TOM Carroll's football career has been quite a journey. From starting out at Ganmain to joining Carlton to meeting fellow Coleman medallist Brendan Fevola at Yarrawonga, the modest St Patrick's Cricket Club curator has pretty much done it all. His son, Mick, has traced his career in a recently-released book Tom's Sporting Life.
BK: At 80, you probably weren't expecting a book to be written about your football career. How did it come about?
TC: When I was 15 I grabbed mum's cook book and turned it into a scrap book. I'd just write down how many goals I'd kick and put some photos in it and things like that. Then about three years ago I had a hip operation and was sitting around doing nothing so I wrote down some things that had happened along the way. My son Mick then took over and went through the scrap books and archives and found things we didn't have.
BK: So your family scrap book turned into a best seller?
TC: Something like that (laughs). I just did it as a family thing and Mick made it into a book. He did a great job. It's brought back a lot of memories.
BK: Youattracted interest from VFL clubs from a very early age didn't you?
TC: Back in those days Melbourne umpires used to do our league (South West) and they would tell clubs who was going alright in the country. When I was 16 I was playing first grade for Ganmain. I got letters from Footscray and Essendon inviting me to train but dad thought I was too young. North Melbourne sent some officials up too and we had a really good talk but dad still thought I was too young which was the right decision.
BK: Then Carlton came along?
TC: Carlton had its 1964 Centenary coming up and they wanted to get ready for it early with recruits so they drove up in 1959 to see me. I remember this big black car coming up the driveway with 3000, 4000 or 5000 turkeys from the farm being scattered all around it. They were jumping up and sitting on the car when it stopped and I don't think the Carlton officials knew what was going on.
BK: So you signed that day?
TC: I signed a form which tied me to Carlton. Dad went crook at me when he found out and rang them up that night but it was done. Anyway, I played two reserves grade games for Carlton in 1959, was lucky enough to kick 100 goals for Ganmain in 1960 and then I said to my cousin Jimmy we should go to Melbourne for a holiday and play in some practice games. I kicked a few goals and that was the start of my three years at the club.
BK: You rate your debut at Carlton as the highlight of your time with the Blues don't you?
TC: I played on Verdon Howell who was a champion for St Kilda and I was fortunate to kick five of our six goals. We won the game as well.
BK: I can imagine you would have made big headlines?
TC: There was a lot of publicity, it was all a bit of a blur to be honest. After kicking the five goals I got invited into World of Sport. I hadn't had a shave or anything. Lou Richards interviewed me and made a goat of me. That's where the nickname started (Turkey Tom). He asked me to make the noise of a turkey and I thought it made me look like a dill. I told him not to be silly. I've never liked the nickname because of that.
Lou Richards interviewed me and made a goat of me. That's where the nickname started (Turkey Tom). He asked me to make the noise of a turkey and I thought it made me look like a dillTom Carroll
BK: You were tested by some tough players along the way weren't you?
TC: A few weeks later I had four teeth knocked out. I played on Freddy Swift from Richmond and he really tried me out. I played alright and he said later on that he wanted to try out the young bloke to see if I'd squib it. I played on him another five times after that and he was fine.
BK: Was the ferocity an eye-opener for you?
TC: Not really as I'd had five years in the country and was used to it. Whitton had the biggest, ugliest blokes back then and I remember one of their players saying to me: 'If you go near the ball, I'll break your skinny legs clean'.
BK: You copped a lot of head knocks didn't you?
TC: They used to have a free hit at you after you'd taken a mark. Most of my concussions were in the bush and it has affected me later in life with headaches and things like that. I only had two or three in Melbourne and you would play the next week even though you were no good. They have proven it all now.
BK: You became only the third player, behind Essendon's John Coleman and St Kilda's Billy Young, to win the Coleman Medal in your first season in the VFL. Beating the great Doug Wade by four goals must have been a thrill?
TC: I kicked 54 goals with my biggest haul being 7.6 against South Melbourne. I kicked four or five goals a few times. The next season I kicked more goals but Doug Wade pipped me.
BK: I don't suppose you won a car for winning the Coleman Medal back then?
TC: Nothing like that. You got 100 pound from the TV but that was about it. If you won the weekly award you would go in and get a John Brown jumper. The pay for playing was four pound which was nothing compared to playing in the country back then.
BK: You rucked once against Polly Farmer. How did that go?
TC: I loved it. Our rucks got hurt and Ken Hands asked if anyone would like a run so I put my hand straight up. You were freezing at full-forward in those days. I jumped up and won the first hit-out and thought 'How good is this'. Then he thought I'll fix this young bloke up and he beat me the next time.
BK: Who was the best player you came across in the VFL?
TC: Ted Whitten was sensational. He was tough and could play anywhere. He was a good bloke too. The players used to have a beer together after games back then and I couple of my mates from Ganmain idolised him. Teddy shook their hands and made a fuss over them. He was friendly with everyone.
BK: What are your memories of the 1962 grand final loss to Essendon?
TC: Essendon were a brilliant, outstanding team. After we played in the preliminary final replay against Geelong, they came in a bit fresher. Our better players like 'Big Nick' (John Nicholls) were a bit weary after carrying us. I think we did about as well as we could, but maybe with a bit of teamwork, could have gotten us closer.
BK: So after being Carlton's leading goalkicker for three straight seasons and representing Victoria in Tasmania, you dropped a major bombshell by returning to Ganmain as coach. Can you remember the moment you told the Blues?
TC: It was a bit of a tough conversation. They actually came up during the summer as I'd gone home and we had a talk. I told them I'd committed to coaching the local side. They asked me to come back but said they understood.
BK: Any regrets?
TC: I was in my prime and probably should have had a couple more years at Carlton. Saying that though I wasn't unhappy that I went back home and helped Ganmain win a couple of premierships as coach. It was a difficult decision that's for sure.
BK: It was a fairytale return wasn't it with you kicking the match-winning goal against Griffith in 1964 seconds before the final siren?
TC: It was a great sight to see the ball float through the big sticks. The siren went as soon as the ball was bounced again. The next hour or so was the most exhilarating experience I have ever felt. The small Narrandera dressing shed was rocking.
BK: With Frank Hodgkin again by your side, you went back-to-back the following season against Griffith
TC: It was 94 degrees that day. Frank Hodgkin kicked four goals and the team performed really well. It was my fourth premiership at Ganmain after playing in two earlier.
BK: You later found your way to Albury and followed the Ovens and Murray where your eldest son, Dean, was involved on the bench at Yarrawonga. That is where you met Carlton's most recent Coleman medallist Brendan Fevola
TC: Pat (wife) and I would watch Yarra and we caught up him with a few times. 'Fev' was brilliant for Yarrawonga and he really turned his life around during those years. He would go down and talk to the pie ladies and get involved with all the supporters.
BK: Cricket has also been a big part of your life. You played O'Farrell Cup as a youngster and came across some big names like former Australian bowler Geoff Lawson when he was at Wagga.
TC: I think it was a Wagga versus Coolamon-Wagga game and Geoff Lawson was about 17 and bowling quick. I played at one and missed and then the next one knocked my off stump over. I thought this kid isn't bad.
BK: Then when you retired you offered your services as a volunteer at St Patrick's Cricket Club where your sons had played?
TC: I told them I'd do what I could and they asked me to be the curator. I'd done some curating at Ganmain previously and enjoyed it. I've been doing it for 10 or 12 years now.
Tom's Sporting Life is a 128-page softcover and can be picked up in the Albury-Wodonga, Ganmain, Yarrawonga or Shepparton areas or by ordering them at firstname.lastname@example.org