Carlton Football Club, founded in 1864, is the pride of Melbourne’s inner-city suburb of Carlton. Headquarters and training facilities of the club are located at Princes Park in Carlton at ‘Ikon Park’. Since its addition of navy blue in its uniform in 1871, Carlton is nicknamed the ‘Blues’. It is also known as Bluebaggers or ‘Baggers. Prior to 1871, its uniform was predominantly Chamois, and the club was known as ‘Butchers’.
In its early years, the club had many notable and colourful presidents. Justice Redmond Barry and actor and entrepreneur George Coppin were among them.
The Carlton Football Club has a long and honourable history in the annals of Australian rules Football.
After the famous letter Thomas Wentworth Wills wrote to ‘Bells Life’ in Victoria in 1857, which goes as follows,
“Now that cricket has been put aside for some few months to come, and cricketers have assumed somewhat of the chrysalis nature (for a time only ’tis true), but at length will again burst forth in all their varied hues, rather than allow this state of torpor to creep over them, and stifle their new supple limbs, why can they not, I say, form a football club, and form a committee of three or more to draw up a code of laws ?”, Australian rules football was born.
Taking cue from it, Cricket clubs began forming Football clubs to keep fit during the winter. In July 1864, Carlton Football Club was formed by Members of Carlton Cricket Club. In its early days, it was better known as Royal Park Club, for its playing ground was on the crest of the hill at the southern end of Royal Park. But its members practised principally on an open space bounded by Pelham, Lygon, Grattan and Drummond Streets in Carlton. For years the Club had no permanent ground. At one-point matches were played at the southern end of Princes Park and a few matches were played at a triangular area of ground in front of Ormond College, which was for some years the ground of Carlton Cricket Club. During all those years, Carlton Football Club had an association or affiliation with Carlton Cricket Club, save in name and in comradeship (Herald, 19th July 1909).
It was in the late 1860’s and early 70’s, the Football gained public support and Carlton and Melbourne were the leading clubs of the time. The Challenge Cup, Which South Yarra had put up for contest in 1871 was won by Carlton. The club retained the trophy for many years but was eventually presented to T. Power, who was a popular and efficient secretary of the Carlton FC. In 1887, it won the premiership.
Carlton was heavily in debt by the 1890’s but avoided suggestions of merging with Fitzroy or North Melbourne to get over its financial woes. Victorian Football League was established in 1896 when Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne and South Melbourne broke away from the Victorian Football Association. Carlton FC got an invitation to join the league for its inaugural season in 1897. But there was a condition for its entry – it had to find a suitable home ground. Carlton’s performance at the newly formed VFL was anything but good, and the club finished seventh out of eight teams in each of its first five seasons.
The Carlton FC was terribly handicapped for not having a permanent ground. But the through the effort of John “Jack” Gardiner, who was one of Carlton’s first captains, arranged a conference between representatives of the Board of Land and Works, The Parks and Gardens Committee of the City Council and the Carlton FC and Cricket Club, when he was a member of the assembly. An arrangement was arrived, and the Carlton Cricket Club gave up its triangular piece of ground at Ormond College in exchange for ten acres in Princes Park, which was known at that time as ‘Cow Pond’.
In 1902, the club elected Fitzroy Footballer and Test cricketer, Jack Worrall as the club’s secretary, and he took over the management and coaching of the team. He was serving as the secretary of the Carlton Cricket Club prior to his appointment. Under Worrall, Carlton’s on-field performance improved considerably, making into the finals in 1903, 1904 and 1905. In 1906, 1907 and 1908, club won three premierships in a row becoming the first club to achieve that distinction. Under Worrall, the issues of low payments to players and the coach’s heavy handedness during training sessions were causing trouble among the players which resulted in a player revolt in 1909 and Worrall had to leave the club. A number of players who supported him, left the club in sympathy. Being the first to occupy a coach position at a VFL Football Club in Australia with such a high level of success rate, Worrall is considered as the “father” of Australian football coaching. Carlton reached the Grand finals in 1909 and 1910, losing both. Under coach Norm Clark, Carlton won premierships in 1914 and 1915 VFL seasons.
During the Great depression years of 1920’s and 30’s, though premiership success didn’t bestow on Carlton, it was active on the field, contesting fourteen final series. The 1938 VFL Grand Final between the Carlton and Collingwood, the match was won by Carlton by a margin of 15 points, marking that club’s sixth premiership victory.
Again in 1945, VFL Grand Final contested between the South Melbourne and Carlton, held at Princes Park, Carlton won by a margin of 28 points – claiming its seventh premiership. The game is remembered as ‘The Bloodbath’, for its rough and violent nature.
In 1947, Carlton and arch rival Essendon played at the MCG for the finals and Carlton won by a margin of 1 point – its eighth premiership victory. Once again in 1949, Carlton and Essendon met at the finals, but this time victory was on Essendon’s side.
For the next fifteen years, Carlton fell into a deep hole of failures and misfortunes, reaching finals only four times between 1950 and 1964.
1964 was Carlton’s worst VFL season, end of which saw Lew Holmes replaced by George Harris as president of the club and Ron Barassi was signed to serve as coach, giving a new lease of life to the club. This heralded a period of successes for Carlton and between 1967 and 1988, Carlton remained a regular at the finals missing it only three times and won seven premierships. It won two premierships in 1968 and 1970 – its 9th and 10th premiership.
Ron Barassi left the club after Carlton missed the finals in 1971, replaced by John Nicholls as captain and coach. In 1972 Carlton made a strong come back. The 1972 VFL Grand Finals between Richmond and Carlton at the MCG, Carlton won by a margin of 27 points – its 11th premiership victory. It reached the finals in 1973 only to lose against Richmond.
The 1979, VFL Grand Final was won by Carlton by a margin of 5 points defeating Collingwood – club’s 12th premiership victory. After the 1979 season, Ian Rice replaced George Harris as president and many of Harris’ supporters left the club. In 1981 Carlton defeated Collingwood and in 1982, Richmond to claim its 13th and 14th Premiership. With the 14th win Carlton became the most successful club in league’s history. Only Essendon was to match their success in Premierships later.
In 1983, John Elliott became the president of Carlton FC and the club endured three consecutive unsuccessful finals campaigns under coach David Parkin. David Parkin was replaced by Robert Walls in 1986. The club reached grand finals in 1986 and in 1987. In 1987, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Carlton won by a margin of 33 points against Hawthorn to claim club’s 15th premiership victory.
David Parkin returned as coach and remained there from 1991 to 2000. In 1995, Carlton defeated Geelong Football Club by a margin of 61 points to win its 16th premiership. Carlton reached the Grand Finals in 1993 and 1999, but only to lose against Essendon and North Melbourne respectively.
From year 2000 onwards, Carlton’s fortunes took a wrong turn both on- field and financially and in 2002, the club won the wooden spoon for the first time in its VFL/AFL history. After the 2002 AFL season, Elliot was voted out as President after nearly 2 decades at the helm. The club was found to have breached the Australian Football Club salary cap conditions. Elliot was replaced by Ian Collins and under Collins, the club shifted its home stadium from Princes Park to Docklands. From 2005, till 2014, Docklands stadium was club’s primary home ground under a ten-year deal signed during Ian Collins presidency. From 2015 onwards MCG became its primary home ground.
In 2007, Billionaire businessman Richard Pratt became the club’s president and occupied the position for nearly 16 months. But Carlton had fallen from its heights with no good men at the top to save the club. Today Carlton is one among the B grade teams of AFL with nostalgic memories of its old glory. Carlton claimed its stake to its first Wooden Spoon in 1894 in the V.F.A. winning only 2 games. It went through 108 years of wooden spoon drought before getting its first wooden spoon in 2002. From then onwards, the club had made it a habit to claim it every now and then and secured it for them in 2005, 2006, 2015 and 2018.