THE Carlton Football Club. So baffling a disposition it would be beyond MacGyver.
The Blues are renowned for being one of the great inner-city powerhouses in one of the premier domestic football codes in the world. Talk of the ‘Big 3′ combines them along with Collingwood and Essendon. Over 40 per cent of the league’s flags were won by these three alone
The Dons, almighty in the 80s, the Baby Bombers then saluted in 1993. At the turn of the century, a dynasty promised – but only one cup was won. The Pies, ‘Colliwobbles’ for decades, took out the flag in 1990 and then recently rose to the 2010 title in impressive fashion.
Meanwhile, the winds of cheating, failure and damn right discombobulation have howled profoundly through the stands at Princes Park over the last 25 years.
Even the likes of Melbourne the Western Bulldogs, notorious for their lean history and perennial underdog status showed promise and a positive future this past weekend, the old dark Navies turned up last Thursday, but only literally, the scoreboard and effort suggests besides.
Carlton was a force as recent as the 1980s. Premierships won, glory was easy, they were top dog and this scribe acknowledges rightly so. Their first grand final appearance in the AFL-era was in 1993, losing to adolescents wearing red and black. Was Sheedy a mastermind or did the opposition let an easy one slip?
Two years later, success – the club’s sixteenth crown, the most in the AFL. History will tell us though success is easily bought when you’re spending more on player wages than James Hird would on legal expenses.
Since 1995, the silence is deafening. The records state they were present at the MCG for the grand final of 1999, but many who were can’t categorically acknowledge their presence.
21st century, we’re 15 years in, surely a club as mighty and as alpha male as Carlton, one who’d never sell their jumper to promote a popular cinema snack food changing the food dye, would’ve greeted the judges and held aloft the cup once more?
Not even close.
Brendan Fevola blew in, then blew over .05 at the Brownlow, then blew out, to Brisbane, then rehab. He was a star on the field but lack of strong leadership prevented him from truly being a cornerstone of eventual team success.
Chris Judd, the messiah, sold to Carlton by a man rich off producing cereal boxes, won a Brownlow but despite his greatness has never looked like being the final piece to which he was intended. Moreover, given the tragic plight of his former teammates post-careers, was he eager to return to Melbourne and ultimately Carlton or simply happy to leave the rocky culture of the Eagles?
Season after season, wooden spoon after wooden spoon, more kitchenware was accrued by the Blues in that period than the producers of Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules combined.
But with utter failure comes highly prized talent through the draft, and repeated utter failure surely exacerbates the turnaround, team success then must only be a moment away?
Marc Murphy, Josh Kennedy, Matthew Kreuzer, Bryce Gibbs, all number one or priority picks in the space of three years. Since joining the club they have won only two finals, once legitimately in 2011, another two years later because Essendon’s lack of governance handed them a free-hit at Richmond who then subsequently defecated the bed.
Kennedy leaving the club left a gaping hole, however with coach Mick Malthouse getting Dale Thomas as the free agent du jour to fix that five-year hole in the goal square suggests genius. No not genius, the opposite of genius in fact.
Malthouse will break the games-coached record in May and that’s wonderful, a huge achievement. However, the man whose record he breaks, Jock McHale, coached nine premierships. Malthouse, just the three.
Two with the West Coast, simply the Western Australian state side in different clothing, and one with Collingwood who arguably did so with talent so rich any cultural issues that should have been a problem couldn’t disrupt their on-field success.
A tremendous win-loss record warrants respect. And it rightly does. But should he have won more premierships? Was his recruitment as the coach to take the Brett Ratten side from finals to grand finals based on a misread resume and inflated reputation?
Carlton haven’t looked likely for years and of all the teams who missed the eight last year, if you remove those who are respectfully bottoming out to rebound once more and those who are genuinely on the way back up, Malthouse’s men are in neither basket – which would worry any supporter greatly.
To which, if we go back to the notion of the big clubs, how can Carlton have got it so wrong? Collingwood, an off-field juggernaut, they possess superior membership figures to anyone else. Essendon, despite the scandals and setbacks still receive significant fiscal support from their supporters. Richmond, Hawthorn, they too attract big membership bases.
Carlton, that great inner-city powerhouse, barely strikes half the membership numbers of those listed above. Either their supporter base is grossly over exaggerated or, if it is to be as big as they boast, they are so disenchanted, disengaged or confused they don’t feel the need or want to put their hand in their pocket to support the cause. Either way, it’s a concern and an indictment on those involved.
Malthouse avoids some criticism for his team’s lacklustre exploits because of the side show he creates through his dealings with the media, such with Mark Stevens who has gone from reputable journalist to a reality television prima donna just for the sake of an awkward news grab.
Their list looks poor, their off-field leadership looks no better and they have avoided the scrutiny they properly deserve. They have only raised one cup in anger since 1987 and there’s a giant asterisk on that. Their supporter base refuses year after year to chip in and with what excuse?
Plenty of excuses in fact. They boast in their club song that they are the team that never lets you down, sorry boys and girls, this club has forged a 25-year habit of doing just the very opposite, and good luck with that changing any time soon.