AS IS so often the case, the life story of the one-game player lost to the club after an all-too-brief on-field foray is of more interest than the 300-gamer with whom everyone in the football world identifies.
So it is with Ron Rhodes, a one-game Carlton senior player of 67 seasons ago, who died recently at the age of 88.
Ronald Thomas Rhodes was born on November 17, 1932, the son of Thomas Lewis Rhodes and Ruby Agnes Ryall - a cousin of Keith Ryall, the visionary behind Leigh Creek’s Kryal Castle. Ron was the youngest of three brothers, with Frederick (who died at a young age) the first born, and Keith the middle child who also turned out for Carlton.
The ‘Mick’ Price-coached Carlton Reserve Grade team of 1954. Ron Rhodes is the player standing third from the left. Second from the right in the same row is Peter Bevilacqua, League football’s only known Italian-born footballer. Seated with his legs crossed in the front row, second from the right, is Harvey Dunn, the first League footballer ever recruited under the father/son rule.
Ron was part of the fabric of the Carlton neighbourhood. He spent the first 70 years of his life in the family home at 667 Drummond Street, North Carlton, having been schooled at Carlton North Primary at Lee Street, and later Princes Hill Secondary College in the shadows of the Legends Stand.
He was recruited to the Carlton Football Club from neighbouring Princes Hill on the cusp of the 1950 season when the club’s Under 19 team of which he was part fell to the unbeaten Essendon by a miserable point in the Grand Final. That season, Ron was recognised with the Most Serviceable Award donated by the club’s 1938 Premiership defender Frank Gill.
Ron progressed through the Under 19s and reserves, stringing together games as a ruckman/ruck rover with the occasional appearance in defence. Named as an emergency in Carlton’s reserve grade Premiership team of 1953, Ron was frustrated by four breaks to his left hand through the course of the ’53 season.
The following year, Ron featured in the team photograph with Carlton’s reserves – amongst them the captain Harry Sullivan, football’s first father/son recruit Harvey Dunn and the game’s only Italian-born League footballer Peter Bevilacqua.
July 1953. John James, a future Brownlow Medallist, supports Ron Rhodes, whose left hand, broken on four separate occasions through the course of the season, is supported in a sling (photo below).
In mid-June 1954, Ron was hospitalised with a kidney injury sustained in a reserve grade match with Hawthorn. Three weeks later, Coach Percy Bentley called his name for his Carlton senior debut.
Donning the No.36 now worn by Josh Honey, Ron followed the captain Ken Hands down the race and onto Princes Park for his one and only senior appearance – specifically the Round 11 match of Saturday, July 3, 1954 between Carlton and St Kilda.
That afternoon, Ron fulfilled duties as ruck-rover in a Carlton following division which included ruckman Bill Milroy and rover Jack Mills. Regrettably the home team lost that match to the visitors 9.16 (70) to 12.10 (82), and of the 22 who took to the field in Dark Navy only Peter Webster and Ron Robertson are still living.
Ron parted company with the Carlton Football Club at the end of the ’54 season and never pursued a playing or coaching career elsewhere, as his work away from the game became a focus.
An electrician by trade, he was for years employed with the Melbourne City Council, connecting electricity to premises within the council’s jurisdiction and installing meters accordingly. At the time of his retirement in 1995, he was as a foreman in charge of the council’s various work teams.
Ron’s life took an incredible turn for the better in April 1984 when he accompanied friends on a holiday to the Philippines. There he met, fell in love with and ultimately married Alicia Montero, a single mother making ends meet working as a sales rep for a Rice Milling Business.
The Rhodes family home in North Carlton. It was here in October 1986 that Ron and his Filipino wife Alicia exchanged marital vows in a private ceremony.
Ron met Alicia in Manila through mutual friends, and as the relationship flourished, Ron travelled to the country several times until they tied knot in Manila on January 6, 1985.
Ron returned to Australia two months after the marriage and by August 1986 had arranged for his wife Alicia’s and stepson Michael’s passage to Australia. On October 8 of that year, he and Alicia again exchanged marital vows, only this time under Australian law, in a private ceremony attended by close friends and relatives at the Drummond Street home.
He then completed the protracted step-parent adoption process to fully legalise his parentage to Michael, whose surname is now formally “Rhodes”.
In 2002, having lived most of his life in Drummond Street, Ron vacated the old Rhodes home in Carlton. Together with Alicia, he headed north to Lalor to be closer to their son Michael, daughter-in-law Jem and grandchildren Michael and Gabriel.
The Rhodes family – clockwise from left rear Michael, Michael (jnr), Jem, Gabriel, Ron and Alicia.
Ron maintained a solid fitness regimen and was a regular at the local gymnasium well into his 80s. He was mowing the lawn at the front of his home when he suddenly collapsed and could not be revived.
“Dad never liked any fuss, so I guess the silver lining to all this is that he went as he would’ve wanted - quick, with no long decline at a nursing home or hospital - just mic drop and outa here, may God bless his soul,” Michael said.
“He was a good man, he was my Dad, and he and his family treated me no differently to a biological son.”
Ronald Thomas Rhodes is survived by his wife Alicia, son Michael, daughter-in-law Jem and grandchildren Michael and Gabriel.
He was the 682nd player to represent the Carlton Football Club at senior level since the formation of the VFL in 1897 – and his love for Carlton never abated.
“Dad was Navy Blue through and through, being born and bred in Carlton,” Michael said.
“He followed the Carlton teams through the decades, and did not miss watching a single Carlton match on TV.
“Dad’s house was always adorned with Carlton paraphernalia and the door chime carried the club’s theme song. He lived and breathed the Blues. He felt the club's ups and downs, the joys and disappointments, and he passed on that passion to me and the next generation of our family.
“We do truly feel grateful for the club’s validation of Dad’s previous history with the club . . . and with that, whenever the Bluebaggers play, you can be assured that there will always be a Rhodes screaming at the top of their lungs ‘Carn the Blues!’.”
The Carlton team, featuring Ron Rhodes in his one and only senior appearance, v St Kilda at Princes Park - Round 11, Saturday, July 3, 1954
B: 15 Bruce Comben 25 George Ferry 37 Bernie Moran
HB: 30 George Stafford 33 Peter Webster 16 John Brown
C: 28 Graham Gilchrist 21 Ron Robertson 19 Denis Zeunert
HF: 10 John James 18 Max Wenn 17 Doug Beasy
F: 1 Ken Hands (c) 26 Noel O’Brien 23 John Chick
Ruck: 2 Bill Milroy 36 Ron Rhodes 9 Jack Mills
Res: 3 Harry Sullivan 11 Laurie Kerr
Coach: Percy Bentley