Following a protracted illness, Ted Hopkins, the cult hero from Carlton who will always be known as football’s most well-known benchwarmer, passed away on Monday, November 20. He was seventy-four.
A key player in what is widely regarded as the greatest Grand Final of all time, Hopkins—the blond mop-topped rover/forward wearing the long-sleeved dark blue No. 7—literally ignited Carlton’s amazing comeback in the second half of that historic match against Collingwood 53 years ago.
As the 19th man on the bench alongside the late Neil Chandler, a Gippsland recruit who suffered an eye injury during the pre-match warm-up from a wayward football, Hopkins watched the record crowd of 121,696 watch Bob Rose’s Magpies methodically build what appeared to be an insurmountable 44-point lead during the first half of the 1970 Grand Final.
As the players emerged from the locker rooms for the third quarter, Ron Barassi called up Hopkins again, sensing from his instincts that the time was perfect for the former to have an effect. Hopkins had ignited Carlton’s second-half comeback against Collingwood in the second semifinal.
After that final Saturday in September 1970, Hopkins’ place in football history was sealed. However, it was further cemented in the Carlton premiership year of 1995 when the analytically inclined Bachelor of Science founded Champion Data, which is today a high-tech provider of fast and accurate data-driven insights. Champion Data was one of the first companies to tabulate AFL match statistics.
Although Hopkins had suffered a stroke that affected his memory in the previous years, he described the thrill of competing in major events as “utterly compelling and, I am pleased to say, everlasting” in an interview with The Age correspondent Greg Baum in April 2011.
On Grand Final day 1970, Hopkins said he “tasted something quite profound”.
Thornley, the man whom Hopkins replaced at that pivotal moment in the match, said that they were forever linked by the 1970 Grand Final, and that pivotal switch prior to the third quarter.
“We never ever lost the bond,” said Thornley, now living in the Queensland town of Gympie. “From that moment on we were teammates in achieving the one goal and that was the important thing. That was something we all learned from Ron (Barassi) that no individual matters, what matters is the cause.”
“Ted was a real character, but all the guys in that 1970 premiership team were special in one way or another. Look at ‘Gooldy’ (John Goold), ‘Perc’ (Peter Jones), ‘Big Nick’ (John Nicholls) and Syd (Jackson).”