Chris Pavlou, who blissfully committed more than 50 years of his life to Carlton as a senior footballer, runner, recruiter, coach, past players President and board member, died yesterday after a brave battle with cancer. He was 72.

Chris died peacefully in the company of his family at his home in Frankston, the place from which he was recruited to the club way back in 1958. He is survived by his wife of 47 years Mary, son Anthony, daughters Trish and Louise, and three grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are to be detailed in Tuesday’s Herald Sun.

The Chris Pavlou story had its origins in Foster, not far from where the rolling hills meet the Gippsland coastline, where he was born on August 18, 1939. Chris’s father hailed from Cyprus and his mother from Ithaka, his parents having migrated to Australia in 1922 and ’34 respectively.

In 1947, after the Pavlous relocated to Frankston to run a fish and chip shop, Chris was enrolled in the local Frankston state school and together with his older brother Con and younger brother George leant assistance to their parents on the premises. Later, Chris followed Con to the Frankston Football Club, turning out with the Under 17s at the tender age of 15.
Chris Pavlou.
“As a 15 year-old I didn’t really know much about football to be honest with you, because being of ethnic background I was with my parents working in the shop,” Chris said in a final interview with this reporter recently. “Football wasn’t really a priority because I had to work a bit.” It was around this time that Chris pledged his passionate support to Carlton, which would linger until his last breath. Why Carlton?

“Well I had a fight with my brother when Carlton was playing Essendon for the ’47 premiership,” he said. “Of course, Carlton won, but my brother wouldn’t let me listen to the radio, he was pushing me aside.

“Now Frankston wore the same colours as Essendon and we loved Frankston, but he wouldn’t let me listen to the footy . . . and it was a close game with Stafford kicking the goal for Carlton to win by a point, so I had a go at him and said ‘I’m going to barrack for Carlton from now on’.”

“The next day Mum went and bought me a Carlton jumper so I put that on and supported them ever since . . . and they’ve been my life really. For 51 years Carlton has been my life.”

It was at Frankston that Chris’s footballing talents were first identified by the late Carlton premiership player and coach Jim Francis. “Jim Francis happened to live at Long Island in a holiday home at Frankston,” Chris recalled, “and he came along to watch us at training.

“I don’t know what prompted him to do that . . . whether he was going for a walk along the beach . . . but he headed up to the Frankston footy ground, saw us playing and having a kick, and the next thing I knew he asked me if I’d like to have a run at Carlton.
“At that time Carlton were looking for small, quick players. There was Bruce Williams from Morwell, Marty Cross, Johnny Heathcote, Barry Smith and myself - and ‘Handsy’ (Ken Hands) had this idea of getting some pace into the team. There was quite a handful of young quick players who helped get the ball rolling with pace . . . ”

Chris couldn’t believe his luck. “I just got such a buzz to be invited to Carlton - to go to the Carlton Football Club to play - because I barracked for Carlton,” he said.

“I couldn’t believe I had the opportunity to have a run around. I remember walking into the clubrooms and seeing Ken Hands, John Nicholls and Bill Milroy and I’m saying to myself ‘What am I doing here?’.

Chris also remembered Carlton as an accommodating club regardless of creed or religion.

“We just accepted eachother as footballers and friends,” he said. “There was no animosity between us in being Italian or Greek and there were a lot of the Aussie boys there.

“Vasil Varlamos didn’t get there until 1960, but my cousin, John Defteros was there in the under 19s at Carlton. He was about the only Greek connection I had, but in saying that, there were a lot of Greek supporters. A whole group of them used to gather around the wing at Princes Park to cheer the Greeks along.”

Vasil, the 44-game Carlton half-back flanker and perhaps Chris’s dearest friend from his playing days, said “Chris was a first generation Australian of Greek origin just like me, so that was a connection and we became very close”.

“As a player he was fast and he started out as a rover, but he wasn’t strong enough around the packs so they put him on a wing. In ’61 he was probably one of the best wingmen in the League because he beat all the top wingers he played on, Brian Dixon included,” Vasil said.

“He used to line up on a wing on Johnny James’ side of the ground and he played with such enthusiasm. He’d tell you if you did something right and I always remember his encouragement.”

In many respects, Chris’s playing career ended before it began. Completing his senior debut in the second round match of 1958 (he earned Allen Aylett as his maiden opponent against North Melbourne at Princes Park) Chris’s 31-game tenure as a rover and wingman ended in the 14th round of 1961, when in a match against Footscray at the Western Oval, he cannoned into the fence, sustaining a serious knee injury which he further aggravated after hobbling to the forward pocket.

Chris was 22 at the time, but would never again don the No.35 dark Navy Blue guernsey . . . and it hit him hard.

“It upset me that much because I was on the verge of something. I wish I could have played a couple more years, just to see where it had have ended up,” he said.

“We made the Grand Final in 1962, then Barassi came, then the great years of 1968 and 1970 . . . I didn’t get the opportunity to do those things and I often ask myself ‘How would I have gone?.”

In the aftermath of this personal setback, Chris embarked on what would be a five-year coaching career with East Launceston through the early 1960s, during which time he completed a playing comeback - only to suffer another serious knock to the knee.

But Chris was Carlton to the core and such was the depth of his admiration for the place and the lifelong friendships forged with men like George Armstrong, Jack Wrout, Ken Hands, Jack Carney and Bert Deacon that Chris inevitably returned to the mainland to renew club ties.

Appointed Under 19s coach in 1973, Chris was afforded the rare opportunity to develop burgeoning Blues of the calibre of Peter Francis and the inaugural Norm Smith Medallist Wayne Harmes (whom Chris actually recruited) and “Harmesy” was one of a number of former players to visit Chris in recent weeks.

Twenty years later, Chris was rewarded with Life Membership of the Carlton Football Club - only to further his commitment to the cause by championing the past players for 12 years and contributing at board level for almost two years through those dim dark days of the early 21st century.

Which came as no real surprise to those like Vasil Varlamos, who said of his former teammate: “I have never known anybody to love a football club like Chris”.

Anthony Pavlou said today that “Dad’s wish was to spend one more Christmas with his family”.

“He fought the hard battle to make Christmas and he achieved that,” Anthony said.

“Of course he loved Carlton too, but the Pavlou family days at the football, cheering on the mighty Blues, will never be quite the same without him, for that was part of our ritual every week.

Blueseum Footnote: The Blueseum extends special wishes to the Pavlou family. Chris was a friend to the Blueseum, often donating his time & memories to help us complete some of the stories for this site.

Blueseum: Pavlou's Blueseum Biography