IT WAS a night which, at times, seemed like it would never come. Kade Simpson would play forever, wouldn’t he?
A stalwart of the Carlton Football Club spanning across three decades, Simpson hung up the boots and the long-sleeved No.6 jumper after a typically dogged showing against the Brisbane Lions.
Here’s Kade Simpson’s last stand in pictures.
Kade Simpson was known for his meticulous nature throughout his career, particularly when it came to his locker: from his socks, to his water bottle, to his jumper. That wasn’t changing for game No.342.
A source of inspiration for so many: poignantly, a long-sleeved No.3 jumper hangs in the locker of Marc Murphy pre-match. Saturday night’s game was Murphy and Simpson’s 276th as teammates - the second most in Carlton history. In four of his first five seasons as captain, Simpson was vice-captain to Murphy, and he could've hardly asked for a more suitable or loyal deputy.
Of course, there was more than one favourite Blue son who Carlton’s players attempted to honour last night. In the locker of young ruckman Tom De Koning is the jumper of Matthew Kreuzer, a key mentor of ‘The King’ in recent times. It's a reflection of the men that departed last night that their younger teammates have been so glowing in their praise in recent weeks, particularly due to their willingness to pass on what they've learned and do everything they can to bring future success to their football club. It will always be their football club.
Then, there were those who couldn’t be out there. Injured co-captain Sam Docherty arrives at the Gabba and watches on as Simpson and teammates embark on their final warm-up for the season. Sitting on the sidelines for two seasons, Docherty thought he wouldn't get the chance to run out alongside the man he described as "his favourite teammate" ever again. Because Kade Simpson is Kade Simpson, they ran out together 16 times this season, before a cruel twist of fate meant a minor calf injury saw the co-captain miss Simpson's last hurrah.
A Carlton jumper and the No.6 is a key feature on the pre-game whiteboard. Sometimes, the picture does the talking.
One last time. Kade Simpson prepares to pull on his synonymous long-sleeve No.6 jumper for the final time. Inside the collar of the Navy Blue jumper features a quote from Mike Fitzpatrick, that if you belong to Carlton, you belong to something great. Few have lived that mantra more than the skinny kid from the Eastern Ranges who became a giant.
A moment of reflection pre-game. It's been a long journey for the left footer from Emerald, and few would have been more uneasy with the attention throughout the week than Carlton's No.6. Collecting his thoughts pre-game, it was time for one last dance.
Game face on. Known for his white line fever when the competition gets going, Kade Simpson begins to bark instructions in the pre-game warm-up. There was no chance that this guy was going to be resting on his laurels or just there for the sense of theatre in his last game in the Navy Blue.
18 years ago, Shane O’Sullivan called out Kade Simpson’s name with pick No.45 in the 2002 NAB AFL Draft. Sharing an embrace pre-match, it was only fitting that O’Sullivan would get to see one of his finest finds in action for the final time. Upon announcing his retirement, Simpson described O'Sullivan as "a father figure" for so many at the Club: it wouldn't be too controversial to say that for all the Carlton footballers who stepped through the door during O'Sullivan's time at Ikon Park, Simpson would be someone near the very top in 'Shane O's' all-time favourites.
Arm-in-arm. It's been the case throughout Marc Murphy's whole career that wherever he is, Kade Simpson isn’t far behind. Simpson's durability is arguably best represented when you consider that he has missed just nine of Murphy's 285 games in his career so far: a strike rate of 96.8 per cent. There couldn't have been a better pick for who was going to run out alongside Simpson, typically at the back of the race.
Would it be a Kade Simpson game without a few bruises, given how he applies himself on the field? After being on the receiving end of a heavy knock in the opening minutes of his farewell game, the veteran is checked on in the rooms by the club doctor. Remarkably durable throughout the entirety of his career, it has always taken more than a simple knock to keep Simpson down: from Round 15, 2005 until Round 16, 2018, Simpson missed just five games through injury.
From one generation to another. Sam Walsh and Kade Simpson walk back to the locker room by each other’s side after the final siren rings on a glittering career. Walsh is currently 39 for 39 for games played, with Simpson saying last week that there was every chance the young gun could go passed him come the end of his career. Only 304 to go, Sammy...
One that got away. In a tale of Carlton’s season, Kade Simpson reflects on a result which slipped from the Blues’ grasp. After being challenged at half time, Carlton rallied in the second half but came up short by 17 points: Simpson kickstarted a second-half fightback with the crowning moment of a farewell goal in his farewell game.
Sleeves on for ‘Simmo’. Passing on the torch, fellow defenders Sam Petrevski-Seton and Lachie Plowman were always going to adopt the long sleeves for Kade Simpson’s swan song.
In the build-up to Saturday night’s game, the reflections and tributes piled in from all over the football world for Kade Simpson. He was a mentor to so many, as this embrace from Zac Fisher post-game reflects. A fellow left-footer, Fisher has played 63 games in the Navy Blue since his debut in 2016, making him one of 151 debutants since Simpson played his first game in 2003. Yes, one hundred and fifty one.
A staple of the back line, Kade Simpson shares a moment with assistant coach Dale Amos: a line coach, a mentor, a friend. In a pre-match Zoom interview with two people very close to Kade, Amos was quick to run over and have a chat with Gail and Terry Simpson: two people who have become just as immersed in the Carlton Football Club as their son.
The curtain call. Kade Simpson enters the Carlton locker room as a player for the final time. Thank you, ‘Simmo’.