Career : 1966 - 1974
Debut : Round 1, 1966 vs Richmond, aged 20 years, 90 days
Carlton Player No. 779
Games : 129 (125 at Carlton)
Goals : 86 (85 at Carlton)
Last Game : Round 8, 1974 vs Footscray, aged 28 years, 120 days
Guernsey No. 34
Height : 185 cm (6 ft. 1 in.)
Weight : 89.5 kg (14 stone, 1 lb.)
DOB : 25 January, 1946
Premiership Player 1968, 1970, 1972
A familiar figure to generations of young fans as a television commentator with the Channel 7 network, Ian Robertson had previously been a star in three Premiership teams for Carlton - an elegant, pacey, versatile player who was a brilliant exponent of the running drop-kick.
Born in suburban Footscray in 1946, Ian Anthony ‘Robbo’ Robertson grew up in the lush farming country around Wonthaggi in south-east Victoria. By his mid-teens, everyone at Dalyston Football Club was predicting a VFL career for the rangy key forward, so early in 1966, Ian’s father wrote to the Footscray Bulldogs, requesting a trial for his son. But when no answer came from the Western Oval, another letter was sent to Carlton Football Club, and the Blues’ new captain-coach Ron Barassi replied with an invitation to a trial game. Impressed with the tall youngster’s attitude as much as his ability, Barassi signed him on the spot, and their association couldn’t have begun at a better time. After years of mediocrity, Carlton had stunned the football world by recruiting Barassi, and the Navy Blues were on the road back to Premiership glory.
Robertson’s first senior game was played on Anzac Day, 1966, against traditional rival Richmond at the MCG. It was a big occasion and Carlton’s half-forward line was very well synchronised. Flankers Bryan Quirk and Jim Pleydell wore guernsey numbers 32 and 33 respectively, while at centre half-forward Robertson made his debut in number 34. The trio kicked five goals between them, but an open, entertaining contest eventually went to the Tigers by one straight kick.
Robbo went on to play eight games in his debut season, switching between centre half-forward, full-forward, centre and wing. At 185 cm he was appreciably taller than most wingmen of that era, yet he was rarely beaten for pace when he played out wide. And his marking skills and penetrative kicking made him an exciting prospect. Although Carlton missed the finals in 1966 by ending up sixth on the ladder, with a little more luck (we lost four games by a goal or less) the Blues might have sneaked into the top four.
Before the 1967 season began, Footscray complained to the VFL that Carlton’s recruitment of Robertson contravened AFL rules. According to the Bulldogs, Ian’s father had assured them that his son would play at the Western Oval before Carlton intervened. Those allegations were strenuously denied by the Blues, and the matter dragged on for weeks - only ending when the Blues reluctantly agreed to settle the matter by clearing our big-hearted ruckman Ken Greenwood to the ‘Dogs as compensation for missing out on Robertson.
Carlton’s determination to hang on to Robbo was quickly justified, when he blossomed into one of the rising stars of the VFL in ’67. Barassi shared the conviction that tall wingmen were an advantage in ideal conditions on the MCG at finals time, and so challenged Robertson to make one side of every league ground his own. More often than not, that’s exactly what he did. He played in all 20 of Carlton’s matches in ‘67, and kept his attacking skills ticking over with a handy contribution of 21 goals. Carlton finished second on the ladder to qualify for ourfirst final series for five years, only to be knocked out of contention by Richmond and Geelong in successive weeks. Even so, there was no doubt that the Blues were building momentum.
The re-emergence of Carlton as a league power began with our 1968 Grand Final victory over Essendon – the Blues’ first Premiership in 21 long years. On a windswept MCG, in front of almost 117,000 spectators, Carlton beat a dogged Bombers team by three points in a low-scoring thriller. The Blues’ superb centreline of Gary Crane, Brent Crosswell and Ian Robertson - aided by the ruck dominance of captain John Nicholls – was the springboard for the Premiership that had been yearned for at Princes Park since 1947.
Boosted by that performance in his first Grand Final, Robbo stepped up a gear in 1969, when his spectacular long kicking and rock-solid consistency made him one of the most popular of Carlton’s stars. After beating Collingwood in the second semi-final of that year, the Blues qualified for their second successive Grand Final as favourites against Richmond. But on match day the Tigers staged a massive form reversal, and with Robbo’s opponent Billy Barrot chopping us up across the centre, they eventually triumphed by 25 points.
The deep disappointment of that loss lasted only until the 1970 Final Series, when Robbo wiped the slate clean with another fine game in the most famous Grand Final of them all. Facing a fit and confident Collingwood at a packed MCG, Carlton trailed by 44 points at half time, forcing Barassi into engineering a football miracle. Urging his team to play on at all costs; to run, to back each other up and handball, handball, handball – he saw his boys come roaring back into the game after the long break. Kicking eight goals to three in the third quarter, and five goals to one in the last, the Blues overwhelmed Collingwood to snatch the flag by ten points. Understandably, Barassi, Robbo and every Bluebagger celebrated long and hard after that incredible day.
Robbo made his fourth Grand Final appearance and earned his third Premiership medal in 1972, this time at the gleeful expense of Richmond. The Tigers had beaten Carlton convincingly in three of their four matches that year, including a replay of the drawn second semi-final. After thrashing the Blues by six goals in the rematch, the Tigers became red-hot Premiership favourites.
However, it was Carlton who came out smoking on Grand Final day, fired-up by the passion of new captain-coach John Nicholls. Looking to unsettle the Tiger’s confidence, Nicholls and the match committee opted for a game plan of all-out attack from the first bounce, and the ploy worked beautifully. In another superb display of skill and accuracy in front of goal, Carlton slammed on a record score of 28.9. 177, coasting in the last quarter to allow Richmond to salvage some pride and finish with a scoreline of 22.18. 150. Robbo controlled his wing all day as part of a dominant centreline, while Peter Jones, Robert Walls, Bruce Doull, Alex Jesaulenko and Nicholls himself were simply outstanding on another glorious day for the Old Dark Navy Blues.
That third ascent to the top of the football mountain marked the high point of Robbo’s career. He had missed only a handful of senior games in the previous five years, but in 1973 he was struck down by injury and played just one game. Form and fitness then eluded him into early ’74, and he was forced to wait until round six before he was given another opportunity at senior level. Whatever the cause, the old spark was proving hard to rekindle for Robbo, but it was still a shock for many Carlton Fans when the club announced that all parties had agreed to his mid-season transfer to – yes, Footscray.
Ironically, Robbo’s last game for Carlton - in round six of 1974, was against the Bulldogs at Princes Park – and ended in a draw! One week later he was at the Western Oval, where he managed just four games before bowing to the inevitable and hanging up his boots at season’s end. In an enviable career, he had racked up 129 games, 87 goals and three Premiership medals.
Happily, Robbo wasn’t immediately lost to either the Carlton Football Club or the wider football community. For many years after his retirement he was a regular on the sports night circuit and later, a long-serving television football commentator. While he was sometimes accused him of bias toward the Blues, most fair-minded viewers appreciated his incisiveness behind the microphone. Carlton supporters on the other hand, loved the obvious fact that Robbo always wore his heart on his sleeve - and his heart beat Navy Blue.
Milestones50 Games: Round 2, 1969 vs Hawthorn
100 Games:Round 16, 1971 vs St Kilda
Career Highlights1966 - Terry Ogden Memorial Trophy: Best First Year Player Award
1968 - Premiership Player
1970 - 9th Best & Fairest
1970 - Premiership Player
1971 - 7th Best & Fairest
1972 - 9th Best & Fairest
1972 - Premiership Player