Whilst we all jumped up and down with joy with confirmation of our return to Finals Action with our win over Port Adelaide in Round 20 in 2009, we hope you spared a thought for Blue Bret Thornton. Thornton's brilliant game aside, this win confirmed - fitness pending - that Thornton's record run of games played by a Carlton player without playing in a final, was finally, coming to an end.

After beginning his career in 2002, the year after Carlton last played finals football, Thornton must have been on the top of the world. Successful club – finals action - good debut – Thornton appeared to have it all ahead of him. But then the world crumbled away for both the Carlton Football Club and its players, with the Blues crashing in 2002 and only beginning to resurface in 2008 - 2009. With confirmation of finals football for the Blues, Thornton’s 148 games by the end of the year will be the highest games tally ever played by a Blue before playing in Finals.

Our readers will be well aware of Carlton’s outstanding history of success. Of Carlton’s 1122 senior league players as at the end of Season 2009 (from 1897 to Yarran’s debut in Round 7), 434 have played in at least 1 final (38.68% - including 2 current players). The Blues have 181 Premiership Players at 16.6% of all Carlton players – ever!

Outside of these stories of success, the other 688 or 61.3% haven’t, which includes most of our current players. Thornton’s story mirrors that of Ernie Walton, who played his first Carlton final in his 112th game (ended with 3 finals in his 120 games, started in 1897, first final in 1903 and finished in the 1904 GF), while John Chick played his first Carlton final in his 104th Carlton game (ended with 2 finals in his 119 games, started in 1952 final in 1959 and finished in 1960)

The only other Carlton players in our history who didn’t play in a final during their first 100 Carlton games are all 2009 listed players in Stevens, Simpson, Wiggins, Waite and Scotland. (Note Stevens and Scotland both played finals at their previously league clubs).

2003 - Bret Thornton (Select Footy Card). John Chick (Atlantic Swap Card).

PlayerGame No. for First FinalTotal Finals v Total Games
Bret Thornton149N/A
Jarrad Waite131* (NB This was a year later in 2010)N/A
Heath Scotland123N/A
Simon Wiggins116N/A
Ernie Walton1123 from 120
Kade Simpson110N/A
John Chick1042 from 119
Nick Stevens104N/A
Jack Mills531 from 124
Vin English561 from 115

NB Waite had played 115 games by the end of Season 2009

A link between Thornton and Walton is that they both played during Carlton’s two worst losing streaks, registered at 14 games and played at either ends of our history. Walton played in all of 14 games in our first streak (between 1901 - 1902), while Thornton played in 11 of the 14 games between Rd 12, 2007 and Rd 3, 2008 (missing Rds 20 to 22, 2007 due to injury).

The only 2009 listed players (before the 2009 Elimination Final) to have played in a Final for Carlton, with both having played in 5 Carlton finals are Fevola (during in his first 32 games) and Houlihan (during in his first 36 games). The best by any Carlton player during their first 100 games are Billy Payne and Charlie ‘Spot’ Fisher who both played in 13 finals, while also on 13 finals in all of his 92 games is Gordon Green. Other notable players under 100 games are Jim Flynn (77 games) and Ted Brown (95 games) both with 12 finals, 11 finals for George ‘Mallee’ Johnson and on 10 finals are Doug Gillespie (90 games) and Brent Crosswell (98 games)).

Players who have played the most games for only one final during their Carlton career are Jack Mills (124 games) and Vin English (115 games). The player who played the most games for Carlton without a final is Bobby Walsh during his 78 games between 1897 and 1902.

From an AFL perspective, Thornton is not surprisingly a long way off the overall record given the records of success of other Clubs in their history. Three famous cases come to mind here; Robert Flower (Melbourne), Bobby Skilton (South Melbourne) and Trevor Barker (St Kilda).

Flower holds the record of the most games before playing in a final - he played 269 games before playing in his first final in 1987, but his last 3 league games were finals and ended on 272 games in that season’s preliminary final. In another famous case, South Melbourne's Bobby Skilton played his only final in his 218th game and would play another 19 games the next season (1971) and end on 237 games. The history buffs will note that both of their ‘finals’ games occurred when Carlton won the premiership. St Kilda’s Trevor Barker played 230 league games and holds the record of the most games without ever playing in a final, followed by his teammate Geoff Cunningham 224 games.

Thornton's 149 games is thankfully a good 4 full seasons or so away from this record, so whilst we're sure he may have been getting frustrated at not making it, he should be over the moon his time has now come! To top it off, he hits finals football in the best form of his career and at a time when the Blues are rising, promising the chance to lift that overall average.

Blueseum Footnote: Thornton, Simpson, Stevens, Wiggins and Scotland all played their first Carlton final in our 7 point loss to the Brisbane Lions. Waite would have to wait another whole year before making his Finals debut, in game #131!

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