Almanac Life and Footy: Political Football







Anthony Albanese has his three faiths: the ALP, Roman Catholicism and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. My three are the ALP, the Uniting Church and the Carlton Blues.


1972 was my annus mirabilis seeing Carlton win the Grand Final and Gough Whitlam and Labor winning the election after 23 years in opposition. (I had only been alive for eight of these!)


This year will be 23 years since Carlton was in a Grand Final and, at 8-2, we are daring to dream…


The last time we were in the finals, 2013, was thanks to the expulsion of Essendon in a blatantly political move by the AFL. The ALP lost the election on 7 September and Carlton played Richmond in an Elimination Final the following day. We won but lost the following week.


Last Friday night, Carlton played Sydney at Docklands: Blue versus Red. Of course I was barracking for the Blue Team, which duly won – not before giving me a fright!


The decks were clear for the election. This time I was barracking for the Red Team!


The Teal Team, making their debut at this election, won some inner city areas (contrasted with Port Adelaide, forced to play in teal, who played Geelong at Geelong, Labor heartland, and lost).


Elections and footy are opposites. You don’t know the result at the beginning, but in footy you know the result at the final siren. The election has been decided by the votes in the ballot boxes but you don’t know the result until they are counted. In footy, it mostly depends on the players – the crowd can make a difference at the margin. In elections, it is the crowd who decides it.


You stand around in your team colours, hoping that how-to-vote card makes a difference. At least you end up close to home unlike the footy where you have the long trip home knowing the result.


Looking at my life as a Carlton and Labor supporter, I have to concede that Carlton have done better under the Coalition than Labor. Our flags in 1968, 1970 and 1972 were all achieved under Coalition governments. Whitlam was elected in December 1972 – we lost the 1973 Grand Final! The next period of success, flags in 1979, 1981 and 1982, was all under the Prime Ministership of Malcolm Fraser, himself a Carlton supporter. Ironically, the 17-year Prime Ministership of Robert Menzies, another Carlton supporter, from 1949 to 1966, was a barren time for Carlton. Indeed Carlton’s premiership drought from 1945 to 1968 matches Labor’s 23 years in opposition from 1949 to 1972.


We lost the 1986 Grand Final under Hawke but then won the following year. Not a great return for eight years of Hawke (who supported the Swans – I’m not sure why!). The 1987 premiership came after Hawke had won his third term with a double dissolution election win in July. Paul Keating, who defeated Hawke in 1991 in the contest for Labor leader, plumped for Collingwood, which suited him, but I don’t think he was ever a True Believer. His politics was always more Rugby League than AFL.


John Elliott became Carlton president in 1983, providing a Liberal counterpoint to Hawke. He became President of the Liberal Party in 1987 and thus presided over our premiership that year. He was still President of Carlton for our most recent Premiership in 1995, the last that money could buy – before the draft and salary cap took hold. During his long reign, the club came to be identified with him – painful to a Labor Blue!


Another man who bridges the two worlds is Justin Madden, giant Carlton ruckman who memorably had a bounce in the 1987 Grand Final then became Labor Member for Essendon in the Victorian Parliament and a minister in the Bracks/Brumby governments.


Elliott’s reign came to an abrupt and painful end in 2002 after we achieved our first wooden spoon. It transpired that Carlton had systematically circumvented the salary cap and there were fines and draft penalties that penalised the club rather than the people involved.


John Howard, a Sydneysider, won his first election in 1996 having lost in 1987. I am not aware of him having any interest in football, but he was a cricket tragic. Labor was led to defeat in 1998 and 2001 by Kim Beazley from WA, a Dockers supporter. 2004 was a nadir for both Carlton and the ALP. Carlton won the wooden spoon and the ALP, under Mark Latham, another Sydney hard man, lost so badly that the Coalition took control of the Senate.


Carlton’s fortunes started to improve in 2007 with new leadership. Labor, under the new leadership of Kevin Rudd, won the election in November.


Carlton made the finals 2009 to 2011 but could not get to the Grand Final. In 2009, we lost to Brisbane in Brisbane by 7 points. Rudd, a Queenslander, supported the Brisbane Lions and it was piquant that his deputy and nemesis Julia Gillard, supported the Western Bulldogs. The two met in the semi-final with the Bulldogs victorious, an omen for Gillard who ousted Rudd the following year.


2010 was the year the election produced a hung parliament and a drawn Grand Final.


Carlton finished fifth in 2011 and won the Elimination Final against Essendon but again lost in an interstate semi-final, this time to West Coast.


Bill Shorten, a Collingwood supporter, engineered both the replacement of Rudd by Gillard in 2010 (the year Collingwood won the Grand Final Replay) and the change back to Rudd in 2013. After the 2013 loss, he became leader. Carlton too went through a period of sacking coaches – from Wayne Brittain in 2002, Denis Pagan in 2007, Brett Ratten in 2012, Mick Malthouse in 2015, Brendon Bolton in 2019, and David Teague in 2021. The irony is that these coaches were sacked for lack of success yet Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull were all replaced after winning an election, before they had the chance to lose one!


Perhaps we should look at prior experience like prior ministerial experience. It is striking that both Abbott and Turnbull had previous stints as Opposition Leader before they became PM. This applied to John Howard too. It is also notable that David Parkin coached Carlton in two stints. There have been no second acts at Carlton since his retirement in 2000.


Different games, different stakes. Both need teams and inspiring leaders. In footy, winning the premiership is the pinnacle. In politics, winning the election is just the beginning. Well, Labor has done its bit. Over to you, Blueboys!




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