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The curious case of Bill Ahern

The unnamed Carlton team of 1896. Could Bill Ahern be amongst them? (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
The unnamed Carlton team of 1896. Could Bill Ahern be amongst them? (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

Who was Bill Ahern? 

Almost 120 years after he represented Carlton in its historic opening round match of 1897 against Fitzroy on Brunswick Street, mystery surrounds the true identity of the man in question.

For years, the Bill Ahern who followed captain Jimmy Aitken out against the Maroons was listed as having been born William Joseph John Ahern – son of Jeremiah and Kate Theresa (nee Biddle) Ahern) – in North Melbourne on June 24, 1873. 

But the proverbial goalposts recently changed when the Launceston-based researcher Ross Smith made contact with both the AFL and Carlton. Smith advised that according to the New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, the aforementioned Bill Ahern born on that date actually died in that state as an eight year-old in 1881 – and as such could not have represented Carlton as a senior player.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that another Bill Ahern - the Melbourne Grammarian William Thomas Ahern (born June 25, 1874, died January 27, 1920) - represented St Kilda against Collingwood at Victoria Park in that same opening round of the 1897 season.

So who was the Bill Ahern listed as Carlton’s first rover - one of the 20 ‘Inception Blues’ who participated in that landmark game in neighboring Fitzroy?

One possible lead relates to a William Ahern recorded in the Christmas Day 1886 edition of The Argus as having won a silver medal in Mr. Welch’s matriculation class at the local Carlton School. 

But, at the time of publication, the Ahern question remains unanswered for the likes of Smith, whose interest in the player was piqued when he discovered that the date of death for Carlton’s Ahern was not listed anywhere online.

Another photo of Carlton's 1896 team. Is Bill Ahern there? (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

As he said: “My interest in Ahern was governed by decades of interest in the subject of making the history of our game available in the most accurate manner possible”.

If you can help solve the mystery of Carlton’s Bill Ahern, please contact Tony De Bolfo on 9389 6241.