Professor Stephen Kerbow remembers the moment he committed to the Carlton Football Club. It was 1996, and the Texan caught glimpse of an advertisement in which Stephen Silvagni extolled the virtues of international membership.
For Professor Kerbow, the Silvagni ad proved the clincher. Though his first exposure to Australian Rules came via a telecast of the 1984 Grand Final “when I saw this guy called ‘Lethal’ crying as he was carried off the ground”, the love of the colour blue meant it was always going to be Carlton.
“That year, 1996, was the year I decided to pledge my support to an AFL club. I’d always been a fan of the colour blue, and dark navy blue is one of my favourite colours,” Professor Kerbow recalled.
“The other thing was that Carlton has a lot of history, and as an historian I appreciated the origins of the club in 1864. But when Stephen Silvagni appeared in that commercial, saying ‘If you want to become an international member than make your club Carlton’ I joined up straight away . . . and the rest, as they say, is history.”
This week, Professor Kerbow, an esteemed member of the Southwest Texas Junior College history faculty, immersed himself in the Carlton Football Club environment. As part of his whirlwind Melbourne sojourn, the San Antonio-based Carlton fan, in the company of his beloved wife Lana, filed through the main doors of club reception and cast a discerning eye over the state-of-the-art training facilities.
Resplendent in Carlton jacket and cap (upon which a 20-year club membership pin was affixed), Professor Kerbow made acquaintance with Dylan Buckley and the resident Senior Coach John Barker.
In discussing matters Carlton with Barker, Professor Kerbow drew on the recent history of NBA outfit San Antonio Spurs “where Gregg Popovich the coach, RC Buford the general manager and Peter Holt the owner committed to a long-term plan a long-time ago”.
“They went for quality players who wouldn’t get into trouble because they knew that if they didn’t the Spurs were gone,” Professor Kerbow said.
“I know that John thinks the same way. Having been at Hawthorn he knows what success is all about. He has a plan to bring people together at the club and to bring unity to Carlton – ‘Carlton and United’ you might say.”
Barker, meanwhile, was captivated by Professor Kerbow’s tale of how the great Australian game had so profoundly impacted upon him.
“Professor Kerbow is an amazing man with an extraordinary story of how far his passion has taken him,” Barker said.
“I can completely understand the impact football has upon people like him because it’s such an emotive game whether you’ve grown up with it or seen it from afar.
“And the game is so globally accessible now. Technology has taken the game to the world. I’ve got a little brother in London who’s watching on via afl.com.au and he’s on the phone to me straight after the game.”
A regular matchday viewer from the United States, Professor Kerbow unhesitatingly declares Kade Simpson his current Carlton favourite, “with ‘Sticks’ and ‘Diesel’ up there from the early days”.
“Kade’s physically not a big man, but he always seems to position himself well in defence and he rarely makes a mistake back there,” Professor Kerbow said.
As for the game itself, Professor Kerbow’s pitch would do ‘Sos’ proud. “Whereas watching soccer is like watching paint dry for me, Australian rules is fast-paced, high-scoring and is why it became my favourite sport,” he said.
Professor Kerbow and his wife will be on hand for his team’s contest with the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night, and again for the Richmond match at the MCG the following Friday evening, before jetting home to “San Antone”.