|Full name||Oleksandr Jesaulenko|
|Date of birth||2 August 1945|
|Place of birth||Salzburg, Austria|
|Original team(s)||Eastlake (CANFL)|
|Height||182 cm (6 ft 0 in)|
|Weight||84 kg (185 lb)|
|1980–1981||St Kilda||23 (20)|
|Representative team honours|
|1980–1982||St Kilda||64 (13–49–2)|
1 Playing statistics correct to the end of 1981.
3 Coaching statistics correct as of 1990.
|Sources: AFL Tables, AustralianFootball.com|
Alex Jesaulenko MBE (// JEZ-ə-LENK-oh; Ukrainian: Олександр Васильович Єсауленко, romanized: Oleksandr Vasilyovych Yesaulenko, IPA: [olekˈsɑndr wɐˈsʲilʲowɪt͡ʃ jesɐuˈlɛnko]; born 2 August 1945 in Salzburg, Austria) is a former Australian rules footballer and coach 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 most iconic mark in football history 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.
Jesaulenko was born in Salzburg, Austria. His father, Vasil, was Ukrainian and served as a German policeman during World War II. His mother, Vera, was born in Russia, 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.
The family emigrated to Australia in 1949 and spent the first six months living at the Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre. 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.
From there, the family moved to Canberra where Vasil set up shop as a carpenter-cabinetmaker. The young Jesaulenko was enrolled at St Edmund's College, then Telopea Park High 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.
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.
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.
Jesaulenko moved to Melbourne in November 1966, and during his first pre-season was soon left in no doubt the standard that Barassi required at Carlton:
Here was this raging, serious man who demanded excellence and perfection. I knew straight away if I didn't take this game seriously, if I didn't try to be the best, I would be in big trouble. But it only took me two or three practice matches to know myself these guys were just the same as me, no better than me, and it was just a matter of me getting myself into the thick of things.
Jesaulenko made his senior VFL debut in the opening round of the 1967 season against Fitzroy at Princes Park, where he had 14 touches and kicked two goals in a 94-point victory. He would play every game for Carlton that season, one of four players to do so. In that season's Brownlow Medal count, he would poll 15 votes to finish third behind eventual winner Ross Smith (24 votes) from St Kilda and North Melbourne's Laurie Dwyer (17 votes). Jesaulenko would go on to play in four Carlton premierships – 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 2019, only) player to kick more than 100 goals in a season for Carlton. 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.
Jesaulenko's sparkling achievements were recognized not just in the football world; on 30 December 1978 he was made a Member (Civil) of the Order of the British Empire for service to the sport of Australian Rules football.
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/AFL to win a premiership, and is likely to remain so indefinitely.
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, despite the premiership, Harris was ousted from his position and Jesaulenko cut all ties with Carlton.
St Kilda Football Club
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. 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. 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.)
Later years in football
After leaving St Kilda, Jesaulenko went north to serve as captain-coach of Sandgate in the then Queensland Football League. He retired at the end of 1984 after Sandgate lost their semi-final, after which he moved into the hotel business in Queensland for several years.
In the first half of the 1989 VFL season, Carlton was in disarray: Communication had almost completely broken down between the players and coach Robert Walls, who only two seasons ago had guided the Blues to the flag. Carlton had fallen one game short of the Grand Final in 1988, but started the 1989 season with five straight losses. The defining point came after losing to the Brisbane Bears by three points in Round 10 at home, with Warwick Capper kicking the winning goal after the siren. At that stage the Blues were second-last on the ladder with only two wins and in danger of "winning" their first-ever wooden spoon. Walls was sacked hours after the match. Jesaulenko had not been back at Carlton since his acrimonious departure almost a decade earlier, when he was appointed caretaker coach for the remainder of the season. Holding his first press conference after training at Princes Park for the upcoming match against Sydney, he seemed confident in restoring Carlton's fortunes:
I don't think it will take too long to get back into the scene... The technique might have changed a bit but the basics are still the same. We'll play basic football at Carlton from now on.
Jesaulenko's optimism appeared to rub off on the Carlton players; they beat Sydney by 28 points and would win six more games to finish eighth. 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!"
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!". 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. 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." 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.
When Carlton set up their Hall of Fame in 1987, Jesaulenko was one of the inaugural inductees. He was also an inaugural inductee into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996, and in 2008 was elevated to Legend status. 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. 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.
In July 2013, Jesaulenko was named captain of the first Australia Post Multicultural Team of Champions.
Upon being elevated to Legend status in the Australian Football Hall of Fame, Jesaulenko was accorded tribute from the great contemporaries of his era.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Relationship with Richard Pratt
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.
Jesaulenko first met Pratt when he arrived at Carlton in 1966, 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''.
He was adamant that Pratt saved Carlton when he became club president during 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.
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.
During the 1970s, when people spoke about football, it was common for people to refer to taking a high mark as "taking a Jezza". In a 1970s Life. Be in it. advertisement, the character "Norm" says "Beauty Jezza" while watching football.
Jesaulenko is mentioned in the 1985 song "The Back Upon Which Jezza Jumped" by Melbourne band TISM (This Is Serious Mum), appearing on the band's self-title demo tape. The song depicts Graeme "Jerker" Jenkin being left to be forgotten because of Jezza's spectacular mark.
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).
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.
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