There may not have been a tougher job in
football than president of the Carlton Football Club when Ian Collins took on the role
three years ago. Except maybe Collins’ other job –
Telstra Dome boss.

While Carlton was losing games at an alarming rate, the rest
of the AFL was openly criticising the quality of Telstra Dome surface. Heading
to work each day, Collins knew he’d be juggling two very large, very unhappy,
and very passionate constituencies.

Now, the Telstra Dome surface is in full
health, and while the same cannot be said for Carlton’s finances or on-field
performances, time may show that the worst is over. Indeed, that may be part of
the reason Collins has relinquished the presidency, a feeling that enough
infrastructure has been put in place to keep the club from sliding back into
critical condition.

Incoming president Graham Smorgon has an
equally challenging task. With the club pointed vaguely in the right direction,
Smorgon has accepted the momentous task of righting the club’s finances.

An interesting counterpoint here is the
work Eddie McGuire has done with Collingwood. After joining the club in 1998,
McGuire’s superior skills as a spruiker soon attracted deep-pocketed sponsors. It
might have taken a few years, but Collingwood eventually found their way into a
couple of grand finals and are now enjoying the facilities of an enviable new training
facility.

But you suspect Graham Smorgon will be a different
kind of president, and he’s stepping into a club in far more desperate
circumstances than McGuire did. It’s unlikely he’ll lead the Blues to the same
rich returns from businesses eager to hitch themselves to the Carlton wagon –
not yet anyway. That may not be his charter.

Smorgon has assumed the presidency and
announced “tough decisions” are likely to be the defining feature of his tenure. Securing the huge debt,
finding a way through the social club mess, and in between those pressing
matters, returning respectability, if not premierships, to the football
department and supporters, make the chalice of the Carlton presidency a very heavy
one indeed.

Peter Fray

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