Round 12 – Carlton v West Coast: Here we go again


I think we all have a fair idea how this goes by now. If Carlton hasn’t been able to reliably let its football argue its case in the 21st Century, we have at least run a steady line in melodrama for footy scribes grateful for the fodder. It must be said that some of our more excitable ‘influential supporter’ demographic also appear to love the intrigue almost as much as they love the sound of their own voices. At least someone is getting something out of all of this.


After the Round 11 loss to Sydney, I wrote that a complete review of the football department now looked inevitable. Such was the nature of our capitulation to West Coast, the inevitable became the imminent, if not the immediate. Our meek acceptance of defeat to a severely depleted Eagles team, in a contest that regularly struggled to reach state league standard, couldn’t have looked more like a tipping point if Malcolm Gladwell had scripted it.


On a ground they hadn’t won at since 1999, the Eagles brutally demonstrated everything we currently lack. Missing numerous key personnel, they just slotted different players in and got to it. Their remaining senior players all rose to the challenge. Sheed, Gaff,  Hurn, Redden and Yeo rolled their sleeves up and outworked us at the contest. Their newbies all understood their roles and contributed. Nic Nat, of course, was too much for Pitto, though to his credit, Pitto at least worked hard enough to lead our tackle count. He didn’t have much company.


In response, Carlton coughed up 3 easy goals to open proceedings, then flattered to deceive for a while, squandering scoring chances, contriving to trail 3-6  to 4-1 at ¼ time. We momentarily hit the front  twice from that point, only to see West Coast instantly reclaim the lead both times. As the game wore on contested ball, stoppages, one-percenters, clearances – basically every indicator of effort – just fell more the Eagles way. Trailing by 16 points at the final break, we could barely raise a whimper.


The Eagles were under-manned, but they revealed themselves to be pros. We mostly looked like we were going through the motions. The 22 point margin was extremely flattering. West Coast won pulling up.


Carlton’s football has sent all sorts of mixed messages this season. Now the club administration appears determined to do likewise. An external review of the football department has been announced, yet the current president has reinforced that David Teague is contracted until the end of 2022. As pretty much every coach is contracted until sacked, Teague can draw what comfort he chooses from that statement. Our most senior assistant coach, John Barker, has already resigned. We don’t yet know the names of those who will be making the review. There is the appearance of a flurry of action, though the specific purpose of this action is not yet clearly defined.


With our finals aspirations for 2021 now thoroughly shot, we might as well get on with the inevitable task of reviewing what has gone wrong. Clearly, the team is not functioning as hoped. But given the recent history of our club, I’d like to see some tangible evidence that this review will be genuinely free to ask any and all questions of whomever it sees fit. Let’s remember, it was the administration who largely saddled Teague with the expectation of finals this year. If it transpires that this expectation has impacted on decisions of the football department, would that issue be open to be explored?


In other words, is this one of those reviews where the desired answers are already largely established, to the convenience of those in power, or will it be free to follow where the evidence demands, even if it proves uncomfortable for senior people? Given Nathan Buckley’s decision yesterday, can we be sure Carlton isn’t tempted by another quick fix? The age of the messiah certainly hasn’t died among some of our fans. Can we be assured it is dead within the club?


When David Teague moved from interim to THE coach in 2019, the club sold him to the members as a ready-made coach. After that season, I was among a crowd at a Footy Almanac lunch that heard Teague speak impressively about his ambitions for the team, the style of play he wanted to pursue, and his belief in what he thought the team could achieve. At that stage it was easy to understand why he’d got the job. That man seemed very different from the one speaking after Sunday’s game.


Beyond any specific football operation questions, Carlton needs to examine some more fundamental issues. The business and financial aspects of the club now seem back on track, but footy clubs aren’t conventional businesses. Members don’t join to admire the club’s balance sheet. Their passion is the team and its players. In essence, a footy club needs to be an enabling environment. Back in Carlton’s heyday, our methods were often unconventional, the characters involved were a motley crew, but the club found a way to make its people better. That’s a knack we seem to have lost sometime around the late-Elliot period. Does anyone look particularly enabled at present?


Things are not all doom and gloom. We are in a much better position than those dark 2015 days. It hasn’t all been a waste. Brendon Bolton did some very hard yards to get us through to 2019. David Teague took that team and made it look instantly better, but is now stuck treading water. Like Bolton, there’s a chance Teague has run out of answers. But above any questions of hiring or firing individuals, the club needs to be completely honest with itself about what it is doing to the people who come to it. If we can’t do that, then how do we expect to get better?



For more from John, click 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.


  1. Bryon Issa says

    Hey John , great summation of the situation at the Carlton FC now is faced with . I agree that the whole department from footy manager down needs to be stripped back and a when and if rehiring of new people is required ,that it be done with a clear aim to hire people that demand certain standards. It looks from the outside that football club just thought that progression would come in a linear fashion , without the hard work needed to complete the task of rebuilding. The club has a chance now , with enough good players listed , to take a very hard stance and demand better. There needs to be a clear detailed and unified path forward , that we must not deviate from. Selection integrity , adherence to team rules , and a selflessness towards to each other are paramount to team success. The job of this review is to find out if the current group of players have the belief that what they are training week to week will give them success. If not , unfortunately for David Teague and his coaching staff it will be time to move on. From the outside , it doesn’t look like most of the players have that belief.

  2. John Butler says

    Byron, I reckon the club already thought they had all of that in place. That’s what makes me dubious now.

    And if we feel the need to go outside the club to make assessments, what is that saying?

    I think there are issues beyond Teague.

  3. Footy coaching or leading any large complex organisation is a thankless task. Was watching the ESPN 30 for 30 doco on the Two Bills – Parcell and Bellichek – both multiple NFL Super Bowl winning coaches. Struck me how much the long apprenticeship under Parcells had moulded Bellichek.
    How to deal with management. When to stick and when to strike out on your own. Having a game plan suited to the playing list – and the intertwined dance to find the right mix of each component. Now vaunted players talking about their early uncertainties and how much belief in the coach’s message gave them confidence to execute. And how fragile that was with a few key departures or injuries bringing down the house of cards. Failure an orphan and success with a thousand fathers.
    How so little of the public face of a coach is the real work. How even game day results are only a result of a much longer and deeper process of months and years. And the fickle finger of fate that separates the successful from the almost men.
    What struck me about Carlton on Sunday was how many talented players looked lost and uncertain. Teague’s job above all else is to give them an effective method to craft a few wins around and begin to build belief.
    Cripps has gone from champion to plodder in a year. Injury. Or did he take too much on his own shoulders and is now broken from the effort. I kept thinking how much Kade Simpson was like Shannon Hurn. A calm head when others are losing theirs on and off the field. I can’t see that you have a hardhead like Toby Greene to coalesce around as GWS have without Coniglio.
    PMT is painful but temporary. But most grow out of it. So long as its not Pagan Malthouse Teague syndrome.

  4. John Butler says

    PB, can you run our review please?

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’ve heard “selection integrity” mentioned a few times about Carlton. What are they getting at?

  6. John Butler says

    Swish, that’s code for playing the old blokes in preference to the young blokes, even if the form of the old blokes doesn’t warrant it. Murphy and Casboult would be the main targets of that.

    There’s an implication that Teague is too close to senior players who backed him in 2019 to be coach. I don’t know about that. I think he’s selected to win now, not in the future. The older blokes are just natural beneficiaries of that. His problem is that he isn’t winning enough. That makes this policy more questionable with every loss.

    If I was a young player at Carlton, I’d reckon I’d have a few legitimate questions. Even if selected in the seniors, they tend to get played out of their usual position. Mind you, it could be said not many of the younger guys have made a compelling case for themselves.

  7. A comprehensive summary as always, JB.
    I am a believer that Carlton is still suffering a hangover from the Elliott years – and their refusal to accept the draft and salary cap etc etc. It is the longest hangover in football history.
    As for the Carlton board, it is a little like the House of Lords: one hereditary seat for the Pratts, one hereditary seat for the Mathiesons…
    In my view, Carlton should do a very un-Carlton-like thing and appoint Teague for a further two years (after 2022). And in doing so, say to him “You are our man – it is all yours!”

  8. John Butler says

    Smokie, I reckon the House of Lords might be on it’s last chance to get this right before its Guy Fawkes night.

    As for Teague, I’m undecided. At least, I reckon he needs some heavy duty help. Will he be able to cope with that? Does he feel secure enough? If they keep him, the club needs to make sure he’s not looking over his shoulder.

    As for Elliot hangovers, they certainly still exist among some of our supporters.

  9. Stainless says

    Oh, JB, I knew as I watched that quintessential Richmondy (1983-2016) performance, that it would prompt another measured but uncompromising piece from your good self. And you haven’t let us down! So the big review is happening. As seems accepted best practice ever since Richmond did it in 2016, the focus is not on the coach but his surrounding team. Well, maybe something good will come from it. But what’s overlooked about the Richmond transformation as we’ve gotten ourselves all excited about replacing the entire football department, not to mention Zen culture, mindfulness, HHH sessions etc, was the key change – we got better players. Some of this is good fortune – to paraphrase Kerry Packer “you only get one Dustin Martin in your lifetime”, and the trade with Hawthorn of Ty Vickery for pick 29 (aka Shai Bolton) is the gift that keeps on giving. But there are simply solid, sensible drafting and trading decisions that you have to make and get right if you’re going to improve your list. Frankly, blowing $1.4 million or whatever on two half back flankers like Williams and Saad doesn’t look to me like a Nankervis, Prestia, Caddy-type investment. Surely some smart calls to bring in some good quality mid-field support for Walsh and Cripps before they get smashed to oblivion would be a start?
    Turmoil and blood-letting at Carlton and Collingwood all in one week – it doesn’t get much better than this!

  10. John Butler says

    Stainless, I figured likewise that you couldn’t resist this. :)

    The thing I’m clinging to most at present is your theory of Richmond equivalence. Is this our Richmond 2016? Or even Geelong 2006? I think you’re right – we don’t have the playing list of either of those circumstances. But I do think the list is better than it is currently producing.

    At present, I think the bloke we could use most is Neil Balme. Never would have caught me saying that 30 years ago. :)

  11. Stainless says

    Haha – Neil Balme to Carlton. Wouldn’t that be ironic?
    I’m afraid this is not Carlton’s equivalent of Richmond 2016/Geelong 2006. I know those seasons prompted the sort of wholesale review that Carlton has announced and that they bore fruit in the following seasons. But the Tiges and the Cats had already played a few finals prior to these seasons which turned out to be one-off anomalies amidst sustained periods of success. Carlton’s nowhere near that point at the moment. My theory of equivalence was Richmond c.2011-12, (young team, still learning as a group, showing promise but inconsistent and prone to meltdowns from time to time). But I’m starting to think that even that might be an optimistic comparison. The Tigers at least had a couple of breakout wins in those years – I’m still waiting for that from Carlton in 2021.

  12. Daryl Schramm says

    Magnificent reading. Article and comments. Thank you all.

  13. Paul (Happy) says

    Some great contributions to your insights John, as usual. I’m left remarkably unimpressed by Carlton and sadly to say, in tune with Smokie. The longest hangover in the history of modern sport, a necklace of fire that only diminishes briefly with an occasional win. Nothing drains one as much as the after game interview with DT, and the pundits remarks from good old C7, whilst we high five each other after beating Hawthorn.
    Any review must include a psychiatric analysis of all Carlton supporters, who each week rally themselves mentally or perform acts that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws, all with unexplained excitement, followed by a feeling of complete mediocrity, shame and anger, only to convince each other during the following week, that we can do this. Alas another Pompeii moment, lets move on before we get seriously burnt. I continue to look at my unopened membership envelope, and despite my gratefulness to be a member again, thanks to your good self John, I can’t bring myself to cherish same, as I would if I’d received a bottle of 1995 Grange; which is the 45th consecutive vintage of the wine that carries the flag internationally and domestically for the Australian wine industry, and if only for the Carlton Football Club. Rec: Retail Price $699.00 bottle. Lets all rejoice in silence – Anon.

  14. John Butler says

    Happy Paul, I’d take the Grange ahead of the 2021 Blues as well. :) At least one inspires confidence it would age well.

    Daryl, thanks for reading.


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