The very best of Carlton bar-side discussions will invariably ask this question - "Which Blue is the best to have never won a Premiership?". At some Clubs this question involves basically every player that ever wore the Club strip, but at Carlton, it takes on a whole new world...
Perhaps no other fact demonstrates the success of our history outside of having 1 in every 6 players earn the glorious label of 'Premiership Player'. At the end of season 2009, and despite enduring our third longest Premiership dry spell in our VFL / AFL history, indeed the stats were stark; 16% of all Blues to have played senior football were indelibly marked with historical greatness. But what of those Carlton champions who represented us in darker days, who persevered and fought in the trenches without the ultimate glory? We decided to look through the Blueseum to identify the top dozen or so candidates, and hopefully provide an answer to this vexing question......but not without controversy!


1. Our Team of the Century - A good place to start...
A good place to start is Carlton's own Team of the Century, an amazing list of 26 Blues who happen to have been selected as the best of our best.Amazingly, these 26 Blues have 55 premierships between them at an average of over 2 per Blue. Of these 26 legends, only 4 did not taste flag success; Bruce Comben, John James, Laurie Kerr and Horrie Clover. Clearly each gentleman has a significant stake on the title of 'Greatest Flagless Blue' on this basis alone.

2. Brownlow Medallists - Some champions at the top level?
On an individual level, another place to look is Carlton's list of Brownlow Medallists; a list which is surprisingly short given how many champions we have had, but understandable given our champion team ethos. In this list we see that three of our Brownlow Medallists are in the Team of the Century - John James, Bert Deacon and Greg Williams:

Interestingly, two Brownlow Medallists did not win a flag in their brilliant Carlton careers; John James - also listed in the Team of the Century - and Gordon Collis. Please note that Horrie Clover also won the forerunner to the Brownlow, the wonderfully named 'Champion of the Colony'.
Tom Carroll attempting to mark over Essendon's Paul Doran.
3. 200 Games +
A close look at each of Carlton's great - by game number - reveals one startling fact. Only one Blue in our entire history has played over 200 games without winning a flag, and that dubious honour goes to Lance Whitnall. Whitnall joined in the throes of failure as our 1995 team subsided, and whilst playing in a Grand Final, endured one of Carlton's roughest ever streaks...

4. John Coleman Medallists
Given one end of the spectrum for individual brilliance focusses on pure goal-kicking ability, we felt it important to review Carlton's Coleman Medallists. As it turns out, neither of our goal-kicking champions became a Premiership Player for the Blues:

NB * denotes goals kicked to Round 22. Coleman Medals are awarded on Home & Away goals.
Intriguingly, Carlton winners of the forerunner to the Coleman Medal include Ern Cowley, who would make a huge splash in only 24 games in Navy Blue by topping the competition for goals, but also, the great Horrie Clover (again!) in 1922.
1952 - Keith Warburton (Kornies Swap Cards).
5. Other Goal-kicking Heroes
Our history also features a few standout Blues who would dominate forward lines for their own reasons, and often, for a sadly short period of time. Take Noel O'Brien, who still retains the best goals-per-game average of any Carlton forward, or even the mercurial Keith Warburton, whose marking prowess appeared unparalleled in his time.

6. Oh so close...
At time Carlton greats are acknowledged as unlucky to not play in a flag because their timing was only slightly off; that they joined at the time of a great era but erred a few years either side. Take Blue champion Adrian Hickmott, who played over 100 games in Navy Blue as the Blues slid post the 1995 Premiership - with the 1999-2000 era a wonderful blip in the long term trend. Interestingly, Hickmott would do his best to prevent the 1995 flag, being one of Geelong's best on the day.

Fans speak very fondly of Wayne Blackwell, whose 110 game stream in the '80's were played either side of our 1987 flag. Blackwell, a gun wingman, was pure quality, but could only manage 3 games due to injury in 1987, before watching our decline from 1988 and heading back West after 1990.

Of our dark patch during the 1920's and 1930's, the saddest 'oh so close' story has to belong to Ron 'Socks' Cooper, a West Australian who excited the crowds in over 100 games in Navy Blue. He would have played in our successful 1938 flag, if not for a suspension in Round 18 for striking St Kilda's hard man Doug Rayment. Also from this era was the wonderful 1936 Best & Fairest winner Ansell Clarke who played over 140 games for 242 goals.

Was, however, our 'oh so closest' the great Jack Wells who played 66 games from 1910 and 1914 and managed to miss not only our 1906-1908 flags just before him but the 1914-1915 double just after? Indeed, Wells may have been our original 'Great to Miss a Flag', and only by a historical whisker...
Matt Lappin
7. Other Favourites
We begin with Matthew Lappin, who brought joy to a dark time - in much the same way as Brendan Fevola and Lance Whitnall above, but perhaps in his own super-skilled and slightly less physical way - with almost 200 games in Navy Blue.

Alex Duncan is famous for over 100 matches in Navy Blue, and also for bringing the house down with Collingwood fans present no less in "Duncan's match". From roughly the same era was Carlton favourite Charlie Davey, with 143 games of pure Blues brilliance - and loyalty. A local boy, Davey was always going to play with us. Alas, injury prevented him from playing on into the 1938 season, where the Blues ran amok to take our first flag since 1915.

Our 1950's brought many great names without much success, with John Chick, Berkley Cox, Graham Donaldson to name a few. Great players, great names, and equally worth a mention.

But we must cut down the list to make an assessment, and find a way to differentiate the greats before us...

As we've just seen, the Blues can not only celebrate a treasure trove of players who represented Carlton in our 16 Premierships, but can also celebrate the brilliance of a large number of players who could not achieve "the ultimate'' despite their best efforts.

So by what metrics can we decide? Surely if we are judging 'the Greatest' we need to embody some element of personal brilliance. For example, a Brownlow (or equivalent) surely puts you in good stead. Being selected as Captain - the best leader of the time - or by the Club as a member of the Team of the Century should also be included. Perhaps points for Best & Fairests - but we would need to compensate for players (Clover, Wells) who played before 1934...

Potentially we should look at finals games or win / loss ratios as a player to highlight the relative team success. This particular writer - and this is not the Blueseum consensus! - considers that the title 'Greatest Flagless Great' presupposes that the players played in a dark time, and potentially weren't able to achieve such success. We could also look at goal kicking feats, and include the Coleman efforts of Carroll and Fevola, but clearly, this would over-compensate to the goal kickers and disadvantage our key defenders such as Collis and James.

Below we summarise the careers of the nominated players:

Great Flagless Greats
PlayerGamesGoalsBest & FairestsBrownlow MedalsColeman MedalClub Leading Goal-kickerCaptaincy
Bruce Comben188362 (1957, 1958)NilNilNilYes
John James195313 (1955, 1960, 1961)Yes - 1961NilNilNo
Laurie Kerr14948Nil – 2nd in 1958NilNilNilNo
Horrie Clover147396Nil #Champion of the Colony1921League Leading Goalkicker - 19226 timesYes
Gordon Collis 95401 (1964)Yes – 1964NilNilNo
Lance Whitnall2163481 (2006)NilNil3 timesYes
Tom Carroll55143NilNilYes - 19613 timesNo
Brendan Fevola187*575NilNilYes – 2006, 20097 timesNo
Wayne Blackwell11080NilNilNilNilNo
Jack Wells6651Nil #NilNilNilYes
Charlie Davey 143121NilNilNilNilYes
Ansell Clarke1452421 (1936)NilNilNilYes
Keith Warburton7491NilNilNil1 time (1951)No
Adrian Hickmott134*107NilNilNilNilNo
Matthew Lappin196*221NilNilNil1 time (2001)No

NB * denotes Carlton games only; # players played before a Best & Fairest award
Horrie Clover.
The drumroll beats.....

Horrie Clover!

We provided points for seasons played (so as to not disadvantage players who only played 18 games or so per year), with bonus marks (5) for Brownlow wins (including Horrie's Champion of the Colony), Best & Fairest wins (5 for multiple, 4 for the one), and also for Captaincy roles (5 marks).

Horrie Clover finished marginally ahead of the greats, Bruce Comben and John James, as our Greatest Flagless Blue. Ansell Clarke came in 4th, just ahead of Lance Whitnall, owing to their long-service, B&F wins, and Captaincy roles.

Of course, all of this ignores our current crop of players, but we'll leave that to history to decide.....

So who do you think is the Greatest? And why?