"DAD AND I used to stand at opposite ends of the kitchen and practise stab passes either foot with the plastic footy. Mum used to go crook because we’d knock everything over on the bench and she banned the stab pass, so we’d re-enact ‘Jezza’s’ marks instead – mostly Jezza’s, but occasionally ‘Swan’ McKay’s – and we’d wait until she went out before we practised the stab passes again.”
The photograph of which Grant Puglia speaks – of his father lifting him northwards to complete a signature Alex Jesaulenko grab - evokes so many fond memories for him.
The image also serves as a welcome throwback to once upon a time, when father and son (now 54) would make the regularly matchday pilgrimage to Princes Park to watch their beloved Blues play.
Bernard Puglia’s connection with Carlton was gloriously territorial.
The son of a Neapolitan migrant who crossed the globe between the wars, Bernard lived out his childhood in the Puglia family home at 92 Faraday Street, Carlton. The house still stands, just a short walk down the hill from where Faraday and Rathdowne Streets intersect.
In Carlton, Bernard took the sporting pastimes of boxing, basketball and Australian Rules with gusto. Representing his town, he and a few local kids turned out in basketball matches staged at Albert Park.
“As Dad went to St Joseph’s Christian Brothers’ College in Abbotsford he played footy there, and he actually earned a schoolboy’s certificate for his play in a carnival put on by Collingwood,” Grant said.
“Dad then joined Carlton’s junior foundation team, and he was actually pictured with the team wearing the big white V on dark Navy Blue in front of the old Gardiner Stand at Princes Park. He would have been 15 or 16 years old then.”
Bernard progressed through the ranks at Princes Park and by 1957 turned out with the thirds with the likes of Colin Ridgway - the athlete who made history by becoming League football’s first American punter with the Dallas Cowboys, but was tragically murdered in a crime which remains unsolved.
Another Carlton contemporary at junior level was one Sergio Silvagni - later a senior captain, two-time Premiership player and club Best & Fairest. Bernard and Serge struck up a good friendship, savouring post-match meals at Nonna Puglia’s Faraday Street home, and later attending eachother’s wedding.
This was also a time when the first generation Australians of Italian origin began to make their mark on the great Australian game. The phenomenon was not lost on The Argus’ sporting columnist Peter Golding, who in a piece for the newspaper in May 1956 wrote: “This changing Australia: On Carlton thirds’ list this season: Cattogio (sic), Puglia, Scarpella, Silvagni, Carbis, Ruggiero . . . ”
“Dad used to talk to me about those days,” Grant said.
“He told me that he made the Carlton senior list, it might have been 1960 or ’61 and how proud he was to have been given Keith Warburton’s number, the number 7, because Keith was such an acrobat in the way he played his football.
“Dad played in the centre or on a wing, and he was equally good kick with either foot - but he did his knee in the last practice match before the season started, which just about ended his career. But while he was going through rehabilitation Yarragon came asking and offered him more money than Carlton, so he headed to Yarragon, was a good player there, and he also played a few games for Trafalgar.”
Bernard then married Leonie and pretty much gave the game away.
Off the paddock he pursued his career as a sales rep for Paterson’s Furniture, then opened a sports store in Donburn in Melbourne’s northeast – within close proximity of his home where he and Leonie raised their family.
Not that Bernard’s love for the Blues ever waned. As a Carlton Social Club Member, he’d take his boy Grant to Princes Park to watch on from the terraces, as the Blues’ powerhouse teams of the 1970s turned it on.
“We never missed a game. We went everywhere, even Geelong,” Grant said.
“Before Dad took out his Membership I used to hang off the scaffolding which supported the HSV7 Commentary Box alongside the Gardiner Stand. Dad lifted me up high enough that I could perch there.
“Later Dad would catch up with the old players in the Social Club in the George Harris Stand and I hung around below because kids weren’t allowed up in those days.”
In June of the Carlton Premiership year of 1979 - Saturday, June 9 to be precise – Bernard and Grant completed their customary pre-match walk past the old Victorian homes on Pigdon Street, through the clicking turnstiles of Princes Park and onto the jam-packed terraces flanking the ground. There, as members of a 46,000-strong audience (the largest for a Carlton-Collingwood match at that venue) they saw the Blues get up by 16 points on an afternoon in which Alex Jesaulenko was famously ko’ed by Stan Magro.
“I caught up with Dad again outside the Social Club after that game, and we were both on a high,” Grant said. “As usual, Carlton had just beaten Collingwood after coming from behind and I can recall Dad picking me up and saying ‘You’ve just seen one of the greatest games that’s ever been played’ . . . and that was the last game he ever saw.”
A heavy smoker, Bernard died of a massive heart attack early on the morning of Wednesday, June 13, 1979, just four days after the Carlton-Collingwood contest, at the tender age of 40.
Today, more than 40 years after fate brought the precious relationship to an end, son Grant clings to the memories of his father and of those halcyon days on the Princes Park terraces.
“Carlton is still a big part of my whole life. I still love Carlton, I still go to the games and I still stay to the end,” Grant said.
“My house is decorated with Weg posters of all the Carlton Premierships and my daughter Jessica got her name because that was the closest I could get to ‘Jezza’.”
In harking back to THAT image of his father hoisting him to the kitchen ceiling in tribute to the great Alex Jesaulenko, Grant offered the following observation to round out this story.
“It pains my wife that to this day that I never tell my kids off for playing with footies inside . . . now they want to be Darcy Vescio and Taylor Harris, though Jezza is still firmly entrenched.”