|Stephen 'Sticks' Kernahan a legend in the Carlton history books.|
Before the debate begins I believe it’s important to reveal my hand to some extent. I’m a Carlton supporter, one that doesn’t hate Collingwood anywhere near as much as I should, but one that despises Essendon so much so that it overflowed to a general loathing of other sporting entities that shared those same putrid colours. Ferrari F1 and the Chicago Bulls I’m talking to you. Now - moving right along.
The Western (nee Footscray) Bulldogs have endured a somewhat barren existence as a football club. You can follow their tiny website history tab to ‘1954’ revealing their one shining (albeit fading) moment of glory. Ah, the memories of winning a school yard argument against those dish-licker supporters over the years. “I’ll see your one flag and raise you 13, 14, 15...16” worked every time. Those were the days (thanks Big Jack). Only thing is the Doggies are a club with a long and proud history, one that should be boasting ten premierships – not one.
And this is where things get tricky.
Many fans seem to embrace two types of history when it comes to footy; whatever serves their purpose at that particular moment and that everything that falls outside of the VFL/AFL history books is moot. There’s no better example than the Bomber faithful that steadfast refuse to adhere to a clash jumper that would require them to alter their ‘sacred’ sash, one that has supposedly been in existence since the dawn of time. History reveals the fact the Essendon Football Club began with red and black stripes, not their beloved sash, and that the club has decided for whatever reason to ignore that part of their history in recent times (Heritage Round?). Without that first chapter of the Essendon history books, the rest simply would not exist.
A little over six months ago Geelong president Colin Carter wadedinto the history debate attempting to build a case for the VFA premierships won prior to 1897 to be included into the official VFL/AFL tally. It would drastically alter the landscape of the premiership standings with Essendon rising to outright first on twenty, two clear of their arch-rival Carlton. Not surprisingly the team championing the move – Geelong - would add a handy seven titles to their tally, leap-frogging quite a few on the existing table.
Is a VFL premiership won in 1897 any more valuable than the VFA trophy held aloft in 1896 in a league that consisted of basically the same teams? Was the VFL always superior to the VFA/SANFL/WAFL? Some would say these are questions without definitive answers. Do club officials that worked tirelessly so that our clubs of today survived the difficult first years and the players who where the best of the best at the time deserve recognition? The answer has to be yes. These were achievements that cannot and should not be ignored any longer.
But I’m yet to be convinced they should be added to the AFL’s official tally.
In my opinion a club’s and league’s history is not necessarily intrinsically entwined. The VFL/AFL has a set of records that cannot be altered ad-hoc for the simple premise of historical romance. Most clubs own history that existed outside of the current league, does that make it any less worthy to the club? Of course not.
The complication of “topping-up” the flag count gets even messier when considering current AFL clubs boast the ultimate prize from a range of competitions including the VFL, VFA, SANFL and Challenge Cup of yesteryear. What is the solution to pay appropriate tribute to these important achievements?
The VFL/AFL acknowledges their past and each of its premiers. Now it’s time for individual club’s to follow in the footsteps of teams like Port Adelaide and acknowledge theirs – all of it. No it won’t help the Blues skip clear of the Bombers in the AFL premiership race, but next time Sticks opens his “I AM CARLTON” speech (click here to sign up for 2012 by the way), I want him to be proud and proclaim a club that has celebrated the ultimate achievement twenty-three times (VFL/AFL, VFA and Challenge Cup), sixteen of those within the VFL/AFL. The people that paved the way for him to stand proudly at the podium representing 40,000+ members deserve nothing less.