JOHN Dorman Elliott, the Carlton Football Club’s longest-serving President - and perhaps its most polarising - has died ten days short of his 80th birthday.
Elliott, the former Federal President of the Liberal Party once touted as a future Australian Prime Minister, was the unmistakable face of Carlton through a record 20-year presidency which surpassed Sir Kenneth Luke’s 18 years in office.
Replacing Ian Rice as President the year after the back-to-back Premiership seasons of 1981 and ’82, the autocratic Elliott and his board of directors presided, for the most part, over a period of on-field and off-field prosperity.
Immortalised as the cigarette-smoking, scotch-swilling “Rubbery Figure”, the larger-than-life Elliott saw his beloved Blues triumph in the Grand Finals of 1987 and ’95 – the latter affording the club its 16th piece of silverware, at the time more than any other.
On Elliott’s watch, a new grandstand bearing his name was built by the north-eastern wing to cater for the corporate heavyweights of the country who’d significantly contributed financially to the club through “The President’s Men” – a coterie personally championed by Elliott, the one-time head of Elders and the Foster’s Group.
On match-day luncheons, Elliott would welcome football identities and VIPs to his dominion, then take his place at his designated seating area in prime position for the first bounce. There he’d open the sliding glass, light a cigarette, and take great pleasure in flicking the ash onto the heads of unsuspecting opposition supporters filing past on the concourse below.
In the immediate aftermath of a stirring Blues victory, more often than not back then, Elliott would lead Members in a rousing rendition of the club’s theme song, over clinking beer glasses on the first floor of the Carlton Social Club (George H. Harris Stand). Just as the players of his day could walk the walk, ‘Big Jack’ talked the talk.
In 1994, Elliott was party to negotiations for the ground’s naming rights arrangement with the communications conglomerate Optus - which in turn afforded Carlton the financial wherewithal to build the Legends Stand at the Garton Street end of the ground.
Under Elliott, Carlton furthered its reputation as a powerhouse both on and off the field – “the best in the business” as he proudly declared with genuine conviction.
But his presidency would ultimately end in ignominy with his resignation on Remembrance Day 2002 - on the very day the club was first charged by the AFL for illegal player payments - and on the end of a season in which his beloved Blues became the last of the VFL’s foundation clubs to take the wooden spoon.
Elliott claimed he had no knowledge of any rorting. In the end, his moniker was removed from the grandstand and renamed the Carlton Heroes Stand as a mark of respect to the football club Members who paid off the club’s League-imposed salary cap fines which totalled almost $1million.
Fiercely committed to his club and generous to a fault with his players, Elliott found loyalists in the likes of Anthony Koutoufides and Stephen Kernahan. Kernahan, himself a former Carlton President Stephen Kernahan and the man who captained Carlton to Grand Final triumphs in the Elliott years of 1987 and '95, was taken aback by news of the man's passing.
"I'm truly in shock," said Kernahan, football’s longest-serving captain.
"I knew John was battling with his health, but I thought the great man would live forever.
"He was a loved man and he was very good to Carlton people. He may have polarised a few, but whatever people thought of him there was no doubting his love for the Carlton Football Club."
Elliott was never one to shirk an issue. In clubland for example, he insisted that Essendon be stripped of its 1993 Grand Final victory over Carlton as punishment for its own salary cap discrepancies.
As for city hall, Elliott best voiced his disproval when he memorably declared: “No-one barracks for the AFL . . . they barrack for Carlton and Collingwood”.
In September 1984, Elliott convened a clandestine meeting of VFL club Presidents at his Mt Macedon retreat Sefton, at which the concept of a breakaway Super League competition was discussed.
The concept never gained traction, but the fact that the meeting took place reflected the view of a number of club Presidents of the day that the VFL had adopted a “Big Brother” approach to what had become the football business.
To the end of his Presidency he was at war with the League and its commissioners – a war that he (and by association his club) ultimately lost. He never forgave the AFL commissioner for conveying by way of a phone call the demise of Princes Park as a League venue after 118 years.
Through the dark winters of the 20th century, as a once great club struggled to find its way, Elliott’s great love for Carlton endured – and he was there for the final game in May 2005, when ‘Kouta’ handed the final match-day footy to ‘Big Nick’.
One tale told by Tom Elliott on a Ghosts of Princes Park Tour relates to that very match, when Elliott was invited back to the President’s pre-game Luncheon – ironically convened by Ian Collins - in a nook of the grandstand that once bore his name.
Tom recalled his father lighting a customary cigarette in the room at a time when smoking laws were finally invoked, but through the course of the match refused an attendant’s repeated requests to butt out his “ciggy”.
When the frustrated blue coat ultimately returned with reinforcements to evict the smoke-puffing former Prez from the room, the final siren sounded on the historic final contest – which then prompted a gleeful Elliott to puff smoke into the hapless attendant’s face and bellow: “This is no longer an AFL venue, the smoking laws no longer apply”.
John Elliott died in the Epworth Hospital after a short illness. His first wife Lorraine, a former Victorian state parliamentarian for the Liberal Party, predeceased him in 2014. He is survived by his four children - 3AW Broadcaster Tom, daughter Caroline, son Edward and daughter Alexandra.
The former Carlton President is also survived by his second wife Amanda Elliott (later the first female Chairperson of the Victoria Racing Club) and his former partner Joanne Hurley.