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Bespectacled but inspiring - great player, captain - and 100 game coach.

Brett Ratten

show_image.php?id=1818Career : 1990 - 2003
Debut : Round 22, 1990 vs Fitzroy, aged 19 years, 52 days
Carlton Player No. 969
Games : 255
Goals : 117
Last Game : Round 10, 2003 vs Fremantle, aged 31 years, 324 days
Guernsey Nos. 40 (1990) and 7 (1991-2003)
Height : 184 cm (6 ft. 1 in.)
Weight : 88 kg (13 stone, 12 lbs.)
DOB : 11 July, 1971
Premiership Player 1995
Captain: 2002 - 2003
Best and Fairest: 1995, 1997, 2000 (tied)
Carlton Hall of Fame (1999)
All Australian: 2000, 2001
Coach: Round 17, 2007 - Round 23, 2012


Brett Ratten’s career at the Carlton Football Club is a story of talent, determination, courage and loyalty. Destined to be a champion of the club and of the game, he joined Carlton’s Under-19 squad as a 16 year-old schoolboy in 1988. Twenty-four years later, after 255 games for the Navy Blues (including the 1995 Premiership) and another 120 as senior coach, he was sacked amid poignant scenes with one game left in the 2012 season.

Ratten arrived at Princes Park to join the Under-19 squad in 1988. Back then, he was a slimly-built 16 year-old student, wearing thick-lensed glasses, a nervous grin, and a burning ambition to play League football. Originally from Yarra Glen, but recruited by the Blues from Healesville, he had enjoyed little success at both his junior clubs. That meant that from his earliest days on the field, Brett either had to win the football himself to get a kick, or dispossess an opponent - and that hard grounding in the game stood him in good stead. Throughout his AFL career, he was a tenacious in-and-under extractor of the ball, a super tackler, and a clever playmaker by hand or foot. He was also – for a while - chronically short-sighted. After struggling somewhat under the lights in night matches prior to 1994, he underwent laser eye surgery, and reaped the benefits.

With the Under-19s, ‘Ratts’ was used principally in the centre or as a ruck-rover, and by mid-1989 his ball-winning ability was demanding elevation. He stepped up to the Reserves team the following year, and in guernsey number 40, continued to raise eyebrows with his single-minded approach. Later, as the 1990 finals loomed and it became obvious that Carlton would not be playing on the big stage in September, Brett’s dream came true when he was called up for his senior debut in the Blues’ last home game of the year against Fitzroy.

Selected alongside Chris Bond on the 2-man interchange bench, Ratts made it onto the field late in the second quarter, and goaled with his first kick. The match was an even contest, before Fitzroy withstood a last-quarter surge by the home side to win by 12 points. A few weeks later, Ratten and Bond played together again in vastly different circumstances - sharing in the joy of Carlton’s 1990 Reserves Grand Final victory over Melbourne, in front of a sellout crowd of more than 90,000 at the MCG.

That achievement aside, 1990 was a somewhat discordant season at Princes Park. The club finished eighth of 14 teams, and two all-time greats in coach Alex Jesaulenko and former captain Wayne Johnston were among those who finished their careers. Normally, Johnston’s iconic number 7 guernsey would have been retired until a worthy successor was found, but in this instance the match committee immediately offered it to Ratten, who was thrilled to accept it.

Under recycled coach David Parkin, Brett played in a variety of midfield positions during 1991-92, before settling into a back pocket in ‘93. Bolstered by midfield maestro Greg Williams and an array of other seasoned recruits, the Blues wound up second on the ladder; setting the stage for Ratten’s formal introduction to finals football. All went to plan at first, too, when victories over Essendon and Adelaide in the first weeks of September propelled the Blueboys into the Grand Final against Essendon. But in a black day for the Blues, they were out-paced, out-played and all but humiliated by the resurgent young Bombers, who handed out a 44-point drubbing.

In 1994, Brett’s charmed run with injury ended when he suffered knee ligament damage against West Coast in round 7. Although he was able to fight his way back for the return match against the Eagles in round 22, his hard-running, crash-tackling style of play would in time make more injuries inevitable. When he eventually retired some nine seasons later, Brett’s medical record detailed at least a dozen operations on his knees, hands, shoulders and ankles.show_image.php?id=21991

In that comeback game against the Eagles, Ratten gathered another 26 quality possessions, leading Parkin to conclude that Brett’s talent was wasted in defence. After Carlton finished second on the ladder to West Coast, Ratten played in both of the Blues’ finals losses - to Melbourne and Geelong - as a ruck-rover, and from that point on, was to be a midfield star. Any lingering doubts about Ratten’s best position were allayed early in 1995, with the emergence of Adrian Whitehead. The promising youngster took over Brett’s back pocket role with aplomb, and added another piece to the mosiac that became a mighty Premiership team. At the end of a dream season, the Navy Blues finished four wins clear of Geelong at the top of the ladder, and went on to smash the Cats by ten goals in a one-sided Grand Final.

On that magnificent afternoon at the MCG, Parkin wanted the mid-field load shared as widely as possible, so he rotated his three gun midfielders; ‘Diesel’ Williams, Ratten and Fraser Brown (as well as a big supporting cast) through the centre square. Ratten was superb when the blowtorch was applied during the first half, while Williams kicked five goals to be a near-unanimous choice as Best on Ground. And just to make Carlton’s 16th Premiership just a little sweeter for Ratts, he was later voted a clear winner of the Blues’ Best and Fairest award – then known as the Robert Reynolds Memorial Trophy, but these days more familiar as the John Nicholls Medal.

One of the more remarkable aspects of that achievement is that Brett was totally ignored by the field umpires when it came to awarding Brownlow Medal votes. In fact, he earned only a single vote during his first five seasons (in 1991) and a measly 51 over the next eight - at the ridiculously low average of 6.7 votes per season. Perhaps the fact that he was always under the packs had something to do with it!

Although Carlton was to feature prominently in the finals over the next six years, and reach another Grand Final in 1999, there would be no more Premiership medallions for Ratts. Instead, he would scoop a host of individual honours, including two more Best and Fairest awards in 1997 and 2000 (the latter in a tie with Scott Camporeale) plus All Australian selection in 2000 and 2001. While still playing, he was inducted into the Carlton Hall of Fame in 1999.

When legendary Blues captain Stephen Kernahan retired in 1997, Ratten was on the short list to replace him. However, the honour instead went to Craig Bradley, whose four seasons in charge featured two more September campaigns and the prelude to the darkest chapter in the history of the Carlton Football Club. ‘Braddles’ relinquished the leadership in 2001 after a truly illustrious career, leaving Ratten as his logical successor – but there was a storm on the horizon that no-one saw approaching.

In the aftermath of Carlton’s 2001 Semi Final loss to Richmond, the Blues were deprived of champions Stephen Silvagni (who retired) and Anthony Koutoufides, who suffered a serious knee injury and would never be the same again. Then early in the new year, a plague of injuries that would continue throughout the season began, and sent the Blues crashing down the ladder. Ratten himself tore ligaments in his thumb in round 15, 2002, and from then on could do nothing to halt the awful slide that culminated in the Blues’ first-ever wooden spoon.

Former Carlton Reserves player and North Melbourne Premiership coach Denis Pagan was lured to Princes Park as senior coach in 2003, only for his association with his captain to last for less than a dozen games. In round 10 of that year, across the continent at Subiaco Oval, Ratts was driven into the turf in a heavy tackle by a West Coast opponent, and damaged his already unstable right shoulder so badly it ended his career. There were some unfortunate glitches prior to his retirement (including a rushed announcement whilst the Blues were still training) but the tributes paid to him by every other AFL club was a testament to the respect he earned throughout his career.

Following his retirement, Ratts was farewelled from Princes Park with widespread affection. As expected, he turned his hand to coaching, and spent two seasons as an assistant at Melbourne, before heading off to take charge of the Norwood Football Club in the Eastern Football League. In late 2006, Brett returned to Carlton as an assistant coach, only to be appointed to the senior role as caretaker before the year was out. In the difficult weeks after the sacking of Denis Pagan, he took the reins in four close and honourable losses, before being confirmed as senior coach of the Blues on Monday, August 20, 2007.

Although he didn't win a game in his shakedown year, Ratts didn't have to wait too long to taste the joy of victory. After a promising start in the 2008 NAB Cup pre-season competition, the Blues knocked over traditional rivals Collingwood in round 4. Ratts had drawn first blood, and the long climb back to where the Blues belong had begun.

Carlton reached the finals for the first time for 8 years in 2009, only to lose a hard-fought Elimination Final to the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba – giving up a big lead at three-quarter time to be beaten by 7 points. It was a similar story in 2010, when the Blues made the finals in eighth place, but bowed out after a nail-biting 5-point Elimination Final loss to the Sydney Swans at the Olympic Stadium. show_image.php?id=33234With a young list reaching maturity, Ratts coached his team to fifth place after the 2011 home and away founds, and thrilled the Bluebagger faithful by smashing Essendon in a one-sided Elimination Final at the MCG. It was Carlton’s first win in September for 10 years, and was wildly celebrated – but the upshot was that the team faced a trip to Perth the following week to play West Coast. In perhaps their finest effort for the year, the young Blues took it right up to the home side, and only a couple of contentious umpiring decisions in the last few minutes saw them beaten by just 3 points.

Prior to the 2012 season, the Carlton board and coaching panel made it clear that only a top four finish would be acceptable. Although the pre-season competition ended without a win, the Blues exploded out of the blocks to beat Richmond, Brisbane and Collingwood in the first three rounds of the year and were widely-regarded as early flag favourites. Ratten coached his 100th game in round 2, and the future looked bright indeed. But a truly horrendous run of injury to key players – including all of the club’s first-choice tall defenders by mid-season – ruined the team’s prospects. Indeed, a shock loss to strugglers Port Adelaide in round 10 put paid any grandiose ideas, and even then it was obvious that the ragged Blues would need a big lift to even make the top eight.

In round 22 – the second last match of the season – Carlton travelled to Carrara on the Gold Coast for a Saturday night match against the Suns. The home side had won only two games for the year, and their injury list was on a par with Carlton’s. The Blues slim finals hopes rested on a win and seemed like a formality, but in one of the biggest boilovers for years, the Suns played more composed and direct football to beat Carlton by 12 points. In the moments after the final siren that night, the entire football world knew that Ratten’s position was all but untenable. A few days later, a press conference was called, and in a poignant, dignified manner, Ratts and club President Stephen Kernahan announced that his contract had been terminated, and that Brett would coach Carlton for the last time in the final game of the season, against St Kilda at Docklands on the following Sunday afternoon.

In a result so typical of the year, the Blues were forced to make two late changes to their side before the first bounce against the Saints, then were deprived of their captain Chris Judd and playmaker Chris Yarran by hamstring injuries before half-time. As a consequence, the team ran out of legs in the last quarter, to be beaten by 15 points. Stoic to the end, Ratten faced up to the media after the game, as positive and gracious as always. Having finished his tenure as coach of the Carlton Football Club, he walked from the room with his head held high, and his reputation absolutely intact.

Soon afterwards - in September, 2012, Ratten was appointed as an assistant coach at Hawthorn. Under their senior coach Alistair Clarkson, the Hawks had lost that year's classic Grand Final to the Sydney Swans, but with Ratten’s assistance they regrouped and won the next three flags in succession.

Footnotes

Ratten wore Carlton’s guernsey number 51 over three seasons from 1987 to 1989, when he played a number of Reserve grade games for the Blues. At that time, he was still eligible for the Under-19 team.

Ratten currently holds the AFL record for most clearances in a season, with 265 recorded in 1999. This figure is well clear of the next closest player, Josh Kennedy of the Sydney Swans, who managed 190 in 2012. Ratten also holds the AFL record for highest average clearances per match with a whopping 7.21.

Although best remembered as a champion midfielder or defender, 'Ratts' was also a dangerous forward when given the opportunity. When Port Adelaide met Carlton at Princes Park in round 6, 2000, coach David Parkin sent him to a forward pocket, from where he terrorised the Power defence – kicking five goals in the first half, and six for the match as the Blues pulverised their visitors by 91 points.

In round 2, 2012, when Carlton demolished the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba, Brett Ratten became only the third individual in club history to play and coach the Blues in 100 games. The others were Norman Clark and Ken Hands.

The Ratten family suffered an awful tragedy in August 2015, when Brett’s 16 year-old son Cooper was killed in a car accident. A few weeks later, Hawthorn and Carlton met in the last round of the season. Both teams wore black armbands in memory of Cooper that afternoon, and ran out onto the ground through a shared banner emblazoned with the single word, “Family.”

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His skin bruised before physical contact and his glasses were Coke bottle thick, but neither circumstance prevented the combination of skill, spatial awareness and desire from ensuring he will be remembered as one of the most respected self made players. His greatest work for the CFC began as coach for 2008 and beyond.


Milestones (Player)

50 Games : Round 14, 1993 vs West Coast
100 Games : Round 3, 1996 vs Fremantle
150 Games : Round 8, 1998 vs West Coast
200 Games : Round 11, 2000 vs North Melbourne
250 Games : Round 2, 2003 vs Collingwood

100 Goals: Round 16, 2001 vs Fremantle

Milestones (Coach)

Debut as Coach : Round 17, 2007 vs St Kilda
First Win : Round 1 of the 2008 NAB Cup vs Port Power
100 Games : Round 2, 2012 vs Brisbane Lions

Career Highlights

1990 - Reserves Premiership Player
1995 - Robert Reynolds Memorial Trophy: Best & Fairest Award
1995 - Premiership Player
1996 - 2nd Best & Fairest
1997 - Robert Reynolds Memorial Trophy: Best & Fairest Award
1997 - Pre-Season Premiership Player
1998 - 3rd Best & Fairest
1999 - Equal 4th Best & Fairest
2000 - Equal Robert Reynolds Memorial Trophy: Best & Fairest Award
2001 - 2nd Best & Fairest
2002 - Equal 6th Best & Fairest
2003 - 10th Best & Fairest
2007 - Assistant Coach and ultimately, Coach

Articles: Triumphs & Tribulations of a Blue Debut | 2012: The End of the Ratten Era | Simmo overtakes Ratts!

Blueseum: Summary of playing statistics for Brett Ratten | Career Breakdown | Summary of Ratten's Coaching Career | Ratten's Blueseum Image Gallery