Career : 1997 - 2007
Debut : Round 1, 1997 vs Essendon, aged 17 years, 220 days
Carlton Player No. 1013
Games : 216
Goals : 348
Guernsey No. 8
Last Game : Round 22, 2007 vs Melbourne, aged 28 years, 10 days
Height : 192 cm (6 ft. 2 in.)
Weight : 100 kg (15 stone, 10 lbs.)
DOB : 23 August, 1979
All Australian: 2000
John Nicholls Medal: 2006
Leading goalkicker: 1998, 1999, 2000
Rising Star Nominee: Round 1, 1997
An often brilliant, yet much-maligned key forward who captained the Blues in the last of his eleven seasons at Princes Park, Lance Whitnall was born with rare skills, an astute football brain, and a bulky frame that was prone to stack on extra kilos during the briefest of layoffs. His battles with his weight were well-publicised throughout his time at Princes Park, often drawing scathing and ill-informed criticism. The facts are that Whitnall was more than a worthy captain of the Carlton Football Club, and his career record stands comparison with all but the very best of the Blues’ on-field leaders.
Lance came to Carlton with an impressive football pedigree. His father, Graeme Whitnall, played 66 matches for the Blues between 1974 and 1981, while his grandfather Noel had a long and distinguished career in country football. As a youngster, Lance played as a junior with outer-suburban Lalor. From the age of 14 he was remarkably mature in both mind and body, and this translated to dominance on the field. By 1995 he was centre half-forward and captain of the Victorian Under 16 state team, and a year later was a star in the Northern Knights side that won the TAC Cup Under 18 Grand Final. Carlton then drafted him under the father/son rule, and by Christmas 1996, Whitnall was the new custodian of Carlton’s number 8 guernsey. Nicknamed “Banger” at first, then “Big Red” or simply “Red” because of his hair colour, he didn’t lack confidence or self-belief.
Meanwhile, fresh from the glory of the 1995 Premiership (and the utter despair of defeat by Hawthorn in ’96), Carlton was hunting for a new pair of key forwards to take over the mantle still being carried with distinction by Earl Spalding and Stephen Kernahan. On Friday night, March 21, 1997 it seemed that we just might have found them, when 17 year-old Whitnall, and 19 year-old Aaron Hamill both impressed in Carlton’s big win over Geelong in the Grand Final of the pre-season Ansett Cup. Hamill’s pack-busting team play, combined with Whitnall’s clever leads and solid aerial skills, helped the Blues to a huge victory by almost ten goals.
Barely ten days later, Whitnall’s AFL career began in earnest when he was named at full-forward for the round 1 blockbuster against Essendon at the MCG – where he could scarcely have been more impressive on debut. Showing poise and amazing maturity, Lance took nine strong marks, and kicked four goals as Carlton lost a thriller by 7 points. That eye-catching effort saw him nominated for the AFL Rising Star award, and alerted every other team to his potential. From then on, he rarely played forward without attracting a top defender.
Carlton finished a disappointing eleventh in 1997, before losing a wealth of experience with the retirement of Kernahan, Spalding, Greg Williams and Mil Hanna. As a consequence, the Blues marked time in ‘98, finishing eleventh again, while Whitnall’s continued development was one consolation. Although his coach David Parkin sent him back into defence on occasions, Lance didn’t miss a match, and he was Carlton’s top goal-kicker for the year with 46. The highlight of the season for Blues fans came in round 17, when fourteenth-placed Carlton absolutely smashed the ladder-leading Western Bulldogs by 80 points in a huge upset at Princes Park. Whitnall took seven big marks and kicked eight goals in a best on ground effort, aided by Hamill’s vigorous attack on the ball at half forward, and captain Craig Bradley’s dominance of the midfield.
In 1999, the first controversial episode of Lance’s career broke when he came back from the Christmas holidays considerably overweight. Concerned, the club packed him off to an exclusive Gold Coast health resort – gleefully described as a “fat farm” by the media – where he shed eight kilograms. Once back in Melbourne, Whitnall started his third AFL season fit and firing, and enjoyed a stellar season as he and Hamill again gave the improving Blues a choice of forward targets. Carlton claimed a finals berth by finishing sixth, and bravely – if somewhat luckily - fought their way through to a Preliminary Final clash against the hot flag favourites Essendon.
At their previous meeting, the Bombers had demolished the Blues by a dozen goals, so no-one gave the boys from Princes Park much of a chance. But in shades of their 1998 triumph over the Bulldogs, the Bluebaggers pulled off a football miracle, and knocked over Essendon by one point in a soul-stirring display of sheer guts and determination. Although Hamill was reported for using his knee against an opponent, he and Whitnall each kicked three goals to put the underdog Blues into yet another Grand Final against North Melbourne. Hamill then copped a 2-week suspension that was quashed on appeal, before the wrung-out Blues were comfortably beaten in the flag decider by the rested and well-prepared Kangaroos. Still, Whitnall could look back on another very good season in which he took more marks than another Carlton player, and for the second time, was our club’s leading goal-kicker, with 55 majors.
Season 2000 was another memorable year for Big Red, as the Navy Blues retained their place among the front-runners of the competition, and wound up second on the ladder to Essendon after the home and away rounds. On the way, Lance struck a purple patch of form late in proceedings. He kicked six majors in round 14 against Geelong, another six the following week against Adelaide, then topped that off with a brilliant nine goals as a rampant Carlton destroyed Brisbane by 44 points at the Gabba in round 16. Although Essendon eventually took revenge on Carlton by knocking us out of the Preliminary Final, Whitnall finished the season with 70 goals to his credit, and was selected as both an All Australian and Victorian representative.
One of the biggest football stories in the first year of the new millennium was Aaron Hamill’s defection to St Kilda – a shock departure that, as history shows, had a significant effect on Whitnall’s career from that point on. For the next few seasons, while Brendan Fevola was groomed as the Blues’ new spearhead, Whitnall was often sent back to shore up the defence, and his overall effectiveness suffered accordingly.
Although Carlton made the finals for a third straight year in 2001 (only to lose to a Semi Final to Richmond) the signs of decline were already on the wall. The great crash of 2002 - when the Blues tumbled to the bottom of the ladder for the first time in our history – coincided with a knee injury to Big Red that turned out to be worse than first thought, and plagued him for the remainder of his career.
Lance managed only 12 games in 2003, leading to renewed criticism from club supporters who made him a scapegoat for far deeper failures. The match committee kept faith in him however, and he was appointed vice captain to Anthony Koutoufides in 2004. He eventually came back to somewhere near his best, although the team continued to struggle under the weight of the heavy penalties incurred for salary cap breaches two years earlier.
Over the summer of 2004-05, Lance embarked on an intense fitness program overseen by his father. That regime helped him to play in all 22 matches in another bleak year for Carlton that was personally good for him. After kicking five goals from centre half-forward against Sydney in round 11, Big Red spent the remainder of the season shoring up a brittle defence. He finished third in the voting for the John Nicholls medal, and at year’s end, signed a new two-year contract.
In 2006, even as Carlton’s woes continued, Whitnall was defiantly good again. He spent the early part of the season in attack, then dropped back into defence and didn’t miss a game. He booted 15 goals in 22 matches, and in round 21 against Collingwood, became the second-youngest Blue (behind Robert Walls) to reach 200 games. A few weeks later, after winning the John Nicholls Medal as Carlton’s Best and Fairest, he was appointed captain of the Blues for 2007 when the great Koutoufides retired.
Sadly, what should have been one of Big Red’s most memorable seasons didn’t turn out that way. During pre-season training, his troublesome right knee flared up, so he wasn’t able to get himself absolutely match-fit for the start of the season. He battled through the early rounds, playing the odd valuable game, but by mid-year his knee was demanding a rest. He sat out rounds 13 to 19, and came back to lead his team in the last three games, even as the drums were beating that he would not be offered a contract renewal in 2008.
Sure enough, that is what happened. Although Lance had post-season surgery on his knee, the diagnosis afterward wasn’t good, so coach Brett Ratten had the tough task of telling him that his career at Carlton was over. Although still just 28, Big Red had played 216 games and kicked 348 majors – placing him ninth on Carlton’s all time list of goal-kickers.
When he left Carlton, Whitnall didn’t immediately leave the game. Instead, he went north to Darwin on a working holiday, and played briefly with the Palmerston Magpies during the 2007/2008 season. In 2008 he came back to Victoria to rejoin his original club Lalor in the NFL, and stayed there for two seasons. He retired in 2009, but then apparently changed his mind and made a comeback in 2010 with Craigieburn in the Essendon District Football League, playing as an assistant coach alongside his former Carlton team-mate Ang Christou for two seasons. Whitnall was the EDFL's A-Grade leading goalkicker, after kicking fourteen goals in the final round to secure the title. Whitnall finished his playing career at Glenroy, also in the EDFL, and also coached there from 2012 until 2015. He has been in an assistant coaching role at the Calder Cannons in the TAC Cup since 2016.
Whitnall also played cricket at a suburban level for the Lalor Warriors Cricket Club in the North Metro Cricket Association, where he was an opening or top order batsman, and was on the club's committee until 2016.
In a footnote to Lance's story, his older brother Shane Whitnall played a season with Carlton in 1996, but wasn’t selected in the senior side.
Milestones50th game: Round 10, 1999 vs West Coast
100th game: Round 9, 2001 vs Kangaroos
150th game: Round 12, 2004 vs Hawthorn
200th game: Round 21, 2006 vs Collingwood
100th goal: Round 19, 1999 vs Fremantle
200th goal: Round 8, 2001 vs Brisbane
300th goal: Round 6, 2005 vs Hawthorn
Career Highlights1997 - Pre-Season Premiership Player
1997 - Best First Year Player
1998 - 2nd Best and Fairest
1999 - 8th Best and Fairest
2000 - 6th Best and Fairest
2002 - 5th Best and Fairest
2003 - 6th Best and Fairest
2005 - 3rd Best and Fairest
2005 - Pre-Season Premiership Player
2006 - John Nicholls Medal
2007 - Pre-Season Premiership Captain
2007 - Captain
LinksArticles: Triumphs and Tribulations on Debut | The Longest Roads to Glory! | Our Greatest Flagless Greats
Blueseum: Summary of playing statistics for Lance Whitnall | Career Breakdown | Whitnall's Blueseum Image Gallery