One of Carlton's most influential modern figures, Wes Lofts, the former premiership player who became the club's foremost powerbroker on football matters, has died.
Carlton confirmed Friday morning that Lofts, 71, had died late on Thursday. He had been suffering from respiratory problems, including emphysema, but his passing still left Carlton people, including president Stephen Kernahan and past president John Elliott ''shattered''.
Whether it was the hiring of Denis Pagan, the firing of another coach, or a major recruiting coup, Lofts was usually a prime mover in the background, from the late '70s until late 2002. When Alex Jesaulenko sensationally left the club amid political turmoil in 1979, Lofts was a key player in installing another old team, Peter ''Percy'' Jones as coach, in securing David Parkin 12 months later and then bringing Roberts Walls back as coach.
While high-powered businessmen were invariably the face of the ruthless Blues, Lofts was the authority on football - first as a long-serving chairman of selectors - and then as the football man on the club board, where part of his role was to shield the football team from the businessmen - and to keep it winning.
Lofts, who debuted in 1960, was a notable player for the Blues, playing 167 games and excelling as a bruising full-back in Carlton's breakthough 1968 premiership side under Ron Barassi. He missed the storied 1970 grand final - he was dropped just before Carlton's fabled comeback from 44 points behind Collingwood - before retiring at the end of that season.
Lofts held the position as chairman of selectors for the club's glory era, when it took flags in 1979 under Alex Jesaulenko, and the 1981 and 1982 premierships coached by Parkin. He was instrumental in the appointment of Robert Walls as senior coach and remained in his back-room position for the 1987 premiership.
A close friend and ally of John Elliott, Lofts remained on the club board, before quitting when the Elliott board was swept from power late in 2002. Lofts was the person that Elliott deferred to most on football issues throughout the '80s and '90s, and he oversaw the club's resurrection in Parkin's second stint and the 1995 premiership.
''He was the footy boss, ruling right up to the day they (the Elliott board) got pushed over,'' said Kernahan on Friday. Kernahan said the word ''powerbroker'' was apt for Lofts, who had once told football official Shane O'Sullivan - who remains at the club - to ''go and get our Royce Hart''. O'Sullivan subsequently was pleased to tell Lofts he had found one playing for Glenelg, a kid called Stephen Kernahan.
''Wes was a quiet, behind-the-scenes bloke, but if powerbroker was ever used for a word, he was probably one of them,'' said Kernahan. ''He did it silently. He loved the footy club.''
Veteran official O'Sullivan recalled on Friday how he had travelled in Lofts' porsche, in great haste, to secure a burly backman from Geelong, Mario Bortolotto and the pair duly signed the Cat on a napkin in a Geelong coffee shop.
Lofts had succeeded another consummate back-room boy, the late Jack Wrout, as chairman of selectors in 1978. He was renowned for his shrewd judgment of footballers and coaches, his dry wit, and was one of the people who shaped Carlton's ruthless culture in its most successful period.
He was, as Kernahan attested, a much larger figure within the club than to the outside world. He remained tight with many old teammates and directors, particularly Peter Kerr, (ex-premiership player) Barry Armstrong and Elliott.
Lofts wasn't looking well at Christmas time, said Kernahan, who had thought Lofts ''indestructible'', adding, ''Obviously it cut him down quick at the end, it was just shattering.'' He is survived by his son and daughter.
Jake Niall is a senior sports writer at 'The Age' specialising mainly in coverage of the AFL. He writes a weekly column for 'The Sunday Age' and has been on staff with 'The Age' or 'Sunday Age' since 1995. Jake, who combines original news with commentary, match-based writing, features and analysis, has won a number of awards, including the Alf Brown award for the best performer in AFL media in 2012, the Melbourne Press Club's 2007 Quill award for best sports story in any medium and a Walkley award, shared with colleagues Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie, Caroline Wilson and John Silvester, for best coverage of a major issue (Essendon scandal) in 2013.