If Carlton fans thought last season was
long, 2007 is shaping up as possibly the longest in the club’s history.

Last Saturday, Denis Pagan’s men turned in
an abominable display, getting thumped by Port Adelaide by 99 points. As Port
Adelaide were lining up for goal kicking practise, a voice rang out of the PA,
urging Carlton fans to get their new memberships. The players, meanwhile,
seemed to forget their role in the sales pitch.

It got worse yesterday when club president
Ian Collins announced Carlton is $7 million in debt, all the while trying to
put a palatable spin on the club going to the AFL for some cash.

From the outside, it seems as though
Collins and Pagan are the men at the middle of the storm. While nobody argues
that coming back from a $7 million dollar loss will take years, it’s not really
what concerns the fans. They want to see the team making an effort on the
field, at the very least competing, something the Blues were unable to do last
weekend and for most of last season.

The fans have responded accordingly. On the
bigfooty.com forums, a thread started by Terry Tan simply asked: “Is Carlton
finished?” ().
Responses ranged from “yes” (supporters of other teams) to “no” (those that
understand the AFL would never let Carlton fold).

But if there’s anything that can turn the
club around, it’s not a genius coach or hard-working president. It’s a spirited
performance on the field. Quite how Pagan can get that from his players remains
to be seen, but there will be many at the club clinging to the belief that the
pre-season doesn’t really matter. The problem is, with the season proper only
three weeks away, there are very few signs for supporters, staff, and sponsors
that the players can offer anything like a spirited performance.

As Collins suggested yesterday, it’s
unlikely the club’s off-field position will improve while the on-field
performances are so dire. Ultimately, it’s up to the players.

Peter Fray

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