Alex Jesaulenko

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Alex Jesaulenko
Jezza.jpg
Personal information
Full name Alex Jesaulenko
Nickname(s) Jezza
Date of birth (1945-08-02) 2 August 1945 (age 69)
Original team Eastlake (CANFL)
Height/Weight 182cm / 86kg
Playing career1
Years Club Games (Goals)
1967–1979
1980–1981
Total
Carlton
St Kilda
256 (424)
23 (20)
279 (444)
Representative team honours
Years Team Games (Goals)
Victoria 15
Coaching career3
Years Club Games (W–L–D)
1978–1979
1980–1982
1989–1990
Total
Carlton
St Kilda
Carlton
42 (35–7–0)
64 (13–49–2)
34 (18–15–1)
140 (66–71–3)
1 Playing statistics correct to end of 1981 season.
3 Coaching statistics correct as of 1990.
Career highlights

Alex Jesaulenko /ɛzəˈlɛŋk/ (Ukrainian: Олександр Єсауленко, transcribed Oleksandr Yesaulenko) MBE (born 2 August 1945 in Salzburg, Austria) is a former Australian rules footballer and coach[1] who represented Carlton and St Kilda in the Victorian Football League (VFL) from the 1960s to the 1980s.

He is regarded as one of the game's greatest-ever players and is an official Legend of the Australian Football Hall of Fame. He immortalised his reputation in the game by taking the Mark of the Century in the 1970 VFL Grand Final. In 2009 The Australian nominated Jesaulenko as one of the 25 greatest footballers never to win a Brownlow Medal.[2]

Early life[edit]

Jesaulenko was born in Salzburg, Austria. His father, Vasil, was Ukrainian and served as a German policeman during World War II.[3] His mother, Vera, was Russian, and had survived the horrors of seeing her father shot dead by German soldiers and having her first child, whom she first gave the name Alex, taken away from her when she was in a German prison camp. The child was not heard of again until over fifty years later.[3]

The family emigrated to Australia in 1949 and spent the first six months living at the Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre.[3] According to Jesaulenko, the family name should have been spelt Esaulenko, but immigration officials actually listed "Esaulenko" with a "J" in front, thinking that they had heard a "J" in his name.[4]

From there, the family moved to Canberra where Vasil set up shop as a carpenter-cabinetmaker.[3] The young Jesaulenko was enrolled at St Edmund's College, where he played soccer and rugby union. He did not start playing Australian rules football until he was fourteen years old. He began playing at the Eastlake Football Club in Canberra.[5]

Playing career[edit]

Jesaulenko has credited his time at Eastlake for instilling in him a winning culture. After breaking into the senior team, he quickly established himself as a star, playing in three consecutive premierships for Eastlake from 1964 to 1966.[6]

On joining Carlton, Jesaulenko reflected in an interview with The Canberra Times that:

[Eastlake] certainly provided a winning culture. I was lucky to play at a footy club that was on the way up that just had a new regime put in, with George Harris and his mob, appointed a new coach in Ronald Dale Barassi, they had experienced players and they recruited young guns ... and I just fitted into the mix.[6]

Jesaulenko made his senior VFL debut in 1967. He went on to play a total of 256 senior games for the Carlton Football Club. He also kicked 424 goals and won four premierships with the club – in 1968, 1970, 1972 and 1979. Jesaulenko was selected for All-Australian honours in 1969 and 1972. He also has the dubious record at Carlton for the most inaccurate score of 5 goals and 12 behinds, against Hawthorn in 1969.

A spectacular and popular player Jesaulenko was renowned for his high marking, mercurial ground play, superb balance and goal kicking. He kicked 115 goals in the 1970 season, breaking the club record and becoming the first (and, as of 2012, only) player to kick more than 100 goals in a season for Carlton.[7] He went on to play in the famous 1970 VFL Grand Final against Collingwood. In front of an all-time record MCG crowd of 121,696 fans Carlton came from a 44-point deficit at half-time to win by 10 points.

In 1979 Jesaulenko was the playing coach of Carlton's premiership team, perhaps his finest moment in football. "Jezza" was in fact the last playing coach in the VFL to win a premiership.

Jesaulenko had pay disputes with Carlton in 1977. Subsequently he tied his ongoing presence at the club to then Carlton club president George Harris. At the end of the 1979 season Harris was ousted from his position and Jesaulenko cut all ties with Carlton.

St Kilda Football Club[edit]

In a deal managed by trucking millionaire and St Kilda club president, Lindsay Fox, Jesaulenko moved to the St Kilda Football Club in 1980. While initially appointed as an on-field player only Jesaulenko was then appointed playing coach when the incumbent St Kilda coach, Mike Patterson, was sacked by Fox after Round 2.[8] He played 23 games and kicked 20 goals for the Saints in 1980–1981 and stayed on for a further season as coach. Jesaulenko retired as player after Round 8, 16 May 1981.[9] He was the last person to serve as captain-coach in the VFL (Malcolm Blight was a playing coach until Round 16 of the same season, but was not captain during this time.[10])

Last years in football[edit]

After leaving St Kilda, Jesaulenko was captain-coach of Sandgate in the QAFL for two years, finally playing his last game at the age of thirty-nine,[11] after which he moved into the hotel business in Queensland for several years. In the first half of the 1989 season, Carlton was in disarray and after a three-point loss to the lowly Brisbane Bears, their eighth in ten games, the board finally lost patience and sacked Robert Walls. Jesaulenko was appointed caretaker coach for the remainder of the season, eventually leading the Blues to a respectable eighth-placed finish. The blues were expected to return to the top of the ladder in 1990, but won only fifty percent of their games and Jesaulenko was replaced by David Parkin. His last coaching appointment, at Coburg for the 1993 season, was a total disaster, with the Lions losing all eighteen games during a losing sequence of thirty games in the dying days of the Victorian Football Association.

"Oh Jesaulenko, you beauty!"[edit]

Jesaulenko's marking skill was perhaps best highlighted by a spectacular mark over big Collingwood ruckman Graeme Jenkin in the 1970 VFL Grand Final. The commentary has Mike Williamson shouting the now famous phrase "Oh Jesaulenko, you beauty!".[12] This "specky" is acclaimed by some to be the "Mark of the Century" and was the first to be recognised officially as the Mark of the Year; the medal awarded to the annual winner is called the Alex Jesaulenko Medal. Jesaulenko has downplayed the specky, citing other marks he took—even during the same game—as greater feats.[13] He later said: "The images make it look classical, like it was taken from the marking manual, ... It was against Collingwood, a Grand Final, the biggest crowd ever, Graeme's a six-foot-four ruckman, I guess there's a mystique in standing on top of him with your arms outstretched."[13] The mark is captured in Jamie Cooper's painting the Game That Made Australia, commissioned by the AFL in 2008 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the sport.[14]

Post-football honours[edit]

When Carlton set up their Hall of Fame in 1987, Jesaulenko was one of the inaugural inductees.[15] He was also an inaugural inductee into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996, and in 2008 was elevated to Legend status.[16] In 1996 he was also named on the half-forward flank in the AFL Team of the Century.

In 1997 he was inducted as an official Legend of the Carlton Football Club.[17] When the Carlton Team of the Century was announced, Jesaulenko was also named on the half-forward flank.

In 2002, he was inducted into the Ukrainian Sports Hall of Fame.[18]

On 20 October 2010 he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.[19]

In July 2013, Jesaulenko was named captain of the first Australia Post Multicultural Team of Champions.[20]

Upon being elevated to Legend status in the Australian Football Hall of Fame, Jesaulenko was accorded tribute from the great contemporaries of his era.[3]

The great Ron Barassi, Jesaulenko's first coach at Carlton, said:

Aussie rules was very lucky that Alex chose our game. I've no doubt he would've been a brilliant international player for rugby or rugby league or soccer. I first saw his reflexes playing social tennis. He was at the net, he was unbelievable, and I remember thinking, 'Gee whiz, this guy's something special', and I had not even seen him kick a ball yet.[3]

Of his induction as a Legend in the Hall of Fame, Hawthorn opponent Leigh Matthews said:

Jezza was the Buddy Franklin of his era. He was a fantastic mark, but was fantastic at ground level, and that combination doesn't exist in many players. Jezza was a freak. He was about 182cm, only a couple inches taller than me. He was a bit like Darrel Baldock of the '60s; great balance, low centre of gravity, sensational overhead.[3]

Richmond opponent Kevin Bartlett regarded Jesaulenko as the most important player at Carlton during the years where the Richmond-Carlton rivalry reached its apex during the late 1960s and early 1970s:

When we played Carlton, it was always, 'How do we stop Jezza?' He was the talk of the day and if we got on top of him you killed the spirit of Carlton. He was such a devastating player, an inspirational player, and at Richmond, he was absolutely one of the players we had enormous respect for. He had the capability to be best on ground and had that magical quality to lift teammates. If he played well, he made another 10 players play well.[3]

North Melbourne opponent and Brownlow Medallist Malcolm Blight was equally generous in his praise for Jesaulenko:

Ahh, Jezza. He brings a smile to your face, doesn't he, and bit of excitement. Jezza ... gee, he was good. I still haven't seen anyone with quite as good a balance as Jezza. Whether it be on the ground going for a ball or in the air, his balance was uncanny. He is an icon of the game, absolutely, no question, and as they say in the classics, could play.[3]

Relationship with Richard Pratt[edit]

After retiring from football, Jesaulenko worked for billionaire and noted Carlton patron Richard Pratt at his recycling firm Visy Industries for 15 years in the sales and public relations department.[21]

Jesaulenko first met Pratt when he arrived at Carlton in 1966,[21] and remembered him fondly:

He was a great businessman, a great bloke and a great Australian ... He touched people personally even though he was running such a big company. You'd think everyone he worked with was a personal friend of his. He used to come around every year like a footy coach and give everybody a confidence boost. He'd say 'This is what the company is doing ... let's get out there and kill 'em''.[21]

He was adamant that Pratt saved Carlton when he became club president during in 2007:

He didn't only save [Carlton] with his money. I don't think money had much to do with it. [...] The club was losing its soul there for a long time. He got it back on track. Now it's going to be up to the people at Carlton now to keep it going.[21]

When it was known that Pratt was in his last days in April 2009, Jesaulenko contemplated paying him a farewell visit at his mansion, but thought better of it lest he attracted too much attention.[21]

Cultural references[edit]

The main character in the Australian children's book "Jezza" is a dog named after Alex Jesaulenko. "Ordinary dogs chase tennis balls or fetch silly sticks. But not me. Football's my game. My new family called me Jezza because that was the name of a famous footballer. He was brilliant. I don't mean to brag, but I'm quite a footballer too." (Bell, 1991). During the 1970s, when people spoke about football, it was common for people to refer to taking a high mark as "taking a Jezza".

Jesaulenko is mentioned in the song "The Back Upon Which Jezza Jumped" by Melbourne band TISM (This Is Serious Mum). The song depicts Graeme "Jerker" Jenkin being left to be forgotten because of Jezza's spectacular mark. In 2012, singer-songwriter Tex Perkins wrote and performed "Jesaulenko, You Beauty" exclusively for The Marngrook Footy Show.[22]

In 2006, Jesaulenko was featured in a Toyota Memorable Moments commercial with Stephen Curry and Dave Lawson, which involved spraypainting Jesaulenko's navy suit and trying several methods to recreate the famous mark he took in the 1970 Grand Final, including a small trampoline, a stepladder and finally successfully with a large crane.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Martin Gray, Geraldine Stoneham, Ian Craven (1994). Australian Popular Culture. Cambridge University Press. p. 50. ISBN 0-521-46667-9. 
  2. ^ The Australian, 22 September 2009, retrieved 2009-09-22
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mark Robinson (9 May 2008). "Alex Jesaulenko, you beauty". Herald Sun. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  4. ^ Geoff McClure (2008-05-16). "Esaulenko, you beauty!". The Age. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  5. ^ Andrew Markus (2001). Building a new community: Immigration and the Victorian economy. Allen & Unwin. p. 73. ISBN 1-86508-535-9. 
  6. ^ a b David Polkinghorne (3 June 2012). "Eastlake to turn back clock". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  7. ^ Coutts, Ian, ed. (2012), Inside Carlton, Carlton North, Victoria: Carlton Football Club, p. 82 
  8. ^ top 10 sacked
  9. ^ http://stats.rleague.com/afl/stats/games/1981/121519810516.html
  10. ^ http://www.kangaroos.com.au/History/PlayerHistory/MalcolmBlight/tabid/14471/Default.aspx
  11. ^ About Sandgate
  12. ^ Martin Blake (2008-05-08). "The mark of a legend". RealFooty.com.au. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  13. ^ a b Stewart, Matt (3 September 2012). "Jezza Jumps into Legend", Herald Sun. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  14. ^ Australian Football League, The Game That Made Australia, Retrieved 19 September 2010
  15. ^ http://www.carltonfc.com.au/hall%20of%20fame/tabid/15275/default.aspx
  16. ^ http://www.afl.com.au/aflhq/awards/halloffame/legends/tabid/855/default.aspx
  17. ^ http://www.carltonfc.com.au/legends%20of%20the%20carlton%20football%20club/tabid/15274/default.aspx
  18. ^ http://www.heraldsun.com.au/afl/teams/jesaulenko-you-beauty/story-e6frf9n6-1111116285871
  19. ^ "Alex Jesaulenko MBE". Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  20. ^ Schout, David (9 July 2013). "Jezza leads Multicultural Team of Champions". afl.com.au. 
  21. ^ a b c d e Mark Stevens (30 April 2009). "Pratt touched many Australians: Alex Jesaulenko". Herald Sun. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  22. ^ Dave Larkin Band, Marngrook Footy Show. Retrieved on 17 July 2012.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bell, K 1991, Jezza, Macmillan Australia, Melbourne.
  • TISM,1985, This Is Serious Mum – Demo Tape, Melbourne.

External links[edit]