You can never go back: Football returns to Princes Park

by John Butler

It seemed like a good time to revisit the old girl. Admittedly, a stinking hot February afternoon doesn’t exactly scream footy, and it was only another edition of the pre-season Hit and Giggle Cup (sorry, Challenge), but you never know when opportunity will next present. Besides, whispers had it that a certain ex-player would be fronting for the opposition.

So it was that I journeyed to the Big Smoke to see my first match at Princes Park since that final dismal afternoon against the Dees in 2005. The stroll up Royal Parade was more slip, slop, slap than autumnal, but it was good to be home. If there was a small tear in the eye, it wasn’t entirely due to dust and hay fever.

A circuit of the ground for old times’ sake revealed evidence of inactivity. Peeling paint and a general air of slight decrepitude pervaded, despite the shiny new monolith at the western end. Stacks of storage boxes now sat where the corporates once wined and dined in the lower reaches of the old Elliot Stand. The fact that these boxes held creditors records seemed all too appropriate to modern Carlton history.

As for the monolith, whilst concrete has been replaced by shiny metal, much modern architecture seems determined to preserve the spirit of old Soviet-era design. There certainly seems little effort to seek harmony with its surrounds. At least the facilities inside are pretty shmick.

The footy on offer was typically scrappy pre-season fare. Hand balls hit the deck and kicks missed their mark, especially when issued from Navy Blue hands or feet. The combination of heat and expanded squads meant the interchange benches remained a blur of perpetual motion. With so much toing and froing, any sense of individual match-ups remained elusive.

Brisbane had a young mid-field brigade, so it was little surprise to see Chris Judd dominate the centre square. Carlton won plenty of possession, but generally failed to take advantage in front of goal. The Lions made better use of their opportunities, largely a product of turnovers, and led at quarter time 4.1 to 3.6. A downer for Brisbane was injury to Jamie Charman, who hurt his ankle in the process of clumsily spilling a sitter.

In the second quarter, Carlton became very static in their method, and Brisbane appeared in control of an untidy affair leading 7.2 to 4.7 at half time.

The third quarter saw a considerable lift in intensity for the Blues, with recruits McLean, Henderson and Warnock improving on poor first-up efforts, and Eddie Betts dominating as a small lead-up forward. Mitch Robinson continued his lively early efforts, and Setanta O’hAilpin got constructively involved. Just when they seemed to take control, a McLean clanger kick marked a horror last five minutes, which saw Brisbane regain the lead 10.3 to 8.8 at the final break.

Recovering their poise, the Blues quickly regained control in the last quarter, and superior work rate and weight of possession saw them run out fairly comfortable victors. For those concerned with the final score, Carlton won 14.9.93 to Brisbane 12.8.80.

So what of the Prodigal Bogan you may ask? Mr Fevola was pretty subdued overall, with his former teammates clearly keen to deny him any space. He only really fired up when he scored his first major after the three quarter time siren, but even this bit of push and shove seemed largely token. He and Johnno Brown managed to generally keep out of each others’ way, but in all honesty, the Carlton defence had much more trouble with the Bradshaw-Brown combo last year. How these two alpha males co-exist in the same forward line will be a notable talking point of the coming season.

The healthy crowd that turned up weren’t too disposed to welcome the errant ex. It was probably just as well the beer ran out at quarter time, lest the space behind the Royal Parade goal took on any more of the atmosphere of a certain ill-famed grassy knoll. There’s little surprise in this; Fevola divided the Blue brethren even when he wore our colours.

From the Carlton perspective, a win in this particular contest proved little, as we were closer to full strength than our opponents. The future pattern seems clear – furious chasing in the forward line, with emphasis on smaller mobile goal sneaks, is obviously the intended hope, at least until Jarrad Waite is fully recovered. We’ll obviously be less predictable in future. Whether we’re more effective remains to be proved.

As he flew back north, I suspect Fev might have shared similar sentiments to myself. Like a high school reunion, it was nice to revisit old memories, but you can’t escape the realisation that things will never really be the same.

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. Richard Naco says

    Thank you for that snapshot of the return of the “Prodigal Bogan” (outstanding term).

    Do you suspect that he felt somewhat exposed by the experience?

    (Or are there more naked truths to be circulated?)

  2. John Butler says


    One of the over-riding feelings many Blues supporters have of the whole mess is relief. Relief that we no longer have to worry about the next moronic atrocity.

    I suspect Fev, Lara and Max Markson deserve each other. And I don’t care!

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