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Sport (february 15, 2007) King Richard of Carlton
adam kamien and dan goldberg
CARDBOARD king Richard Pratt has been appointed the new president of the beleaguered Carlton Football Club, taking the reins just one week after Graham Smorgon was ousted from the post.
The Visy chief was parachuted in as the club’s 13th director in order that he could be unanimously elected president of the board, which now includes five Jews.
Pratt’s history with Carlton Football Club spans more than 50 years, back to the days when Carlton was the epicentre of Melbourne’s shtetl.
He played in Carlton’s reserves and under-19s, and won the prestigious Morrish Medal in 1953, awarded to the player voted best and fairest by the umpires in the under-19 competition.
Since then, he has been a major powerbroker at the club for more than 40 years and has a stand named after him at the club’s Princes Park base.
Pratt also played a key role in the early days of the Ajax Football Club, following his flirt with Carlton.
Now he has returned to his beloved club, which has “won” three of the past five wooden spoons, and accrued debts of more than $8 million.
Pratt, 72, said in a statement on Friday: “It is great to be back involved with the Carlton Football Club and I am looking forward to the resurgence of this great club. The new board has generated positive enthusiasm and it is time all Carlton supporters united for the good of our club.”
One of Carlton’s Jewish directors, Paul Littman, said the response to Pratt’s appointment has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Everyone wants to get involved with Carlton again. About eight of the board members have been out with various business people over the last four or five days. They’ve been meeting with business people who have been saying, ‘We want to know what’s happening, we want to meet the director, we want to get involved,’” Littman told the AJN this week.
“We also saw a spike in membership this week which is really unusual for this time of year.”
Speaking to the press after the appointment, Pratt said that he would commit a “bob or two” of his own money to help the financially crippled club.
But Littman is adamant that the billionaire businessman, who donates between $10 and $15 million to charity annually, will not have to bear the burden on his own.
“Everybody’s decided that he’s not doing it on his own. Whatever Dick puts in ... there’s other people at Carlton with money too – significant amounts of money.”
Pratt Foundation CEO Sam Lipski said that while the response from the footy world was pleasing for Pratt, the unification of the club remained his ultimate goal.
“There’s no question he’s gratified by the response from the club and the media, and he welcomes that, but he sees that as only a means to an end. [Pratt’s presidency] makes sense only if everyone can be brought together,” Lipski, a former AJN editor, said.
While sections of the media, directors of the Carlton Football Club and its members have called for Pratt’s presidency in the past, Lipski said the decision to accept last week’s offer was just a matter of timing.
“When everything ended badly at the club with [John Elliot], he didn’t feel that where the club was heading and the way it was carrying on was something he was going to get involved in. He was also at a different stage of the development of the international part of the business and it’s public knowledge that all last year he was unwell,” Lipski explained.
“When the previous president [Graham Smorgon] was voted out, [interim president Stephen] Kernahan came to Richard and said ‘If you take this I’ll give you all my support’.
“He accepted [the offer to be president] because the timing was such that he thought ‘This might be a good opportunity to bring people together,’ and I suppose he also thought three wooden spoons is enough.”