Career : 1938
Debut and Only Game : Round 18, 1938 vs St Kilda, aged 24 years, 96 days
Carlton Player No. 546
Games : 1
Goals : 1
Guernsey No. 18
Height : 173 cm (5 ft. 8 in.)
Weight : 71 kg (11 stone, 2 lbs.)
DOB : 23 May 1914
A lively wingman, rover or half-forward, Les Watkins was a consistently good player at Reserves level for the Navy Blues during the first of his two seasons at Princes Park on the eve of World War II. Eventually, he was promoted to the senior team just before the 1938 finals began, but he wasn’t able to capitalise on his opportunity, so his debut game also proved to be his last.
Watkins was born in the central Victorian town of Heathcote, and later recruited from Bacchus Marsh. He was 23 years old when he wore Carlton’s number 18 guernsey on to the field for Carlton Seconds early in 1938, to enjoy a sustained run of success to begin with. Under their new coach Charlie Hardy, the Blues’ Reserves side won their first seven games straight, before suffering a mini slump to drop to third approaching the finals.
Meanwhile, Carlton seniors were also in strong flag contention when Watkins’ form won him elevation to the senior team for the round 18 clash against St Kilda at Princes Park. Playing on a half-forward flank, Les kicked an early goal in a tough physical match that the Blues eventually won by 16 points. The win came at a cost however, because Carlton’s star rover Ron Cooper was reported and later suspended for striking. Outed for four matches, Cooper was to suffer the devastation of missing out on playing in Carlton’s 1938 Premiership team. But all of that was still ahead when Watkins was dropped back to the Reserves, and suffered the disappointment of a Semi Final defeat by Footscray.
In 1939, Les could have been tempting fate when he switched to guernsey number 13. Coach Hardy apparently tried to encourage him by playing him as first rover early on, but it appears that Les was unable to recapture his best form and his name disappeared from the Reserves team sheets after round 8.
To date, nothing else is known about Leslie Francis Watkins’ sporting or private life, apart from the fact that he died in Geelong on July 5, 1974 at the age of 60.