Spirit of Carlton at Kukerin

When you think of the Carlton Football Club, the small township of Kukerin, 300 kms southeast of Perth in the vast West Australian wheat belt does not come to mind. Yet, it is from this remote area of Australia that Ross Ditchburn was born and bred, a classic country superboot who travelled across the country to become a premiership player for the Blues in 1982.

When the Spirit of Carlton learnt about Ross’ recent battle with prostate cancer and Ross’ determination to spread the message of mens health awareness throughout rural communities the idea of a mens health weekend supported by the Spirit of Carlton was born. Keep returning over coming days for further details from this marathon footy trip across the country to support a very good cause.

In the meantime enjoy a pictorial summary of the trip from Spirit of Carlton TV on youtube.

Roo Pressure Puts Glitch in Blues’ System

In round 12, on the Friday night stage at Etihad Stadium, Carlton suffered what could be called a network breakdown.

Against North Melbourne, the main systems instrumental in the Blues’ promising start of seven wins and four losses failed to connect.

Explaining reasons for the 29-point loss, coach Brett Ratten referred to the usual culprits: “A lack of intensity and skill errors,” he said. “We gave the ball back too easily. That diminished our confidence to run and spread and get involved.”

This is a standard coaching admission that, in reality, reveals nothing. There is no mention of an opposition out there on the playing field, and what it did to stuff up the best intentions of Carlton’s plan. No acknowledgement of the Disruptive Pattern Theory, which was in effect during this game.

Anyone familiar with computer systems should be familiar with the theory. A simple network glitch breeds panic. There is no plan B. What next? No clues! The Roos-Blues game is a good example of how the theory applies in action.

North was outstanding at disconnecting Carlton’s plan A, and then pouncing on the opportunities available. Without an apparent plan B, the Blues looked lacklustre. As Ratten lamented, giving the ball back too easily was certainly the case.

In round 12, on the Friday night stage at Etihad Stadium, Carlton suffered what could be called a network breakdown.

Against North Melbourne, the main systems instrumental in the Blues’ promising start of seven wins and four losses failed to connect.

Explaining reasons for the 29-point loss, coach Brett Ratten referred to the usual culprits: “A lack of intensity and skill errors,” he said. “We gave the ball back too easily. That diminished our confidence to run and spread and get involved.”

This is a standard coaching admission that, in reality, reveals nothing. There is no mention of an opposition out there on the playing field, and what it did to stuff up the best intentions of Carlton’s plan. No acknowledgement of the Disruptive Pattern Theory, which was in effect during this game.

Anyone familiar with computer systems should be familiar with the theory. A simple network glitch breeds panic. There is no plan B. What next? No clues! The Roos-Blues game is a good example of how the theory applies in action.

North was outstanding at disconnecting Carlton’s plan A, and then pouncing on the opportunities available. Without an apparent plan B, the Blues looked lacklustre. As Ratten lamented, giving the ball back too easily was certainly the case.

The supposedly lessercredentialled Kangaroos ‘won’ 79 turnovers from the Blues’ disposals and scored a matchwinning 9.8 (62) from these opportunities. In contrast, Carton won only 57 turnovers from North Melbourne disposals and scored just 4.4 (28) from these chances.

Importantly, the Roos knocked the Blues off their perch around the stoppages. Before the game, Carlton’s main strength had been its ability to out-score its opposition from stoppage wins.

During the game, the Blues had an exceptional advantage of 47 clearances to North’s 27. However, this domination resulted in Carlton scoring only 17 points more than the Kangaroos from their respective stoppage wins.

How could these two discrepancies have occurred? What is Carlton’s plan A? How was it derailed? What mattered in this instance is how North Melbourne applied pressure to the Blues’ system, and the effect this pressure had.

Carlton is the most captaindriven club of any. It’s not unlike North Melbourne of the 1990s under skipper Wayne Carey. Like the Carey example, the Carlton system is engaged to accommodate the exceptional talents of Chris Judd.

Watching Judd take flight, drawing opposition flak while teammates, confident he will prevail, are lining up in attacking positions, is among the most compelling forces in footy. It is a mistake to think the system is a one-man-show. If too much attention is paid to Judd, the likes of outstanding lieutenants Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs can get you.

Carlton takes pride in its dominance and effectiveness at stoppages. After Geelong, it is the second-best team at outscoring the opposition from stoppage wins. Slick and efficient exits from stoppages also propel Carlton’s run-and-spread caper.

In their seven wins, the Blues have averaged a remarkable 50 more kicks than their opposition, which is the highest kick differential for any winning team. Hence the supply to their revamped livewire forward structure (minus Brendan Fevola) has been top-notch, and the forwards generally have delivered.

But Carlton has lost five games and what has broken down in these losses is revealing. It has suffered a spectacular drop in kicking dominance, averaging 15 fewer kicks than its opposition in these games.

Against North, Judd, Murphy and Gibbs, along with Eddie Betts (five goals), made important contributions. However, the Roos were outstanding at limiting the roles played by the rest of the team.

North Melbourne, a team that usually struggles to outnumber its opposition for total kicks, evened the score with Carlton. Blaming the Blues’ lack of intensity and skill errors for the loss does not give due credit to how good the Roos were at disconnecting the captain’s system.

The sustained pressure North applied produced 31 turnovers forward of centre, while Carlton could manage only eight in its forward half. The result was further endorsement of the Kangaroos’ work-in-progress development. Carlton should also gain valuable lessons for improvement. Handling pressure and applying it are two of the keys to success.

Take note: the grand masters at these capers are Geelong and St Kilda. They clearly disconnect opponents better than any other teams.

An Invitation to ‘The Hopkins Institute’

‘Carlton’s strength has endured because it has almost always operated in a zone between stagnation and anarchy, “the one place where a complex system can be spontaneous, adaptive, and alive”’.’

Dr Lionel Frost, The Old Dark Navy Blues: A History of the Carlton Football Club (Allen & Unwin, 1998), p. 12.

Fellow blue-bagger

You are warmly invited to the inaugural dinner and launch of

The Hopkins Institute

Where: Brandon Hotel, 237 Station St, Carlton (cnr Lee St).

When: 7.00 for 7.30 pm, Thursday 27 May 2010.
($45 for two courses, drinks over the bar)

Guest Speaker: Ted Hopkins (Author of “The Book of Slab”; aka as a Carlton rover who played 29 games between 68 and 71, including one you all know!)

What is The Hopkins Institute?: A diverse group of Carlton barrackers who share the aim of promoting discussion and celebration of ideas and events related to this great club – our glorious history, the course of the current renaissance, literature about or by Carlton people and the meaning of football and life. It is not an official Carlton Football Club group.

Scott Hargreaves (contact@scotthargreaves.com.au or 0417564642) or Lachlan Carter (lcarter@vicbar.com.au or 0411694767).

Taking the ‘Bomber Shuffle’ to a New Level

Long before Apple Macintosh guru Steve Jobs cottoned on to the idea of the brilliant iPod music shuffle invention, another kind of shuffle was happening in front of our eyes at the MCG and other footy venues around the country. I am referring to the ‘Hot Potato Shuffle’ warm-up drill before games, in which players swarm together into a tightly packed huddle and start jogging up and down, bumping into each other and shifting places.

The sole object of the drill appears to be shuffling the pill among the players at a distance no less than intimate kissing range. It’s a totally whacky thing to observe for anyone like myself who is steeped in the ancient ritual of a warm-up lap and casual kick-to-kick before games. Now, the Hot Potato Shuffle (like the iPod is to music) has become a ubiquitous feature of football, happening constantly during games, and not just before them.

We know who invented the iPod but who was responsible for this other thing? My research has led me to conclude it was Essendon’s 1993 team – the ‘Baby Bombers’ who won that year’s premiership – which was responsible.

Here is how I think it happened. At the start of 1992, under the stewardship of coach Kevin Sheedy and astute football manager Danny Corcoran, Essendon boasted an outstanding coaching panel that included reserves coach Denis Pagan and assistant coaches Neale Daniher and David Wheadon. Highly regarded recruiter Noel Judkin was also on board.

Sheedy had declared he wanted change and creativity. A new plan was discussed by the panel and hatched: ‘quick hands, speed kills’. Lurking among the Pagan-coached reserves premiership team of 1992 was a special crop of youngsters ripe for schooling in the new plan, including James Hird, Joe Misiti, Mark Mercuri, Steven Alessio, Ricky Olarenshaw, David Calthorpe, Michael Symons and Paul Hills.

The following year, these Baby Bombers progressed to the senior Essendon team. They had already been stamped with Pagan-style commitment to win the contest and adherence to the new team rules and playing style the coaches had introduced them to. During 1993, they also benefited from playing alongside senior luminaries including Michael Long, Mark Harvey, Mark Thompson, Paul Salmon, Gary O’Donnell, Gavin Wanganeen and Darren Bewick.

Adding to the quality influence of leadership that these players represented, veteran champion Tim Watson was coaxed from retirement. As the season progressed, the combination of youth and experience and quick hands was beginning to gel. My observation is that over time, the 1993 Grand Final teams, Essendon and Carlton, had grown to dislike one another intensely, eating at the heart enough to elevate it to a fierce rivalry.

However, there is a dictum in warfare: learn from the enemy. On the Carlton side were the genius hands of Greg Williams. How did he do it? Opponents spent considerable time studying not how to stop ‘Diesel’ – an assignment that was nigh impossible – but how to copy him. While the total package was not easy for mortals to replicate, his method of handballing and not kicking when he picked up the ball in heavy traffic became a model for team rules.

Another ploy hatched by Essendon in 1992 was the use of quick hands to get away from a tackle, with the player instructed to aggressively run and carry the ball into attack. Carlton started the 1993 Grand Final clear favourite. By quarter-time, the Blues looked a beaten side, trailing by 30 points. Essendon was just as fierce at the contests as Carlton, but was also dancing ahead in tune to the quick shuffling of the ball that left the Blues bamboozled and flat-footed.

Long and Mercuri were sublime exponents. Thompson is also listed in the AFL Record Season Guide among the best players that day. Sitting in the box that day was Wheadon, architect of the quick hands, speed kills philosophy. Essendon in 1993 had struck a high note. Long won the Norm Smith Medal and Wanganeen the Brownlow Medal. The Baby Bomber brand was born.

Today, not so surprisingly, we are watching a team that does the Hot Potato Shuffle more often and better than anyone else. Geelong has featured in the past three Grand Finals and won two of them. At the helm is coach ‘Bomber’ Thompson – and in the background tutoring the Cats is Wheadon, the club’s skill acquisition and game development coach. It’s no coincidence, is it?
Ted Hopkins is a Carlton premiership player and founder of Champion Data. His current project is TedSport, a high performance data analysis and consulting service.

This column was first published in the AFL Record. Copyright AFL 2010.

After 113 years . . . here’s Wally

By Tony De Bolfo

Before “Sticks”, before “Jezza”, before “Turkey Tom”, before “Fev” and even before “Soapy”, the vibrantly-named full-forward Wallace Alfred Richard O’Cock stood front and centre in the first team fielded by the football club in the VFL’s maiden season of 1897.

And now, more than 113 years after he took to the field for that historic opening round match against Fitzroy at Brunswick Street, the first confirmed image of “Wally” O’Cock has surfaced, with the assistance of a descendant, Graeme Cumbrae-Stewart OAM.

Wally O’Cock was born in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Clifton Hill on June 17, 1875. His father, was a bank manager named Alfred Ferrie O’Cock, his mother, Anne Wallace, and records indicate that Wally’s paternal grandfather originally hailed from Somerset in south west England.

The dedicated Carlton website Blueseum notes that Wally was already established in Carlton’s team when the first four matches of the VFL were staged on Saturday, May 8, 1897. It also notes that Wally lined up a placekick in the second quarter of the Fitzroy match and sent it sailing through the posts – the first goal kicked by a Carlton footballer in League competition.

That July, after being laid up for a period with injury, Wally endeavoured to force his way back into the team. Initially he was overlooked for selection after failing to obtain a medical clearance, but the club registered him under the name Alfred Wallace and he promptly booted two goals in a match-winning performance against the Fuschias.

The Wallace surname is itself famous in sporting circles. Wally’s uncle Donald Smith Wallace was an MP and pastoralist who owned the respective Melbourne Cup winners of 1888 and 1890, Mentor and Carbine – and as Cumbrae-Stewart added, “the story goes that Donald got Carbine on the cheap”.

Wally’s 15 goals from ten matches through season 1897 earned him the plaudits as the club’s first leading goalkicker. He would manage a further 31 appearances for the club over the next four years, despite having been in absentia for all of 1900 for reasons unknown.

He was only a few days short of his 26th birthday when he turned out for Carlton for the last time, against Essendon at the East Melbourne Football Ground in June 1901. He later fronted for a local outfit in Preston, but his the glory days on the paddock were long gone.

“I remember Dad telling me that Wally was a nuggety little bloke with a fiery temper,” Cumbrae-Stewart said recently.

“I believe he had to give up footy after he copped a spike from a boot to his leg. He was also left with a permanent limp, which forced him to give up his work as a commercial traveller with MacRobertson’s.

“Wally moved to Holbrook to work for his brother-in-law Adam Anderson and his wife Alice who managed at property called Wentworth . . . it was probably share farming of some sort.

“He later took on his own property, but fire wind and rain ruined it and he went broke. He then started as a stock and sales agent in Holbrook, during which time he and his wife Luisa Durrant raised six children.

Wallace Alfred Richard O’Cock died in Richmond on June 14, 1951, aged 74. He was buried in the New South Wales township of Holbrook, in a grave shared with his beloved wife, who died nine years previous.

But his name, and now his visage, are indelibly aligned with all things Navy Blue.

Jesse’s Review

Hello everyone in Carlton land! It’s me, Jesse, back again to write about my favourite footy team for another year. Since I last wrote we lost one of my favourite players, Fev, but I’m getting used to our new forward line now and reckon we’re going to do okay. I have watched every match so far this year, the first three on TV (I cried when we lost to Brisbane because I really thought we had it won) and in Round 4 I finally got to see them play live over here in SA. I’m going to write about the match later this week, but for now I am just busting to tell you all about my exciting Saturday morning at the Spirit Of Carlton pre-match function!

The function was held at The Lakes Resort, just near AAMI Stadium. Many past Carlton champions were there, but I was mainly looking forward to seeing Anthony Koutoufides for the first time since he, Ang Christou and I had a kick of the footy in Melbourne last July. I had made up a special card to give Kouta, together with a photocopy of a story I wrote at school after those holidays in which I mentioned our kick-to-kick. When Kouta arrived he looked very happy to see our family – he gave me a hug and my Mum a kiss and shook my Dad’s hand and then I gave him my card with the story and a picture inside. On the front of the card was the photo that Ang took of Ang, me and Kouta. I think Kouta really liked it and he went to put it straight in his bag to keep it safe.

Past player from SA, Mark Naley, was there to host the show, and he remembered me from previous functions and get-togethers to watch games at the Rob Roy Hotel. He welcomed us all, including the Spirit Of Carlton boys. One was a player I hadn’t yet met, David Rhys-Jones, who was also helping to MC the function. My Mum had told me what a tough player for Carlton he was, but he wasn’t at all scary – he even gave me a hug. David talked of how Spirit Of Carlton first started about four years ago, when things weren’t looking so good for our great Football Club. He and other past players had a meeting about what to do to help the club they love during its “hour of need”, and they decided to give something back by raising money themselves to inject some funds for player facilities and equipment. They do this by having Spirit Of Carlton functions like this, and also golf days and auctions. They have spent around $250,000 on the club so far on various equipment, and plan to continue on, as they also have such fun getting together and talking about old times.

Then David asked ex-Adelaide player Chris McDermott and Kouta to come up on the stage to give a preview of the match being played that afternoon. Chris McDermott spoke about Adelaide not going too well, and said that the Adelaide supporters would “eat their own” if Adelaide were to lose today! Kouta was asked about the surprise omissions of Thornton and Waite, and he admitted that he was shocked, but that Ratts and his Match Committee would know much more than anyone else about why certain decisions are made. He thinks that our forward line is doing really well even with Fev gone and he was really looking forward to seeing Simon White debut. David then asked both Chris and Kouta for a tip – Chris picked Adelaide in a close match and Kouta, of course, picked the Mighty Bluebaggers! He got lots of cheers at saying that.

David Rhys-Jones then interviewed past champions Jim Buckley and Val Perovic. Val talked of playing footy in Ballarat, and not believing how lucky he was to be asked to play for Carlton. He reckons he’s been blessed to come to the best footy club in the land. David then said that Val holds a unique record in Melbourne of drinking 37 cans of beer in 1 hour and 47 minutes. He asked Val “what were you thinking?” to which Val replied, “I wasn’t thinking at all!”. David then asked Jimmy which of the 79, 81 and 82 premierships was the best for him, and Jimmy said the 1979 one, because that was his first. He spoke of premierships being such a bonding time for each player, having such a great respect for one another, and still all being good mates today. Jimmy said that last night he had been comparing Testimonials with Kouta and they found it quite funny – recent players have made some money from their Testimonials, but back in Jimmy’s day he had a joint Testimonial with Wayne Johnston (Mum’s first footy hero). It took them a while to find out how much money they’d made, and when they finally asked Collo about it, they were told that “Jimmy owes Carlton $1,000 and Johnno owes $2,000!”.

An announcement was then made about another past club champion who had a really bad car accident at the start of his second year with Carlton, Peter Motley. I’ve met Mots at the last two Carlton functions and I think he’s really funny and nice. He and his partner are expecting a baby in July! Mots was asked to come up on stage, and as he always does when he takes the stage, he told us all a joke. He then talked of really great memories of Carlton Football Club. David interrupted Mots to talk about the 1987 premiership, which is the year that Peter had his accident. He said Motley’s accident was a great inspiration to all Carlton players that year, and he’s sure that’s why they were able to win the Grand Final. Mots said that on the oval after that Grand Final, the Dominator and Braddles each gave him their own premiership medals………but after all the television reporters and cameras had left, they took them back!

Then it was time for some of the really big framed footy guernseys and prints to be auctioned to raise some funds for our club. The first was of David Rhys-Jones, for being the most reported player in VFL/AFL history. Mark told us David was reported 25 times, and only pleaded guilty once. David said when he pleaded guilty, he got four weeks for hitting a Melbourne runner called Peter Smith, so he never pleaded guilty again. He later discovered that the runner was Norm Smith’s son – David felt a bit guilty about winning the Norm Smith Medal after that!! The Rhys-Jones print was auctioned for $1,200.

The print of the most famous mark ever, Jesaulenko’s, was auctioned next. I wasn’t even anywhere near being alive when this mark was taken 40 years ago, but I have seen it many times over and I always pretend I’m Jezza – in fact, my nickname is Jezza! I’d love to meet him one day. His print was auctioned for $900.

A framed guernsey, signed by all players and coach of the 1982 premiership team, was auctioned for an amazing $2,050 – bought by our friend Denise! Stephen Silvagni’s 1988 Mark of the Year was the next one to be auctioned – this print was a beauty with four continual photos in the one picture. It went for $1,100.

During the break while our yummy breakfast was served to us, Kouta and I had a chat and our photo taken. I think Kouta is really special, and I have the feeling that he thinks I’m alright too!

Next up David interviewed Alex Marcou and Peter McConville. Alex came from Lalor, where Kouta & Lance Whitnall are from, and while he barracked for Fitzroy as a kid, he used to watch every Carlton game on TV (back when Jezza and Southby were playing) and he decided he wanted to play for them, too. He never forgets the day he was asked to play for the Blues, and how in awe he was of being in the same company as players like Jezza and Southby. Peter talked of the Fevola betting incident, saying “we had a few of them” – the papers would have had a field day in their time! Ken Hunter was another player in the room who could vouch for that. The President of our club, Stephen Kernahan (Sticks) arrived then and posed for a photo with me.

Sticks was welcomed by David and invited up on stage to talk to us. David asked him how he balances now being President after having such a long association with Carlton as a player – Sticks said for one thing he’s no good at public speaking – “look at the voice I’m stuck with!”. He stressed that he was only there by default, and was just doing it to help out the club until someone else was able to step into the role. David then mentioned the decision to move on Fevola – David thinks its the right decision but realises it has divided the club and asked Sticks how will we go forward from here. Sticks replied that Fev’s still one of the biggest merchandise sellers at the club, and is a much-loved character. But that over the 11 years he was with us, “we’ve all saved him 25 times over behind the scenes”, and while we miss him, it can’t all be about one person. He feels we’re better off now, and really hopes Fev can get his issues sorted out. David asked about the coach and moves he’s made so far this year, and Sticks replied that the media is already “all over the coaches” this year, Dean Bailey the first week, Mark Harvey also, and now it seems to be our turn this week because we lost to our arch rival in Essendon. He said all of Carlton’s players, employees and coaches are annoyed, and are very fired up,determined to win and make amends today. He said Ratten is doing okay, that “it’s Round 3, chill out – get behind the coach” as it really peeves Sticks some of the rubbish that goes on in Melbourne about him! When talking of the upcoming match, he said that last year he came over a day before the game against Adelaide to see his Dad and catch up with the Spirit Of Carlton boys, ending up a big night with him feeling rather seedy on match day. This time he flew over this morning and is sober as a judge while the Spirit Of Carlton boys all arrived yesterday and had a huge night – Stick is doing his bit to help the team! (Kouta told my Mum he got to bed at 6.30am so it WAS a big night for them all!).

While Sticks was there the next of the remaining items was auctioned off, a framed print and signed guernsey of the man himself. This print sold for the highest amount of the day – $2,500. It was purchased by our friend Cynthia who sat at our table!

Judd’s signed guernsey was the next to go – it went for $1,700.

And then came Kouta’s print (complete with Collingwood’s Nathan Buckley in the background) and signed guernsey. Daddy had checked this out earlier in the day, and had decided he wanted to bid for it, since Kouta means so much to our family, and especially to me from the time of my heart surgery. I was quite excited about this although we didn’t think he would be the successful bidder. But he was! We got it for $1,800. Wow. It will be well looked after by us, I can assure you!

Kouta was rather chuffed that we were the ones to purchase his print – Daddy took a photo of him with me and Mummy (who reminded me that Kouta was her hero long before I came along!).

After that, several individual current player prints and fancy footballs were sold off to the highest bidder. I had been checking out the footballs, each signed by the Spirit Of Carlton boys, because they were such cool colours. They went for various amounts between $150 and $350. The last one was a gold one, and Peter McConville purchased it for $250. And guess what? He gave it to ME! Daddy couldn’t believe it. Apparently he purchased it with me in mind. How lucky am I? Mum took a photo of me with Peter and my brand new footy.

And you’ll never guess what happened next!! THIS is what I have been busting to tell you! Mark Naley got up on stage for one last official announcement. He actually talked about ME! He said that I am a special friend of Spirit Of Carlton, and that I write stories for the Carlton website. He asked me to come up onto the stage and I had to walk up the steps and stand there in front of all those people! They all clapped and cheered and I have to tell you I felt very nervous (I took my new gold footy with me for good luck). When I got up there, Mark asked me who was going to win today and I told him Carlton would. And then he asked me who my favourite player was, and I told him Chris Judd. He asked if I remembered seeing Jimmy Buckley play, and everyone laughed because of course I didn’t! He then said that one of my original favourite players was here to present me with something special, and Kouta came up onto the stage with me, holding something. When Kouta took the microphone he ruffled my hair and told everybody there that he has known me ever since I was a baby – he bent down to ask me “was that seven years ago, Jess?” to which I nodded. He said that I am actually his son’s age so he knew that, and he told the people in the room about my open heart surgery and how Mum brought me down to the club to meet him and Ratten at the time, and then he bent down to me again and said “and we’ve stayed friends ever since, haven’t we, Jess?” to which I nodded again. I was so excited and nervous I thought I was going to cry from happiness, I told Mummy & Daddy later! But instead I stood there and said inside my head, ‘don’t cry, don’t cry”, which is why I could only nod. Kouta then told everyone how he and Ang had a kick of the footy with me and Mum & Dad last year, and he said that I could kick the ball further than Ang (I can’t, really!). He then said on behalf of the past players, because they know I’m a “very special kid” and that I mean a lot to him, too, he wanted to present me with a plaque of every Carlton premiership from the past. He said there are sixteen premierships on there, with two spaces for the next two premierships, and “hopefully you’re playing in that one”. (Mum told me later no way – we need a premiership well before I get old enough to play AFL!). How exciting – I got an Honorary Spirit Of Carlton Membership from Sticks two years ago, and this year a special plaque from Kouta. Dad was pretty impressed with it, and I now like looking at all those scorelines and who we beat in all those years.

So that was a great end to the function for me! I then had the game to look forward to………but that’s another story! I’ll be back to tell you about THAT excitement very soon!

From Jesse.

Matthews the Chief Executioner

In the late 1960s as a Carlton reserves player starting to get an occasional run in the seniors, I once had the daunting privilege of coming up against Hawthorn’s young superstar Leigh Matthews. The encounter was brief, and it left me shocked. Scarcely a half of football but it was embarrassing. I was taught a humbling lesson about what it meant to excel in elite sport.
Although we were about the same height (I played at 177cm; Matthews at 178), I was a puny 68kg next to his compressed battleship frame weighing in at 86. For some reason, I thought I possessed enough silky skills, speed and footy smarts to compete with him. But pretty quickly, I realised otherwise.

This heavyset bloke was amazingly quick off the mark, agile and simply dazzling. In my face was the reality of exceptional talent executing sublime football skills. It was a painful tutorial, but at least there was a measure of how far I still had to go. But there was even more to learn. He was winning the ball regularly and I was scarcely getting a touch. And when I did – bang! A tackle that made me gasp for air and think I was going to die, and the umpire didn’t even blow the bloody whistle.

It immediately dawned on me that this bloke hated it when an opponent of any kind had the ball and would go hard and fast at him to get it back. It hurt. In a recent conversation with Matthews, he described this facet of the game involving getting the ball back from the opposition as effort.

Based on previous experience, I’m inclined to add the words: driven desire and blessed talent both ways, with and without the ball. He calls it execution under pressure, and I fully agree. Our conversation followed on the heels of comments he made recently on television and on afl.com.au.

In a website column, Matthews attributed the astronomical increases in handball numbers, often now outnumbering kicks in a game, to the exponential increase in interchange numbers. He wrote: “This handball footy has evolved because the pressure on the ball carrier has never been hotter. While specialist tackling numbers have honed good technique, it is the large numbers of players with the energy to surround the footy that is the main catalyst for the increased need to handball because of the difficulty in finding space to deliver an unpressured kick … “It is the use of the interchange bench to rest players regularly that enables them to play with such high energy in their spurts on the field.”

As a four-time premiership coach (with Collingwood in 1990 and the Brisbane Lions in 2001-03), Matthews explained the basis of his coaching philosophy: “My chief role was to influence talent to make the effort when it got harder, when an opponent had the ball,” he said. “At the Lions, we placed a lot of emphasis on tackling numbers. Most important was also the type of tackles, which we reviewed in video post-match.

These included our highly rated categories of special tackles in active play and missed tackles, along with the trapping-type tackles.” His other highest priority was execution. “Assuming the effort was there, the result of the game invariably hinged on how well the individual talent and the team executed when they had the ball,” he said.

Consequently, he believes one of the keys to coaching is to make sure the available talent is in the right place at the right time. He mentioned on Channel Seven recently that too much emphasis is being made of the concept of a ‘game-plan’, at the expense of the idea of execution.

He suggested the term is a convenient one being used more as way of promoting the game and not explaining it. “It’s mystifying the game,” he said. “What coaches and commentators are fond of calling a game-plan is perhaps better described as strategies, themes, principles and team rules.” When champions such as Matthews are hunting you down, there is no time to follow a script. You can only execute the best you can, and when he’s got the ball, hopefully reciprocate.
Ted Hopkins is a Carlton premiership player and founder of Champion Data. His current project is TedSport, a high performance data analysis and consulting service.

This column was first published in the AFL Record. Copyright AFL 2010.

Sarkies – the Carltonite who went down singing

By Tony De Bolfo

This is the story of the short life and tragic death of Andrew Sarkies – Boer War veteran, Carlton Football Club committeeman and the great great grandfather of the Australian Socceroo Kristian Sarkies.

This long-forgotten tale was recently revived after Sarkies’ great grandson Geoff Sarkies recently contacted the club seeking clarification of Andrew’s role at Carlton.
The club’s annual reports reveal that Sarkies did indeed serve on the committee of management from 1907 through to 1910 – the year of his untimely death – under the Presidency of John Urquhart.

Other details of Sarkies’ life was subsequently gleaned from family and other sources.
Sarkies was of Armenian extraction – his father, John Sarkies, having been born of Armenian parents in Shuska (Republic of Iran).

Sarkies’ father and mother Helen McKay married in Melbourne in 1864, the year the Carlton Football Club was founded. Andrew was born a year later.

At some point the family relocated to Scotland, and then the parents split. John Sarkies is thought to have gone to India, with Helen returning to Australia, fending for a total of nine children, working as a charwoman, and dying a lonely death in Melbourne.

When members of the Victorian Mounted Rifles 5th contingent enrolled for the Second Boer War in February 1901, leaving for South Africa in mid-February, Sarkies went with them.

The VMR was a regiment composed of Australian forces first raised by Colonel Tom Price in the mid-1880s. The regiment was mobilised at Pretoria between March 24 and April 4, 1901, and saw considerable action during the Second Boer War when it was used to combat the guerilla warfare tactics of the Boers.

Sarkies survived the war, returned from South Africa and was subsequently discharged. He remained on the strength of the Army Service Corps (Vic) as a Staff Sergeant while being employed in the Authority Branch of the Department Of Home Affairs. At some point between 1902 and 1910 he served as Secretary to the Returned Soldiers Association (South Africa) as reported at the time of his death.

During this time, Sarkies and his wife Mary Jane (nee Lalor) purchased land and built a house at 15 Royal Ave, Glenhuntly. The house was later named ‘Fortrose’ – the Fort from his military background and the Rose from his first born daughter who did not survive.

On September 17, 1910, Sarkies attended the semi-final between Carlton and South Melbourne at the MCG. The Blues went down to the Bloods by two goals, in what was to be the last game Sarkies ever saw.

At a subsequent inquest into Sarkies’ death, a gent named Arthur Springer, publisher from Black Rock, was amongst those giving evidence.

“I knew the deceased Andrew Sarkies. I met him on account of being the publisher of a football paper. I met him on the 17th instant at 6.45pm. at the MCG. He walked up to the cab rank at Jolimont and then we said to the cabby ‘What is the fare?’. He said ‘a shilling each’. I said ‘We are willing to pay the double tram fare’. He said, ‘Alright, jump in’. We got in the cab, the deceased was alright. He may have had some drink but he was not drunk. There was no one else in the cab.

On the journey to Melbourne I passed the remark to the deceased about the fare. I gave my fare to Sarkies on the way down. I got out of the cab at Princes Bridge and the deceased commenced singing a song about the ‘Boys of Carlton’. The cabbie said ‘Terminus’. I said to Sarkies ‘Come on, get out’. He took no notice so I then walked away. There was no unpleasantness in the cab between us.

Constable Anderson of Russell Street Police made the following statement to the inquest.

“I found a man lying on the roadway near Princes Bridge Railway Station at 7.15pm. He was unconscious lying behind a cab. I made enquiries there if anybody knew him, but nobody seemed to know him. I then took him to the Melbourne Hospital in a cab. He was attended to by Dr. Felstead . . . he was not able to pay for the cab No. 259. The cabman stated that he had the same man as a passenger from the Melbourne Cricket Ground a few minutes before I found him. He also stated that he got out of his cab and just fell down where he lay unconscious. I went to the hospital again at 9.15pm and he was still unconscious. He is a well dressed, and seemed to be, a respectable man by appearances.”

Andrew Sarkies was transferred to the Melbourne hospital (then in Swanston Street). There he died four days later, on September 21, 1910 from injuries to the brain and skull – the result of an accidental fall in Flinders Street near Princes Bridge Railway Station.

His body was later identified by his widow, Mary Jane (nee Lalor) Sarkies.

Sarkies was accorded a military funeral, which left Victoria Barracks for Melbourne General Cemetery by the Carlton ground. The OIC of the 5th contingent, Colonel Otter, attended the funeral along with other dignitaries.

A grand military night was later held at Spencer’s Pictures, Olympia, under the patronage of the commandant and head quarters staff, for the benefit of the Sarkies family. A special program was arranged with members of the metropolitan forces attending in full uniform, together with members of the South African Soldiers’ Association, home affairs Department, the Glenhuntly Lesees’ Association and the Carlton Football Club; with all of which the former committeeman was intimately connected.

Reliance on Stars a Blight on the System

The observations of Malcolm Blight are formed with a unique perspective: star North Melbourne forward and premiership player, coach of Geelong in three losing Grand Finals, followed by dual premierships coaching Adelaide. No less spectacular was his brief stint as coach of St Kilda and controversial dismissal. Recently, during a television broadcast, I heard Blight repeat a familiar view of his: “Even stars have bad days” and then cautioning an over-reliance on “star systems”.

I had been (and still am) intrigued by his comments on star systems, and welcomed the opportunity to discuss the subject with him. Personal experiences of star systems had shaped my understanding of football. As a youngster, I passionately barracked for South Melbourne. I recall crying unbearably when South would lose – and I cried a lot.

Salvation was an extreme devotion to the Swans’ lone and exceptional star, triple Brownlow medallist Bobby Skilton. In my book, he was best on ground every time he played and never made a clanger. No doubt many who have followed teams consistently finishing at the bottom of the ladder feel this binding scenario of regular disappointment and adulation. Perhaps the most recent example is Richmond fans and the special emotions they attributed to Matthew Richardson.
Ultimately, this is one spectrum of a star system, a situation where the ranks of the stars available to a team are spread too thinly and the backup troops struggle to fill the gap. Alternatively, Blight’s experiences are at the other end of the spectrum. Blessed with super talent, his association is with star-studded teams during his playing era and coaching involvements at Geelong and Adelaide.

My conversation with him started with me mentioning the stark contrast I found between barracking for South Melbourne and then, as a recruit, walking into Carlton and confronting a locker room of genuine stars. There was awe but, importantly, it was immediately drilled into me the ‘team’ was the star attraction and everyone involved was required to contribute their respective talents.

Blight acknowledged similar sentiments, but went further to explain his particular issues with star systems. “At Geelong, we played in three losing Grand Finals. These were good teams but, like any team, it was critical to win or at least stay on even terms in the midfield,” he said. “I felt we lost those Grand Finals mainly because our midfield was beaten on the day and this exposed our defence, which was not blessed with super talent. “We had the stars in the midfield,” he said, referring to players the calibre of Brownlow medallist Paul Couch, Mark Bairstow and Garry ‘Buddha’ Hocking, “but there was not much I could do about it. We had a lot of players in the team who had developed into set roles and I couldn’t change things around that much. “I’m of the view, if a star is struggling on the day, get him to play a different role and at least take out someone important from the opposition.”

At Adelaide, he immediately took measures to make sure the same circumstances did not repeat. Consequently, a crop of midfield stars, including Mark Ricciuto, Mark Bickley, Andrew McLeod, Simon Goodwin and Darren Jarman, spent various times rotating in different roles, either forward or back. “Ben Hart was marvellous in defence,” he said, “because he was just as brilliant attending small and tall players. As a defender, Nigel Smart could easily be switched into attack.” In two winning Grand Finals, Blight’s tactical moves are legendary, including the unexpected and successful match-up of McLeod playing in the centre on Saint Robert Harvey, ruckman David Pittman at centre half-back on Stewart Loewe, Ricciuto switching to half-back against North Melbourne and Jarman bobbing up at full-forward for a combined 11 goals in the two wins.

Based on this reasoning – and casting an eye to the present – Blight is convinced that, of the controversial trade of Brendan Fevola from Carlton to the Brisbane Lions and Daniel Bradshaw from the Lions to the Sydney Swans, it is the Swans who have benefited most. “Both are outstanding forwards who have kicked a similar number of goals over distinguished careers,” he said. “But Bradshaw is the far better proposition. He is adaptable. He can play defence as well as attack. It’s best if the star fits within the system, rather than the star becoming the system.”
Ted Hopkins is a Carlton premiership player and founder of Champion Data. His current project is TedSport, a high performance data analysis and consulting service.

This column was first published in the AFL Record. Copyright AFL 2010.