Main content

Will Carlton's women right the wrong?

AFLW captains announced Watch as the AFLW captains are announced to the playing group.

In the wake of the AFL’s decision to relocate the inaugural NAB AFL Women's season opener from Olympic Park to Ikon Park on Friday night, Carlton captain Lauren Arnell and her players are presented with a once-in-a-lifetime chance of righting a 120-year-old wrong. 

For it was in 1897, in Carlton’s first-ever match at Princes Park, that the home team, led by its captain Jimmy Aitken, lost narrowly to the black and whites – 6.5 (41) to 5.5 (35).

Carlton captain Lauren Arnell, unaware of that outcome, hastened to add that while a reversed result would be more than welcome, “we get the chance to create our own history”.

“It’s not funny losing to Collingwood at any point, but to know that it happened 120 years ago means you can have a bit of a giggle at this point,” Arnell said.

“In saying that, I know that we’ll be doing everything we can to right that wrong.”

The late Jimmy Aitken (second from the right, standing), Carlton's first-ever captain, pictured in 1920. (Photo: Supplied)

Make no mistake, Arnell is mindful of the poignancy of the moment, of leading Carlton’s first female team onto the hallowed turf and into an AFL-sanctioned match for premiership points.

She would only need to peruse The Argus correspondent’s appraisal of the new Princes Oval all those years ago to get a feel for this very special place.

“The ground, which is the same size as the famous MCC enclosure, is well fenced, both outside and the playing space, but as of yet there are no buildings. As it is, however, a joint occupancy by the local football and cricket club, improvements will come in good time. Half the ground is covered with a matted sward of couch grass, but the other half, which had to be levelled, has only been recently sown.”

A snippet from The Argus, 23 June 1897.

Back in ’97, The Argus journalist also noted that as the Carlton and Collingwood teams lined up preparatory to the start, Mr A. H. Shaw, President of the Carlton Club, called for three cheers for the Queen, “and then asked Alderman Moloney to have the first kick on the new ground, which was, of course, an old-fashioned Irish punt”.

“Again, at half-time, the president invited the visitors to refreshments, and the health of Her Majesty having been honoured, the ground was again opened, Alderman Moloney drawing attention to the fact that they had two of the lions of old Carlton present, in Messrs. John Donovan and John Gardiner, the first-named gentleman appropriately holding the position of chairman of the trust,” he wrote. 

“Both of these heroes of old were cheered to the echo. Mr Geo. Robertson, the famous Carlton follower, was there too, somewhat broader in beam than when, with a pebble in his mouth instead of the fashionable chewing gum, he charged through the Melbourne ruck.” 

One hundred and twenty years on, there’s every chance the stand bearing the great John Gardiner’s name will be packed to the rafters with supporters old and new – each one of them there to see history in the making.

Arnell too understands and appreciates that while the women’s team is new, the club for which its players represent goes back a long, long way.

“It makes me think of the old bell that was rung on the night we won a licence and on draft night – the very same bell that was rung to signify the beginning end of all those games at Princes Park,” she said. 

“I think of that and can picture what it must have been like when the bell was rung 120 years ago, alongside what it’s going to be like on Friday night.”

The Carlton captain added that while she and the players understood and appreciated that with the wearing of the famed Old Dark Navy Blue guernsey came an added responsibility, “there’s certainly no trepidation in that”. 

“This is an opportunity that all of us have waited our entire lives for and so many others have missed due to being older or even younger at this point. It’s more a case of pure excitement and of embracing the opportunity we’ve been given.”

Though Jimmy Aitken originally hailed from Sebastopol and Arnell from Clarkefield, it’s rather curious that the latter turned out for her first game of football at North Ballarat, not far from the place where the former once roamed. 

Come Friday night, Arnell follows in ol’ Jimmy’s footsteps – and hopefully goes one better on the old ground against the old enemy.