Main content

Footy card mystery solved?

Post-match | Robert Walls Robert Walls spoke to Carlton Media in the rooms after the Blues' win over the Hawks.

THE identity of the mystery Carlton footballer featured on what’s believed to be the great Australian game’s oldest footy card may have finally been solved. 

Standing arms folded in front of a mock bushland backdrop, the player - sporting dark navy top and knickerbockers, blue and white hooped socks and high-cut boots - appears on a hand-coloured card released by local photographers Paterson Brothers, which occupied a premises at 68 Lygon Street from 1887-1891. 

The card was part of a lot that went under the hammer at Leonard Joel auction house in 2010 and acquired for $1000 by Carlton supporter Simon Davis.

A photo of what is believed to be the great Australia game's oldest footy card. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

But the card, or ‘carte-de-visite’ to be more specific, has continued to raise more questions than answers. 

“I’d really like to know who the player is and a little bit about his history,” Davis told this reporter back in 2012. “He’s clearly a Carlton player, he’s clearly in the Carlton uniform and the image can be sourced to between 1887 and 1891.” 

Enter Pete McLean, a passionate Carlton researcher and regular contributor to The Blueseum website. McLean, a keen student of 19th century club history, believes he has identified the mystery man as Joe Rickards – one of three Rickards brothers to have represented Carlton. Joe is known to have chased the leather for the team between 1884 and ’86, which would suggest that the carte-de-visite could be older than initially thought.

Joe Rickards, 1884 (left). Could he be the Carlton player featured in the game’s oldest footy card (left)?

McLean came to the conclusion comparing the mystery man on the carte-de-visite with an image of Rickards photographed in Carlton’s touring party to Adelaide via the S.S. Adelaide in June 1884. The tourists took on South Adelaide, Adelaide Juniors, Norwood and Port Adelaide through nine days from June 21. 

As McLean explained: “Last Sunday morning, I was sitting around r-reading the article about the unnamed Carlton player on the footy card and again thought about cross-referencing”.

“The thought did cross my mind as to whether the bloke in the card might be in the 1884 pic and lo and behold I saw Joe Rickards’ face. I said to my wife ‘Do you reckon he looks familiar?’ and she said ‘absolutely’.”

Carlton's touring party to Adelaide, June 1884. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

Though the mutton-chopped player featured in the carte-de-visite appears to be younger and leaner than the 1884 Rickards model, there are potent facial similarities.

Previously, the oldest known Carlton footy card featured Tommy Leydin, the club’s captain from 1887-1889. That card was published by the American firm Goodwin and Co., manufacturers of Old Judge cigarettes.

After the card was acquired by Davis, Melbourne card collector Damien Green conducted his own due diligence, but found the process a difficult one. 

“I’ve searched for a means of classifying this card and it appears to come under the classification of ‘carte-de-visite’,” Green said at the time.

“A carte-de-visite is, in reality, a studio photo pasted onto a backing card that advertises the studio that produced them. I'm trying to get some more advice on whether it qualifies as a footy card, but I would think not at this point as these items were crafted for personal use rather than those specifically produced as a set then made available to the public.”

Regardless, the carte-de-visite in Davis’ collection is no less valuable according to Green, particularly if the subject featured is a Carlton footballer, quite possibly Rickards.

“If it’s a Carlton footballer it may be worth thousands of dollars because photographs of that period fade and this one appears to be in great condition,” Green said. 

It is a fantastic piece of ephemera from an era where not too much photographic material has survived, especially the colourised variety.”