Round 20 – Carlton v GWS: Welcome to Globetrotters’ AFL

Carlton v Greater Western Sydney

1:10PM Sunday August 5

Docklands Stadium




In over forty years of watching Carlton play, my lowest point as a spectator came in round 7, 2015. The ill-conceived and ill-fated Malthouse era at Carlton was lurching to its inevitable bad ending. On this day, we were humiliated by a fledgling GWS side who could barely muster enough supporters to fill a bus. Continuing the bus theme, Malthouse had the Blues park their bus inside defensive 50 for that entire final term, to avoid complete humiliation. It was clear change would have to come to Carlton.



We are now approaching three seasons into that change. As GWS ran us ragged in the final term on Sunday, often with only sixteen players on the field, it would be tempting to think the Blues needed to return to the drawing board once again. The final margin here was greater than 2015. But at least now I can see some purpose to our pain. And I can remember that only a few seasons ago a young GWS team were copping similar hidings. Sometimes you have to go backwards before you can go forwards.



We certainly spent a fair part of the opening term in reverse. The Giants had their first goal in a minute, dominated possession, gave us a lesson in clearances, and generally laid siege to our defence. We were left with moments. Both Harry and Charlie took fine contested pack marks. Then both missed sitters. Harry finally bounced through our first after we forced a rare turnover.



For 15 minutes in the second term we almost got the game on our terms. We started to win more football. Harry continued to worry them. Charlie had been attracting plenty of defensive attention, but when he got clear to score, we’d closed to within four goals.



All we’d really done was poke the bear. Last season, around bye time, we caught the Giants napping and pinched a win by a solitary point. I’d had a feeling they would remember that. They had.



From halfway through the second term we were simply pulverised. The Giants were too fast, too clean and way too good. I’ve never seen a side that can run like GWS. Viewed live, the Orange Tsunami is quite something. On the fast Etihad deck, it was beyond the current Carlton line-up to do anything about it.



After our win on the Gold Coast, Brendon Bolton’s tactics were interesting. He made no attempt to really shut the game down. It seemed he was content for the Blues to find out how far we had to go if we want to win a flag in this company. Learn we did. With interest.



Ed Curnow has put in a mighty effort this season, against the odds. This week he tried to run with Josh Kelly. It was a mission too far. Kelly rampaged around the ground like he owned it. It’s no surprise the Giants’ early season slump coincided with Kelly’s absence. In concert with Coniglio, Whitfield, Ward, Hopper, Kennedy, et al, the Carlton midfield was overwhelmed. Custer stood better odds at Little Big Horn. And this was the Giants without Scully, Shiel, Taranto and most likely a couple of others I haven’t heard of.



Of course, the questions about the Giants have come when they can’t play a game on their own terms. But those questions shouldn’t be overstated. In the last two years it has taken the eventual premiers to stop them. And if the experience of successive lost preliminary finals doesn’t harden their playing group, little will. If GWS can have any luck with injuries, the people declaring Richmond over the line again might just want to cool their jets a little.



As the game lost any resemblance to a contest, there was time to sit back and contemplate the broader football world the AFL has wrought. Financial and football mountains have been moved to get us to this point. But is that point really any clearer?



The ongoing inability of the Giants and Suns to muster meaningful support in Melbourne renders these matches a peculiar viewing experience. The absence of an opposition crowd to bounce off leaves an unsatisfactory  hollowness to even a competitive game.



GWS continue to leave me with very mixed feelings. In terms of pure football aesthetics, I’d rather watch the Giants than any other current team. And it’s not like they lack personality as a group. Toby Greene on his own makes a superior cartoon villain, as well as a great footballer. But the Harlem Globetrotters were also sublimely skilled. And they were great entertainers. No one ever felt about them like they do about the Celtics, Lakers or Knicks.



As it stands, GWS could win the next three flags and it’s hard to see many clamouring to close Parramatta Road in celebration. The thing is, that’s not their fault. All this club has done is take the brief they were given and build an excellent football team. If the grand design is lacking, that’s the failing of the grand designers.



I understand how this could just be dismissed as another Victorian-centric view. The lively group of Giants supporters we have at this very website are probably sick of hearing this. If enough of them want to howl me down over these heresies, that wouldn’t be the worst thing. At least it would reinforce that someone cares. But as signs of malaise in football’s heartlands continue to percolate, it’s hard not to feel skeptical about where this is all leading.



As a Carlton supporter, I should probably be more wary of prognostications. It’s my own club’s past lack of foresight that leaves us copping hammerings such as this one. If the Giants face a long trek to popularity, the Blues face an equally long slog back to credibility.




CARLTON                                                    1.2       4.3       6.4       7.4 (46)

GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY          5.5       12.6     16.10   23.13 (151)



Carlton: McKay 3, Wright 2, Dow, C Curnow

Greater Western Sydney: Cameron 4, Himmelberg 3, Tomlinson 3, Daniels 2, de Boer 2, Kennedy 2, Bonar 2, Coniglio 2, Whitfield, Langdon, Hopper


Carlton: Cripps, Murphy, McKay

Greater Western Sydney: Kelly, Coniglio , Whitfield,  Kennedy, Ward, Hopper, Tomlinson


Crowd: 16,697 (including ushers, and people strolling on Docklands Boulevard)


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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. Really enjoyed this, John. Especially regarding the Giants, what they’ve been given, how their dealing with it, and how the rest of us feel about them.

  2. One sided games – in the stands (not just on the grounds) – is something I’ve had to come to terms with since moving to WA. Fans sitting side by side encourages wit over abuse. Tolerance over intolerance.
    When I get over to Melbourne I am always surprised at how much fans are fans of the game as much as their clubs. WAFL and SANFL is where you find the few true believers these days.
    Eagles, Dockers, Crows, Power crowds are increasingly “my country – right or wrong”. They experience few broadening shared footy experiences.
    I agree with you that the northern/expansion team games are soulless in empty stadiums – made for TV – as long as you don’t have too many wide shots. But I put my cynicism aside regarding the AFL’s TV/money motives and consider them early settlers in a strange land. Pilgrims Progress.
    An investment in a national game (not in my lifetime) as rugby codes slowly eat themselves.

  3. Jan – good to see that you have the same high regard for your new neighbours as us Eagles have for the Purple Hordes. Turn the boats around?

  4. This is an interesting insight that I see echoed a lot.Considering the Suns and Giants had similar setups, one has failed to capitalise (waste of money, should go to Tassie, rabble culture) while the other has blossomed (the AFL’s bought them flags, nobody in Melbourne will care when they win)…feels like the newest clubs are on a hiding to nothing. It reminds me a bit of when a new baby arrives at the house and the resident siblings start protesting that they’re yesterday’s jam.

    The interesting element for me is when say Fremantle travels to Melbourne, almost no crowd turns up and yet the same critiques aren’t levelled because the support in WA is so healthy for their own expansion clubs. Same with Sydney having 60,000 members (how much is due to 40 years in the town, Souths history and a ridiculously long period at the top of the tree? hard to say) – their naysayers rarer than hens’ teeth.

    I just find it’s convenient to beat the AFL about the head with the accusation that they were simply scrounging for broadcast $$$ (be that as it may) when even cursory examination of grassroots engagement/potential shows that the case in favour remains sound, long-term.

  5. John Butler says

    Jan, fancy a Swans die hard not thinking highly of the Giants. :)

    I actually think that cross-town rivalry will be essential to the Giants’ long term success. But it needs to develop naturally. Marketers get carried away with their ability to create these things with a clever campaign. That stuff usually has a short use-by date. I also think it will need to tap into the underlying social divides in Sydney. I don’t get much sense of that happening at present. Am I wrong on that?

    PB, a thoughtful take on this, as usual. Maybe we are just discussing a question of time. But it’s also a question of priorities. I bet plenty of Fitzroy people would have loved some more time.


  6. John Butler says

    Jarrod, a lot of what you say is probably fair enough. From my perspective, there’s no doubt that Freo, Sydney, West Coast, Adelaide or Port have broad support in their areas. They can say with authority they represent someone. Brisbane, a little less so, despite the flags. GWS and Gold Coast? As I said, maybe it’s just a matter of time.

    Your point on grassroots participation is an important one. Maybe more vital than whether the AFL teams ever truly take root. Though I’m wary about the figures produced sometimes. You can have programs a mile wide and an inch deep.

    Cheers all.

  7. I agree with you JB, fluffy figures that count every little tacker given an Auskick pack and a pat on the head as “participants” in Australian Football do very little to help the game.

    I also think the reality that “everyone loves a winner” will play a big part in the medium term. Look at the Giants members (25,000+, vast majority located in Western Sydney or the ACT) – the next step is getting people to go to games en masse – something that doesn’t happen in the NRL around Western Sydney & that’s one of League’s heartlands.

  8. Reflective and interesting as ever JB.
    You’re correct in your observations about the Orange Tsunami and their prospects in 2018. I don’t think the Tigers or any other team would be pleased to see their steady rise up the ladder over the last few weeks. I would certainly rate last year’s Prelim Final as the toughest of the three finals Richmond played.
    That match was a unique experience in my 40+ years of watching football at the MCG, in that for once, a packed stadium was uniformly baying for one team’s blood – the antithesis of the Melbourne footy crowd that PB describes. But I don’t think that means any of us feel any special enmity towards the Giants. It’s actually quite difficult to conjure up any real sense of passion or rivalry for an entity that has, as you say, fulfilled its brief of creating a great team, but has done little to develop an identity that we can easily react to. In fact when I read comments from the other half of Sydney about what the Giants “have been given”, my hostility towards the Swans based on decades of handouts and special concessions is reignited.

  9. The old Fitzroy canard? Beneath you JB. You Victorians don’t want much. 10 teams not enough? Still we always knew that the AFL was just a trading name for VFL Inc. Crumbs for the peasants.
    Thinking about Dave’s excellent “State of the Game” in WA piece, I wondered if we all wouldn’t be happier watching the Winners with Sunday dinner on our laps after watching another fine WAFL game from the Subiaco hill and lamenting that the young Kennedy kid from Geraldton (he reminds me a bit of Bosustow) had left East Freo to kick 100 goals for Carlton, and that young Fyfe from Lake Grace is the best midfielder the Cats have had since Peake and Featherby.
    We all need to be careful what we wish for.

  10. Jack Reagan says

    Very well articulated insight, Jarrod L

    I certainly here the tropes of “the Giants being gifted success” and the “Suns an abject failure what about Tassie”….do people who find themselves adhering to both of these have a reflective explanation of their coherency?

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