LEN Cottrell last laced a boot for Carlton in 1959. This week, some 60 years after the event, the club’s larger-than-life former ruckman talked of his unrestrained delight in learning that his grandson Matthew had been rookied to the old dark Navy Blues.

“I’m rapt. He (Matthew) is a lad who doesn’t say much,” Len said.

“It wasn’t long ago that I went down to Mornington to see a chiropractor who apparently looked after all the kids from the Stingrays, Matthew included.

“He told me ‘Matthew’s going well down here, they’re calling him ‘Mr. Consistency’ and I never knew a thing about it.”
“The next thing I know Carlton’s picked him up. The news came through from Stephen, one of my sons in the Kiewa Valley. He rang me to say they’d signed him, having picked up the news on his phone as you do (and) I couldn’t believe it.

“But I tell you this mate. He’s gone to an excellent home. They tell me he’s met up with the Silvagni boys so what better home could you go to?”

Recruited to Carlton from Myrtleford on the eve of the 1958 season after a few earlier games with Toowonga, Len recalled the-then Myrtleford President Len Ablett (uncle of Gary Senior) trying to steer him to Richmond where he (Ablett) had previously played.

“The problem was that I didn’t know anyone at Richmond, but there were a few blokes going to Carlton who I knew that tried out but never made it and I went with them,” Len said.

Asked to reflect on his time at Princes Park, Len recalled lining up for the first time on the late half-back flanker Denis Zeunert in an intra-club practice match in the lead-up to the ’58 season.

“Denis formed one of the best half-back lines in the comp back then – Zeunert, Webster and James,” Len said.

“He was a terrific fella Denis. He came up to me before the game and said ‘I suppose you’re a bit on the nervous side’. When I told him I was he said ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do – I’ll give you a couple of breaks so that you can get a kick and pick up the flow of the game’.

“I was very wary, what with Denis being a regular player at Carlton and me being a drift-in from the bush, because I didn’t know whether he was pulling my chain.

“But that’s exactly what he did. He gave me a couple of breaks, he told me when to go and I got a few kicks – and when we were going off at half-time he said to me: ‘Righto, when we come back after half-time you’ll have to earn them’. I said ‘Goodo, thank you very much’ and after half-time I played on Serge (Silvagni), who was also in his first year in the seniors.”

Wearing the No.32 on his back and named as ruck-rover to Graham Donaldson (with a lanky kid from Maryborough John Nicholls finding his feet in the back pocket), Cottrell fronted up for his first senior game at Princes Park in the third round match of ’58 against Geelong - on the same day John Benetti and John Heathcote also completed their senior debuts.

That would be the first of just 12 senior appearances for the big bloke – the last of them against North Melbourne at Arden Street in Round 18, 1959, when Maurie Sankey completed his senior debut and ‘Big Nick’ notched game No.50.

As Len said: “In the end, injury quelled me – my blasted hips”.

But oh, what memories. Like the footy trip to Surfer’s Paradise at the end of ’58 – a glorious photograph of which shows Cottrell imbibing with Carlton luminaries from Bentley, Comben and Deacon through to Francis, Nicholls and Silvagni.

Recounting that experience, Len explained: “Surfer’s was just starting and that beer garden we were photographed in was the first one in Surfer’s . . . there’s a lot of good footballers in that shot too.”

And yet, in lamenting the passing of so many of his on-field Carlton contemporaries – Beasy, Donaldson, James, Zeunert et al – Len, at 83, insisted that at the time of publication he’s as fit as a Mallee bull.

To quote Len: “I’ve had five hip operations and I’ve never felt better”.

Now, with his grandson chasing the leather for Carlton in the great Cottrell tradition, Len reckons it’s put another ten years on his life. Which is why he fully intends to head down to the big smoke to see his grandson, pending fitness and form, run out for the first time in dark navy.

To the question of whether he’d be offering Matthew any grandfatherly advice, Len unhesitatingly replied: I’ve already done that”.

“I don’t know whether he (Matthew) took it in, but I said to him a while ago ‘Now listen – if you do get to play big senior football, don’t be like your silly bloody Grandpop - he was frightened he might knock over one of the senior players,” Len said.

“‘Make up your mind to go and get the ball. Don’t worry about knocking anyone over, that ball is yours and when you get it that’s when you think of your teammates.”

Carlton Granddads | Matthew Cottrell | Len Cottrell