Gold Coast Suns
North Melbourne Kangaroos
Port Adelaide Power
St Kilda Saints
West Coast Eagles
The Soup Kitchen Knows we Are Coming!
Rags-to-riches stories seem to have a universal appeal. As equally attractive are stories of corrupt riches falling into rags. Such stories bring out the schadenfreude in us all. Furthermore, they make us feel a sense that justice has been done.
Fortunately for the football world, Carlton is a club that has catered to both kinds of stories in its 150 year history. It started its existence as a respectable working class club that found success on the back of good team values. Over the years, that respectability was corrupted by the desire to stay at the top. That corruption initially started with the use of brown paper bags to recruit players outside the salary cap. This esculated into blatant cheating in order to get defined as a “special needs” club that would qualify it for extra draft assistance. Overall, it is safe to say that no club over the last three decades has had as many immoral individuals on and off the field as Carlton. Fortunately, karma has repaid Carlton with the many many spoons it deserves! So much so, Carlton has become the St Kilda of the new millennium, with a record of 5 wooden spoons.
The Carlton Football Club was formed in 1864. Although initially a working man's club, it was always successful. Over the course of the 20th Century, Carlton notched up a VFL/AFL record of 16 premierships and until 2002, had never won the wooden spoon for finishing last.
It is unknown why the club chose the colour blue, but one story proposes that a Melbourne official returned from Britain with a load of red and blue woollen socks. The official kept the red for his own team but gave Carlton the blue, thus resulting in Carlton being referred to as the blues.
Over the subsequent century, there were some attempts to give the club a less generic identity. For example, they were sometimes referred to the Butchers because their jackets were reminiscent of butchers of the late 19th century. Some newspapers also referred to them as the Brewers, probably because of region brewed a great deal of beer that was enthusiastically drunk after games. After WW II, an attempt was made to introduce a Cockatoo mascot, but this was not successful. For whatever reason, it seems Carlton fans wanted to be a colour and nothing more.
Around 1930, Carlton also adopted its current song, which formed a template for its culture for the next 50 years. The song began with da da da, which was highly evocative of some a mafian mobster dancing on of a fallen enemy. Furthermore, the lyrics sang of Carlton always being successful on the back of recruiting champions. Specifically,
The recruitment of champion players from other clubs would become part of Carlton’s identity as would the mantra that Carlton never re-builds.
The Brown Paper Bag Era
By the 80s and 90s, Carlton’s image had well and truly changed and it was said that cheering for Carlton was like cheering for a multinational; that yelling "get em blues" was akin to yelling "get em Microsoft". The club was powerful, rich, arrogant and had an outspoken corporate president at the helm. It was the glamour team supported by cool celebrities, including A-listers such as Sale of the Century host Tony Barbar and TV model Jo Bailey.
Even the suburb of Carlton discovered the lofty heights of success. Where once the houses of Carlton were filled with factory workers whose fridges were full of beer, the suburb was now filled with restaurateurs with fridges full of soymilk, jars of Metamucil and instructions for the liver cleansing diet. Yep, Carlton had it all!
But behind the celebrities, trends and glamour lurked a dark side that would bring the club to its knees. In 1985, the VFL introduced a salary to stop rich clubs like Carlton bankrupting the poor by using the chequebook to steal their players. Carlton’s attitude was to swap the chequebook for brown paper bags. In 1993, Carlton made the grand final only for it to be later revealed that they had cheated the salary cap to do so. Given a slap on the wrist punishment, Carlton vowed to be more discrete with their cheating. More breaches followed on the path to Carlton’s 1995 premiership. In particular, it was revealed that the 1995 Norm Smith medallist, Greg Williams, had been recruited from Sydney on the back of receiving illegal payments through a construction company. These payments totalled $200,000 between 1993 and 1995. In the NRL, similar cheating by the Melbourne Storm led to the club being stripped of its premierships. The AFL once more decided to tell Carlton not to do it again but otherwise looked the other way.
Given the AFL's attitude, it was inevitable that the rorting would continue. By 2002, cheating had become so common place that the club paid players $1,400,000 over the salary cap. Nonchalant players rewarded Carlton for its generosity by delivering the club the first wooden spoon in its history. Ironically, with the club finishing last, the AFL didn't have to worry about protecting historical records so was finally willing to punish Carlton. The Blues were fined $900,000 and stripped them of their first two draft selections. They were; however, allowed to keep their first wooden spoon.
The addition of a wooden spoon to the silver spoon cabinet marked a change in the club’s status. Without the lure of extra money keep players happy, instead of being a "destination club", Carlton became an "exit" club. Champions like Josh Kennedy, Eddie Betts and Jarrad Waite moved on to greener pastures. Those that remained likewise showed a self-interested culture. One player, Laurence Angwin, broke into a team mate's house to steal things that could be pawned. Even worse, the club's captain, Lance Whitnal, had a very public falling out with his brother. It seems his brother's kids didn’t turn up to his son's birthday party so he retaliated by not inviting them to the zoo. This escalated to death threats and vows from each brother to enlist hit men to kill each other.
Without champions leaving the club and no one wanting to come in return, the club was forced to take the St Kilda philosophy to success by “bottoming out” in the hope of future achievement. After being excluded from the 2003 draft for cheating, it claimed its first number selection in 2005 in the form of Marc Murphy. The club went back-to-back with Bryce Gibbs the following year.
In 2007, Carlton narrowly avoided the rare three-peat by finishing second last but it was still able to claim the first draft selection above Richmond by losing its last 11 games of the season, which ensured it had less than 8 wins over two seasons. Former assistant Carlton coach Tony Liberatore said that he thought Carlton was deliberately throwing matches to gain draft selections. In the eyes of many football fans, by taking the pick that was rightfully Richmond’s, Carlton did the equivalent of a businessman removing his tie and then pushing homeless people out of the way at the soup kitchen. It was disgraceful!
In 2008, the club started making noises that its rebuild was complete. With three number 1 draft selections and champion Chris Judd lured from West Coast using a trade for high draft picks, Carlton had every reason to feel its prospects were bright. Although they didn’t make the finals, they did win almost as many games as they lost. This was reflected in its membership slogan, They Know We Are Coming, which suggested it was ready to challenge for a premiership. (Admittedly, it could also have meant the soup kitchen could be expecting them with their wooden spoons.)
Was it other teams that knew Carlton was coming or was it the soup kitchen?
After coming for the soup, the Blues wanted the AFL to think it was going to use its spoons somehow.
Although Carlton tasted some success, it didn't come soon enough so it was back to the draft once more. By 2015, the club had another spoon for its collection. Not content with simply having a list of high draft selections acquired from their own poor performance, Carlton even went hunting for high draft selections from other clubs. In some cases, Carlton traded for the players but in others, they agreed to pay the balance of generous contracts to high draft selections who were underperforming. Carlton's strategy could be likened to employing recruits on the basis of the school they came from rather than what they had actually achieved. It was all label and no substance, which perhaps reflected the decades of elitism that had shaped the club's culture.
In 2018, Carlton claimed another spoon and seemed to have actually regressed from where it was in 2003. The main difference, of course, was that in 2018 they had 17 first round draft picks on their list - by far the most of any club in the league. Despite having 17 first round draft picks and the first pick in the 2018 draft, Carlton still asked the AFL for priority picks and/or special assistance to gain the achievement that it was incapable of delivering on its own. In short, it had whole heartedly exploited the welfare model even though it was in no need of welfare.
It wasn't just on the field where Carlton became a basket case from their 1980s peak. In 1983, businessman John Elliot became president and introduced a corporate model to football club management. In 1991, he attempted a hostile takeover of the North Melbourne Kangaroos by purchasing a large parcel of shares formerly owned by Bob Ansett. The plan was to raid the playing stocks and bring some North Melbourne supporters to Carlton, but it was ultimately blocked by the AFL.
Another of Elliot's corporate schemes was to redevelop the suburban Princes Park at the same time that rivals Essendon and Collingwood abandoned their suburban grounds as they moved to MCG to provide a big game atmosphere. Elliot knew Princes Park (also known as Pig's Arse Park) was not as popular as the MCG but he envisaged other clubs playing home games at the ground and Carlton taking a cut of the takings. Carlton spent millions building boutique stands; Elliot even named one of them the "John Elliot Stand" in tribute to himself. But Elliot's pot of gold revealed itself to be a white elephant. While the logic was sound as the AFL needed a second Melbourne stadium, there was no way other clubs were ever going to agree to Carlton being their landlord. Football is very different to business in that regard. Consequently, the Dockland’s stadium was built to be the second Melbourne ground.
In 2002, Carlton posted losses of $7.5 million and then $11.1 million in 2004 - most of which related to devaluing assets at Princes Park. Admittedly, Elliot's plan had a bit of logic behind it but fans of other clubs just couldn’t stand the idea of paying to play at Carlton's home ground.
John Elliot was given the arse and quite poetically he personally went bankrupt. His replacement, Ian Collins, seemed just as bad. In 2005, basic rules of accounting got mixed up and the club found itself with a tax bill of a $1,000,000. (The bill could have been avoided had the club run itself more along the lines of a members owned organization). Collins also shifted Carlton to Docklands and knocked down some of Princess Park stadiums in a way that that seemed to publicly disown Elliot. Aside from wanting to humiliate Elliot, Collins seemed to have a conflict of interest because as well as being Carlton President, he was Docklands Stadium CEO.
After constantly being dragged through the mud, in 2009, Elliot hit back by confessing that Carlton had paid hush money to five women who said they had been raped by players in the 1980s and 1990s. Elliot said the payments had been made because he suspected the women were lying and it was a way to protect the club from bad publicity. This in turn made it a bit odd that he was bringing bad publicity to the club by confessing that rapes may have occured but the women had been bought off. The club was not impressed and reacted by banning Elliot from attending any events.
Carlton's three decades of financial and social problems have presented a moral dilemma for the rest of the competition. Many AFL fans believe that if Carlton couldn't pay their way and can't stop cheating then they should be put into the VFL. Obviously Carlton's fans wouldn't be happy about that, but there has been a perception that it serves the fans right for picking a loser team. Of course, such suggestions are made tongue in cheek but there is a certain appeal about threatening a former A-lister to experience life in the E-list ranks.
2013 slogan - I am Carlton
There is no I in team unless that team is Carlton. Carlton has always been a club of mercenaries. In decades past, the club's success was largely based on its cheque book. When a salary cap reduced this power, the club responded by using brown paper bags under the table, but that ended poorly. More recently, it hired coach Mick Malthouse whose demeanour painted a picture of someone with a personal grudge to settle with Collingwood for showing him the door. The egocentrism of Carlton was reflected in the use of 'I' in its 2013 slogan. In 2014, it took the dishonest brown paper bag route by changing I to We, which is simply not what Carlton is about.
Roy Morgan research
Carlton Blues supporters were:
2004 - When comparded to other AFL supporters
2006 - When compared to other AFL supporters
Collingwood - In the VFA, Carlton was the league's only working man's club. When Collingwood entered the VFA in 1892, Carlton discovered it had a rival.
Over the years, numerous Grand Final clashes have flamed the hatred; none more so that 1970 when Carlton left no doubt that Colliwobbles was a real psychological phenomenon.
Richmond - Another working man's club like Collingwood which likewise battled Carlton in Grand Finals. Unlike Collingwood, Richmond was able to hold its own when the pressure was applied.
Essendon - In recent times, Carlton has also forged an intense rivalry with Essendon. Some of this stems from Carlton having 16 flags to Essendon's 16. Some of it also stems from Carlton's modern day glamour associations which rivaled those of Essendon.
Calton has a way of lifting itself when it plays Essendon. In the 1999 preliminary final, Essendon was expected to thrash Carlton on their way to a certain flag. But the Blues rose a level andknocked off Essendon by a point. Even though the Blues went on to lose the Grand Final, they still felt satisfied by denying Essendon a probable flag.
Two boys are playing football in a Melbourne park, when one is attacked by a Rottweiler. Thinking quickly, the other boy rips off a board of the nearby fence, wedges it down the dog's collar and twists, breaking the dog's neck. A reporter who is strolling by sees the incident, and rushes over to interview the boy.
"Then what are you?" the reporter says. "I'm a Carlton fan !!!" The reporter starts a new sheet in his notebook and writes, "Spoilt brat kills family pet".
Why kind of country has four codes of "football"?