Richmond put a much-publicised effort into recruiting lots of big-name players.
It’s an odd one this. Most of the club songs seem to fit the mood of a band of football warriors turning up to battle, or an old-time celebration of a well-earned victory in a good-natured sporting clash.
For Carlton though, they appeared to be aiming encapsulate the atmosphere of a different part of a traditional Saturday afternoon of a Melbourne winter – about three hours after the match when all the lads had gone back to the club rooms and are all hammered.
It’s got swagger, I’ll give it that much – but it’s all swagger.
It plods along at about half the pace of almost every other song, so much so that it has the lazy, almost comatose feeling of a footy fan’s last drunken slur before they pass out half on the couch, half on the floor.
But for all that, it’s so much fun. I mean, that’s primarily why it’s fun.
The story goes that sometime around 1930, players boarding the bus after a win were noting the absence of the club songs that Collingwood, Melbourne and North Melbourne already had to celebrate their victories.
On board the bus happened to be the daughters of Dan Minogue, the coach at the time, and they started work on lyrics with input of all the players onboard.
Maybe this origin story can directly explain post-match, on-the-ride-home mood of the song. We’ll never know for sure, but it’s best suited to this mindset.
I imagine it’s more likely to make you nod off if you were listening to it to psych yourself up before a game.
And they did a good job. It’s short, it’s to the point, and the lyrics contain a nice reference to the suburb that spawned the club, which not all the other songs do.
Sure, ‘dark navy blue’ isn’t a real colour, but they’ve done really good work at capturing the frame of mind of a specific moment of VFL culture.
It’s based on the 1898 tune, ‘Lily of Laguna’, an unfortunately accurate example of blackface comedy popular in Britain at the time; in fact, the sheet music for the tune proudly announces it as “The World’s Greatest Coon Song”.
It focuses around an African-American falling in love with a Native American, and it is in the mockery of African-American vocal phrasing of the time that causes its cringe-worthiness in its original form today.
Thankfully, by the time the Carlton players decided to tame it into a victory anthem, ‘Lily of Laguna’ had shed the racist bent of the lyrics, and it had morphed into a popular love song.
“We are the Navy Blues” stands tall now as easily the most recognisable (in this country, at least) version of the tune, and as one of the most enjoyable of the AFL club anthems.