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Kouta - modern day legend.

Anthony Koutoufides

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Career: 1992 - 2007
Debut : Round 13, 1992 vs Adelaide, aged 19 years, 147 days
Carlton Player No. 985
Games : 278
Goals : 226
Last Game : Round 17, 2007 vs St Kilda, aged 34 years, 191 days
Guernsey No. 43
Height : 190 cm (6 ft. 2 in.)
Weight : 95 kg (15 stone, 0 lbs.)
DOB : 18 January, 1973
Premiership Player: 1995
Leigh Matthews Trophy (AFLPA MVP) : 2000
Best and Fairest: 2001, 2005
All Australian: 1995, 2000
Leading Goalkicker : 1997
Club Captain: 2004 - 2006
AFL Hall of Fame


Throughout the history of VFL/AFL football, few individual players have actually changed the game. However, such was the impact of Anthony Koutoufides - “Kouta” to the masses of Blues supporters he thrilled during his celebrated 15-season career at Princes Park between 1992 and 2007 – that today he is recognised as the prototype of the 21st century footballer.

A 191 cm powerhouse with pace, endurance and sensational all-round skills, Koutoufides starred in Carlton’s 1995 Premiership victory over Geelong, won two club Best and Fairest awards, and was twice selected as an All Australian. In 1997 he was Carlton’s leading goal-kicker, and in 2000, was voted the AFL Players Association’s Most Valuable Player. Late in his career, amid his club’s darkest hours, he stepped up to the captain the Blues for three seasons, before retiring one year later as one of the most respected and admired men ever to have played the game.

Kouta’s heritage spanned four cultures. His father; Dimitrios (‘Jim’ to his friends and family) was born in Egypt to Greek-Cypriot parents, while his mother Anna came from northern Italy and met her future husband while on holiday down under. As part of the vast post-World War II migration from Europe to Australia, the couple settled in Melbourne’s northern suburbs at Lalor, and Anna produced three sons. The two eldest, Paul and Anthony, became keen schoolboy track athletes from their early teens, while they also embraced the Australian code of football. Before long therefore, a choice had to be made.

Anthony was an outstanding junior prospect who represented his state in three disciplines; the 100/110 metre hurdles, high jump and decathlon. From the age of 15 he was being talked about as a potential Olympian, although he and Paul were also enjoying success on the football field with Lalor Juniors. The crunch came in 1989, when the brothers were approached by Carlton scout Wayne Gilbert with an invitation join the Blues’ Under-19 squad. Despite the fact that both were keen Collingwood fans at the time, there was no hesitation. Paul and Anthony couldn’t wait to get to Princes Park.

Paul went on to play a couple of seasons of Under-19 football and one Reserves match for Carlton, without progressing to senior level. Anthony followed the same pathway, but from his earliest games his mature physique, outstanding agility and appetite for the contest marked him as something special. At first he was seen as a key defender, especially when he moved up to Reserve grade in 1992 to take on the full-back role, and won the Carlton Reserves Best and Fairest. Considering that he also made his senior debut the same year and played six first-grade matches, it was an outstanding achievement.

Having played through the lower grades in guernsey number 46, Anthony requested a change to his favourite number 43 when he was promoted to Carlton’s senior squad, and made an eye-catching debut against the Adelaide Crows at Princes Park in round 13, 1992. Sitting on the interchange bench until just before half-time, he ran onto the field and became involved in the play straight away with a clever shepherd that allowed Ron De Iulio an easy goal. Shortly afterwards, he kicked a smart goal himself from deep in a pocket with the second kick of his career, after his first attempt had been smothered. The Blues won by 23 points, and Anthony’s career was up and away.

Later in the year, in round 23 against Collingwood at VFL Park, Waverley, spectators got a glimpse of the future when Koutoufides shrugged off an opponent, swooped on the ball and picked it up with one hand. A gob-smacked Carlton coach David Parkin later said to him; “I’ve been waiting twenty years to see what you just did.” A few weeks later, Anthony finished off an impressive first season by collecting 19 possessions, four marks and his first Brownlow Medal vote as Carlton lost to West Coast at Subiaco in the last round of the year. He carried the ball in one hand that day too, and it rapidly became his trademark.

Koutoufides’ second season in 1993 started full of promise, only to be derailed by the first in a long series of injuries. After playing the first five games in defence, he damaged ankle ligaments in round 6 against Collingwood, and spent 10 weeks on the sidelines. Back to match fitness late in the year as the Blues tuned up for the finals, he was running into form again on the eve of the Grand Final against Essendon, but on selection night was overlooked in favour of Mark Athorn. Two days later, Anthony could only watch in despair as Essendon’s ‘Baby Bombers’ demolished Carlton by 44 points to win the flag.
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Carlton’s fan base began to really embrace Koutoufides in 1994, especially when coach Parkin decided to play him on a wing and see if the opposition had anyone with the size and speed to match him. Invariably, they didn’t, and by mid-year the first cries of “Kout-ta, Kou-ta!” were echoing from the stands. Against Richmond at Princes Park in round 23, he provided a constant avenue to goal for the Blues, picking up 27 effective possessions as the home side destroyed the Tigers by 113 points. A few weeks later, his blossoming career reached a new level when he experienced his first two senior finals. Carlton lost both however, going down in successive weeks to Melbourne and Geelong.

Anthony’s fourth season in 1995 was simply sensational. In 25 games he kicked 22 goals, and collected 25 possessions (or more) on six occasions. He took more marks, earned more Brownlow Medal votes (12) than any other Blue, and was selected as an All Australian, before he almost single-handedly demolished Geelong in the Grand Final. Playing on a wing, but ranging far and wide through the midfield, Kouta racked up 31 possessions and eight telling marks on that unforgettable afternoon, as a remorseless Carlton ground the Cats into the dust and claimed the Blues’ 16th Premiership. Among a host of Navy Blue stars, Greg Williams was awarded the Norm Smith Medal as best on ground – but Koutoufides too, would have been worthy winner.

Kouta’s form in 1996 mirrored that of his team – occasional lapses, interspersed with regular successes. He didn’t miss a match all season, and kicked 24 goals while averaging 21 effective disposals and six marks per game. He produced an absolutely stunning performance against the West Coast Eagles in round 5 at Subiaco, hauling down 18 big marks (amid 35 possessions) as Carlton won a thriller by one point. At the end of the home and away season, he finished equal with Fraser Brown as the club’s top vote-catcher in the Brownlow Medal with 12 votes, before being one of his team’s best in a disappointing final series that saw the Blues eliminated by straight-sets losses to West Coast and Brisbane.

In 1997, after four consecutive finals campaigns, Carlton crashed to eleventh place on the ladder. Kouta played his 100th game in round 15 against Melbourne, as a raft of stars including long-serving captain Stephen Kernahan, Greg Williams, Justin Madden, Earl Spalding and Mil Hanna all reached the end of their careers. While the next generation of leaders - including Koutoufides – continued their progress, coach Parkin sometimes asked his star mid-fielder to play up forward, and Anthony generally delivered.

Playing on a wing against Collingwood at the MCG in round 4, 1997, Kouta racked up 32 possessions in a solid win. Later in the year, during the return game in round 19, Parkin sent him to full-forward, where he took a couple of screamers and kicked 6.4 from 22 possessions and 7 marks. Carlton came out on top again by 16 points, and that big haul helped him reach a total of 28 goals for the season. It was a modest return, but good enough to win him Carlton’s Leading Goalkicker Award, ahead of Justin Murphy (26 goals) and Stephen Silvagni (25).

Under a new captain in Craig Bradley, the Blues aimed for real improvement in 1998 – until the awful news broke that Jim Koutoufides had been diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of just 58. His death in March devastated his close-knit family, and by association, everyone involved at the Carlton Football Club. A stricken Anthony still played 21 games for the year, although he and the team as a whole were never really in finals contention, and once again finished eleventh.

Eventually, with the support of his many friends, colleagues and team-mates, Kouta returned to something near his brilliant best in 1999, averaging 20 possessions and 6 marks per game to finish runner-up to Matthew Allan as Carlton’s Best and Fairest. Standout games included 27 possessions and 7 marks against St Kilda in round 6; 25 disposals and 12 marks against Brisbane in round 11, and 23 possessions and 10 marks against Hawthorn in round 14. But those numbers were all but forgotten after the Blues qualified for the finals in sixth place, and fought their way through to a Preliminary Final showdown against minor premiers and hot flag favourites Essendon. The Bombers were gunning for their 16th flag to equal Carlton’s record, and the Blues had set themselves to stop them. What transpired that day produced one of the greatest finals matches of all time.

In front of 80,000 at the MCG, an undermanned, bloody-minded Carlton simply refused to be beaten. Trailing by 11 points at three-quarter time, the Blues kicked 6.2 to Essendon’s 4.2 in a frantic last quarter, to win by a point – largely due to 30 minutes of football from Koutoufides that was described by a stunned Stephen Kernahan as "the greatest quarter of football ever played.” Running hard to all parts of the field, Kouta had ten kicks, four clearances, three defensive rebounds, six marks and kicked two great goals in an epic quarter that brought a truly famous victory. Such was the euphoria around Princes Park in the days after that sensational game, that the following Saturday’s Grand Final loss to North Melbourne was almost an anti-climax. Sure, Carlton hadn’t won another flag – but neither had Essendon!

Kouta played his 150th game in round 2, 2000 in a 42-point win over Hawthorn at Princes Park, and was enjoying another prolific season when he picked up a career-best total of 39 disposals, 13 marks, 4 hit-outs and 2 goals in Carlton’s big win over Sydney in round 8. Demonstrably at the peak of his form, he was a clear favourite for the Brownlow Medal, before the Blues hosted North Melbourne at Princes Park in round 11. When that game began, Kouta was stunned to be manned up in the midfield by the Kangaroos’ champion centre half-forward and captain Wayne Carey.

It was a match-up for every football lover to savour, but Koutoufides rose to the challenge and turned it into a non-event. Leading the Roo captain a merry dance, Kouta kept Carey under a tight wrap and won the football himself 38 times - earning 17 kicks, 21 handpasses, 8 marks and kicking five terrific goals in a vital win that cemented a top-two ladder position the Blues. Kouta later conceded that this was in fact, his best-ever individual effort. "When people ask me which was the best game I ever played,” he said some time afterward, ”It would have to be the one against North Melbourne."

By round 20, 2000, Carlton was comfortably sitting second on the ladder when disaster struck in the form of a posterior cruciate ligament strain to Kouta’s left knee. The surgery required ended his season, but he had been so good during the previous five months that he was still named as an All Australian, as well as the AFL Players Association Most Valuable Player (now known as the Leigh Matthews Trophy). Carlton responded by offering him an unprecedented 5-year contract (rumoured to be worth one million dollars) which was quickly accepted. From then on, Kouta would be a Blue for life.

By early 2001, Anthony was fit and firing again when Carlton began the season under new coach Wayne Brittain. First up against Fremantle, he gathered 28 possessions, 6 marks and 2 goals, carrying that form right through the home and away season as the Blues wound up fifth. In early September, he edged out Brett Ratten by 2 votes to win his first Carlton Best and Fairest, and celebrated by dominating the Elimination Final against Adelaide with 36 disposals, 8 marks and 9 tackles. It had been another stellar year for Carlton’s Adonis to that point, but it ended in anger and frustration the following week in a Semi Final loss to Richmond, when Tiger Matthew Knights fell across Kouta’s right leg during the third quarter, and tore the posterior cruciate ligament.

At that time, a PCL tear required a full reconstruction of the knee and an absence of at least 12 months. Kouta didn’t play again until round 15, 2002, wearing a specially designed knee brace. Sadly he was never the same dynamic match-winner again, because those two knee operations took the edge off his pace, and he couldn’t fly for the big marks any more. But he was by no means finished. He just changed his style, and became more of a versatile link-up and lead-up utility.

While he was out of the side, Carlton slumped to last in 2002 to collect the first wooden spoon in the club’s history. Making matters far worse, an AFL investigation late in the year uncovered damning evidence of salary cap breaches. As a result, the club was fined almost one million dollars and hit with severe draft penalties. Those events plunged the club into the Lost Years – a decade of deprivation, dissension and struggle on the lower rungs of the ladder.

Former North Melbourne Premiership coach Denis Pagan joined Carlton in 2003, in time to celebrate Kouta’s 200th game in round 7 against St Kilda. Anthony had another solid season, averaging 21 disposals and 4 tackles in 22 games, to finish runner-up to defender Andrew McKay as Best and Fairest. Then in 2004, he was appointed captain of the Blues, and led his club through three bleak seasons. show_image.php?id=7001

Carlton finished last again in 2005 – but in a demonstration of his commitment and dedication, Kouta picked up his second Best and Fairest, polling a massive 34 more votes than runner-up Nick Stevens. He played his 250th game in a welcome victory over Melbourne in round 1, 2006, before handing on the captaincy to Lance Whitnall at he end of that year.

Kouta played on into 2007, although he missed the first six games of the season because of a finger injury. In round 13 he turned back the clock in Carlton’s big loss to Fremantle, chalking up 26 disposals, four inside 50s and two goal assists, before the end came a month later against St Kilda. On that Saturday afternoon at Docklands Stadium in round 17, Kouta went down with a serious hip injury, and scans later revealed that more surgery was needed. Aged 34 by then, he immediately announced his retirement as the accolades began to pour in.

The club organised a ‘Tribute to Kouta’ prior to Carlton’s next match, against Collingwood at the MCG on Saturday, August 4, and many of the 56,000 who turned up were there for one reason - to say goodbye to one of Carlton’s greats. With both teams lining the boundary, Anthony was driven on a lap of honour as the cheer squad and many in the crowd chanted “Kou-ta, Kou-ta” one last time. Sadly, the Blues couldn’t finish off an emotional day with a win, but in the end, that really didn’t matter.

Aside from his deeds on the field, Anthony Koutoufides has been – and indeed, continues to be - an outstanding ambassador for the Carlton Football Club and the game as a whole. During his long career, he was suspended just once – for one match - for tripping Essendon’s Peter Berbakov in round 18, 1998. He was fined on another three occasions for wrestling or involving himself in a melee, but overall Kouta will forever be remembered as a Carlton champion – a brilliant, scrupulously fair competitor and role model throughout 16 seasons of senior football.

In June, 2014, seven years after his last game in navy blue, Kouta was (somewhat belatedly, in the eyes of the Carlton faithful) inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame.

Footnotes

Koutoufides requested guernsey number 43 at Carlton for two reasons. As a youngster, it was the number of his favourite player, Collingwood’s Ricky Barham, and 1943 was the year his mother Anna was born. As of 2012, Anthony still holds the VFL/AFL record for most senior games in guernsey 43, with 278.

In 1997, the Carlton Football Club signed a corporate sponsorship deal with Nike Sport, requiring the Blues players to wear Nike boots in every match. However, Koutoufides had been sponsored by Adidas for a number of years by then, and refused to break his existing contract. The "Kouta Boots" affair dragged on for some time, and escalated to the point where Anthony faced suspension. But he stood his ground, and the matter was eventually resolved in his favour.

In 1999, Koutoufides was selected in the last-ever Victorian State of Origin team, but couldn’t take his place in the side because of injury.

In 2006, Kouta and his 1995 Carlton Premiership team-mate Ange Christou opened the Souvlaki Hut restaurant in Lower Templestowe, and as part of a publicity campaign, Anthony appeared in a TV advertisement that featured him talking to someone in a gorilla suit. In 2012, that advertisement was named as the worst of all time by the panel on ABC ‘s Gruen Planet.

In November 2006, Koutoufides and dance partner Natalie Lowe were proclaimed winners of the fifth season of the popular television program Dancing with the Stars.

Midway through 2007, Kouta picked up another honour when he was selected at centre half-back in the Italian Team of the Century. That completed a rare and unusual double, because he had also previously been selected in the Greek Team of the Century!

The Blueseum has compiled a 'story by games' of Kouta's career, highlighting his greatest moments. To access it, please click here.

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Responsible for some of the most astounding acts of skill and brute force ever to be seen on an AFL arena. At top-flight his (drug free) physical skill base may have been unequalled in Australian sport. Beyond the playing surface his marketability continues to buoy club coffers. His dancing ability however may be over-rated.


Milestones

50th Game: Round 14, 1995 vs Richmond
100th Game: Round 15, 1997 vs Melbourne
150th Game: Round 2, 2000 vs Hawthorn
200th Game: Round 7, 2003 vs St Kilda
250th Game: Round 1, 2006 vs Melbourne
278th and Final Game: Round 17, 2007 vs St Kilda

100 Goals: Round 14, 1999 vs Hawthorn
200 Goals: Round 9, 2005 vs Melbourne

Career Highlights

1989 - Under 19s Best First Year Player Award
1991 - Under 19s Ian L. C. Fogarty Memorial Trophy
1992 - Reserves Best & Fairest Award
1994 - 7th Best & Fairest
1995 - Equal 6th Best & Fairest
1995 - Peter Sullivan Memorial Trophy (Most Carlton Votes in the Brownlow Medal)
1995 - All Australian
1995 - Premiership Player
1996 - 4th Best & Fairest
1996 - Equal Peter Sullivan Memorial Trophy (Most Carlton Votes in the Brownlow Medal)
1997 - Pre-Season Premiership Player
1997 - 7th Best & Fairest
1997 - Leading Goalkicker
1999 - 2nd Best & Fairest
2000 - 3rd Best & Fairest
2000 - Peter Sullivan Memorial Trophy (Most Carlton Votes in the Brownlow Medal)
2000 - All Australian
2000 - AFMA Most Valuable Player
2000 - Leigh Matthews Trophy AFLPA MVP
2000 - Herald Sun Player of the Year
2001 - Best and Fairest
2003 - 2nd Best and Fairest
2004 - 9th Best and Fairest
2004 - Greek Team of The Century
2004-06 - Captain
2005 - Best Clubman
2005 - Pre-Season Premiership Player
2005 - John Nicholls Medal
2006 - 10th Best and Fairest
2007 - Pre-Season Premiership Player
2007 - Italian Team of The Century
2007 - AFL Life Membership

Kouta one handed pickup


Articles: The BIG Numbers | Kouta's Legacy by the Game | Great Wins over the Bombers

Blueseum: Summary of playing statistics for 'Kouta' | Career Breakdown | Kouta's golden run in 2000 | Kouta's Testimonial | Kouta's Blueseum Image Gallery