Last week, Carlton announced that its traditional home of Princes Park would attract a new naming rights sponsor, Ikon Services Australia.
Replacing previous sponsor Visy which had held the naming rights for the ground since 2009, the Blues’ spiritual home will be known as Ikon Park for the next two years in the deal with the cleaning and property services firm.
The passing of the Visy name at Carlton brings to an end another link to the Richard Pratt era, which has seen many predominantly beneficial changes on Royal Parade.
In early 2007, the Blues were in a world of hurt.
They had been out of the finals since 2001, were battling crippling debt, and were dealing with on-field mediocrity, ‘winning’ the club’s wooden spoon for the first time in 2002, and again in 2005 and 2006: all of this was the result of the sanctions faced by the club for cheating the salary cap.
The February board election saw incumbent club president Graham Smorgon booted from the board, after just over 12 months in the presidency. It was time for a change at Carlton.
Enter Richard Pratt, a long-time benefactor of the Blues.
Pratt was drafted in and accepted the club presidency in February 2007, and quickly looked to set the Blues on the road to recovery. He lured Greg Swann from Collingwood as club CEO, as well as Steven Icke as General Manager of Football Operations having spent the previous six years at Fremantle.
Later that year, after a series of poor on-field performances, senior coach Denis Pagan was sacked after 25 wins in 104 games in charge of the Blues. He was replaced in an interim capacity by former captain Brett Ratten, who later signed a two-year deal as coach.
Overshadowing this, the big news in football over the 2007 AFL off-season was the luring of West Coast premiership skipper and Brownlow Medallist, Chris Judd. Arriving at the Blues on a lucrative five-year deal, a portion of Judd’s wage was to be paid by Pratt’s company and club sponsor Visy, with Judd an environmental ambassador.
Initially, this money was controversially paid outside of the club salary cap, but in 2012, the AFL ruled that these payments would need to be included accordingly. Subsequently, a compromise was generated, allowing much of Judd’s Visy wage to fall under the club’s injury payments, hence not included inside the Blues’ salary cap.
With Judd signed, sealed and delivered, it wasn’t long before he was announced as captain, and the Blues set about re-establishing themselves as a competitive unit on the park.
The 2008 season, Judd’s first, saw the Blues improve from four wins in 2007 to a creditable finish of 10 wins and 11th spot on the ladder. Full-forward Brendan Fevola fell agonisingly close to becoming the Blues second-ever century goal kicker, finishing the season with 99 goals.
Off-field, 2008 also saw the premature end of the Pratt presidency at Carlton, as he stood aside from the role pending the results of a price fixing inquiry from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
As a result, former captain and premiership player Stephen Kernahan stepped into the presidency, initially on an interim basis, then permanently in a role he served with the Blues until mid-2014.
Sadly, Pratt lost his well-publicised battle with prostate cancer and passed away on April 28, 2009.
The Blues started to find the success they desired and qualified for the finals in 2009, losing in a close Elimination Final at the hands of Brisbane. Ironically, this would be the last game Brendon Fevola would play in Carlton colours, despite winning his second Coleman Medal that season.
After a well-publicised incident at the Brownlow Medal, Fevola’s drunken antics forced the Blues to put him up for trade, and he ended up at the Lions in 2010.
Seasons 2010 and 2011 saw the Blues reach September action yet again, with the 2011 Blues winning their first final in a decade with their demolition of Essendon to the tune of 62 points. They would be eliminated a week later at the hands of West Coast in a classic final at Patersons Stadium.
Injuries and a run of poor form saw the Blues slip in 2012, missing the finals and costing coach Brett Ratten his job, despite a win-loss record of 60 wins in 120 matches in charge and three finals appearances in five full years as coach.
Ratten’s replacement was to be the subject of much speculation, which was heavily rumoured to be 2010 Collingwood premiership coach Mick Malthouse: on September 11, 2012, Malthouse was indeed announced as senior coach of the Blues on a three-year deal.
Perhaps fortunately, the Blues under Malthouse qualified yet again for the finals in 2013, as the removal of Essendon after the supplement scandal saw the Blues elevated from their ninth-placed finish after the home-and-away rounds.
Carlton subsequently ended the finals campaign of Richmond in the Elimination Final, before falling to reigning premier Sydney the following week.
However, the Blues were unable to build on this last season, slipping to their worst finish since 2007 with just seven wins. Stephen Kernahan resigned as president in June to be replaced by businessman Mark LoGiudice, while Chris Judd reversed his retirement plans to play on for one more season in 2015.
Now as the Ikon name is set to don Princes Park, the Blues still have one last link to Richard Pratt at the club: his widow, Jeanne Pratt, remains on the board as Vice President.
She and no doubt others at Carlton would know that the Blues are in a far better position than they were eight years ago, before Richard Pratt inherited the presidency and set about restoring respect to the old dark navy Blues.
For Carlton in 2015, despite the name change of its home base, the legacy of Pratt and all those who helped to rebuild the Blues after the dark days of the mid 2000’s will live on.