Career: 1942 - 1951
Debut: Round 7, 1942 vs Footscray, aged 19 years, 224 days
Carlton Player No. 574
Games : 106
Goals : 7
Last Game : Round 11, 1951 vs South Melbourne, aged 28 years, 248 days
Guernsey Nos. 14 (1942), 19 (1943-44), and 23 (1945-51)
Height : 180 cm (5 ft. 11 in.)
Weight : 78.5 kg (12 stone, 5 lbs.)
DOB : 8 November 1922
Premiership Player 1945, 1947
Brownlow Medal 1947
Best and Fairest 1947 (tie)
Victorian Representative 1946 - 1949, 1951
Carlton Hall of Fame
Vice President 1958
Club Secretary 1970 - 1974
Bert Deacon holds a special place among the legends of the Carlton Football Club. Although his outstanding on-field career was restricted to only 106 games by war service and a chronic thigh injury, he was a star defender in two Premiership teams, a club Best and Fairest, and the first Blue to win the game’s highest individual honour; the Brownlow Medal.
Later, he served as a committeeman, and a hard-working and effective club secretary, before his deeply-mourned passing at the age of just 51. But what made Bertrand John Deacon unique was not just his exploits on the field for his beloved Blues. He was a man of the highest principles; a true gentleman whose moral courage and sense of fair play set him apart.
Bert was born into a footballing family at Northcote in 1922. His father, Jack Deacon, was a prominent player for Preston who spent many years on the committee of the club when his playing days ended. After showing promise at schoolboy and junior level, Bert followed his father into the red and white colours of Preston’s senior side in 1941, while the devastation of World War II spread across the world.
In a VFA competition deprived of quality and quantity by the eagerness of Australia’s young men to fight for their country, 19 year-old Deacon played in all of Preston’s home and away matches in that bleak year, only to be left out of the side for the finals. Port Melbourne won the flag, and soon afterwards the VFA announced that it was suspending its competition for the duration of the war.
Bert himself enlisted soon after that, but while waiting for his call-up, went looking for a game somewhere else. When he called at Princes Park, recently-appointed Carlton coach Percy Bentley welcomed him in, and the pair began a partnership that would endure throughout Deacon’s entire VFL career.
Bert first took the field for Carlton against Footscray at the Yarraville Oval on Saturday, June 20, 1942. The Western Oval had been appropriated by the government for use as a military transit centre, so the Bulldogs were bunking-in with their VFA neighbours. Bentley named Deacon in the centre, where he played alongside two men with whom he would later share Premiership glory; Vin Brown and Fred Fitzgibbon. On that day however, Footscray adapted to the conditions better than the Blues, and ran out winners by 19 points.
Deacon managed just three games in 1942, two in 1943 and three in 1944, as his training and postings to Australia’s far north kept him a long way from home. But by early 1945, with the Axis forces in Europe all but beaten and the Japanese in full retreat in the Pacific, Lance Corporal Bert Deacon was transferred back to Melbourne, where he wasted no time in resuming his football career.
He returned to Carlton’s team in July, 1945, for the match against Essendon at Princes Park. The Blues lost a cliff-hanger by three points, but by siren time that afternoon, coach Bentley knew that he had a potential champion in his team with Deacon at centre half-back. Although he was just 180 cm and 79 kg, Bert settled into defence like he was born to it. He was a strong and clever mark, beautifully balanced, with an uncanny ability to read the flight of the ball. And once he got it, he invariably disposed of it well with a neat drop kick to position.
Carlton’s feat of battling through to a finals berth in 1945, and then going on to beat South Melbourne in the most infamous and controversial Grand Final of all time, has been well documented. What isn’t so well-known is that the Carlton-Collingwood Preliminary Final that preceded it was every bit as violent, and surely was a catalyst for later events.
After losing the second Semi Final to minor Premiers South Melbourne, Collingwood went into the Preliminary Final with the intention of knocking some of Carlton’s playmakers off their game. Included among their targets were key defenders Deacon and full-back Vin Brown. The game was an ugly series of melees from early on, as Collingwood went head hunting, and Carlton fought fire with fire. Yet through it all, as fists, elbows and even boots flew around him, it was Deacon who held the line across half-back. Despite being niggled, punched and thrown to the ground late on many occasions, he never once retaliated, nor complained to the umpire. Cool and collected, he just simply kept getting the ball, and sending it into attack.
Even so, Collingwood held sway on the scoreboard for three quarters, and seemed to have sealed the match early in the last term, when they kicked their twelfth goal and stretched their lead to 45 points. But when Vin Brown was king-hit by Collingwood’s Len Hustler, and the Blues would take no more. Galvanised by that incident, they came storming back into the match to pile on seven goals in the last 18 minutes, and beat the demoralised Magpies by ten points.
The following week, when South Melbourne and Carlton met to decide the 1945 VFL Premiership, the teams ran out onto a Princes Park packed to the rafters with almost 63,000 spectators. The occasion, and simmering tensions on both sides - heightened by the violence of the previous Saturday, produced a powder keg of emotion that inevitably exploded into another vicious clash forever remembered as the ‘Bloodbath’ Grand Final.
Once more, Bert Deacon was one of the few players from either side who was more interested in finding the football than punching on. In the second quarter, as the game degenerated into a series of running brawls, South’s promising youngster Ron Clegg (like Deacon, a future Brownlow Medallist) was about to join in the fighting when Deacon took hold of his shoulder and quietly said; ‘Don’t go down there, son, there’s nothing for you in that.’ Clegg heeded Deacon’s advice, only to be felled himself later in the match, by Carlton’s fearsome captain, Bob Chitty.
As a groggy Clegg got to his feet to take his free kick, Deacon realised that Clegg was facing the wrong way, and turned him in the right direction – an action that infuriated Chitty, who snarled; ‘I don’t knock them down for you to pick up.’ Carlton eventually won the battle by 28 points. Ten players were reported and suspended, yet one of the enduring stories of that bitter-sweet triumph for Carlton was the unflagging sportsmanship of Bert Deacon.
Two years later, Deacon’s career peaked when he won his second VFL Premiership medallion, topped off by the 1947 Brownlow Medal, and a tie for first place in Carlton’s Best and Fairest award. The year began with the arrival of brilliant West Australian Ern Henfry, who had stood out of football for a year to win a clearance to Carlton, and was appointed captain of the Blues after just two senior games.
A gifted centreman and an inspirational leader, Henfry led a solid Carlton combination to the minor Premiership, on the way, striking up a strong rapport with his vice-captain Deacon. By then, Bert was considered as the outstanding centre half-back of the competition. In the week prior to the first round of the finals, he confirmed his standing in the game by becoming the first Carlton player to win the Brownlow Medal, when he polled 23 votes to beat St Kilda’s Harry Bray by two.
It would have been understandable had Deacon been distracted by the celebrations, but as always, he quickly refocused on the job at hand. Carlton met Essendon in the ’47 Grand Final in front of 85,000 at the MCG, and seemed headed for defeat when they trailed by five points as the time-keeper’s clock clicked into the last minute of time-on. That’s when nuggety rover Fred Stafford (who had been rarely sighted all day) swooped on a spillage 30 metres out from goal and snapped truly, giving Carlton our second flag in three years by the narrowest possible margin.
In the following week, amid the euphoria of Premiership celebrations, Deacon rounded off that one special season when he and Henfry were announced as joint winners of Carlton’s Best and Fairest trophy. Earlier, Bert had also worn the Victorian state guernsey at the 1947 National Championships, winning the K.G. Luke Trophy for the best Victorian player in the series, as well as a number of newspaper awards.
Deacon’s third Grand Final appearance came in 1949, and again Carlton’s opponent was Essendon – who battled their way into the flag decider largely due to the form of their star full-forward, John Coleman. Adding to the interest in a match between the Premiers of the previous two years, Coleman needed six goals to reach the magical 100 for the season, and Essendon were determined to give him every possible chance to get them.
After an even, hard-fought first quarter, Essendon proved unstoppable and steadily increased their advantage over the Blues. By the last change, the margin had blown out to 57 points – but remarkably, Coleman had been held to just two goals by Carlton’s close-checking full-back Ollie Grieve - and Deacon, who ranged across half back and cut off many attacks with strong marks.
However, with the game won, Essendon concentrated on getting the ball to Coleman, and with just minutes remaining he ran on to a short pass and lined up for a shot at number 100. It was then that Deacon – ever the gentleman – trotted up beside the young star, put a hand on his shoulder and offered a word or two of advice. As he turned and walked away, Coleman sent the ball between the posts.
That was to be Bert’s last shot at Premiership glory with the Blues. A persistent muscle tear in one thigh had begun to trouble him, and in 1950 restricted him to just seven games. He saddled up again in 1951, but by mid-year admitted that he was struggling and decided to call time on a memorable career. He played his last match against the old foe; South Melbourne, at the Lake Oval in round 11, 1951. The Blueboys did the right thing by their champion, and farewelled him with a tenacious, thrilling 5-point win.
In 1952 Bert returned to Preston as captain-coach for two seasons, before hanging up his boots to continue his role off-field. In 1955, the Bullants made the VFA finals for the first time since Deacon had last played for them in 1941. While at Preston, he retained his links at Carlton, and by 1958 was back at Princes Park in a variety of administrative roles. Later, he was elected to the committee, and in 1970 became club Secretary under President George Harris. Two more flags followed - in 1970 and 1972 - and no-one at Carlton was prouder than Bert Deacon.
On January 3, 1974, Bert and his family were holidaying at Balnarring on the Mornington Peninsula, when he suffered a massive heart attack, and died before reaching hospital. He was just 51 years old. The football world was rocked to its core by the news, and there was widespread grief at the loss of one of football’s favourite sons – a man whose dignity and integrity transcended club loyalties and brought him genuine admiration. Winning and losing mattered much to Bert Deacon, but so did how the game was played.
Milestones50 Games : Round 15, 1947 Vs Footscray
100 Games : Round 2, 1951 Vs Footscray
LinksArticles: 60th Anniversary of Deacon's Brownlow | Dudley Drew and the lost painting of Bert Deacon | Moving Guernsey Numbers - UP!
Blueseum: Carlton Hall of Fame | Summary of playing statistics for Bert Deacon | Career Breakdown | Deacon's Blueseum Picture Gallery