Kade Simpson’s durability through 342 matches and 18 seasons as an elite AFL footballer was well-known long before he joined Matthew Kreuzer on that short, final walk from the Gabba and into football history.
But what can now be revealed is ‘Simmo’s’ unique link in an unbroken Carlton player chain that extends all the way back to the Club’s very origins more than 150 years ago.
With the assistance of Jamie Sanderson of the football club’s historic website blueseum.org, it can now be revealed that 15 Carlton footballers prior to Simpson have collectively kept the sequence going as their careers overlapped, one by one, from May 1865 through to the final home and away round of September 2020.
The story begins with Orlando Thomas Lockyer ‘Lanty’ O’Brien - a boy of 11 who joined his six siblings and his parents on the Melbourne-bound voyage of the Saldanah in 1856, after the potato famine had ravaged their native Ireland.
O’Brien featured in what was possibly the first recorded Carlton contest – the match with Melbourne Grammar School on the Myall Ground on May 27, 1865.
Though the games tallied by O’Brien are unknown, he is known to have played through until season 1876, during which time George Coulthard – perhaps Carlton’s first bona fide champion – also turned out for the Club.
Coulthard, whose career can be sourced to 1873, was a three-time Champion of the Colony in 1876, ’77 (a Carlton Premiership season in the maiden season of the VFA) and ’79, and a vice-captain of the Club prior to his tragic and untimely death due to tuberculosis in 1883.
For an all-too-brief period, Coulthard chased the leather with Samuel Charles Rothwell Bloomfield, a 75-game future Carlton captain, whose maiden season of 1882 was Coulthard’s last and who was adjudged the game’s best follower two years later.
The records indicate that Bloomfield’s 1889 season overlapped with the Ballarat Imperials wingman John Alexander Roberts, who represented Carlton in both the VFA and the VFL in its inaugural 1897 season.
The careers of Roberts and Ernie Walton overlapped in the sixth round of that year – against St Kilda at the Junction Oval – when members of the visiting Carlton 20 famously recorded the Club’s first victory in League competition.
Walton, a future Carlton captain and later Treasurer, took to the MCG on Grand Final day 1904 with William John (‘Billy’) Payne, the former Footscray half-back who featured in the Carlton Premiership teams of 1906, ’07 and ’08.
The link continued in the 3rd round of 1911 when Payne and Ernie Jamieson, a dual Carlton Premiership full-back in 1914 and ’15 contested the game in which the home team fell two points adrift of Fitzroy at Princes Park.
Jamieson’s last game, the fifth round match of 1922 against South Melbourne at the Lakeside Oval, was a match in which Harry Bell also represented the team. A 55-game player, Bell later served as Carlton Secretary for 12 years , and co-authored The Carlton Story with Hugh Buggy.
Maintaining the linkages from the “between the wars” years to the present were the following household names – all of them members of Carlton’s coveted Hall of Fame:
Harry ‘Soapy’ Vallence, who played alongside Bell in Round 4, 1927;
Bob Chitty, with Vallence a member of the ’38 Premiership team;
Ken Hands, who debuted in the Chitty-captained Carlton team which met St Kilda at Princes Park in Round 5, 1945;
John Nicholls, who followed Hands down the race for the first of 328 senior appearances in the opening round match of 1957 against Hawthorn at Princes Park;
Bruce Doull, who was named on the bench in Round 5, 1969 when Nicholls led them out against South Melbourne at Princes Park;
Stephen Kernahan, who made his much-anticipated first senior appearance in the opening round of the 1986 season when Doull also took the field against Hawthorn at Princes Park;
Anthony Koutoufides, who joined Kernahan for the first time in the 13th round match of 1992 against Adelaide at Princes Park; and who was there when Simpson completed an inauspicious debut in a team which went down to Geelong by 40 points at The Dome in Round 11, 2003.
In summary, Carlton’s unbroken chain of Carlton players whose careers have overlapped, one by one, through all 156 seasons of the club’s existence – from the first known match on Saturday, May 27, 1865 through to Round 18 (Saturday, September 19, 2020) - are as follows;
‘Lanty’ O’Brien - George Coulthard - Sam Bloomfield - Jack Roberts - Ernie Walton - Billy Payne - Ernie Jamieson - Harry Bell - Harry Vallence - Bob Chitty - Ken Hands - John Nicholls - Bruce Doull - Stephen Kernahan - Anthony Koutoufides - Kade Simpson
Any of ‘Simmo’s’ teammates who played alongside him in that Round 18 match at the Gabba will of course ensure that the chain remains unbroken, with the likes of Sam Walsh or Jacob Weitering well placed to extend this unique player chain into an 18th decade.