150 Years of the Navy Blue

The Carlton Football Club. It’s the equal most successful club in the Australian Football League. It’s been home to some of the biggest names in Australian football – Jesaulenko, Kernahan, and Silvagni amongst others. It forms one of the so-called Big 4 Victorian clubs, with whom it shares some of Australian footballs biggest rivalries – Collingwood, Essendon and Richmond.

On May 17th, 1861 a notice in the Melbourne Argus classifieds requested interested persons attend a meeting in order to “take steps for the formation of a football club”. The meeting must have had some success as four days later, on May 21st, The Argus carried an advertisement for another meeting ‘for the purpose of drawing up rules and enrollment of members‘. (The excellent Blueseum website has much much more information on this period)

Notwithstanding the above, the Carlton Football Club was officially formed in July 1864. The exact date has unfortunately been lost to history. At the time of its official formation, it is believed to have been the 7th known Australian football club to have been formed. The club would play games out of Royal Park until 1878 and originally wore navy blue with white shoulders – the all navy blue with monogram has been relatively unchanged since 1909 (although the monogram itself has changed)

On May 17, 1877, the club became a founding member of the Victorian Football Association, along with Hotham (later North Melbourne), Albert Park (merged with South Melbourne and now Sydney), Melbourne, St Kilda, Geelong, Ballarat (now playing in the BFL) and Barwon (later merged with Belmont to form South Barwon and playing in the GFL). The club would go on to win premierships in the leagues inaugural year of 1877, and later in 1882. Carlton would be runner up 4 times from 1879, and three years straight from 1889-1891.

Having been based at Royal Park since its inception, in 1878 the Blues moved to Princes Park, but while in the same area, the Blues wouldnt move to their current location until 1896. You can find considerable detail on the ovals history here.

In 1888, Carlton would play England in a game of Australian rules – The scores at the end of the match were Carlton 14.17 d England 3.8. Which isn’t too bad considering Carlton led at half time 7.7 to 0.1. There is more detail on this game here.

In 1897, the Blues would take part in the split from the Association and form the Victorian Football League along with seven other clubs. This would later be known as the AFL in 1990.

Along the way, the Blues have won 16 VFL/AFL premierships – level with Essendon and more than any other club. They’ve also been runner-up on thirteen occasions. They were the first club to win a “hat-trick” from 1906-1908. They last won the flag in 1995 with a fairly decent thrashing of Geelong.

Five Blues have gone on to win the Brownlow medal. Bert Deacon (1947), John James (1961), Gordon Collis (1964), Greg Williams (1994), and Chris Judd (2010). Two players have won the Coleman medal – Tom Carroll (51 goals, 1961), Brendan Fevola (84 goals, 2006), (86 goals, 2009). Stephen Kernahan holds the record as the games longest serving team captain – serving for ten years and 226 matches.

Six Carlton players were named in the AFL/VFL Team of the Century. Stephen Silvagni (Full back), John Nicholls (back pocket), Bruce Doull (half back flank), Alex Jesaulenko (half forward flank), Ron Barassi (Ruck/Rover) and Greg Williams (interchange).

There are three Carlton legends in the AFL Hall of Fame – Alex Jesualenko, John Nicholls, and Ron Barassi. In addition there are another fifteen Carlton players, and a coach (Parkin) in the Hall of Fame. There are four Carlton players in the SANFL Hall of Fame, and a further two players in each of the West Australian and Tasmanian Halls of Fame.

Carlton has featured in some of the greatest grand finals in public memory, the 1970s in particular. The 1970 Grand Final against Collingwood is quite possibly the greatest Grand Final of all time for sheer size (the largest crowd ever for a match at 121,000) and drama, and its public awareness.The 1972 Grand Final against Richmond saw the Tigers kick a record score in a grand final, only to see the Blues kick what is still the record score in a Grand Final to win the flag. The 1973 rematch saw Richmond arguably resort to thuggery to win the game when both Alex Jesaulenko and Vin Waite were targeted early on.

The 1979 Grand Final featured the famous dive by Wayne Harmes to knock a ball going out of bounds to the goal square that resulted in a Carlton goal. The 1982 Grand Final against Richmond saw the appearance of young Helen d’Amico – who Tigers fans still blame for losing the game, and sending them into a football wilderness for 30 years.

There’s been other recent memorable games, but perhaps none more so than victories over the old enemies.

The 1999 Preliminary Final against Essendon is a big standout for the Blues fan, defeating a highly fancied Bomber outfit to make an improbable Grand Final (which they lost but hardly any Blues supporter cared). In the 2011 qualifying final, a rampant Blues demolished an insipid Essendon to nearly win by more than ten goals. In 2013, the club was the beneficiary of Essendon’s demotion from the finals (an outcome of the AFL investigation into the club). Carlton would go on to beat Richmond in a massive game.

There’s been standout performances over the years. Carlton fans remember the exploits of Jesaulenko and arguably one of the best marks of all time ‘ohhhh Jesaulenko you beauty!’. Stephen Silvagni was another who took what was billed as the mark of the decade. Matthew Lappin taking mark oif the year in the frst quarter of the first match of the season. Brendon Fevola kicking 11 goals in the Millenium match against the Pies.

In the centre, there was Greg Williams getting 40 possession in the centre regularly despite being slow.  The scintillating runs of Craig Bradley, frequently ended with torpedoes from 50 metres. The famous Mosquito fleet thrilled fans throughout the 1970s. Wayne Johnston and David Rhys-Jones did the same in the 80’s. And of course, Fraser Brown, the man who saved the 1999 Prelim by chasing down Dean Wallis.

The Blues benefited from the rugged defence of men like Southby – backpocket in the Blues team of the century, but arguably as good if not better than Silvagni. Bruce Doull – half back in the AFL team of the century. Peter Dean, and Andrew McKay who stood tall in great teams. Anthony Koutoufides too dominated in defence, as he did everywhere else, playing the game of his life in the 1999 Prelim.

The Blues have had great forwards –  in Jesaulenko who kicked 115 goals in 1970 and remains the only Carlton forward to kick 100 goals in a season. Harry Vallance who lead the goalkicking 9 times in ten years during the 20s and 30s. Stephen Kernahan, who lead the goalkicking eleven years straight – as well as being captain for ten years. Brendon Fevola, often misguided and sometimes misunderstood, but he could certainly kick a footy.

They’ve had great ruckmen in Nicholls, Fitzpatrick, and Madden. Nicholls being named in the AFL team of the century. Fitzpatrick who controversially had a free kick paid against him for time wasting in 1981 and is now the AFL Chairman. Justin Madden, who will forever be remembered for a run through the middle of the MCG against Adelaide unhindered by any, was the Victorian minister for sport for a number of years.

There isn’t the time or the space to write of all the champions of the past and there isnt the time to write of all the fantastic events that have come about all these years, and yet these gentlemen and these incidents are all part of the fabric of a great old club.

Along with being the most successful, comes the occasional controversy. In 2002, Carlton were heavily penalised for breaching the salary cap, losing draft picks and incurring a massive fine. This along with the controversial decision to build a new grand stand at Princes Park, almost sent the club broke in the early 2000’s. Combined with its first ever wooden spoons (it would go on to ‘win” three), lowered memberships and crowds, and the club had reached rock bottom.

Amongst all this, in 2005 the club finally stopped playing AFL games at Princes Park after almost 110 years to go to Docklands stadium. The league still uses it for preseason games, and the VFL (state league competition) Northern Blues still use it competitively.

In recent times, the Blues have played finals since 2009, although they missed 2012, at least partly through injury. 2009 and 2010, they were unceremoniously bundled out in the first week. In 2011, they smashed the Bombers before being eliminated in week 2. In 2013, after being promoted into Essendons place in the finals, they went on to defeat Richmond, before being eliminated in week 2.

This year, the Blues will celebrate their 150th anniversary. Who knows what the next 150 years will bring.


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