Carlton: Trust us, we’re professionals

Carlton supporters are a mixed bunch.  They reflect the diverse history of the suburb that spawned the club. Western district conservative scions have rubbed shoulders with lefty academics. Italian traders mingle with anglo lawyers. Its members come from old money, new money, but mostly from not much money at all. By inclination its followers are optimists, pessimists, perfectionists, the perennially outraged and the stoically faithful. Often, the only area of common ground is the footy team. Unsurprisingly, Carlton has had some Shakespearean stoushes through its history. On current form, we’re heading toward another.


I don’t know if Brendon Bolton was ever going to coach us to a premiership. Our recent history of results certainly didn’t do much to support him. In any case, it is now a moot point. But I do know he was employed by Carlton to do a job. A job that by any reasonable calculation has taken at least 5-8 years at any other club that’s needed to tackle the dreaded ‘Rebuild’. Most of those clubs weren’t the basket case that we were back in mid- 2015, when this whole ‘Journey’ began. So, 3 ½ years into that 5-8 year process, to sack the coach you hired is a pretty blatant admission things aren’t going as planned.


I quote the official reason for the decision, as expressed by President Mark LoGiudice:


“Quite simply the lack of wins has fallen short of what our football club expects at this stage of its development. There was an expectation this season that we would start to see the benefits of that development however to this point that has not occurred to the level we expected and Carlton cannot afford to sit back and wait any longer.”


The lack of wins have been plain to all for some time. It has been thus far explained as a consequence of a playing list that has got younger and less experienced with each successive year of the rebuild strategy. Last year, you could add a rotten run with injuries. I’m already on record as seeing acceptable reasons for last season’s debacle. To judge from its pronouncements, so could the club.


So Bolton’s demise comes down to results this season. Let’s consider the year so far. Rounds 1-3 were virtual carbon copies of each other – competitive, but with enough poor patches and mistakes to prevent a win. Our Round 4 performance against the Suns was flat, but we were still in front until we butchered the last few minutes. We then bounced back next round to towel up the Doggies. At half time against the Hawks we were a rosy five goals up, before Kreuzer got hurt and we surrendered the lead with a poor 3rd term. Even then, if the siren rang one second later Harry McKay would have had a shot to win the game. So even though we sat 1-5, the sentiment among fans and media was reasonably upbeat.


The last five rounds proved Bolton’s undoing. Admittedly, four out of those five performances stank. I exclude the effort against a superior Collingwood team, where we led until run down in the final ten minutes. There was a lot to disappoint in that period, but it still feels like we got from steady-as-she-goes to off-with-his-head in pretty short time. So what happened?


One thing that definitely happened was the baying crescendo of unhappiness from some Blues fans, fuelled in no small way by parts of the footy media.


Carlton fans of my vintage had it pretty good until this century. But under John Elliott’s long presidency, we were constantly told that instant gratification was our birthright. We never did rebuilds. Well, we’ve all seen where that kind of thinking led us. But there remains to this day a section of the Carlton support base that still behaves like trust fund kiddies who’ve had the money tap turned off. Certain habits die hard with some, if they ever die at all.


These people aren’t the majority. At the members’ forum earlier this year, most of the crowd gave them pretty short shrift. But they are consistently noisy, if nothing else. They’re the ones who declared Brett Ratten couldn’t coach, before he’d ever coached a  game. They celebrated the arrival of Malthouse. They’re probably also amongst the many now demanding we ask Ratten to coach us again. If they make little sense, they at least provide a certain grim humour in these unhappy times.


They are also the sort susceptible to the footy media’s blowtorch righteousness. As the AFL  commentary field has expanded, this weekly whack-a-mole routine has become the entire stock in trade of certain pundits. Last Sunday’s game against Essendon was a classic example. How could they lose? Whichever team lost, they had their headline. John Worsfold must have viewed Monday’s proceedings with a sense of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God.


The genuinely striking thing about this collective of complaint is the almost total absence of any practical alternative suggestions. So much hot air, so few ideas.  And no, getting Alastair Clarkson doesn’t count – unless you can actually do the deal. Any numerate six year old can count wins and losses. Serious football professionals earn their money by divining the underlying causes of those wins and losses. And providing solutions.


Which is why I am hoping against my better judgement that this week’s events are based on more than an inability to withstand the heat. Because, with all respect to David Teague, for the second time in four years, half a season feels at risk of being chucked in the bin. And I’m not sure how that’s going to aid the development of the young players we’ve gone through so much pain to acquire.


The board is insisting this is not a change in strategy, just personnel. In the circumstances, they have little choice. You can espouse all the new values you want, but if you can’t live them then don’t expect anyone to take you seriously. With this decision, the New Carlton has developed a very strong whiff of the Old Carlton. Which is no real shock, because some of the board actually are the Old Carlton. They’d just claimed they’d seen the light.


As things stand, the only thing saving the current administration is the absence of a credible challenge. That, and the promise made in 2015 that we would give up our increasingly deranged sense of entitlement and finally join the modern football world. But the next coaching appointment better be the right choice, or else the heat of the last few weeks will  feel like a cool summer breeze. The fear then would be that the whole club could go up in flames.



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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.


  1. Dave Brown says

    It’s tough work, John, being constantly at this stage of development. Can’t help but feel that the problem runs a heck of a lot deeper than the coach. And not being able to wait – bizarre logic if they don’t then explain what they are not waiting for. The draft pick trade with the Crows was an anvil tied to Bolton’s ankle. Having gambled on finishing around 12th or better, every loss is further amplified this season. I suppose old boys clubs are natural in the football world but there’s a few that could do with clearing out.

  2. John Butler says

    Dave, the old cliche about win/loss was being repeated like it was an immutable law of nature. What it really represents is the triumph of footy emotion over footy logic.

  3. Citrus bob says

    Thank you JB. “As usual thought provoking and joyous to us non-bluebaggers.
    I look at the players they have got from other club in the last four years and think what tree did the recruiters jump out of – UNBELIEVABLE! Tell me one who was a regular, regular with his former club?

    Secondly I worry that SOS has the job when his sons are on the list.

    Thirdly Bolton was on a hiding to nothing. His decorum at his execution was admirable.

    Fourthly what a wonderful starting lineup the Bluebaggers would have with the following in the team – Jacobs, Betts, Robinson, Kennedy, Tuohy et al.
    I rest my case Your Worship JB

  4. Can’t help but wonder how Mitch McGovern thinks about jumping from the frying pan into the fire (transferring from the Crows to Carlton).

  5. John Butler says

    CB, you pinpoint one of the problems that sunk Bolton. I reckon the younger draft picks and trades have generally been good, but the older players selected as stop-gaps have almost to a man been duds. This left us with a midfield of Crippa, Murph, E Curnow and a bunch of kids.

    Fisho, Mitch just needs to keep applying the sunscreen. It’s likely to get hot.

  6. I hope I am wrong but the reaction to just a couple of poor performances looks and feels reactionary, short sighted and weak ………. he has gone from being a good coach to a bad coach in the twinkling of an eye !!!!

    and I may be alone here, but the obsession with Win/Loss as the ONLY measure of success or progress drives me up the wall.

    I have heard Paul Roos during his time at Melbourne speak of his desire to cover the scoreboard so his players could learn the right things to do and then judge that in its merits rather than on the scoreboard. It seems to me Carlton need the same for the league ladder. Brendan Bolton realised this, but an apparently ignorant board do not.

    History will judge Bolton well. The board? Not so much

  7. John Butler says

    Mark, you’re definitely not alone.

  8. With you on footy meedja JB. Footy will eat itself. Too much time and space chasing too little news. Talkback and BIG Footy threads driving the narrative. Hardly bother to watch AFL 360 or listen to SEN/6PR this year as it seems like more shouting and irrational argument than an election campaign. Still enjoy going to games to watch McGovernJ; Hurn; Sheppard; Shuey; Yeo; Rioli; Ryan and KENNEDY (just rubbing it in) – but watching fewer “other” games than ever. 18 teams feels like circuses in place of bread. AFL more broadly joining horse racing; politics and cricket on my “can’t be bothered watching” list.
    My feeling is that the Bolton selection was more the problem than his sacking. There are people who are outstanding #2’s – the brains of the gang behind the scenes. But don’t have the overarching skill set for #1 in an organisation. Motivator; strategist; psychologist; assassin and gravitas are a rare combination. Carlton bought Radar when they needed Colonel Potter and we got Hawkeye from the Clarkson MASH unit.
    Too often too late to the dance and taking last year’s model.
    Roos or Ross would be millions well spent. You need an experienced hand to rebuild Notre Dame – not the work experience lad who minded the till while the boss took a break.

  9. John Butler says

    PB, you may well be right about Bolton. The conditions of his employment (no long term contract) suggested the board had employed him to be teacher, not THE guy.

    But why jump now? Are we really better off for the rest of the year with ANOTHER stand-in?

    My real concern is what motivated the move, because that will indicate future behavior. I hope they made a measured call that he was as you describe. But the way things went down on Monday looked like something very different.

    As for the next pick? You can only get someone who’s available.

  10. Rulebook says

    JB thought provoking I can’t see how SOS survives what was the kids name from GWS who got traded for pick 7 or so ? As the best coach I have been involved with,John Griffen says it’s a fine line between pleasure and pain beat the Suns,Hawks and Pies,Bolton would be being lauded as the saviour.Carlton really haven’t recovered from,John Elliot’s arrogance but as we all no it can turn quickly,Brisbane seemingly be the latest case.If the blues win this week is is time for a club to sack the coach every week of the season and finish undefeated premiers ?

  11. Colin Ritchie says

    Ahhh… the frustrations of supporting a team not performing! Enjoyed your informed and articulated post which has generated much comment, comment that is thought provoking, meaningful and to the point.

  12. Yvette Wroby says

    The Football Solution: How Richmond’s Premiership Can Save Australia…George showed us here how supporting the Richmond coach Damian Hardwick rather than set the club back as coach sackings do, is the way to both save the club and way to do politics better. The constant footy chatter and criticism is like a cancer. I hope the Saints avoid this pitfall.

    John I love your insight and writing.

  13. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    JB – Methinks it’s time for your Baggers to embrace populism. Seems to be a successful political strategy at the moment.
    So, never mind the ‘We’re Coming’ or ‘We’re Cooking’. Just go with ‘Reclaim Carlton’ or ‘Make Carlton Great Again’ and I’m sure you’ll be premiers again sometime this century.

  14. JB- I feel honoured that I was treated to a working version of this the other Friday in the NFA front bar. If only a member of the Carlton board was at that lunch and heard George tell the story of the famous Richmond board meeting and the plummeting graph with the red dots representing the sacking of a coach to negative ladder position effect. Would they have changed their collective minds?

  15. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thoughtful stuff there JB

    Do we need a Champion Data equivalent for club boardrooms, admin, coaches and recruiting ?

    M Malthouse commented sometime this week about the difference between Collingwood and Carlton, something along the lines that the Pies viewed everything through a giant windscreen, the Blues through a huge rear view mirror.

  16. E.regnans says

    G’day J Butler,
    I admire your writing. Such clarity, such application of logic.

    No one will ever know whether B Bolton could have raised a flag at Princes Park.

    Gee I love the ongoing soap opera of Carlton.
    Carlton is Good For Football.

  17. DBalassone says

    Measured words JB. I feel for Brendon Bolton. You turn over 75% of the list in the first two seasons, something’s gotta give. But I have to say, two things stuck with me re Bolton which haven’t been discussed much this week:
    1) Winning 6 out of 7 games in his first season (2016) was a minor miracle. They were coming of a spoon and went to the halfway mark at 6 and 5. There was a bit of Luke Beveridge about it all. I know the wheels fell off thereafter, but it’s gotta mean something.
    2) From a personal point of few, Carlton’s performances against Collingwood over the past few years. The Blues beat Collingwood in 2016 and 2017 and about 3 weeks ago had the better of the Pies for about 115 minutes. Having attended these games, I have to say I was impressed by the gameplan and the work ethic of these Carlton sides. I thought they were going places.
    I know 4 wins from 43 is hard to defend (75% list change, hello?), but I would have stuck with Bolton until the end of this season, just in case the tide turned.

  18. John Butler says

    Thanks for the comments folks. An interesting range of observations. I love it when the Footy Almanac applies its collective thinking to a subject. Though I can’t claim to be loving this particular subject.

    Rulebook – I suspect that pick 7 trade you’re thinking of was the convoluted deal that ended up getting us Kristian Jaksch. That was before SOS’s time. Even by our stellar standards, that was a flop.

    Col, one of the many disappointing things about last Sunday was the opportunity missed to see the fun that would have gone on at Essendon this week, had you lost. I doubt that is a prospect that has gone away entirely.

    Yvette, the longer this goes on, the more appreciation I have for all those Saints supporters in Moorabbin that I grew up with.

    Phil, how great is Carlton!!!

    Mickey, you are one of the few who would describe it as an honour to hear me go on about Carlton. I appreciate your generosity in these difficult times.

    Swish, all this week needed was some more gratuitous advice from M Malthouse. He duly delivered. Unlike his coaching efforts for us.

    ER, all of the ‘Big” Victorian clubs have had their respective periods in the wilderness. I’m just glad we could make such a notable contribution to the public entertainment. I would, however, like it to cease.

    DB, you make more measured observations about Carlton than I’ve heard from most of my fellow Baggers. This is where we’re at. Collingwood supporters are the sensible ones in the room.

    Thanks, all.

  19. Thanks for this erudite piece, JB. John Elliott and Ian Collins must take the lion’s share of the blame for the ongoing Carlton debacle.

    I must say that I was a little surprised that Carlton actually pulled the trigger on Bolton, and I was even more shocked that the footy media (apart from Gerard Whately) supported the decision. It was an old-style Carlton beheading, performed to appease the baying masses (of which the footy media was a large cohort).

    The smart thing for the Blues would have been to bring in a mentor, a senior type assistant. This could have been spun as “We are supporting Brendon through this tough time of injuries and youth.” The caveat is that the “soft cap” would make this difficult.

    The heat is very much now on Silvagni and various other back-room boys, much the same as North’s issues cannot and should not be laid at the feet of Brad Scott.

    My final comment is reserved for the board: they, too, must take ownership of what is potentially looming as more wasted years for Carlton.

  20. Thanks so much JB, what a great read. And very valuable context and insight for this new Carlton fan, who hadn’t paid much attention to AFL really before moving to Melbourne and joining the Blues.

    And Mark – definitely definitely not alone. The way the win/loss is set up as be all/end all is a shit way to run a club and make decisions like this. Other measures matter too.

  21. John Butler says

    Somke, if there’s one thing our media in general can do, it’s group think.

    Yvette, all I can do is commend your fortitude to be getting on board at this time. We’re hardly a promising investment as things stand.

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