Career : 1982 - 1992
Debut : Round 15, 1982 vs Melbourne, aged 21 years, 292 days
Carlton Player No. 904
Games : 158
Goals : 140
Last Game : Round 5, 1992 vs Sydney, aged 31 years, 217 days
Guernsey No. 23
Height : 183 cm (6 ft. 0 in.)
Weight : 82.5 kg (13 stone, 0 lbs.)
DOB : 13 September, 1960
Premiership Player 1987
Victorian Representative 1986, 1987
With his bleached blonde hair, his distinctive running style and his cheeky grin, 1987 Premiership player Paul James “Molly” Meldrum was a crowd favourite throughout his 11 seasons at Princes Park from 1982 to ’92. Skilful and consistent, Paul was blessed with outstanding endurance and a clever eye for the goals. During his decade at Carlton the Blues’ list boasted a number of similar types like Adrian Gleeson, Spiro Kourkoumelis, David Glascott, Ken Sheldon and Peter McConville, who all excelled forward or back, on the ball or tagging - and they created constant headaches for opposing teams and coaches.
Paul was born in London, and his family emigrated to Australia when he was very young. He grew up as a passionate supporter of the Navy Blues, and how he finally achieved his dream of pulling on the navy blue guernsey created one of the enduring football stories of the 1980s. Originally it was said that he walked in off the street and asked for a game, was given a tryout, impressed - and went on to play in a Premiership for the Blues. There is a basis of fact in that version, but it has been simplified over time. Here is what actually happened.
Although he had played representative football in his early teens, Paul (whose nickname came from the TV music-show host of the same name) hadn’t been as dedicated to the game as many of his peers. However, by 1981 - when he was 20 years-old and once again thoroughly enjoying playing for Princes Hill Amateurs he found himself at Princes Park one day in the company of his club's President. By chance they met with Carlton’s Recruiting Manager Shane O'Sullivan, and on a whim, Meldrum asked how he could get a chance to trial with the Blues in the ‘82 pre-season. O'Sullivan assured Meldrum that he would arrange it, and that an invitation would be in the mail soon. Meldrum took O’Sullivan at his word, and waited. And waited. And waited.
Meanwhile, Molly’s hard physical work as a builder's labourer proved ideal for strengthening his wiry frame, and, in anticipation of getting a chance to show his wares with the Blues, he had begun a punishing program of running the perimeter of Princes Park - against the clock - at least once a day, every day. By January 1982 the promised invitation still had not arrived, so the super-fit Meldrum cheekily dropped in again to O'Sullivan's office, where Shane admitted that he had totally forgotten about their previous conversation. Somewhat embarrassed, O’Sullivan told Molly that okay, he could join in pre-season training later that week – but warned him that if he couldn't keep up, he would be moved on very smartly. Well, as it turned out, Meldrum more than kept up. He impressed everyone, including the Blues’ match committee, and was rostered to play in an intra-club practice game, where he racked up 30 quality possessions. Readers should be reminded at this point that Carlton were the reigning premiers - on the way to winning their third flag in four years with a list that was as strong as at any time in the clubs’ history.
After that performance, Molly was approached again by O'Sullivan. “I was given the number 23 jumper, a pair of boots, and told we would talk about money later,” Meldrum was to remember. A couple of weeks later he realised his childhood dream when he ran out to play in the pre-season night competition at Waverley, but he had to serve an apprenticeship with the Reserves before he was chosen for his senior debut against Melbourne at Princes Park in round 15, 1982. Stationed on a half-forward flank that afternoon, alongside Ross Ditchburn and Wayne Johnston, Meldrum should have started in a blaze of glory - but uncharacteristically, he missed with each of his four shots at goal as the Blues won by 17 points. The following week at Waverley, Paul kicked his first major against St Kilda, as Ditchburn booted 12 in a spectacular solo effort. Although Carlton won by a huge margin, Molly was then sent back to the Reserves for the rest of the year as the Blues went on to claim yet another Premiership.
By 1984, Meldrum’s unbounded enthusiasm and elite fitness had made him a fixture in the Blues line-up. In 23 games for the year he kicked a handy 31 goals, and in September took part in his first two finals, both of which ended in defeat. It was a similar story in 1985, when he sent through 24 majors in 23 games, before the season concluded with a disappointing Elimination Final defeat by North Melbourne.
All of that was a prelude to the two best seasons of Molly’s career in 1986-87. In May 1986 he was honoured with selection in the Victorian state team for matches against South Australia and WA, before Carlton won two tough lead-up finals and earned the right to meet Hawthorn in Meldrum’s first Grand Final. Unfortunately that day was a disaster for the Blues and Hawthorn won decisively, but Paul made the most of his limited opportunities to be Carlton’s top scorer with three goals.
That defeat burned deep at Carlton, where coach Robert Walls planned hard for revenge. Although three champions in Bruce Doull, Mark Maclure and Des English had retired after 1986, the team managed to cope with their absence and finished on top of the ladder in 1987, one win ahead of the Hawks. Meanwhile, Molly had enjoyed another excellent season, representing Victoria again, and delighting everyone at Carlton by finishing third in the Brownlow Medal count behind the joint winners; Tony Lockett of St Kilda and John Platten of Hawthorn. Then, in stifling heat at the MCG on Grand Final day, Meldrum kicked goal number 22 for the season as Carlton demolished Hawthorn by 33 points to claim the Blues’ fifteenth Premiership.
With his name freshly painted on Carlton’s number 23 locker, Molly chalked up his 100th senior game in an exciting victory over North Melbourne at Waverley in round 8, 1988. In September, Melbourne scored a shock victory over the Blues in the Preliminary Final, while nagging injuries had begun to cost Paul games. By 1991 he was more often used in defence or from the interchange bench – as he was when he brought up game number 150 in the Blues’ loss to Sydney at the SCG in round 13, 1991. Molly’s senior career for Carlton came to an end with another loss to Sydney on Saturday, April 18, 1992 at Princes Park, when he warmed the bench for most of the afternoon and the Swans led all day to win by 21 points. Having played through the rest of the season with Carlton Reserves, Paul announced his retirement when the Blues failed to make the finals.
In the end, he finished his career at Carlton with more games to his credit (158) than any of the other 27 individuals who have worn the Navy Blue number 23, including Premiership players Bert Deacon (who also won a Brownlow Medal wearing it) and Paul Schmidt. It was an honour well deserved, after a career fondly remembered.
FootnoteIn 1993, after leaving Carlton, Molly accepted the role of senior coach at Riddell League club Bacchus Marsh, and led them for two seasons.
Milestones50 Games: Round 19, 1985 vs Richmond
100 Games: Round 8, 1988 vs North Melbourne
150 Games: Round 13, 1991 vs Sydney Swans
100 Goals: Round 5, 1987 vs Essendon
Career Highlights1982 - Reserves Best First Year Player Award
1985 - 7th Best & Fairest
1986 - 10th Best & Fairest
1987 - Equal 7th Best & Fairest
1987 - Senior Premiership
1990 - 9th Best & Fairest
LinksArticles: Footy Folklore: Off the Street?
Blueseum: Stat Shot for Paul Meldrum | Career Breakdown for Paul Meldrum | Meldrum's Blueseum Image Gallery