The average Carlton fan may look upon a loss – particularly to Collingwood – as a tragedy for their team. However, there have been some real tragedies to befall the club over the years – cruelly cutting short the careers of both promising and proven players through no fault of their own. To know that these people could have played many more games for Carlton had fate not intervened is the real tragedy.

Lyle Downs – 1921
Not only was Downs a talented footballer, playing 47 games for the Blues between 1917 and 1921 as a rover and kicking 31 goals, he was a leading batsman in Melbourne District cricket, averaging 57.8. Sadly, after a light training run on July 7, 1921, Downs collapsed with a heart condition and passed away. It was said that he loved football so much he played against doctor’s orders. The following match was against Richmond, and Carlton quite appropriately won, 14.15.99 to 6.12.48.

Les Witto – 1926
Witto, who played only 6 games in 1926, holds an unfortunate place in history as one of only two VFL/AFL players (the other being ‘Dinny’ McKay of South Melbourne in 1897) to pass away as a direct result of injuries sustained in a game. Fracturing his arm in the last quarter of the Round 14 match against Geelong, he contracted tetanus and died on August 23, aged only 23. A collection was immediately taken up for Witto’s mother, which raised 695 pounds ($1390).

Norm Collins – 1933
The brother of Fitzroy premiership player Goldsmith, Collins was something of a football nomad, playing 4 games for Fitzroy in 1924-25 before switching to the Blues and playing 57 games from 1926-1931, when he crossed to Hawthorn. He played 31 games in 3 years, also becoming Hawthorn’s assistant secretary, before sadly committing suicide in August 1933. Reports of the time suggested he had suffered from severe depression, possibly from financial concerns.

Maurie Sankey – 1965
Tasmanian-born Sankey, who was a popular member of Carlton during his time at the Blues, played 100 games as a workhorse ruckman/utility for the Blues and was vice captain in 1964. Sadly, only a few weeks after playing his 100th game, he was tragically killed in a head-on car crash in November 1965. Ron Barassi, who had long admired Sankey whilst playing for Melbourne, was shocked to find that a good friend had been killed in such a way. Renowned as a great team man and a bit of a character, Sankey played in the back pocket in the losing Grand Final team of 1962, being named one of the best Blues on the day – as indeed he had been throughout the finals series.

Along with these people are several who passed away only a few years after their career ended. Some of the more notable include 1938 Premiership wingman Bob Green (whose last game was the debut of Ken Hands), who was killed when struck by a car as he alighted from a tram; Mick Grace, former Fitzroy champion and the first player to kick 50 goals in a VFL/AFL season in 1906, struck down by tuberculosis in 1912; Keith Shea, a champion who had finished his Carlton career in 1937 but returned for Hawthorn in 1945, passing away in 1951 at only 36; Terry Ogden, who had a trophy struck in his honour after his death in 1935; and Rhett Baynes, the ruckman of the 1980s, who committed suicide only four years after being released by the Blues.

Others who passed away within 5 years of their careers ending are as follows:
Dave Earsman (1919) – Possibly from influenza epidemic;
Croft McKenzie (1927) – Unknown circumstances;
Garney Goodrick (1929) – Unknown circumstances;
Dan Whannell (1929) – Unknown circumstances;
Denis Strauch (1965) – Blood poisoning while playing for Port Melbourne;
Jeff Trotman (1967) – Car crash;
Peter White (1996) – Drowned whilst on a fishing trip with his father.

Incidents such as these remind us all that while footballers may seem invincible on the field, they are people like the rest of us, and not immune to an unfortunate end.