The Only Team Old Carlton Knows

When I first visited Princes Park at the age of four, perched on Coke cans with head bobbing curiously to view the action, I knew nothing of what impact the team wearing navy blue would eventually have on my life. I knew only that we supported Carlton.

There was no choice in the matter, no decision making process or weighing of the pros and cons. Most of the surrounding throng seemed to agree, with only a spatter of Fitzroy colours to highlight that an alternative existed.

I had been to see a match the previous season, but this was my first taste of the place that was to become as familiar as the living room.

I knew nothing of Carlton’s history of success or failure, nothing to determine whether this life-long inheritance was a sound one. I’d have been just as enthralled and bemused, I’m sure, had I been sporting a Lions scarf that day, and I’d have also been a devastated teenager when the league sent them north to Brisbane. My first hero was Paul Meldrum, but when Stephen Kernahan hoisted the 1987 premiership cup my fate was sealed.

By age six I was a fully-fledged obsessive, never without a football in hand and wearing out videos of The Footy Replay, at times the entire commentary seeping into my subconscious and peculiar facts regarding Carlton lore as customary to me as the Six Times Tables.

What was Bruce Doull’s original number and why did he change it? For how many years did Craig Bradley wear the exact same jumper? At which game did the “woof” for Ang Christou begin? Every incongruous question had an answer and I was at the ready to provide it quicker than the Princes Park scoreboard.

Similar tales are not uncommon, and despite the jibes about Richmond supporters having kids being tantamount to child cruelty, very few rue their lot.

This season marks the 150th since the formation of the Carlton Football Club, the most successful club in the history of the VFL/AFL (with 16 Grand Final wins) and one that – with a total of 23 premierships – have been champions more times than any other Victorian club. The dispute over the validity of the success of clubs from other states either prior to or since the AFL-rebadged itself in 1990 is one for another time, and in any event doesn’t detract from Carlton’s remarkable record.

Carlton are the third such AFL club to reach this milestone (behind Melbourne and Geelong) and are thus the oldest suburban team in the country, and amongst the oldest football clubs in the world. Where Carlton differs from all others is that since their formation in 1864 they have played 149 consecutive seasons without interruption (Collingwood, formed in 1892, are the only other club to have completed every league season since 1897).

While the modern history of the club is less glorious, the Blues have saluted every 6.7 years on average since that first season in 1864, and it is with this in mind that 2014 holds a very special place for all whose heart beats blue. The term is bandied about too often, but it cannot be disputed that Carlton is a truly great football club.

The key to Carlton’s outstanding success has been consistency. While Collingwood led the league premiership table for more than half a century, 11 of their 15 flags were won by 1936. Carlton, on the other hand, won eight in each half of the 20th century, finally claiming sole bragging rights in 1982, a position they have held either alone or with Essendon ever since. Equally, none of the traditional league clubs can claim supremacy over the Mighty Blues, with Carlton holding a positive win/loss record against all of them.

The highlights have been many. From becoming the first club to win a treble of successive league flags to the “Bloodbath” glory of 1945 and overcoming the biggest deficit in finals history in 1970, on and on the successes came for what was the richest and most powerful club in the new world of the John Elliott-led 1980’s, yet even then there were greater heights to scale. In 1995 Carlton set a new standard and the team came to be known as the record-breakers, sailing through the home and away rounds with an unprecedented 20 wins before cruising to an authoritative premiership victory.

In the first 100 years of league football Carlton had won more premierships than any other, beaten all of their competitors head to head and had never finished last. That is an incredible record.

When the Blues shocked everyone – including themselves – with a one point win over Essendon in the 1999 Preliminary Final, no one could have predicted that the team and club would hit rock bottom just three years later.

The club failed to net that 17th flag, so anyone under the age of 20 grew up with a rare beast: a mediocre Carlton. The 2000-2009 decade was the first since the fifties, and only the third in league history, not to feature a Carlton premiership. While finals wins in recent years are beginning to turn the tide, it has skewed the perception of Carlton as one of the league heavyweights amongst the new generation.

The Blues may have been the worst team in the competition, stripped of draft picks and pilloried as the laughing stock of the game, yet one fact will in time prove salient: they were only out of the finals for seven years. A lesser club wouldn’t be here at all.

It is in times of despair that faith is tested, yet even those dark years brought highlights. Despite the mounting wooden spoons and losing the beloved Princes Park as a league venue, there was still Fevola or Judd or an upset win over Collingwood to keep the fire burning. While in childhood I craved only success, adulthood and a change of fortunes conveyed a deeper understanding of what the club meant to me. Like caring for an ill loved one, my devotion was given a sharper focus when the chips were down.

Someone once said that to see Carlton is to be Carlton, and it rings true. All of the old clubs have their idiosyncrasies, but nothing matches the genuine belief that no matter the score we can still do it, just because we’re Carlton.

Big enough to be a major player yet not so large that every second person supports us, belonging to the Carlton Football Club is a special kind of gift. Unlike in English football, our supporters are separated, making group singing difficult. What other set of barrackers are arrogant enough to begin a rendition of the theme song before the game is even over? We do it at Carlton.

Mick Malthouse and Marc Murphy, fresh from the pulsating and unexpected finals win over Richmond that typified the Carlton spirit, have the honour of leading the Blues into this landmark season, and students of history will be well aware that prior to the breakthrough premiership of 1906 Carlton had endured 19 barren years. The distant ‘95 triumph marks the very same period of time.

Few things will bring a grown man to tears, but the love of a football club can be one of them. Despite the intervening years, the changing face of football and the depressing understanding of what can realistically be achieved in any given year, the excitedly nervous kid peering through the crowd to see The Blue Boys in action remains.

Here’s to the next 150.




  1. Neil Anderson says

    I’m trying hard not to give an anti-Carlton reply. The Collingwood and Richmond supporters are probably loading their pens/keyboards to take care of that as we speak.
    Just a slight correction regarding Richmond and other supporters probably ‘ wouldn’t rue their lot ‘ . That should read supporters other than Carlton supporters would ‘never ‘ rue their lot. Carlton makes us appreciate our Clubs even more.
    However, I like the way you included the VFL premierships to inflate the grand total. Using that criteria, the Bulldogs have won ten premierships and one Champion of Victoria title after they beat Essendon in 1924.
    Looking forward to our number eleven premiership in the near future.

  2. Franc de Borges says

    It’s not inflating the grand total, 23 is simply the total since 1864. Celebrating 150 years is about the entire history of the club, including the 30+ years prior to the formation of the VFL.

    And yes, the Bulldogs have won 10 in their history.

  3. I’m trying hard not to give an anti-Carlton reply however you still haven’t explained why you would want to support a cheating, premiership buying, salary cap breaching, tanking, corporate criminal organisation.

    And yes they are the good points about Carlscum.

  4. Neil,
    Perhaps supporting Carlton is just a little bit better than supporting a club that actually won a premiership in the year they were caught cheating the salary cap and surprise, surprise, copped no major penalty. It’s the same and the only club that has been charged with bringing the game into disrepute. Could they be corrupt drug cheating liars, as well? I hope not.
    Just because the two clubs you mentioned have had players who have taken illicit drugs, have criminal records, tried to buy premierships, salary cap cheated and tanked. One tanked and won flag shortly after. The other one finished last and squealed so much that they needed an extra first round pick, and guess what, they got it. However their recruiting was so abysmal that they overlooked two of the best players in the last 20 years. To make up for this error of judgment they recruited a known drug taker from beyond the rabbit proof fence.
    But I wouldn’t say anything bad about them either.
    As for your team, god bless ’em, every one just loves them, don’t they?
    Certainly the dopers they foolishly recruited love them.
    I’m sure it couldn’t be possible another 60 years may pass before they win another flag.

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