and hanging it against a wall as if there was a hook there which there wasn’t. He’d then flick the hat off his head, catch it with his toe, then flick the hat back up so that it landed on his head again.
“He was a sporting all-rounder. He was not only a good footballer, but a good golfer and a good cricketer. As with Bradman who he knew, he used a stump to deflect a golf ball off a corrugated water tank to improve his reflexes. He also knew Harry Hopman and he once played billiards with Walter Lindrum.”
With the counting of votes for the John Nicholls Medal of 2020 nearing, it’s timely that the club’s first best and fairest winner is so honoured - for ‘Big Nick’s first year as a Carlton player was Clover’s last as Carlton President.
And Clover was always held in high esteem by the man widely considered Carlton’s greatest player. As Shirley remembered: “Whenever I saw John Nicholls at any of the club functions he’d always say ‘I came from the same place as your Dad’.”