Home to some of the biggest names in Australian football – Jesaulenko, Kernahan and Silvagni among others – the Carlton Football Club is the equal most successful club in the Australian Football League.
It forms one of the so-called ‘big four’ Victorian clubs, with whom it shares some of Australian football’s biggest rivalries – Collingwood, Essendon and Richmond.
On 17 May, 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 21 May, The Argus carried an advertisement for another meeting “for the purpose of drawing up rules and enrolment of members”.
Notwithstanding the above, the Carlton Football Club was officially formed in July 1864. Though the exact date has unfortunately been lost to history, at the time of its official formation it is believed to have been the seventh 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 17 May, 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 league’s inaugural year of 1877, and later in 1882. Carlton would be runners-up four times from 1879, and three years straight from 1889-1891.
Having been based at Royal Park since its inception, Carlton moved to Princes Park in 1878. Although in the same area, the Blues wouldn’t move to their current location until 1896.
In 1888, Carlton would play England in a game of Australian rules, defeating them 14.17 to 3.8 – not too bad considering Carlton led 7.7 to 0.1 at half-time.
In 1897, the Blues would take part in the split from the Association and form the Victorian Football League along with seven other clubs, providing the basis of what would be known as the AFL from 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 runners-up on 13 occasions.
They were the first club to win a “hat-trick” from 1906-1908, and 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) – while Tom Carroll (51 goals, 1961) and Brendan Fevola (84 goals, 2006 and 86 goals, 2009) have taken out the Coleman Medal.
Stephen Kernahan holds the record as the game’s 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 (fullback), 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 15 Carlton players and a coach (David 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 recent memory, in 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), drama and 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 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, resulting in a Carlton goal.
The 1982 grand final against Richmond saw the appearance of Helen d’Amico, the young streaker who Tigers fans still blame for losing the game and sending them into a football wilderness for 30 years.
There have 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, their team defeating a highly fancied Bombers 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 win by almost 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.
Along with being the most successful club, there also 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 2000s.
Combined with its first ever wooden spoons (it would go on to ‘win’ three), lowered memberships and crowds, the club had reached rock bottom.
Among 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 pre-season games, and the VFL’s Northern Blues still use it competitively.
There isn’t the time or the space to write of all the champions of the past – men of the calibre of Koutoufides, Bradley, Hunter, Jackson, Fitzpatrick, Madden, Bosustow, Rhys-Jones, Johnston and so many others who couldn’t get a mention.
There isn’t the time to write of Fitzpatrick’s time-wasting free kick, Silvagni’s mark of the decade, or Harry Madden’s run through the middle in the 1993 semi-final. Yet these gentlemen and these incidents are all part of the fabric of a great club.
This year, the Blues will celebrate their 150th anniversary. Who knows what the next 150 years will bring?