Raiding the Soup Kitchen
Rags to riches stories seem to have a universal appeal. Almost as equally attractive are stories of corrupt arrogant riches falling into rags. Such stories bring out the schadenfreude in people as well as give a sense that justice has been done.
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 to celebrate Carton winning games and drowning sorrows when they didn’t. 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.
What blue symbolised perhaps changed according to who was being asked. For its working class supporters, perhaps it referred to its blue collar fan base; however, as the club broadened its supporter base, blue seemed more reminiscent of the suits and bankers that took over as the face of the club.
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 powerfully 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 his side-kick Jo Bailey.
Even the suburb of Carlton discovered the lofty heights of success. Where once the houses of Carlton were filled with factory workers with fridges 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. President John Elliot started the remould the club in his own image. Instead of raising revenue by increasing the popularity of the club, Elliot formulated corporate money making schemes. And so when Essendon and Collingwood moved to MCG to provide a big game atmosphere, Elliot redeveloped the suburban Princes Park as part of a grand plan to make money from other AFL teams.
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. In 2002, the club 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. These clubs supported building a brand new stadium at Docklands where many of them ended up losing money by playing there, but they were happy because at least Carlton was not profiting.
Self-interested players also let the glamour go to their heads and over-estimated their worth. In 2002, Carlton made extensively use of brown paper bags to collectively pay them $1,400,000 more than players from any other club. They players rewarded Carlton for its generosity by delivering the club the first wooden spoon in its history. Once the salary cap cheating was exposed, the club pleaded for mercy on the grounds that it was in financial strife and had finished last. The AFL was not sympathetic and so fined the Blues $900,000 and stripped them of their first two draft selections.
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 in a manner 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 four or 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 and the women had been bought off. The club was not impressed and reacted by banning Elliot from attending any events.
As well as having an unhappy board, the club also revealed that its coaching staff and playing list was anything but a happy family. The coach and his assistant refused to talk to each other. 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.
At the time, Carlton's financial and social problems presented a moral dilemma for the rest of the competition. Many AFL fans, particularly those of Essendon, believed that if Carlton couldn't pay their way then they should be put into the VFL. Obviously Carlton's fans wouldn't be happy about that, but there was a perception that it served the fans right for picking a loser team. They would just have to learn the hard way and then choose a successful club like Essendon in future.
Fortunately for the club, they were saved by paper recycling billionaire Richard Pratt, although “saved” was perhaps the wrong choice of word. A police investigation forced Richard Pratt to confess that he made great use of the brown paper bags that had been destined for recycling. Specifically, he was a price-fixer and faced a $36 million fine after a court heard he was a cheat who had betrayed the public. Putting Pratt at the helm was just a continuation of the club’s decisions to overlook poor moral character in the quest for success.
The re-build that went on and on
In North Korea stands the Ryugyong Hotel, which commenced construction in 1987 with the aim of becoming the tallest hotel in the world. As of 2018, it has yet to see a guest. The story of the Ryugyong Hotel has parallels with the two decade-long Carlton “rebuild” that just can’t seem to get finished.
Until 2003, Carlton's spoon collection was very much of the silver variety. Once it claimed its first wooden spoon, it lost its fear of finishing last. So much so, it actually changed its whole list strategy so that it would come last in order to claim prized draft selections. After being excluded from the 2003 draft for cheating, it claimed its first number selection in 2005 in the form of Marc Murphy and 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 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 conduct.
The club obviously didn’t believe 2007 was a reflection of its list quality considering its 2008 slogan was “They know we are coming." With three number draft selections and champion Chris Judd lured from West Coast using 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 membership slogans that seemed to hedge their bets with mixed messages suggested a move up the ladder or a move down to get more spoons and draft picks.
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 had its sets on being defined as a "special needs" club so it was a race to the bottom once more. The strategy was to heavily prune the fruit-bearing branches in the hope of seeing "green shoots" the following year. This pruning saw star players leave for other clubs while the green shoots came and went.
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. (Meanwhile, other clubs recruited high performing players without consideration to where they had originally been drafted.) 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 they had 17 first round draft picks on their list. Whereas most clubs put a time span of 5 years between claiming a spoon and when they think a premiership is possible, Carlton spent 15 years working out ways to grow its spoon collection and get more first round draft picks. 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.
Carlton’s theme song includes the line “we’re the team that never let’s you down.” It also includes the lines,
For much of its history, the lyrics seemed to refer to Carlton not letting the club’s fans down, particularly after raiding other clubs for their best players. In more recent years, however, the lyrics seem to refer to Carlton not letting fans other club’s down by winning games, particularly after claiming first round draft selections who lay down with their arses in the air. Indeed, spoons well used.
The Carlton rebuild - 2003 to 2018. Carlton aim to ensure they are well-equipped when hunting for soup.
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".
|Offended by the description of your footy club? Maybe you would be better off watching a TV news report of your team's players in a recovery session standing around in the ocean looking cold. Alternatively, you could listen to news on the radio of your team 'training without incident'. If you are still concerned, then maybe have a read of stereotype formation and suggest a reason for a different steretype.|