Carlton legend Bob Green.

Carlton legend Bob Green.

IN THE welter of history that surrounds football, Bret Thornton's imminent equalling of the record for games played in the Carlton No. 32 guernsey would appear relatively small beans. Until you become acquainted with the human side of the story.

That was on display at Visy Park recently as a large group clustered around Thornton at his locker for some photos to mark the occasion.

They weren't just any normal fans, but the offspring and descendants of the man whose record Thornton will match - former Carlton wingman Bob Green - and whose story is both triumphant and tragic in equal measure.

While several Carlton greats have worn the No. 32 - Alex Duncan, Bryan Quirk and David Glascott - Green ranked with them all. His 187 games included a starring role in the Blues' famous 15-point win over Collingwood in the 1938 grand final - widely acclaimed as one of the greatest games of football played.

Green represented Victoria, served in World War II, and in his final season, 1945, was appointed vice-captain to Bob Chitty. He'd retire that same year, his place in the Blues' history assured.

Four years later, aged just 38, Green was tragically killed.

He and his wife Mary were about to board a tram in Preston. As the tram slowed and the couple stepped onto the road, Bob noticed a speeding car coming towards them. He turned to push Mary away from the danger, but tripped on the kerb and fell straight into the vehicle's path. He was grievously injured. He died in hospital the next night without regaining consciousness.

Green's widow was awarded £3000 in damages the following year by a Supreme Court jury, and her two children £1000 each. And it was one of those children - Terry - for whom this occasion will be particularly poignant.

"As a boy of around five when dad died, the memories are small," he 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 into 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 and even today it's still alive in my nostrils."

As three generations of Greens mingled with the Carlton players and coach Brett Ratten, for Terry, all sorts of emotions were stirred. His late mother's lovingly maintained collection of his father's memorabilia, including the ball from the 1938 grand final, and news clippings, have helped him build a picture of the former Carlton great.

Of his dad's tough upbringing: Bob and his four brothers fostered out to orphanages or family friends during the Depression, their own dad broken in body and spirit by what he'd witnessed during the Great War, and their mother having suffered depression.

"I have always felt the energy of my father," Terry says. "I knew there was something unwritten 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."

And there's the pain, still palpable, of having been denied an upbringing alongside his father, a hero to thousands of Carlton fans.

"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 … I could sense the sadness," he 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."

A life which for several generations of the Green family recently flickered again in the inner sanctum under the Carlton stands.

"When I was invited to come back, I just had to involve my family in this,'' Terry says.

''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."