IT'S 10 years ago today since Chris Judd officially became a Blue.
For the 134-game West Coast premiership captain and Brownlow Medallist, it was all about coming home. For the football club, landing Judd at the peak of his powers was, as with Ron Barassi in ’64, a recruiting coup of truly stunning proportions.
Judd joined Carlton at a time when Carlton was foundering. The Club had been hit with everything, kitchen sink included, for salary cap indiscretions, and its teams had collectively “earned” three wooden spoons through the five seasons previous.
When his knee gave way on the MCG in the 10th Round of 2015, the bald man in the No.5 guernsey had given it his all – as captain, triple club best and fairest, Brownlow Medallist (again) and four-time All Australian through 145 games in eight seasons.
So on the 10th anniversary of Chris Judd’s monumental announcement, let’s revisit the machinations which led to him crossing the Nullabor to join the only team old Carlton knows.
On the morning of September 29, 2007, then Carlton CEO Greg Swann drove from his home in Williamstown to the Sandringham locale of Chris Judd’s parents, Lisa and Andy, where Judd was convalescing after groin surgery.
With Judd close to making a call on which club would complete the supercoup and secure his services, Swann’s modus operandi was simple enough.
“Everybody likes to put their best foot forward, as should happen, but as is often the case whoever gets to him last might have had the biggest impact,” Swann said, in an interview for the publication Out of the Blue. “We were still very much in the mix but perhaps we weren’t as clear as we were beforehand [and] I was fearful that after everyone else had quite rightly made good presentations we might have been forgotten.
“So I rang Paul [Connors, Judd’s manager] and I said, ‘Look, we really need to get in front of him again’. He [Connors] wasn’t so sure. He said, ‘That’s unfair, everyone will want a second go’. I said, ‘Okay, but what are his movements?’ and he [Judd] happened to be in town.
“On the Sunday after the Grand Final I went to his parents’ house in ‘Sandy’. I just knocked on the door about lunchtime and there he was, he’d just had his groin op [an abductor release in Newcastle], so he asked me in and I had about three quarters of an hour with him. At that stage it had probably come down to the two, Carlton versus Collingwood, so I went through it all with him: how we had a good young list, all those things. I then went off to my in-laws’ farm that night.”
As the shadows lengthened on Sunday afternoon, Judd finalised his decision. It would be Carlton over Collingwood ... and not for the first time in football history either.
Connors well remembered the conversation. “He [Judd] just blurted out matter-of-factly that it was Carlton,” Connors said. “It wasn’t, ‘I’ve chosen Carlton for this reason or that reason’, it was just ‘Carlton’. No mention that it was a bloody difficult decision or anything, just simply ‘Carlton’.
“I drove to his parents’ house in Sandringham at around six o’clock in the evening and we met in the front room and discussed how this would be played out. We decided to knock off Melbourne and Essendon on the Monday, and I was keen for him to leave it for 24-48 hours before we advised the Pies, just in case he changed his mind.
“I was pretty sure Chris’s decision was final, but as was the case before I thought it important I gave him time to sleep on his decision, and that it was not a knee jerk reaction to ‘Swanny’s’ visit.”
When he took that now famous call from Connors at his in-laws’ Maffra property, Swann was sworn to secrecy for at least the next 24 hours. “I couldn’t say anything because while Paul had announced that it had come down to two, he didn’t want to declare straight away that Chris had gone to Carlton. Out of respect for Collingwood he just needed to play that out for another couple of days,” Swann said. “I then rang Paul on the Tuesday and said, ‘Look, we can’t hold out anymore, we’ve got to get it out there.’”
Connors duly rang Geoff Walsh, who in another life served as Carlton’s Recruiting Co-ordinator, to deliver football’s equivalent of the infamous Jeff Browne sandwich. Instead he copped a recorded message. “He [Walsh] then rang back and I said something like, ‘This is not the call I want to make,’” Connors said. “Collingwood had done everything right. Chris’s head said the Pies and his heart said the Blues. It was just a gut feel.
“Was it Greg Swann’s visit on the Sunday? I think it certainly played a part, but no doubt Chris’s desire to be a part of something from the bottom up, in addition to the Blues’ ability to do the trade, all played a factor in his final decision.”
On the Tuesday afternoon, Swann authorised a release declaring that Chris Judd had nominated Carlton as his club of choice. Barely a week later, the terms of the trade with West Coast were finalised. Josh Kennedy was the reluctant pawn and by Wednesday, October 11, it was official. The game’s most respected footballer would now be wearing navy blue.
Swann was first to admit his club’s disappointment in having to part with Kennedy. “But ultimately you’ve got to give up something to get something good. So we gave up pick three, Kennedy, swapped pick 20 for 46 and kept the priority, pick one, which was a massive plus because we got the best player in the draft and the most outstanding kid [Matthew Kreuzer] in the one year,” Swann said.
“That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where you had a 24-year-old player, the best player in the competition at that time, wanting to come home. He [Judd] is a good guy, he’s an interesting guy, and if you spoke to him about why he chose us I reckon a lot of it would be that he thought we could get the deal done.
“The Barassi thing is probably a bit bigger in that he came as an untried captain-coach, but having said that not too many champion players have left their club and come home. Chris would be the first one and how it plays out will be really interesting. It’s quite correct to say that we were on our knees when Chris came to Carlton, just as we were when Barassi came to Carlton in ’64. It took a couple of years for him [Barassi] to turn it around and you’d like to think that we improved enough to say that Chris has made that big an impact on the playing group with his professionalism.”
Notwithstanding his understanding that Carlton could actually get the deal done, Judd himself was genuinely enthused by his newly-adopted club’s medium to long-term prospects both on and off the field.
As Swann also observed: “Collingwood had just missed out on a Grand Final by a few points and the added pressure of him going there to be the Messiah to take them to the Grand Final was probably a harder thing for him to cope with, rather than joining a team starting from the bottom and going up with a young list”.
Later that Wednesday, Judd held court at a mass gathering of reporters in the John Nicholls Room on the second floor of the Carlton Social Club. As he purposefully and methodically addressed journalists’ questions, floor-to-ceiling posters of Judd sporting a superimposed navy blue guernsey flanked the future Carlton captain. “I didn’t have huge doubts that the deal would get done,” Judd declared as the television cameras slowly rolled. “I can be part of something from the ground up ... that’s the exciting part of it for me.”
Eleven months to the day later, Judd would again take centre stage, as Carlton’s latest recipient of the John Nicholls Medal. “For us, Judd coming to Carlton was enormous,” Swann said.
“You couldn’t begin to fathom what impact he was going to have on membership, merchandise and corporately. You knew he would help but you didn’t know how much, and there’s even been a flow-on effect.
“Not so long ago you couldn’t get a player in the joint. That is why Chris Judd has been enormous for Carlton and will continue to be so.”