Can you keep a secret?
Ok, here goes… this is harder than I thought. You see, my partner Georgie is um, how do I say this, my beloved partner Georgie is…I can’t do it. I just need to say it.
She’s a Carlton supporter. There I said it.
Needless to say this weekend’s clash between her Blues and my Saints will make for an interesting afternoon and evening following. Yet again ours will be a house divided.
My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me, that I must love a loathed enemy.
Is it odd that a 13 year old female fictional character from the 16th Century sums up the situation so well?
As foundation clubs the two teams have a history of conflict that dates back well over 100 years.
St Kilda and Carlton were the last two clubs accepted in to the breakaway VFL for its inaugural season in 1897 to provide a presence to the North and the South of city. Their status as the last two clubs was replicated on the ladder, with the two clubs holding the bottom two rungs until the 1902 season, with Carlton having surged to 3rd last.
Whilst holding similar real estate on the ladder, this was not reflected in their head to head match ups. Carlton won the first 9 clashes before St Kilda finally saluted at the Junction Oval in Round 12, 1901. The Blues were able to retain an unbeaten record at home until the 1907 season, with the Saints win spoiling the celebrations surrounding the unfurling of Carlton’s first premiership flag.
It didn’t get much better than that for the Saints, with the platform set for what has become one of the most lopsided head to head contests in sport. Thankfully not as bad as the Harlem Globetrotters v Washington Generals, but not by much.
At the conclusion of the 1996 and the first 100 seasons of competition, Carlton had won 16 premierships to St Kilda’s 1, and of the matches between the clubs Carlton had won 151 to St Kilda’s 32. 151 – 32!!!!
The dominance on field was replicated off-field too, St Kilda’s finances mirroring those of a person living pay check to pay check. While their rivals on the other side of the city were living high on the hog, their playing list truly like their club song ‘with all the champions’.
A playing list that the Saints envied caused quite a bit of movement between Princes Park and Moorabbin in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Each time though, the canny Blues seemed to get the better of the transactions, while St Kilda acquired Premierships stars like Brown, McConville, Marcou, Sheldon, Jones and Jesaulenko, all honest servants for St Kilda but their best football was in the rear view mirror. While players that made the reverse trip like Perovic and Rice seemed to flourish in their new surroundings.
A remnant from these transactions may well be the greatest ever cause of angst between the two clubs. In the early 80’s St Kilda’s finances were in a perilous state and a drastic measure needed to be taken to rescue it from bankruptcy.
St Kilda called in all their creditors, one of which was the Carlton Football Club, as a result of unpaid transfer fees. It was explained to those assembled that the accumulated debts would need to be renegotiated or the club would become insolvent. The proposal put to a vote was for the creditors to accept 7.5 cents in the dollar on the money they were owed. The motion was carried, but Carlton were one of two creditors to vote no, effectively a vote for the Saints to close their doors.
The bad blood from this moment continued to boil for some time after this as a result, and because of a general imperious attitude from Carlton when dealing with or discussing St Kilda. An example of this in a quote from Carlton President John Elliott when asked if a Carlton assistant coach would leave to take the vacant senior St Kilda post “Why would he want to go to a rabble? We are successful and they are in disarray.”
A pointer to the changing fortunes for the next twenty years was evident in the 1996 Ansett Cup Grand Final. The emerging Saints, in their first Grand Final of any kind for 25 years, faced off against the reigning AFL Premiers Carlton who had only suffered defeat two times in 1995. The long suffering Red, Black and White faithful finally tasted some success with the Saints saluting by 62 points in front of 66,888 fans at Waverley Park.
In 2002, after over 100 years of torment at the hands of Carlton, St Kilda fans were unsympathetic as the Blues fell on hard times. In fact they revelled in it. Late in the season, the Saints hosted Fremantle at Optus Oval, Carlton’s home. St Kilda’s victory consigned Carlton to their first ever wooden spoon, a fact many fans gleefully recognised by placing hundreds of wooden spoons throughout the centre circle and square.
Your columnist will not confirm or deny if he was one of these fans as he is not sure what the statute of limitations is on littering.
This history counts for nothing though this weekend, with neither side in finals calculation, this week’s game effectively represents a Grand Final for our household. A household that will be divided until the result is properly stomached.
There might be some who might suggest this is a little over the top as football is not a matter of life and death. Firstly, a sports blog is an interesting place to find themselves, and secondly I channel Bill Shankly, when I agree but counter “it’s much more important than that”.