He is Carlton’s oldest surviving best and fairest; the last existing member of it’s victorious 1938 Grand Final team over Collingwood, and, as such, the Blues’ only surviving pre-World War II premiership player and club champion.

Don McIntyre is living history. And recently, in the lead-up to Sunday’s match with the old foe at the MCG, the 93 year-old retiree took the time to turn back the pages of his glorious youth, as the 70th anniversary of the ’38 Grand Final triumph nears.

“As far as I was concerned it was unexpected to get there to Carlton and to play as many games as I did . . . I had a charmed life, no doubt about it,” McIntyre said.
Don McIntyre
“It’s hard to believe it all happened 70 years ago. I’m not very good at history and really, I think the present and the future are the important things. The memory gets a bid dim these days, so it comes as a bit of a shock occasionally to think back to what it was like . . . it WAS 70 years ago after all.”

Daniel Gordon McIntyre was born in Geelong on March 5, 1913 and, as a young boy, followed the local football outfit with unbridled enthusiasm.

“I used to go with my grandfather and hardly missed a game down there through the early teen years,” McIntyre remembered.

“Being a very enthusiastic young supporter I thought it was the best thing that could happen to you, to get down to Corio Oval and see them play on a Saturday afternoon. I can still remember the first Brownlow Medallist, “Carji” Greeves, number 20, playing in the centre, Jocka Todd, Cliff Rankin and so on.

“I well remember the ’25 Grand Final that Geelong won. That was Geelong’s first premiership in the Victorian Football League and the first time the Grand Final was broadcast. The two of us went down to Yarra Street in Geelong, to the RSL, and we stood there and listened to the broadcast of the 1925 Grand Final. That was quite a thing.”

In the early 1930s, on completion of his education, McIntyre pursued a career as a junior schoolteacher. His vocation prompted relocation to Pakenham, where he served in 1933 and ’34 before entering teacher’s college the following year.
McIntyre, one of two brothers, and a cousin of the late Ken McIntyre after whom the finals system was named, combined his studies with local footy, lining up at full-back for Pakenham District. The team experienced a successful season, but fell at the final hurdle.

“In 1934 we played Nar Nar Goon in the Grand Final in the most appalling conditions – ankle deep mud – and lost by a point,” he said. “Whose fault was it? Mainly the slippery ball. They handled it better.”

As fate would have it, Pakenham’s President was an avid Carlton supporter - not surprising then that a couple of Carlton talent scouts happened to front at the old Pakenham ground to entice young Don to make the move to the big smoke. As McIntyre said: “they came up to watch a game and interview me, and that was it. The next thing was an invitation to join them and start training”.

“In those days there was zoning and the question of clearances was a bit tricky and caused a fair bit of discussion, but I stepped out of Geelong without any trouble,” McIntyre said. “I got the clearance when it was submitted.”

McIntyre joined Carlton in 1935, turning out for the first of 100 senior games in the drawn round seven against Footscray at the Western Oval, wearing the old dark navy blue No.2 guernsey later made famous by John Nicholls and Greg Williams.

At the same time, he had to supplement his income away from the game, for these were Depression times.

“It was a bit tricky really. I started at the Melbourne University in ’36 doing part-time work there, and I was also out at Box Hill High School. I knocked off during training times at four o’clock, got a train in from Box Hill and a tram up from Elizabeth Street for training,” McIntyre said.

“Being in the middle of the Depression, jobs were more important than training and as a result all the fellows made sure they did the right thing at work. The main thing was people worrying about how on earth they were going to get jobs and those who did were on low wages and so on, which meant that the standard of living was not very great.

“There were no lights on in those days and it was quite dark by five o’clock, so those who could turn up for training did. I was one of the lucky ones because I could get out there a bit earlier, but I then had to work in with university lecturers - some of which started at six o’clock and seven o’clock - and after training I had to go to those . . . so in that sense it was a bit hard to mix both.”

McIntyre conceded that the club’s facilities were hardly palatial back then either.

“The Heatley Stand was relatively new and the facilities were just fair. The training room was basically a bare room with a few lockers, tables and what have you, and the bathing facilities were just so-so,” McIntyre said.

“I well remember being set back the first time I went into the shower room. There was one enormous bath which took either four or five in, and quite often you’d be in there with four or five others because there weren’t enough showers to go around. So Carlton’s facilities at that time, when compared with today’s facilities, were equivalent to a third rate country club more than anything else.”

What made the club according to him was the people. “I was very impressed from day one with the management of Carlton,” he insisted. “They were a remarkably impressive lot of blokes. There was Dave Crone, who was in his last year as President then, followed by Ken Luke who, everyone knows was such an outstanding man to be in charge of whatever he undertook, Harry Bell, who was also the assistant librarian at the State Parliamentary Library; Bill Bryson the treasurer and Horrie Clover who was still around serving on the committee having recently retired . . . the whole lot of them were very impressive for someone of my age anyhow.

“The outstanding character really in the public eye who was at the last stage of his career, was Harry Vallence. He was a remarkable bloke Harry. He had a very good personality and got on with people very easily indeed, whether on Sunday social occasions down at Mornington or at other social places around. He had a very good singing voice and after a drink or two he could easily be talked into entertaining the people who were there.

Brighton Diggins was a big fellow with a good personality and very charming smile. He was one of the luckiest fellows who ever played. He came from South Melbourne, and captained and coached the premiership team in his first year of ’38.

“I remember at the premiership dinner in the old Hotel Argus in Elizabeth Street we were all seated and ready to start eating and there was no Brighton around. After about ten minutes him coming to the door and holding up both hands full of notes . . . he’d been collecting whatever he could from his betting, at double figure odds, before the season ever started. He was very, very lucky that bloke.”

In McIntyre’s eight seasons with the Blues, the team finished no lower than fifth in what was then a final four system, so Carlton was a model of consistency as far as he was concerned. And yet he can never remember ever singing the club’s theme song after a win. “I doubt that any of us knew the words . . . it didn’t rate really highly with us and the song must have been introduced later,” he said.

As the Coulter Law applied at that time, McIntyre and his contemporaries shared the same matchday remuneration. “As far as I know, without delving into anyone else around the place to see if they had private arrangements or not, it was a straight three pounds a week when the basic wage was somewhere between five and six . . . ,” he said.

It’s fair to say that Carlton got its money’s worth out of Don McIntyre, who earned his club’s best and fairest award in 1937 and backed it up with his role in the 15-point victory over Collingwood in the Grand Final of ’38, which broke a 23-year premiership drought. But McIntyre is truly humble in his personal assessment.

“I’ve reflected on that year quite a lot. I was never outstanding and was very very lucky to win that,” McIntyre said.

“At the time we didn’t have very many outstanding top quality Brownlow Medallists in the place and as a result if you were consistent you had a fair chance of rating fairly well from the point of view of getting an award of some sort.

“There were far more talented players than I. Keith Shea was probably the most talented left foot stab kick and “Mick” Crisp won the best and fairest twice (so) I’m not being modest – just genuine. There were half a dozen others who could have got it just as well.”

The late Jim Francis often talked about having to jump the crowd to set foot onto the arena prior to the 1938 Grand Final. McIntyre too can recall having to deal with a mass of humanity even before he made it into the rooms.

“The older southern stand stretched around to bay 14 or 15 at the time, and then there was quite a lot of standing room. In this particular game, the Grand Final against Collingwood, the ground was closed at half-past one because it was chock a block full,” McIntyre recalled.

“There were 97,000 there and the pressure of the people standing in the area at the sou’-west corner where the opening was for the groundsmen and the like to go on, broke the fence. And quite a number - hundreds or thousands or so - were distributed around the outer side between the boundary line and the fence. The crowd was so thick that when you got in through the members area there it was almost like playing a quarter or two before you even got to the dressing room to get in.
1938 Premiership Team.jpg
“My memory of the game itself is pretty dim in the main. I’ve thought about it on a number of occasions and the only impression I have is that there was nothing close or exciting about it, as it was around about the two to three-goal margin most of the time and that’s the way it was in the end. On recollection it wasn’t a very high standard game at all.”

And what of the celebrations? “A bit tame” according to the self-confessed teetotaller and lifelong bachelor.

“I didn’t drink in those days, so that was one thing. I know they had a couple of entertainers doing the usual things of singing and telling stories . . . and Harry Vallence was the only one worth listening to when he and a couple of other players got up to sing a song or two,” McIntyre said.

“By and large it didn’t impress me too much, but of course when you’re a non-drinker in that sort of atmosphere it colours the outlook a little bit – and also, you’re a bit weary after having played the game and going on towards midnight after that.”

McIntyre’s 100th and final game for Carlton came in ’42, in the 15th round against Fitzroy at the old Brunswick Street Oval. Carlton won the match by 17 points, but Don conceded “I was just ‘so so’ as far as any sort of form was concerned and I was very lucky to make the hundredth”.

“I’d been in the Air Force for about 12 months at that stage and on the Monday after the game I was on the troop train to Townsville and, later on, to New Guinea,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre lost touch with his old club in the years after the war as other interests took precedence in his life. But following his retirement, McIntyre regularly attended Carlton matches, scaling down his appearances around 2003.

He has politely declined an invitation to be guest of honour at the Carlton President’s Luncheon prior to this Sunday’s match on the MCG, where his place in Carlton’s illustrious history was assured on that one day in September back in ’38.

“It’s become a bit of a strain and the walking hasn’t been very good, so I thought ‘Oh well, it’s best to give it away’,” he conceded. “But I remain one of their most ardent followers at the weekends, either viewing the game or listening to it on radio.

“Looking back, my greatest impression (of Carlton) was that it involved a group of people who were keen about the club, so interested in doing well and taking a keen interest in the players too as they came along. Then of course there was the general atmosphere - it was a very pleasant, friendly club indeed.”