Career : 1964 - 1976
Debut : Round 17, 1964 vs St Kilda, aged 19 years, 355 days
Carlton Player No. 767
Games : 148
Goals : 16
Last Game : Round 1, 1976 vs Collingwood, aged 31 years, 221 days
Guernsey Nos. 31 (1964) and 6 (1965 - 76)
Height : 178 cm (5 ft. 10 in.)
Weight : 72.5 kg (11 stone, 6 lbs.)
DOB : 25 August, 1944
Premiership Player : 1968, 1970, 1972
Best and Fairest: 1969
Carlton Team of the Century (2000)
Carlton Hall of Fame (2000)
Renowned for his boundless courage, perseverance and sheer ball-getting ability, Garry Crane was an outstanding big-occasion player for the Navy Blues in a celebrated 13-year career between 1964 and 1976. Regarded by his coach Ron Barassi as “the most courageous player in the game,” he was a lightly-framed wingman who bored in hard for the ball with scant regard for the consequences – and therefore, paid a hefty price with injuries. Even so, he won three Premierships with Carlton – the last after he was coaxed out of a premature retirement.
Crane was recruited from Yallourn North in Victoria's Gippsland region. He was brought to Carlton’s attention by our former captain Graham Donaldson, who was coaching Morwell at the time. Throughout his years in the Latrobe Valley League, Donaldson was responsible for getting a number of excellent players to Princes Park - including Crane, Bill Bennett, Ted Hopkins, Vin Waite, Bryan Quirk and Bob Edmond.
By the time Carlton approached him, Crane was a rising star in the Mid Gippsland League. Still a teenager, he had twice won his club's Best and Fairest trophy, and had finished runner-up for the League's award. The Blues knew that Crane was a ready-made VFL player, so by early 1964 Garry was at Princes Park. After only a handful of Reserves games, he was selected in the Carlton line-up for his first senior match against St Kilda at Princes Park in round 17, 1964.
Wearing guernsey number 31, Crane lined up alongside Ian Collins in the centre, with Cliff Stewart on the opposite wing. Although the Blues suffered a 16-point defeat, Garry’s tenacity impressed, and he retained his place in the side for the last game of the season - which resulted in a crushing 80-point win over Fitzroy. That was a good win and an encouraging way to finish off a season, but the Blues were still left languishing in tenth ladder position – and after years of mediocrity, the winds of change were about to blow through Princes Park.
In the off-season, a reform group headed by former club dentist George Harris swept into power at Carlton. Harris was elected President, and within weeks, had stunned the football world by appointing Melbourne captain Ron Barassi as captain-coach of the Blues for five years. No-one quite realised it at the time, but the seeds that would bring a harvest of two decades of football dominance to the Carlton Football Club had been sown. Under Barassi - whose name was synonymous with the number 31 - Crane switched to the jumper number 6 recently vacated by ex-Tasmanian rover Trevor Best. Garry played 11 games in 1965, and 18 in 1966, as every Carlton player came to terms with their new coach’s iron discipline. The Blues finished in a mediocre sixth place on the ladder both years, although vigorous recruiting had brought a host of new talent to the club, and confidence was building.
In 1967, Crane had his first real encounter with injury when he was heavily concussed in a pre-season trial game, and he didn’t play at senior level until round five. A fortnight after that, he was hit heavily again - and this time, suffered a broken jaw. That blow put Garry out of action for ten weeks, and he finished up registering only four senior matches for the year. Fortunately, he was back to full fitness for round 1, 1968, when the celebrated centre-line combination of Garry Crane, Brent Crosswell and Bryan Quirk was unveiled for the very first time, and the Blues thrashed Geelong by 46 points at Princes Park.
After enjoying a confidence-boosting mid-season winning streak of ten matches, Carlton finished the ’68 home and away rounds as minor premiers and flag favourites. In round 17 at Princes Park, Crane achieved a long-standing ambition when he kicked his first career goal in Carlton’s big win over South Melbourne. It had taken him five years (and more than 50 games) before he posted that memorable major, but there were more to come in the near future. He produced a brilliant snap-shot goal in the first minute of the second Semi-Final against Essendon to open the scoring, and from then on, a dominant centre-line helped the Blues to an emphatic 36-point win.
Two weeks later, when Essendon and Carlton met again in the Grand Final, a strong cross-breeze made scoring difficult from the opening bounce at the MCG. Crane got the scoreboard working for the Blues midway through the first term when he snatched the ball out of a contest in the right forward pocket, and kicked a quick mongrel punt to the goal-square. The ball cleared the pack, bounced through for full points, and Carlton was away. Thereafter, Garry was tireless in the clinches, constantly sending the ball into attack for his team. Carlton held on to beat the fast-finishing Bombers by three points, and Crane was a near-unanimous choice as Best on Ground. After only three seasons, the controversial gamble on Barassi’s appointment had been justified by the Navy Blues’ ninth flag, after 21 long years of sweat and tears at Princes Park.
Crane enjoyed another consistent, effective year in 1969, and was a deserving winner of Carlton’s Best and Fairest award, before the Blues’ bid for back to back flags fell at the last hurdle when they were beaten by a white-hot Richmond combination in a cracker of a Grand Final. Crane and Quirk’s stirring duel with Richmond’s classy wing pairing of Dick Clay and Francis Bourke was a highlight for most of that pulsating match, until the Tigers over-ran the tiring Blues in the last quarter, to win by 25 points. Remarkably, Crane played throughout that final series with a strained knee ligament, and was operated on in the off-season.
Stung by what was regarded as a capitulation to Richmond, Carlton was intent on atonement in 1970. Crane had a delayed start to the year, but was back to his best form by late in the home and away rounds. The Blues finished on top of the ladder, only to be jolted by a 10-point Semi Final loss to Collingwood in front of an enormous MCG crowd of almost 113,000 – a crowd that increased to more than 121,000 a fortnight later, when the Blues (after smashing St Kilda by 62 points in the Preliminary Final) ran out on to the ground to face the Magpies once more in yet another eagerly-anticipated Premiership decider.
The saga of Carlton’s 1970 Premiership victory is one of the most celebrated football stories of all. Seven goals down at half-time, and with the game all but lost, coach Barassi demanded that his team play on at all costs from that point on, using handball as the first option in defence as well as attack. In a fairytale second half, Carlton stormed back into the contest and somehow (those who were there still shake their heads when they think about it) won the greatest of all Grand Final victories by 10 points. Crane spent most of the match opposed to Collingwood’s rising star John Greening, and his game mirrored that of each of his team-mates; hardly sighted before half-time, and in the thick of the action thereafter.
In the wake of that magnificent achievement, Carlton quite understandably suffered a sizeable football hangover in 1971, finished fifth, and missed the finals altogether. But the reasons why this happened were not all due to emotional or psychological let-down. Injuries played a part, too – including an early-season broken wrist that restricted Crane to only 11 appearances for the year. Then, perhaps somewhat deflated by circumstance, and anxious to secure the future for his young family, Garry announced his retirement to take over the lease of a hotel in Smith Street, Collingwood. At the age of 27, Carlton was convinced that Crane still had years of good football left in him, but the club didn’t stand in his way, and farewelled one of it’s most revered sons with gratitude and goodwill.
Ron Barassi also retired in 1971, to be replaced by John Nicholls in the dual role of captain-coach. Barely a few weeks into the next season however, word reached Big Nick and other members of Carlton’s match committee that Crane was having second thoughts about retirement, and perhaps could be talked into a comeback. “I just loved playing football for Carlton,” he said many years later, “and I didn’t realise how much I would miss it.” The Blues immediately arranged volunteer staff for Garry’s pub on training nights and match days, and after five months out of the game, followed by four weeks of Reserves football, he made a welcome return to the seniors in round 10, 1972 in a close loss to Hawthorn at Glenferrie Oval. Playing as a rover, he was a more than adequate stand-in for the injured Adrian Gallagher, and held his own against the accomplished Hawk duo of Leigh Matthews and Peter Crimmins.
Later that year, while Garry picked up the threads of his best form and the Blues firmed into outright favouritism for another flag, injury intervened yet again, and for a while it looked like he would not see any September action at all. But a gruelling finals campaign that began with a torrid draw with Richmond, followed by a heavy defeat in the replay and a hard-fought Preliminary Final win over St Kilda, forced the Blues to rethink their game plan in the week leading up to yet another Carlton-Richmond Grand Final. On selection night, full-forward Greg Kennedy was omitted, and Crane came into the team as 20th man.
Carlton’s victory in the 1972 Grand Final stunned Richmond and the entire football world. In a tactical triumph, captain-coach John Nicholls made eight positional changes prior to the match, and every one of them paid off. From the opening bounce, the barnstorming Blues jumped the Tigers with a record 8-goal first quarter, and ten more in the second. By three-quarter time the difference between the teams was 54 points in the highest-scoring Grand Final ever played, and the last term was just a prelude to wild celebrations. Garry Crane and Carlton had won their third Premiership together in six seasons.
Crane played in his fifth Grand Final – and his third against Richmond - when the Blues and the Tigers faced off yet again in 1973. Burning for revenge, Tom Hafey’s team launched a brutal physical assault that achieved the desired result, but left the Tigers well short of respect for their sportsmanship. Garry played on a wing and was one of Carlton’s few clear winners for three quarters, before he was switched to roving and kicked two goals to spark a Blues revival. Carlton still lost by 30 points however, with Crane, Robert Walls and David McKay their team’s only match-long contributors.
Garry’s consistency was further recognised in 1974 when he was selected in the Victorian state squad for matches against Western Australia in Perth, and South Australia in Sydney. The Vics won both, but from that time on, Garry struggled with a series of ankle, thigh and knee problems that restricted him throughout the rest of his career. He played only 12 games in 1974, and four more in 1975 – although he did return to the seniors for the 1975 finals, which brought another tough encounter and another 9-point Semi Final defeat by Richmond.
Crane soldiered on through the 1976 pre-season and was selected as 20th man for Carlton’s round 1 clash with Collingwood at Princes Park. Although the Blues destroyed their fiercest rival by 57 points and Garry spent scarcely a quarter on the ground, it was enough for him to realise that the zip and agility he had always relied on had disappeared, and his career at elite level was over. After playing out the year at VFA club Dandenong, he later coached outer-suburban Tullamarine for three seasons to round off a marvellous football journey.
Some 25 years after his last game for the Old Dark Navy Blues, many thousands of Bluebaggers rejoiced when Garry Crane was awarded two of the highest honours the Carlton Football Club could bestow. In the year 2000 he was inducted into the Carlton Hall of Fame, and named on a wing in the Blues' Team of the Century - awards that were very richly deserved.
My memory of Garry is of him playing in long sleeves; mud caked, teeth shining through despite the dirt, hair wet and plastered down on his forehead. He was not the flashy wingman Quirkie was, with flying hair and dash, instead Gary was the workhorse, a great accumulator of possessions. The little kick forward, the knock on, the soccer off the ground, the dive into the pack to save the ball. He could play in the wet or the dry equally as well - and in those faraway days before roofs, and well-drained grounds, being able to play in the wet was a necessity.
Garry was a fearless as any player I have seen don the Navy Blue. His head was always over the ball, his body frequently on the line and in those days it was legitimate for a ruckman to clean you up as you stood exposed, waiting for the ball to drop for the mark. Garry was crunched numerous times but always got up and put his body on the line without thought for the consequences. Robert Walls is quoted as saying that he is one of only three players for any team in his career as a player, coach and commentator that he had never seen pull out of a contest. He was an exceptionally brave and consistent performer for the Blues.
As a young child - when I pretended to play in the backyard - if I was running and bouncing the ball I was Quirkie, but if I was fighting hard, under the packs, taking the chest mark and getting crunched, then I was Gary Crane, as brave a wingman as ever played the game.
Garry was an electrician with the SEC before going into the hotel business. Of all areas to work in, he started out at the Robert Burns Hotel, in Smith Street, Collingwood - right in the Magpies heartland. On the other side of Smith Street is Fitzroy, another local rival - maybe he was a sucker for punishment on and off the field!!
Crane briefly wore No.52 when he played with Carlton reserves in 1964.
Milestones50 Games : Round 19, 1968 vs Fitzroy
100 Games : Round 19, 1971 vs Richmond
Career Highlights1965 - 3rd Reserves Best & Fairest
1968 - Perc Bentley Trophy - 3rd Best & Fairest
1968 - Premiership Player
1969 - Robert Reynolds Memorial Trophy - Best & Fairest Award
1970 - Premiership Player
1970 - Sun All-Star team for 1970 (position: Wing)
1972 - 3rd Reserves Best & Fairest
1972 - Premiership Player
1973 - 6th Best & Fairest
1974 - Equal 7th Best & Fairest