cfmcr002-101_green.jpg Sitting by the No.32 locker with his children and grandchildren nestling alongside, Terry Green felt for one fleeting moment that his father had actually been given back to him.

In what was a very special gathering of the clan in Carlton’s inner sanctum, Terry reflected on the tragically short life of his father Robert, one of the club’s truly great players of the period between the wars and amongst those best afield in the ’38 Grand Final triumph over Collingwood.

“As a boy of around five when Dad died the memories are small,” Terry says. “But I have these pictures in my head, the snapshots of being associated with Dad in one form or another - whether through the Hawthorn City Band where he played cornet or through the Carlton Football Club - which came after Dad when his brother Tom took me down to the rooms here.

“I remember walking in to the rooms and people patting me on the head, saying ‘Oh that’s Bobby’s boy’ and ‘when are you going to play?’. It was all so very confusing for me. In fact it probably scared the daylights out of me more than anything else.

“I can still smell the eucalyptus . . . even today it’s alive in my nostrils.”

At locker No.32, the name “B. Green” shares door space with the great Alex Duncan, as well as Bryan Quirk and David Glascott, both Carlton Premiership players in their own rite. Bob is the games record holder for the number - a record which has stood for 67 seasons since Bob’s 187th and final game for Carlton in the fifth round of 1945, the year of victory and peace.

Today’s keeper of the No.32, Bret Thornton, who is on the sidelines injured, is one senior game from drawing level with Bob’s record and that’s fine by the Green family. As Terry says: “I have the greatest respect for Bret (Thornton) because this is a lifetime’s work, to play and to continue to play and we hope he is back fit again very soon”.

Bob Green in his playing days.
Bob Green in his playing days.

For Terry, faint memories of his father have been perpetuated by old sepia clippings lovingly accumulated by his late mother Mary (Mollie), together with faded photographs and precious items of memorabilia, including the matchday football booted in anger by Bob and his cohorts on Grand Final day 1938.

“Mum showed great foresight to keep this history because she knew that one day we would all look back . . . and that’s where I came to know Dad more, through the pictures on the walls and the trophies on the shelves, whether football, cricket, handball or running”.

It is here that Terry volunteers the painful early existences of Bob and his four brothers - Jack, himself a former Carlton and Hawthorn footballer of renown, Tom, who also took his turn at Carlton and Hawthorn, Bernie the youngest, and Frank - the longest surviving of the Green siblings who died only recently at the age of 97.

He relates the tale of how the boys’ father returned from the Great War a changed man and of how their mother was left to fend for the family, only to suffer a breakdown. As a consequence, Bob, Frank and Tom were all placed into orphanages, with Jack and Bernie taken in by family friends . . . for these were Depression times.

“I have always felt the energy of my father. I knew there was something unwritten here that drove me as I went out into the world to do it my own way without a father because my father, in some respects, probably did it the same way,” Terry says.

“His father was a barber in Bendigo and Brunswick until the military called. He survived the war, but contracted TB and there’s some story about gas damage from the trenches. He faded from available history and to this day I still don’t know what happened to the man. I assume that medically he’d been damaged quite badly, while his wife, my father’s mother, suffered what is today known as depression having to look after the five boys and a daughter.

“Three of them later became members of the Hawthorn City Band, for music must have been an outlet, and then there was the football. They were, to coin the phrase, a ‘band of brothers’ For them, football was the necessary distraction, a distraction that enabled them to sustain themselves. They had to have something that gave them the glue of life away from the orphanage and without parents to guide them. I can’t begin to imagine what that must have been like.

“In looking at Dad’s life, and his life in the orphanage without parents and so on, I think he was, in a way, destined to have a public profile, even though it didn’t match the man. He was often talked about as being the life of the party, and yet Mum thought of him as a quiet person.”

And all too young.

On the evening of May 7, 1949, after he and Mary alighted from a tram at the corner of Plenty Road and Howes Street in Preston, Bob was knocked down by a car. He died in St Vincent’s Hospital the following night and the family was subsequently awarded £5000 in damages in a Supreme court ruling.

Terry was only a little tacker when his father was so cruelly taken and the pain is still palpable.

“I still have the picture in my mind right now of standing by a wire door and looking out to see Mum walking up the driveway to Tom’s house in Richelieu Street, Maidstone. I was made aware that all was not right and I could sense the sadness,” Terry says.

“Mum used to tell me about Dad’s funeral and the great entourage of cars that went for miles. He was a very popular figure. She always said he should have lived in a swashbuckling period as a pirate, such was his love for life.

“The period beyond then is a bit of a mystery. We lived with Tom’s family out at Maidstone and it was him who was also on the football scene and took me down to the rooms later.

“In looking back with more mature eyes, being taken in by Tom’s family was an extraordinary thing to have happen because the band of brothers did care . . . and as for Carlton, there was no other team . . . you just didn't even think or stray from the Navy Blue.”

Though Terry did play football in his college days, he never really thought of it as anything more than a pastime “and heaven forbid Dad is probably turning in his grave over it”.

Greens Grandkids.jpg
Bob Green's great grandchildren with Bret Thornton's guernsey.

But he believes in genetic inheritance and in walking away from Visy Park he again felt a profound sense of pride in his father and his achievements.

“There were legends and myths written about my father, of course, as he became a bit of a hero, and there are the clippings, the memorabilia and what have you, and you say to yourself ‘Well, there it is’,” Terry says.

“But because I didn’t really know him, part of my life involved getting to know him later in life because people say ‘Gee it must have been awful that you missed your Dad’ and my response ‘Well, I didn’t really know my Dad’. But his love of life and of course football comes through.”
Green Thornton.jpg
At Visy Park, members of the Green family were introduced to the senior coach Brett Ratten, the players Heath Scotland, David Ellard, Andrew Walker - all of them accommodating - and of course, the man in the No.32 guernsey, Bret Thornton.

“There’s a gigantic excitement to be here to represent my father,” Terry says, “and when I was invited to come back I just had to involve my family in this . . . it’s been a great thrill”.

“They were all excited, they wanted to be part of it and this exposure for them will be a memory they will hold - just like I did in that early instance when I walked into the Carlton rooms, got the smell of eucalyptus, the pats on the head and the comment ‘This is Bobby’s boy’.