BLUES’ 14-GOAL BLITZ IN BOMBERS’ HELL ON THE HILL
It happened, appropriately enough in Round 14 – Round 14, 1975 to be precise – when the visiting Blues banged on 14 goals in a quarter of footy to rout Essendon and take The Hill.
Carlton’s final scoreline of in this match - 27.13 (175) - remains its highest tallied against the Bombers. But this was a game remembered as much for its brutality as its cordon Blue bootery, as the former Carlton forward Craig Davis will tell you.
The following is a story which was published for the book “Out Of The Blue – Defining Moments in Carlton History” – which as released by the club in 2009. In it, Davis recounts the dramatic events that reshaped his life, on a day remembered as much in infamy as for the right reasons.
Davis took to the confined spaces of Glenferrie Oval in his first senior appearance for Carlton, in the 14th Round of 1973. A cousin to Brent Crosswell, and originally hailing from the historic Tasmanian town of Ross, Davis was named on a half-forward flank alongside another debutant, Lance Styles.
He was adjudged reserve grade best first year player in 1973, as well as runner-up in the reserves best and fairest. He was a member of Carlton’s ’73 Grand Final team which lost to Richmond by 30 points, on a day in which Laurie Fowler laid out ‘Big Nick’ and Neil Balme silenced Geoff Southby. Davis represented Carlton in 42 matches, ending with the 1975 first-semi final in which Carlton fell nine points short, again versus Richmond.
The seventh round match of 1975 at Windy Hill was Davis’ 33rd appearance in a dark Navy Blue guernsey. In reflecting on different times, Davis, the father of Sydney’s 2005 premiership player Nick, talks candidly of the match between Essendon and Carlton at Windy Hill on the afternoon of Saturday, July 5, 1975, and its short-term and long-term consequences.
The following is his story.
All I remember is that “Big Nick” (John Nicholls), “Jezza” (Alex Jesaulenko) and Geoff Southby were all away on state duties, Keith McKenzie stood in as coach, and we kicked 14.1 in the second quarter. Who kicked the point? Blame me.
I was probably a roving forward back then and David McKay had a day out if I remember rightly. We were a very talented side and Essendon was an up-and-coming side, and obviously they were fairly frustrated. A lot of things were happening on and off the ball and I just happened to wear one. When I first got hit all I can remember is going down then waking up and knowing that I couldn’t go off because there were only reserves back then – no interchange.
I headed back to full-forward and because I was in ‘ga-ga’ land I wore a couple more. The word was that I went down five times and the worst thing about it was that I kept getting up.
I don’t believe anyone wanted to seriously hurt me. It was more a case of using me to stir the pot. Unfortunately they caught me in the wrong part of the face, which caused a fair bit of damage. I later spent 18 months out of the game, but that’s the way it went; back in those days what happened on the field stayed on the field.
The funny thing about that game was that sometime later in it I took one of the marks of the year, so obviously I didn’t get hurt that much. But I remember ‘Wallsy’ [Robert Walls] coming up to me and saying, ‘You’re going to kick the wrong way’ and I thought, ‘Shit, I can’t even see the goal’. So Wallsy said, ‘I’ll line you up – you just kick it straight.’
Wallsy was terrific, as were all the Carlton players in that game. They were only defending against stuff that happened behind play and not in the game’s spirit. I know blokes like Phil Pinnell and Rod Ashman came to my rescue and I only know that from the photos I saw.
I believe the Tribunal erred in the penalties handed out to Phil, Rod and Rod Austin, because they were only defending my honor and I was poleaxed. No-one took into consideration the fact that they had been provoked into defending me. That, to me, was very disappointing, because the Carlton blokes didn’t start it.
I’ve since spoken to Neville Fields about it. In fact, he and I worked together at 3AW and I know Neville came out and apologised in the press a few years ago. I don’t hold any grudges, never have, and he (Fields) wasn’t the only one who hit me. There was Barry Grinter, Laurie Moloney and Ronnie Andrews. Years later, when Ronnie and I were at Collingwood, we laughed about it. Ronnie asked, ‘How come you didn’t duck?’ and I said, ‘I couldn’t bloody see you, my eye was closed’ ... and he did admit that I looked a bit of a mess.
The only thing I was worried about in that game was someone hitting me in the nose with a can when I came off the ground, because it was pretty tender by that stage.
The trainers, Ronnie Vincent and Kenny Kleiman, came out and said to Nick’s mum, Judy, ‘Craig’s a bit knocked up.’ Then I came out with my nose and my cheekbone in a mess and my eye all closed up. We used to park in the carpark out the back of the ground and I remember walking out of there not feeling too crash hot. And some Essendon supporter sang out, ‘You dirty mongrel, Davis’ and I thought, ‘Gee, all I’ve done is headbutt fists all day.’ I didn’t think it warranted me being called a thug.
I remember one player coming straight up to me and barreling me. I pretty much knew the instructions from the Essendon coach were: ‘Put him on a stretcher.’ ‘Tuddy’ [Des Tuddenham] was a legend as a player but as a coach I didn’t rate him too much. If I remember rightly he made the Essendon players crawl around the Essendon ground because he believed that if they played like dogs they may as well be treated like dogs, and I didn’t think they deserved that.
I suffered a broken nose and a fractured eye socket, but there was no real brain trauma. And you wouldn’t believe this, but I played the next week, against North Melbourne at Waverley. North had looked after me. They’d invited me over to attend the 1972 Grand Final and Malcolm Blight and myself attended the North Melbourne Grand Final Breakfast together. I remember that ‘Denchy’ [David Dench] really looked after me because I was 17 and only a kid then.
On the Sunday morning after the Essendon game I woke up with both eyes closed and I thought I was blind. Later on I was able to open my eyes and ‘Big Nick’ said to me, ‘Look, if you can train on Thursday night we’ll pick you. You’ve only got a broken nose.’ And I said, ‘Okay, as long as my eyes stay open.’
Anyway, I ran out against North and lined up on Denchy. He took one look at me and said, ‘You are crazy’ because he cared about me. I ran into Denchy’s elbow in the first 10 minutes of the game and rebroke my nose. And Denchy was really apologetic, which was unusual for him.
I played in almost every game for the season after that. But then I got hit again, in a pre-season game in the summer of ’76, against Hawthorn at Princes Park, and suffered another haemorrhage episode. Who got me? The man who coached Brisbane to three premierships, who Neville Bruns probably remembers more than I do and who’s probably the best player to ever play the game.
It was then discovered that I had a platelet deficiency, much like internal haemophilia and learned that I was lucky to get away with the first knock. After the second one the doctor said, ‘Well, there’s a one hundred per cent chance of losing your left eye and an 80 per cent chance of dropping dead.’ He then said, ‘What’s the chance of getting hit in the head again?’ and I said, ‘Gee, I play full-forward, and that’s all that blokes like ‘Cowboy’ Neale do.’
He said, ‘Look, I’ve got three guys with your complaint, and two have just retired. What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I’ve just retired,’ to which he replied, ‘Smart move.’
To be told at 20 years of age that you’re never going to play footy again is fairly devastating but Jezza [Alex Jesaulenko] and the players rallied around me. They made me runner to Ian Thorogood, but I got reported for 32 breaches of the laws of the game for staying on the ground too long as runner. Old Jack Gaffney said, ‘How much money have you got in your pocket?’ and I said ‘$25’, and that’s how much he fined me. Today it’s a grand a breach so it’d be a fine of $32,000.
In 1977, I made a comeback and kicked seven goals in a practice game. Everyone at Carlton was happy, I was happy and then some editor put a headline on a story which read, ‘Why Davis risked death to play football.’ Carlton obviously freaked and so did the club’s insurance company, because they asked me to sign a waiver, and I said, ‘No, I’m not going to sign a waiver because I can do a knee or get hurt other ways.’ By then Brent [Crosswell] was at North Melbourne, North had tried to get me in ’72, and Ron Joseph asked me to come over, and the rest is history.
Down the track I discovered what had actually caused the platelet deficiency. I took medication, made a comeback and was quite happy to survive the game right through to 1988. I played for four great clubs and played under some great coaches in Nicholls, ‘Barass’ [Ron Barassi] and Tommy [Hafey]. People ask me, ‘Who were the four best players I saw?’ I tell them I had Jezza at Carlton, [Malcolm] Blight at North Melbourne, Peter Daicos at Collingwood and Greg Williams at Sydney, and Brent Crosswell was probably more talented than all four of them put together.
I ended up playing in four Grand Finals and 18 finals, including 13 at Collingwood, and I played in front of more than one million people. Of course I’m disappointed I never played in a premiership, but I got to see my son win one, and that’s more important.
On my time at Carlton I will say this: Jezza taught me to be humble and Wallsy taught me how to kick.
Essendon v Carlton
R.14, Windy Hill, Saturday, July 5, 1975
Carlton 1.4 10 15.5 95 22.9 141 27.13 175
Essendon 5.1 31 9.2 56 13.3 81 15.5 95
Best players: McKay, Fitzpatrick, Walls, Mangels, Maclure, Jackson, Ohlsen, Davis.
Goalkickers: McKay 8, Walls 5, Davis 4, Jones 3, Mangels 2, Fitzpatrick, Kennedy, Ohlsen, Catoggio, Pinnell.
R. Ashman (Carlton), allegedly striking N. Fields (Essendon) - four weeks;
R. Austin (Carlton), allegedly striking N. Fields (Essendon) - four weeks;
P. Pinnell (Carlton), allegedly striking R. Close (Essendon), reported by two umpires - two weeks;
D. McKay (Carlton), allegedly striking L. Moloney (Essendon), reported by two umpires - two weeks;
R. Andrews (Essendon), allegedly striking D. McKay (Carlton) – not guilty;
R. Close (Essendon), allegedly striking P. Pinnell (Carlton) - two weeks;
L. Moloney (Essendon), allegedly charging P. Pinnell – two weeks; and
N. Fields (Essendon), allegedly striking Rod Austin – not guilty.
Injuries: Kennedy (strained ankle), Pinnell (strained knee ligaments)
B: 19 John O’Connell 30 Vin Waite 36 Mark Maclure
HB: 21 Rod Austin 11 Bruce Doull 15 Phil Pinnell
C: 23 Craig Davis 5 Syd Jackson 10 Alan Mangels
HF: 24 Russell Ohlsen 42 Robert Walls (acting capt.) 43 David McKay
F: 28 Peter Jones 16 Greg Kennedy 14 Rod Ashman
Ruck: 3 Mike Fitzpatrick 8 Trevor Keogh 12 Barry Armstrong
Res: 4 Vin Catoggio 9 Greg Towns
Coach: Keith McKenzie