Almanac Footy: The Teague Train – No brakes, only one gear, ran out of rail

 

When Jack Elliot infamously declared that Carlton didn’t do rebuilds, there was the usual Jack blend of hubris mixed with arrogance. Intentionally or not, Jack was also admitting something about the nature of the Carlton beast. He would know a bit about that, as his era still casts a disproportionate shadow over the club today. That’s because the club has achieved nothing in the last 20 years to usurp his decidedly mixed legacy.

 

The affection several prominent Tory politicians have historically held for the Carlton Football Club has seen it too easily written off as a Silvertail club by outsiders. But one fascinating thing about the old Melbourne VFL/AFL clubs is how much of the character of their origin suburbs they manage to retain,  even as their various diasporas scatter far and wide. Collingwood long ago left The Flat, but they are still Collingwood in their minds. They still tell themselves the world’s against them. And Carlton is most definitely still Carlton, for better and worse.

 

Establishment money has only ever been one part of the Carlton story. We were the original football hooligans who gathered to challenge the MCC toffs. In its changing times, the Carlton suburb has been working class and bourgeois, a landing place for immigrant communities, a hotbed of academia, music and the arts. It still retains undertones of criminality. It has a significant Jewish element still. And of course, there’s the obvious Italian influence.

 

The footy club’s history often parallels with that nice Italian family, the Borgias. There is certainly ambition. Treachery is undeniable. Bribery has doubtless played a part, though I can’t vouch for incest and simony. Blood has most definitely been spilled in pursuit of great prizes. The first man to turn Carlton into a VFL powerhouse was Jack Worrall, and after he coached us to three consecutive premierships we found reason to turf him out. And so it has gone from there.

 

All of this seeks to explain why we’re such a rowdy, impatient mob. And why running us will never be straightforward.

 

This has certainly been a season to test Carlton tempers. The administration promised a finals payoff after years of pain. A couple of big dollar recruits were traded in. The Teague Train furnace was fully stoked and ready for action. Then we were reminded that the age of coal has passed.

 

What we got from David Teague’s team in 2021 turned out to be more or less what we got in 2019 and 2020. The side could play attractive stretches of football, even against the best sides, but it lacked robustness and endurance of method. When the tide turned against us no one knew what to do, players or coaches. Week after week we would lose in similar ways. Teague often identified the causes in the wash up to a loss, yet those causes remained persistent. Our midfield was too often flogged around stoppages, conceding too many inside 50’s. Under frequent assault, our defensive system (if you could call it that) devolved to a complete reliance on Jacob Weitering and Liam Jones to beat their opponents one-out. They performed heroically, but it was finger-in-the-dike stuff. Worst of all, general team effort still appeared to be conditional.

 

Like most Carlton fans, I was sufficiently beguiled by our better moments to retain hope. We lurched to Round Ten with a 4-6 record. Round 11 against Sydney saw us lead at ¾ time. Hope was alive. Then we tamely accepted defeat in that final quarter. Hope was fading. The next game saw us meekly capitulate to a West Coast team missing a dozen of its best. Hope left the building for me. The inevitable review was announced. If ever the players were going to lift for the coach, Round 13 against GWS was the time. What was presented felt like a grand F*&K YOU to both coach and supporters. From that point on I personally tuned out.

 

Events largely beyond our doing conspired to keep us a ‘mathematical chance’. Ironically, there will be few seasons where it would have been easier to flop into 8th position than this one. Despite this, we really were nowhere near it. David Teague doubtless retained hope of continuing, but it was hard to envisage any kind of review that didn’t end up focusing on coaching in these circumstances.

 

The truth of the matter is that if David Teague had provided tangible evidence over the last two seasons that he could grow into his job, and bring the team along with him, he would probably still have that job. For this Carlton board to have to admit that it had got a coaching appointment wrong AGAIN involves no small loss of skin. So much skin in fact, that even a group as impervious as this one has read the wind sufficiently for half of them to vacate the premises.

 

Of course things have been difficult since the review began. Of course it would have undermined confidence among those in the firing line. When is it ever not unpleasant for someone to lose their job? Neither Teague nor his assistant coaches set out to fail. To be fair to them all, the circumstances of the last two Covid-disrupted seasons would have presented challenges never imagined. But many other clubs have done better in these circumstances.

 

As is now expected, the footy media has reported all of this in a manner that would make a pack of dogs on heat look orderly. Logic need not apply, you are not required. Many pundits who previously declared Teague lacking are suddenly outraged he’s been judged similarly by the club. This is not to suggest that Carlton hasn’t deserved a whack. But so much of recent commentary has really just been pearl-clutching hypocrisy and offense to common sense.

 

For longsuffering Carlton fans, this review provided yet another opportunity for the club to take stock. So what to make of it? The curated excerpts released thus far feel tailored to support the decisions announced. This invites cynicism for that very convenience. Given the likelihood we’ll never see the full scope of review findings, I’d like to offer the review I’d have sought.

 

Reflecting on this whole rebuild process, which really began with the 2015 Draft, can the club’s leaders truthfully say that their nerve didn’t begin to falter after that bleak 2018 season which yielded just 2 wins and many beltings? In hindsight, were the 2019 decisions to replace Brendon Bolton with Teague as caretaker, then to make Teague the full time coach, not just further examples of the Board reacting to the supporter base? Has the selection philosophy that appeared to reign under Teague’s watch provided the best development opportunities for the young talent the club spent three drafts acquiring from 2015?  To judge from the few public admissions on the matter, can we not attribute the obvious tension that developed between Stephen Silvagni and Cain Liddle, leading to Silvagni’s departure, to the fact that Liddle had strayed from his own brief into areas of list management? Has that pattern continued? Has this had any impact on the club’s choice of free agency trade targets? Has the recent trend to signing several long-term big money deals compromised the club’s ability to recontract it’s future stars?

 

I won’t be holding my breath waiting for answers to that lot. For all that Carlton claims to have changed, there are still so many questions not properly answered. To judge from his early offerings, Luke Sayers realises communication must improve, but that is a miserably low bar to be clearing at this stage of proceedings.

 

The prospect of a Clarko Hail Mary has provided a tantalising distraction to proceedings. Ultimately, it may prove to be a good thing that it won’t happen. The whole necessity of rebuilding Carlton in the first place was to drag it into the modern football world, ridding us of our Messiah dependency. We unwillingly acknowledged the footy world was different under AFL rules only when we had no choice. It’s no real surprise we look barely adapted to the task of patiently sticking to a plan.

 

David Teague had the benefit of a list that had been thoughtfully assembled under Brendon Bolton, matured, then added to with free agents. It’s not a perfect list by any means, but there’s plenty to work with. After a promising start, Teague’s problem was that he and the team appeared to have hit a wall. I don’t think it’s much more complicated than that.

 

The predicament of those who sacked him is much more complicated. To be honest, like many Carlton supporters, I am now beyond the reach of reassuring words. The club can only expect to be judged on the decisions it makes and the results those decisions produce. Even the Carlton board would realise this next coaching appointment is their last shot.

 

 

 

For more from John, click HERE.

 

 

 

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE

 

 

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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.

Comments

  1. Your introduction suggested an Italian family theme. I immediately thought of The Sopranos. Your board does a nice line in gambling rackets and confidence men. Big Pussy has been whacked, joining a long list of the disappeared.
    The rest largely paralleled my own 2021 with the West Coast Eagles. Both our teams and our personal interest in AFL tuned out about Round 13. Poorly targeted trades and long term contracts for underperforners strikes a chord. Expensive in both salary cap and draft opportunities foregone. I’ll see you and raise you McGovern, Gaff, Darling and Kelly. At least your best talent is still young.
    AFL clubs need an actuary in their football department to factor in declining footy life expectancy with age and injury. “Past returns are not a guarantee of future performance”.
    Returning to the Italian theme you are now likely to sign Paulie Walnuts as coach, after he finishes his stretch in the media pen for overstaying his visa at Fremantle. Not a personal favourite but a man who doesn’t tolerate fools or lack of effort. His track record with bringing discipline and focus to talented but wayward clubs is exemplary.
    Like Carmela Soprano it is probably best to hold your nose and look the other way while gratefully accepting the rewards that may come with being married to a standover man.

  2. Hi John

    It really is hard following a team that isn’t going anywhere. It’s even harder when you don’t see the games and the only ‘commentary’ you encounter comes not from family/friends who share your affliction (another line on the COVID rap sheet), but from the cretins that dominate the FB club sites and the SEN talkback lines. It becomes not just depressing and exhausting, but actually irritating and not worth wasting time with (even when you have no better use for it). Which is my way of saying, these days I’m nowhere near close enough to the action to have a clue what I’m talking about. But I’ll throw my silver-coin-donation’s worth in anyway.

    I have a slightly different read on the Teague appointment. Bolton was hopeless on game day and had to go. Teague took the caretaker role, the team improved and he got the gig full time – absolutely AGAINST the expressed wishes of the dreaded Influential Bloody Supporters who have run the joint since time immoral, and whose most recent chest-thump had foisted the egregiously past-it, (but a) available and b) able to boast the record and ‘legendary’ reputation the IBS’s gargantuan egos demanded), Mickey Mathouse. When the Teague train started developing flat tyres, the new opportunities to say ‘I told you so!’ and resume throwing their weight around seemed to be a consolation prize barely less coveted than the alternative of Teague delivering the on-field success demanded.

    .

  3. John Butler says

    PB, your early assessment of your Eagles proved pretty spot on, though they flattered to deceive early.

    I went Borgias over Sopranos because the Borgias were handier with arsenic, which we all may need if this keeps up.

    Ric, there are many better things to do in the world than follow modern footy media. I think a lot of them love the sound of their own voices much more than they love the game. Bring back Lou, Jack and Bobby D.

    I don’t think we’re that far apart on Teague’s appointment. I don’t think they intended him to become senior coach. Then he gave us a sugar hit by prioritising the older players once more. And Cripps had a purple patch .The common theme here is a Board too reactive to supporter sentiment. There’s little hope of seeing a rebuild through if you do that.

    So the net result is that we’ve spun our wheels for 2 years with the younger players. Nevertheless, I hold out some hope. I don’t think the team is that far off finals with the right coaching structure. Anything beyond finals? Who Knows.

    Hang in there.

  4. An eloquent summing up of the Carlton situation, JB.

    It was most important that some board members be collateral damage, so some sort of fresh start (other than just the coach) takes place. Although the Greg Williams appointment greatly concerns me (I will talk to you about this off-line).

    Next year will be interesting to watch.

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