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Small, but dangerous!

Vin Gardiner


Career : 1907 - 1917
Debut : Round 3, 1907 vs Melbourne, aged 21 years, 199 days
Carlton Player No. 211
Games : 157
Goals : 341
Last Game : Semi Final, 1917 vs Fitzroy, aged 31 years, 313 days
Guernsey No. 13
Height : 167cm (5 ft. 5¾ in.)
Weight : 67.5kg (10 stone, 8 lbs.)
DOB : October 23, 1885
Premiership Player : 1908, 1915
Club Leading Goalkicker : 1908 (34), 1910 (42), 1911 (47), 1912 (47), 1913 (27), 1916 (44), 1917 (22)


In this era of 196 cm, 100 kg ‘power forwards,’ it is interesting to reflect that one of Carlton’s deadliest-ever goal-kickers stood just 167 cm, and weighed in at 67.5 kg. He was Vincent Sidley ‘Vin’ Gardiner - who, more than 90 years after he played his last match for the Blues, still ranks tenth overall in our club’s list of all-time career goals. Described as the ‘biggest kick, inch for inch’ of his era, Gardiner led Carlton’s goal-kicking in seven of his eleven seasons, and was also the VFL’s leading scorer in 1911.

Vin and his older brother Jack were the sons of John Gardiner, a former Carlton player in the VFA. Vin was born in Carlton in October 1885, and was barely out of school when Jack played the first of his 16 senior games for the Blues in 1901. Jack later crossed to Melbourne to play another 70 matches. In 1905, Vin joined his brother at the Redlegs, only to be mortified when, after only two games, they told him that he was not good enough to continue.

He may have lacked the height and weight of the game’s classic key forwards, but Vin Gardiner was not short of skill, confidence or self-belief. Determined to play VFL football again, he turned up at Carlton in 1907, and impressed Blues coach Jack Worrall with his clever leading, safe marking and deadly-accurate place kicking. He made a modest debut for his new club against his old one at Princes Park in May, and went on to notch up eight games and eight goals for the year - although he wasn’t selected for any of the Blues’ finals. In September, Carlton added the ‘07 Premiership flag to our trophy cabinet with a fighting Grand Final victory over South Melbourne.

When the Blues went hunting for the first-ever hat-trick of VFL Premierships in 1908, Gardiner was a revelation. Told by Worrall to make full-forward his domain, Vin developed a hunger for goals that bordered on obsession. He constantly demanded the ball during matches, and often berated team-mates who didn’t deliver it to him. This brought allegations of selfishness from some quarters, but there was no denying that when Gardiner lined up a place-kick for goal – from any angle, and from almost any distance – more often than not he sent the ball spinning straight between the big posts.

His four goals in the first quarter of the 1908 Semi-Final against St Kilda set up Carlton’s emphatic 58-point victory. A fortnight later, Worrall’s Blues completed their ground-breaking Premiership treble when they beat Essendon by nine points in a low-scoring slog on a rain-sodden MCG. Gardiner was held goalless that day, but his total of 34 for the season still won him Carlton’s goal-kicking award for the first time.

In round 15 of 1911, Gardiner created history when he dominated the game against St Kilda at Princes Park. He bamboozled the Saints’ defenders, and marked everything that came his way – only for his accuracy to desert him in one of his finest hours. His astonishing 21 scoring shots brought up 10 goals and eleven behinds! Carlton slaughtered St Kilda by more than 100 points, and Vin Gardiner became just the second player in VFL history (after Jim McShane of Geelong, in 1899) to boot a double figure tally of goals in a match.

Later that same year, he became the first official wearer of Carlton’s number 13 guernsey when individual player numbers were introduced during the finals. He kicked three goals in Carlton’s disappointing 21-point Semi-Final loss to Essendon, taking his season tally to 47. That was good enough to win him both Carlton’s, and the league’s goal-kicking award.

On the eve of the outbreak of World War 1 in August 1914, Gardiner suffered a season-ending hip injury in a match against Geelong at Princes Park. He could only watch on in frustration on Grand Final day, when the Blues claimed another flag by beating South Melbourne by six points – thanks to a desperate fist-away by Carlton’s full-back Ernie Jamieson in the last minute of the game.

Fully recovered, Vin returned to top form in 1915. He inspired Carlton to victory in the Semi-Final against Melbourne, booting five of the Blues’ 11 goals (two in the last quarter) to snatch a stirring win. Yet another hard-fought victory over Fitzroy in the Preliminary Final then followed, and this put Carlton into a second successive Grand Final, against minor premiers Collingwood.

Inspired by wingman George Challis (who was Best on Ground his last match prior to embarking for France, where he would be killed in action), Carlton took it up to the Magpies from the first bounce on Grand Final day, in a contest that sent the newspapers of the time into raptures. After a tardy start, Carlton had surged to a five point lead at the last change, but the Magpies kept coming.

Midway through that hectic final term, Gardiner marked wide on the boundary at half-forward. He calmly placed the ball on the turf, then ran in and kicked a glorious, long, team-lifting goal (his third for the match) to put the Blues nine points up. It was only then that Collingwood wilted, and Herb Burleigh’s three late goals finished them off. Gardiner’s second Premiership triumph was Carlton’s fifth flag in nine years.

Vin claimed the Blues’ goal-kicking award for the sixth time in 1916, and played the last of his 157 games in yet another final – against Fitzroy at the MCG in September, 1917. On that occasion, Carlton coach Norman Clark used Gardiner as a decoy, instructing him to lead well upfield to allow our captain Billy Dick to drift across to the goal square from the pocket. The ruse was partially successful – Dick kicked three goals – but Carlton lost by nine points in a spiteful clash.

Early in 1918, 32 year-old Gardiner bid a last farewell to VFL football (and to his job as a clerk with the Melbourne City Council) to join the hundreds of thousands of other Australians who had volunteered to take up arms for their country. While training at Broadmeadows Army camp, his instructors described him as; ‘steady and reliable,’ ‘capable and attentive’ and ‘keen and hard-working’ – the same qualities he had displayed throughout his on-field career for the Blues.

Ultimately however, Vin wasn’t required to risk his life for his country. In November 1918, an exhausted Germany signed an armistice to end the bloodiest war in human history, and all volunteers still on Australian soil were promptly demobilised by a grateful nation. Vin returned to his wife Jessie and his home in Drummond St., North Carlton on Christmas Eve, and went on to live a long and productive life until his passing (two weeks short of his 87th birthday) in October, 1972.

Milestones

50 Games (VFL) : Round 18, 1910 vs St Kilda
50 Games (Carlton) : Grand Final, 1910 vs Collingwood
100 Games (VFL) : Round 15, 1913 vs St Kilda
100 Games (Carlton) : Round 17, 1913 vs Geelong
150 Games (VFL) : Round 6, 1917 vs Fitzroy
150 Games (Carlton) : Round 8, 1917 vs South Melbourne

100 Goals : Round 3, 1911 vs Fitzroy
200 Goals : Round 9, 1913 vs Fitzroy
300 Goals : Round 8, 1916 vs Collingwood

Articles: The John Gardiner Story - Vin's father

Blueseum: A summary of Gardiner's playing career | Gardiner's Blueseum Image Gallery