Career : 1914, 1915 and 1919
Debut : Round 3, 1914 vs University, aged 21 years, 328 days
Carlton Player No. 296
Games : 32
Goals : 55
Last Game : Round 11, 1919 vs Essendon, aged 27 years, 34 days
Guernsey Nos. 28 (1914), 21 (1915) and 26 (1919)
Height : 184 cm (6 ft. 1 in.)
Weight : 79.5 kg (12 stone, 7 lbs)
DOB : 14 June, 1892
Premiership Player 1914, 1915
Club Leading Goalkicker : 1915 (46)
Herbert Burleigh certainly packed a lot into just three seasons of senior football at Princes Park. In his first 29 games at senior level, he was part of two Premiership teams, and topped the Blues’ goal-kicking in 1915 as a centre half-forward. After that, he volunteered to serve his King and country in World War 1, was severely wounded in action, yet returned to play again at war’s end.
Herb was born in the tiny coastal village of Nirranda, on Victoria’s rugged south-western coast between Warrnambool and Port Campbell. He had just recently graduated as a school teacher, and was playing good football for Latrobe valley club Morwell when Carlton came calling with an invitation that most young men of the time could only dream about.
Carlton’s coach Norman Clark gave Burleigh his first taste of top level football against the competition’s strugglers, University, in May 1914. Wearing guernsey number 28, Herb was asked to deputise for Carlton's injured star centreman Rod McGregor, and did well in a 70 point drubbing for the Students. ‘Wee’ McGregor returned the following week, so Herb was sent to a forward pocket and given occasional runs on the ball as a follower or ruck rover. By the time the home and away rounds of that year were completed, he had notched up seven games, and Carlton was six points clear on top of the ladder.
Burleigh’s tenth game of VFL football was the 1914 Grand Final against South Melbourne. South had surprised by beating Carlton in the previous week’s Preliminary Final, so the Blues exercised their right as minor premiers to challenge the Bloods to a Grand Final rematch, in an atmosphere robbed of most of its usual excitement by the dreaded news of the outbreak of World War 1 only weeks beforehand.
Despite the anxiety brought by the spread of war across Europe, contemporary reports described the match as one of the greatest of Grand Finals. Carlton’s strength and marking power won another flag for the Blues by just six points, with our one-eyed captain Billy Dick, Rod McGregor and emerging full-back Ernie Jamieson among the stars. Herb Burleigh was solid in a back pocket alongside Jamieson, who was impressing everyone after starting his career as a winger.
Herb swapped to guernsey number 21 the following year, coinciding with another change of position – this time to centre half-forward for the opening match of the new season against Fitzroy at Princes Park. Whether it was just a hunch, or an inspired choice, Norm Clark’s decision to send Burleigh to the key attacking post proved a stroke of genius. Herb wasn’t a classic high mark or even particularly quick across the ground, but he had abundant courage, great anticipation and a he kicked straight. He made centre half-forward his domain, and was one of the driving forces in Carlton’s late demolition of Collingwood in the 1915 Grand Final.
That match was still in the balance in the last quarter, before Burleigh slammed through three majors in quick succession and sparked a five-goal blitz that broke Collingwood’s spirit. And Herb’s second flag win on the trot was made even sweeter when he won the Blues goalkicking award with 46 for the season. No doubt he celebrated hard for a while, before facing the harsh reality of serving his country at the battle front.
Herb had enlisted in July 1915, but deferred his call-up until the football season was over. In April 1916, Private Burleigh sailed for France with reinforcements for the sorely-pressed 29th Infantry Battalion. Soon, he was in the thick of the fighting, where his leadership qualities were soon recognised. Within months he had been promoted from Corporal to Sergeant, then to 2nd Lieutenant.
In September 1917, he was transferred to the 5th Battalion and promoted again, this time to full Lieutenant. Only days later, in one of his first actions with his new unit, a German bullet shattered his right forearm. He was evacuated to hospital in England for surgery, and it was soon clear that his front-line military service was over. In January, 1918, he returned to Australia for ongoing treatment, and in July of that year – just four months before the Armistice – Herb was discharged from the army as medically unfit.
One had to forgive him for harbouring the idea of playing football at the highest level any longer, but Herb Burleigh was grimly determined to pull on the old Dark Navy Blue guernsey again. And on May 10, 1919 at the East Melbourne Football Ground, that’s exactly what he did, when he ran out to take on Essendon wearing number 26.
Beside himself, just four members of Carlton’s 1915 Premiership side - Rod McGregor, Paddy O'Brien, Charlie Fisher and Percy Daykin - were still playing on the day of Herb’s return to senior football. A fifth member of that team; star rover Viv Valentine, had replaced Norm Clark as coach of the Blues. Unfortunately, the fairy-tale of Herb’s comeback didn’t end in joy, and Carlton lost a low-scoring slog of a match by 12 points.
His second game back was a satisfying 77-point thrashing of Geelong at Princes Park a fortnight later, but alarm bells rang when complications with his damaged arm hampered him from that point on. He persisted with treatment and training for another six weeks, and eventually forced his way back into the side for the round 11 return clash with Essendon in July. Sadly, Herb was hardly sighted in that 15 point loss, and afterward had to admit that his career was over, just one month after his 27th birthday.
Herb Burleigh returned to teaching in 1920, and spent the rest of his life in mainly rural communities. He was the school master at Yan Yean for more than a decade, and maintained his dedication to the Carlton Football Club until his passing, aged 83, in July, 1975.
The Camperdown Chronicle January 21 1915 reported on a reunion banquet of past students of the Warrnambool Agricultural High School held on Saturday 16 January.
Amongst the many toasts proposed during the evening, one was by Mr. H. Burleigh of the Melbourne Teachers Training College to "The Old School."
The toasts were interspersed with musical items, and "Mr. H. Burleigh (of Carlton football fame) and Mr. James Rea whose lively violin contributions were a decided success."
Send-Off To VolunteersSeptember 25 1915, the Carlton Football Club held a farewell at the London Tavern, for the players who had enlisted in the Army. President Jack Gardiner presented Alf Baud, Frank Triplett, George Challis, Herb Burleigh and George Muir with gifts from the club.
To read the article in full with a response from Blues' captain Alf Baud, which appeared in the Nagambie Times, October 01, click here> http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article141828831
LinksArticles: Glory with your first steps
Blueseum: Summary of playing statistics for Herb Burleigh | Burleigh's Blueseum Image Gallery