IT'S 20 years since Brett Backwell tied with Coburg’s Ezra Poyas in the JJ Liston Trophy count for competition best and fairest. That was back in 2001 – the year the little man known as “Mouse” represented Carlton’s stand-alone reserve grade team with distinction.
Thesedays based in Adelaide where he combines duties as a modular construction company manager with his coaching of the Brighton Old Districts and Scholars Amateur Football Club, none are more delighted than him with the imminent return of Blues’ stand-alone reserve grade outfit.
When told that the players comprising Carlton’s reserves are to take to the field for the first time in 19 years this Saturday, Backwell was suitably upbeat.
“It’s a great thing that Carlton has re-established its own reserves team. It’s just a much better avenue, having your own team, training with the same systems and the same coaches,” Backwell said.
“I didn’t get to play for the Bullants or the Northern Blues, but having played SANFL where players from the Power and the Crows came back to lend support, I believe a stand-alone reserves team allows for a much better learning environment.
“The Carlton Football Club is the greatest footy club in Australia. To pull on a dark Navy Blue jumper and call yourself a Carlton footballer in the VFL brings a great deal of pride to be associated with that football club.
“Even now when I see each of the players run out in their jumpers I get a bit of a tingle. I just love the club.”
Backwell later took out the 2006 Magarey Medal for competition Best and Fairest representing Stephen Kernahan’s Glenelg.
But in reflecting on his 18-game Carlton career through three seasons to 2001 – the first of them the opening Round of ’99 against Essendon when Matthew Lappin completed mark of the year - Backwell, taken with selection 67 in the 1998 national draft, treasured his time, even if time was called prematurely.
As the native Queenslander said: “Playing for Carlton is right up there with the proudest moments of my football career and my life – not only to play AFL, but to play alongside some of the names – iconic names like Bradley, Silvagni and Koutoufides”.
Incredibly Backwell, who inherited the guernsey No.2 after Greg Williams, almost didn’t make it to the MCG to complete what should have been his dream Carlton senior debut on that Thursday night in March ‘99.
“I actually turned up late to my first game. I nearly missed seeing ‘Lappo’ take mark of the year,” Backwell conceded.
“I got stuck in peak hour traffic near Swanston Street. These were pre-mobile phone days and I was just an 18 year-old kid. I remember is sitting in my little Hyundai crying. I was listening to Triple M at the time and I’ll never forget Jason Dunstall saying ‘The Carlton boys are out on the ground for their warm-up’.
“Thankfully I got there on time, but I don’t think I touched it. I was so panicked.”
Backwell is the only JJ Liston Trophy winner to have done so representing Carlton. Doug Beasy took out the 1961 trophy for Box Hill two years after completing his career ended at Princes Park, while Michael Gibbons twice won the Liston in 2016 and ’18 with Williamstown prior to his drafting to Carlton as a supplemental rookie.
In 1925, Tommy Downs took out the Woodham Cup (a forerunner to the Liston) for Northcote – two years before embarking on his 56-game seven-season Carlton career.
Carlton’s winners of the Gardiner Medal for the VFL’s reserve grade competition Best and Fairest are Albert ‘Mick’ Price in 1940, Vin Cattogio in 1973 and Allan Mangels in 1976.
The Carlton Reserve grade players will kick off the season in the new-look VFL competition this Saturday at Ikon Park (first bounce at 2pm).