For seven years now, former Carlton president John Elliott has been a reviled figure at the club, his rorting of the AFL system seen as consigning the once-proud Navy Blues to a lowly position among the league’s bottom-feeders. The ignominy included back-to-back wooden spoons in 2005-06.
His excision from Carlton’s history almost had a Stalinist feel about it. His name was taken down from the John Elliott Grandstand at Princes Park, his 20 years as club president effectively removed at the end of a workman’s screwdriver.
And whenever the Blues were on the wrong end of another 10-goal hiding, you could hear the supporters mutter into their scarves as they left the ground: bloody Elliott, he’s absolutely killed us.
But perhaps the time has come for the Blue Army to raise a glass in Big Jack’s honour.
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For, inadvertently, Elliott’s salary cap cheating and other misdemeanours at the start of the millennium, which cost the club hugely in terms of fines and punitive draft bans, have actually ended up delivering the club the best young playing list in the AFL.
For several years after Elliott left, as the club sank to its knees under the burden of the AFL penalties, Carlton could barely win a game, culminating in that dark period in 2005 when the Blues finished last for the first time in their history.
But that dark cloud did have a gleaming silver lining in the form of the AFL national draft. Over three seasons, Carlton, as the bottom team, was rewarded with the top draft picks.
This meant the Blues were able to recruit Marc Murphy at No.1 and Josh Kennedy at No.4 in 2005; Bryce Gibbs at No.1 in 2006 and Matthew Kreuzer at No.1 in 2007. Kennedy later became an integral part of the trade to West Coast in 2007 that delivered one-time Brownlow Medallist Chris Judd to Princes Park.
And who were the club’s best four players as they went about demolishing the highly-rated Western Bulldogs by seven goals on Sunday? You guessed it: Murphy, Kreuzer, Gibbs and Judd.
If Elliott hadn’t been rumbled, Carlton would probably have been treading water, mid-ladder, for much of the past seven years, and rewarded for their mediocrity with mediocre talent at the draft table. It is unlikely they would have got close to a premiership.
Now, though, the outlook is much rosier. After their banishment to the gulags and salt mines at the foot of the AFL table, Carlton is back, rebuilt and remodelled, as a force. A premiership surely beckons in the next year or three. Leaving many in football to ponder the question: who says crime doesn’t pay?