Career : 1945 - 1957
Debut : Round 5, 1945 vs St Kilda, aged 18 years, 205 days
Carlton Player No. 606
Games : 211
Goals : 188
Last Game: Semi Final, 1957 vs Hawthorn, aged 30 years, 309 days
Guernsey No. 1
Height : 185 cm (6 ft. 1 in.)
Weight : 85 kg (13 stone, 5 lbs)
DOB : 26 October, 1926
Premiership Player : 1945 & 1947
Best and Fairest : 1953
Captain : 1952-1957
Captain of Victoria : 1957
Carlton Coach : 1959 - 1964
Carlton Hall of Fame: 1988
Team of the Century
Another of the pivotal figures in the proud history of the Carlton Football Club, Ken Hands left an indelible mark on, and off the field at Princes Park. A two-time Premiership player, state representative, Best & Fairest winner and inspirational captain, Hands played 211 games and kicked 188 goals in twelve seasons beginning in the last months of World War II. Later, he became embroiled in a long and bitter wrangle with Jim Francis, while both were bidding to coach the Blues.
To the chagrin of Geelong Football Club, Carlton recruited Hands from right under their noses in 1944. As the conflict in Europe and the Pacific drew to a close, the 17 year-old key forward was playing impressive football for amateur side Geelong Scouts. The Cats had had Ken in their sights for months, but it was Carlton who pounced first with a firm offer - including the prestige of wearing guernsey number 1 for the Blues. In his senior debut in round 5 of the ‘45 season, against St Kilda – Carlton won a tough match by 11 points. Hands took some strong marks and kicked two goals at centre half-forward. When the siren sounded after that match, Carlton coach Percy Bentley knew that he had something special in the long-striding, 185 cm, 85 kg youngster.
Carlton lost the first three games of 1945, before a late-season revival brought ten wins in the last eleven matches. The Blues went into the finals in third place, but with some advantage, because the final series was to be played at Princes Park, while the MCG was being used as a transit camp for US forces bound for the war in the Pacific. Carlton struck top form at the right time, beating North Melbourne and Collingwood in successive weeks to earn a shot at South Melbourne in the Grand Final. Our Preliminary Final win over Collingwood was a hard, often spiteful clash, and a real portent of things to come. Bruised and battered, Carlton won on heart alone. For this reason, the fresher South Melbourne team went into the decider as warm favourites.
A ground record of almost 63,000 spectators packed into Princes Park on that Grand Final day. At just 18 years of age, and playing his eighteenth senior match, Hands faced the biggest challenge of his blossoming career at centre half-forward. As expected, the physical intimidation wasn’t long in coming. Carlton were in front by 11 points when the match erupted in the second quarter. “I had taken a mark about fifteen yards out and kicked a goal,” Hands explained later. “While the ball was being taken back to the centre, Jim Cleary knocked me out cold. He must have done a good job because I didn’t actually feel it. In those days you only had a nineteenth man and ours was already on, so I had to keep playing. But I don’t remember anything until about ten minutes before the end of the game, when Perce Bentley, who was in the coaches box just behind the goals, whistled me to drop back into the goal square and I suddenly realised it was raining. That game was quite an initiation, and I’m still paying the price for it - I lost a tooth.” In fact he lost two teeth – to go with his broken nose and split lip!
Seemingly oblivious to the battle raging around him, Ken ended the game with three goals in Carlton’s 28-point victory. Infamously remembered as the “Bloodbath” Grand Final, in all, ten players (including Hands) were reported after the match. Eight were found guilty, and suspended for a total of 68 weeks. Hands was one of the two acquitted.
That tempestuous debut season helped forge Hands into a tough, team-oriented performer. Always a well balanced ball-handler, he was a superb mark for his size and a long, accurate kick – particularly when drop-kicking on the run. He became a leader by example, and while no heavyweight, he was a willing protector of his smaller team-mates. In 1947 he won his second Premiership medal when Carlton beat Essendon after an epic Grand Final struggle. Essendon had nine more scoring shots than the Blues, but rover Fred Stafford snapped a glorious goal with just 44 seconds left on the clock to give Carlton victory by one point.
In September 1949, Ken ran out onto the MCG to play in his third Grand Final in five seasons. Earlier that year, coach Bentley had shifted him into the ruck, and Hands responded with a string of great games that brought him state team selection and the vice-captaincy of the Blues. On Grand Final day however, neither Hands’ ruckwork, nor his team as a whole, could match a rampant Essendon. Champion Bomber full-forward John Coleman kicked six goals and Carlton were beaten by 73 points.
Then, late in 1952, Carlton’s champion centreman and captain Ern Henfry was forced into premature retirement by a chronic knee injury. Hands stepped up to the role of club leader in ’53, and celebrated with a stellar season. He represented Victoria again, won the Blues’ Best & Fairest award, and was named in the ruck in “Sporting Life” newspaper’s VFL Team of the Year – an accolade repeated in 1954.
Ken went on to captain the Blues for the remainder of his playing career, during which he served under just two coaches; Percy Bentley (from 1945 to 1955), and his good mate Jim Francis (1956 and ’57). Sadly, Hands’ friendship with Francis was to be destroyed amid anger and recrimination over both men’s ambition to coach. Before Francis was appointed, Hands approached the club committee with an offer to step up as playing coach. This news was greeted warmly by many Blues’ supporters, who were in turn baffled by his rejection. On the other hand, “Gentleman Jim” was a 205 game veteran and 1938 Premiership star, who had been assistant to Bentley for five years. His credentials were equally as impressive as Hands, and he had had more practical experience.
Under Francis’ coaching and Hands’ captaincy, the Blues finished a disappointing fifth in 1956, and fourth a year later. Not surprisingly, discontent and aggravation among the players and the committee soon became obvious in a club that had never accepted mediocrity. Amid the gloom, one of the most significant moments in Carlton’s history occurred in the summer of that year when Ken Hands, in his role as captain, recruited a young giant named John Nicholls to the Blues.
“I moved to Melbourne to work, and as a matter of course, was living with my brother.” Nicholls said. “Looking back, I suppose my size alone was enough to suggest football potential. Ken Hands certainly thought so, because he called many times to see me at work, and eventually convinced me to sign and try myself out.” Nicholls went on to play 331 games for The Blues in 17 seasons, including three Premierships. A legend of the game, “Big Nick” is still revered as our greatest-ever player.
When Carlton President Horrie Clover resigned after the 1957 final series, an election was called. Members and supporters alike hoped that after two years of bickering, the air might be cleared once and for all, at the cost of a good old-fashioned election brawl. And that is exactly what they got. Carlton had split into two factions; one supporting Francis, the other determined to appoint Hands in his place. Although both men had been almost like brothers for years – they lived in the same street, helped build each other’s houses and were the best man at each other’s wedding – the evidence of a mateship gone sour soon spilled into the open.
Francis was quoted as saying that co-operation between himself and Hands in the season just past was “far from what was needed to win Premierships,” while Hands replied by saying; “Many times I have played for Carlton with injuries. It is most upsetting to be accused of non-co-operation.” When Francis’ ticket was successful, Hands fell on his sword and resigned. He wrote to the new committee; “The decision to give up football when I feel I have a season or two of League Football left in me is very hard, but I could not conscientiously accept offers from other League clubs as my heart has always been, and will always be, with Carlton.” He was 31 years old and the incumbent captain of both Carlton and Victoria.
When Hands resigned, most observers could be forgiven for thinking that the factional war at Carlton was over. This was not the case. The Blues slumped further, to seventh, in 1958; prompting three organisers to present Club Secretary Alan Cowie with a petition signed by 250 Carlton members. The petition called for an extraordinary General Meeting to organise another committee ballot. Both moves were successful. Half the committee was not returned this time, and the newcomers were all supporters of the push for Hands as coach. Technically, Francis was not sacked. Rather, he was unsuccessful in his application for the senior coaching position at Carlton Football Club for season 1959. The successful applicant, of course, was Ken Hands. Jim Francis left Princes Park and never spoke to Hands again.
Somewhat paradoxically, Hands’ chequered coaching career – spanning six seasons – was to end as it began, with a reform group seizing control of the club committee to unseat him. While he did take Carlton to the 1962 Grand Final (to be beaten by Essendon) overall, Hands’ tenure as coach was not a particularly happy time. By 1964 Princes Park was again bubbling with discontent, so a group of wealthy and influential supporters, fronted by former club dentist George Harris, successfully challenged the incumbent committee. Somehow, Harris then convinced Melbourne Football Club legend Ron Barassi that his future prospects were better as captain-coach of Carlton than with the Demons, meaning Hands was not re-appointed for the 1965 season.
He may have been discarded as coach, but Ken’s loyal and valuable service to the Old Dark Navy Blues has never been underestimated. In 1988 he was elected to the Carlton Hall of Fame, and in 2000 his stature was confirmed when he was named in a forward pocket in Carlton’s Team of the Century. Then in 2006, Ken joined one of the most exclusive of all lists, when he was very appropriately appointed an official Legend of the Carlton Football Club. Three years later, Ken was inducted into the VFL AFL Hall of Fame.
FootnotesOn May 14, 1955, Carlton played Collingwood, and The Argus newspapers' special football writer and ex-League umpire Harvey Jamieson criticised Ken Hands for trying to "stage" for free kicks during the match. Ken hit back at the criticism on radio station 3AR on the following Friday night.
The next day The Argus defended it's reporters.
To read click here> http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71883842
The Argus reported on "Cocky Marr" a Carlton icon from 1900's - 1939 which had been presented to the club as a gift, Ken is photographed with the bird in 1955.
To view click here> http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71676901
For more on "Cocky Marr" see Carlton Mascots
In 1958 Ken was a panellist on Ch7's Pelaco Football Inquest on Saturdays at 7.30pm.
Ken Boots 3!!!While the State game was being played on the M.C.G. 20 June 1959, Carlton ventured to Horsham to play a combined Wimmera team.
18 months after retiring as a player, the Blues' coach dusted off his boots, played his 212th game, and kicked 3 goals in the Blues' hard fought 22 point win.
Milestones50 Games: Round 15, 1947 vs Footscray
100 Games: Round 4, 1951 vs Geelong
150 Games: Round 2, 1954 vs Melbourne
200 Games: Round 5, 1957 vs Richmond
100 Goals: Round 18, 1948 vs Melbourne
LinksArticles: Hands - Master Recruiter | RIP Ken Hands
Blueseum: Summary of Hands' playing career | Career Breakdown | Coaches | Captains | Hands' Blueseum Image Gallery