Almanac Book Review: “Fabulous Phil- The Phil Carman Story” by Matt Watson


“Every generation has a player who leaves opponents, teammates, coaches and fans slack-jawed and breathless.”


Phil Carman’s VFL career spanned just eight seasons and exactly 100 games, yet he is widely remembered as one of the most brilliant and controversial players of any era in the game’s history. Author Matt Watson has delivered a compelling biography of ‘Fabulous’ Phil. Watson explains at the start how he was approached to write the book, how he sat through 11 hours of interviews with Carman in February 2016, about approaching Phil’s former teammates and coaches for comments. As becomes evident as you read, the thoughts of those Carman played with, against and under add immensely to the stories and are as important to the narrative as the views of the subject himself.


Carman’s early days in Edenhope are well covered. Family life, school, sport. A love of running. At age 15 Carman had made the Edenhope FC senior team. At 16, Collingwood came calling. Playing for Edenhope meant he was zoned to the Magpies under the VFL’s then rules. But Collingwood didn’t work hard enough, basically forgetting about Carman. Soon enough, SANFL club Norwood became interested. An ambitious club with a boarding house being built to accommodate the best young country talent they could sign up.


Norwood’s clearance application was refused by Collingwood. Carman was happy in Adelaide. The tug-of-war began. The rule breaking. His Norwood debut. His subsequent ban and standing out of football. The lucrative offers from Collingwood. The letters back and forth between Carman and Collingwood, printed in full, add greatly to the narrative. Eventually, a knee injury saw Collingwood finally clear Carman to Norwood.


Carman’s three seasons at Norwood were full of great footy and on-field controversy. But he finished 1974 disgruntled with some at the Redlegs. The next Collingwood offer would be too good to refuse.


The roller-coaster ride of Carman’s four seasons at Collingwood is wonderfully told, both from the man himself, and many of his teammates, including the likes of Peter Moore, Ray Shaw, Max Richardson and Rene Kink. The first professional footballer. Super fit, fantastic trainer, though not necessarily so much with the rest of the club. The injury that could have cost him the 1975 Brownlow Medal. The suspension that probably cost Collingwood the 1977 premiership. His aloofness at the club. His unhappy departure at the conclusion of the 1978 season.


A chapter deals with the 1979 Grand Final, which Collingwood lost by 5 points. Carman’s pain at knowing he could have made a difference. His former teammates lament that the star power that Carmen could have given wasn’t available.


The following years at Melbourne, Essendon and North Melbourne are equally well told. As in the rest of the book, the views of those around Carman at the time add much to the story. No controversy is overlooked. The infamous Graham Carbery incident, where Carman, then playing for Essendon, head-butted the boundary umpire, is explained in great depth by both parties.


Carman’s post VFL career saw coaching stints in Canberra and Bendigo. And with beautiful symmetry, a final season, winning the goalkicking at age 40, back where it all started, at Edenhope. His later stint as coach of SANFL club Sturt, rebuilding a down and out club, taking them within 9 points of a premiership. Of course, his Sturt stint finished on not great terms. Just short of the ultimate glory. Mirroring the rest of his career.


The book brings the reader right up to date with Carman’s life. A fascinating tale, meticulously researched and written by Matt Watson. No punches pulled, no controversy under-analysed.


The Phil Carman story is one that deserved and needed to be told. A highly entertaining, recommended read.


Read Matt Watson’s story on gathering the Phil Carman tale


Click here to read an extract of the book, about the time punches flew at training between Phil Carman and Max Richardson


About Luke Reynolds

Cricket and Collingwood tragic. Twitter: @crackers134


  1. Shane John Backx says

    Ahh Phil. What could have been……????

  2. Rulebook says

    I admit I have concentrated on the Norwood part of the book so far.I scored for Kensington CX as a kid and watched Fabulous Phil,Robert Oatey and Neil Craig train together in summer he was a athletic freak
    he would have bolted the 75 Brownlow in and the Pis would have won the flag in 77
    ( I admit it seems like John Wynne was not interviewed as part of the Norwood chapter which is surprising ) thanks Luke good stuff

  3. matt watson says

    Thanks Luke for the wonderful review.
    I am thrilled you enjoyed the book.

    Rulebook, you’re right about John Wynne not being interviewed.
    There were several others I wanted to interview – Francis Bourke and Steven Icke are just two.
    Ran out of time in the end!

  4. DBalassone says

    Well said Luke. A compelling and comprehensive biography that indeed covers all the highs and lows of a fascinating playing/coaching career and life.

  5. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Terrific review Luke. Carman was a precocious and prodigious talent who could have been a Collingwood great. That’s what makes his story so interesting, that’s what makes it so frustrating for a Pie fan. Kudos to Matt Watson for putting the book together.

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