The President of the Carlton Football Club Dick Pratt, Directors of the Board, players both past and present, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
What an honour it is for me to talk to you today about the Carlton Football Club and what the spirit of Carlton means to me.
It’s a little more than 30 years since I first set foot in the Carlton changerooms – a kid from Kyneton with nothing more than a kit bag and a cause, to play senior football for the mighty Blues.
It was 1976 – the year Australia completed a 5-1 test series whitewash of the West Indies and Van der Hum won the Melbourne Cup in a flash flood.
It was also the year “Skinny” Lappin was born in Chiltern!
I’d only played six senior games in the Bendigo Football league when I joined Carlton that year, but i can still remember what the then Chairman of Selectors Wes Lofts said to me after I was selected for my first senior game against Footscray.
“Son, there’s a great opportunity here if you give it your best shot”.
I was 16 when i first opened the squeaky door to my no. 16 locker. The locker carried the names of Payne, Mooring and Sankey.
Back then I didn’t know who Billy Payne, Jim Mooring or Maurie Sankey were . . . To me they were just words etched in white enamel on dark navy steel.
Billy Payne was best on the ground in the first Carlton premiership team of 1906 and he was there to complete the premiership hat-trick in ’07 and ’08.
Jimmy Mooring shed blood in the famous bloodbath grand final of 1945.
And Maurie Sankey was a 100-game ruckman whose career was tragically cut short when he was killed in a car accident.
When I first walked into the Carlton rooms back in ’76, I could almost smell the success. The walls were plastered with black and white images of 200-game greats – and men of stature like “Big Nick”, “Wallsy” and “Jezza” wandered the hallowed halls deep within the bowels of the Robert Heatley stand.
The team itself was a blend of footballers of different personalities from different ends of the social scale – everyone from a would-be jockey to an eminent Rhodes Scholar.
How lucky was I? A boy from the bush with a chance to play alongside the likes of Bruce Doull, “Percy” Jones, Wayne Johnston, Wayne Harmes and Peter Bosustow – outstanding footballers who made their mark on Carlton and are still very much a part of the spirit.
Together we pushed each other to the hilt, as we gave the team our all.Together we took the Club in the one direction – forward – and if you dragged the chain you were quickly pulled into line.
That was because mediocrity wasn’t tolerated at Carlton. At Carlton there was an unwritten rule – regardless of what happened in the home and aways, you hadn’t arrived until you’d performed in finals on footy’s greatest stage, the MCG.
On the field we prided ourselves on honesty in the contest. Off it we thrived on our camaraderie, because enjoyment was such a big factor. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I finally “arrived” as a senior footballer the day my teammates took me down to Naughton’s for a convivial ale – which from then on was par for the course on Monday nights after training.
The Sunday morning training sessions were famous! All players would front up – including the stragglers who copped the mandatory penalty for lobbing late – and we’d all take part in games of soccer and hockey, some of them more dangerous than the games of footy we’d played the day before.
We’d then head upstairs into the Heatley stand to the players room where breakfast was ready as well as the cold beers, and we’d relax in front of the telly to watch Jack, Bob, Lou and Uncle Doug deliver some of their finest work on “World of Sport”.
I might add that these Sunday morning sessions often ran into the late hours of Sunday night.
The players of my era were all part of a deeply ingrained culture. There was no room for selfishness or self-centeredness at Carlton back then.
In those days Carlton was the pre-eminent football team. Today we’re just making up the numbers and we cannot tolerate second best!
The spirit of Carlton is all about loyalty, pride and respect – respect of yourself, respect of your teammates and respect of the navy blue guernsey. It’s also about honesty of performance; of maintaining the great history and tradition of Carlton and adhering to the Carlton ethic which is winning.
The spirit went missing for a while, but I can now sense its resurgence amongst the young playing group. We’ve posted a record membership under the helm of Dick Pratt, the only current president to have actually played for his Club.
Dick, on behalf of all the people in this room, together with our members and our hundreds of thousands of supporters, I say “thank you for what you have done for Carlton in its greatest hour of need”. The Club was a shambles when you took the helm, but you’ve revived the spirit and taken Carlton to a place where it is once again striving for success both on and off the field.
In the 17 years since I gave the game away, Scott Camporeale has worn the no.16 into 233 games for Carlton, including the Club’s last grand final triumph of 1995.
Today the no.16 is worn by Shaun Grigg – the boy from North Ballarat – who has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to carve his own niche in Carlton’s history and get his name on the no.16 locker.
To Shaun and all the other Carlton senior players of today, I ask you to have a look around the room, to those like Dick Pratt, Ken Hands, Freddy Stafford, Ray Garby, Geoff Southby, Trevor Keogh, David Rhys-Jones, Jon Dorotich, Richard Dennis, Mark Maclure and many more . . . men who are here for no other reason than that they love Carlton and they know what the real Carlton represents.
Like them, I want to see one of the world’s oldest and greatest sporting institutions returned to its rightful place at the top of the ladder.
As “Sticks” Kernahan put it– “we are Carlton . . . . You know the rest!”.
Many of the past players in this room have come back to help rekindle the spirit of Carlton – a spirit which has underscored the successes of this great Club over the past 143 years and contributed to Carlton’s rich and illustrious history.
Now is the time for the players of this great Club to make their own history, and in closing I say this to you;
Boys, when you head back to Princes Park for training this week, take a moment to look at the names on your locker and think about those great Carlton men who have gone before.
Above all, remember what Wes Lofts once said: “there’s a great opportunity here – just give it your best shot” . . . And have no regrets.