North Launceston/Mersey/Cananore, 1904-37
> Coached North Launceston, 1904-07, 1912
> Coached Mersey, 1908
> Coached Cananore, 1909-11, 1913-14, 1937
> North Launceston NTFA premiership player and coach, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1912
> Mersey NWFA premiership player and coach, 1908
> Cananore TFL premiership player and coach, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1913
> Cananore state premiership player and coach, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1913
> Played around 150 games for City, North Launceston, Mersey and Cananore, 1902-14
> City NTFA premiership player, 1902
> Captained Tasmania at the 1908 National Carnival (Melbourne)
> Bibby Trophy for best Tasmanian player at the National Carnival, 1908
> Numerous representative matches for NTFA, 1903-07
> Inaugural Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame inductee, 1987
In the early days of Australian football the role of coach – where it existed at all – was not exactly well defined. Quite often a team’s captain took charge of his team in the off-field developmental role that would become the domain of the ‘coach’ in later years, and it was in this way that Bruce Carter was a true groundbreaker in his field. He can quite easily lay claim to being amongst the first – if not the first – ‘professional coach’ in the history of the game (certainly in Tasmania) at a time when it was not commonplace anywhere, even in Victorian football.
Bruce Thomas Carter was born in Longford in 1881. Something of a latecomer to the game he would help to pioneer, Carter first played for City in the NTFA in 1902 as a 21-year-old. He would be a member of City’s premiership-winning team that year before switching to local rival North Launceston for the 1903 season, and the following year he was named as the club’s coach and vice-captain under Len Findlay. This appointment was to be the start of one of the most prolonged periods of success by either an individual or team in the history of Tasmanian football. Carter coached North Launceston to a hat trick of premierships from 1904-06, and followed that success with a runner-up finish to City for the 1907 premiership. After five seasons with the Robins, Carter moved north in 1908, coaching NWFA side Mersey to a premiership in his one and only season on the north-west coast, before he was on the move again – this time to Hobart – to take charge of Cananore in the TFL. Carter’s ‘Midas touch’ followed him to the Canaries, guiding the club to not only a hat trick of league premierships from 1909-11, but also the first three officially contested state premierships in those years as well. By this time Carter’s name as a master coach was widespread, and when he returned to North Launceston for one season in 1912 – and almost inevitably another premiership – his reputation was at its zenith. He returned to Cananore for two more seasons in 1913-14, but this time there would be only one premiership, in 1913, although a fourth state flag also resulted from that triumph, something of a redemption for Carter after losing the previous year’s state final to Lefroy while at the helm of North Launceston.
As a coach Carter’s greatest asset seems to have been his adaptability. A remarkably astute tactician, the way he could read the play, sense weaknesses in the opposition and then quickly calculate the best way to exploit them made him a formidable opponent for any contemporary. While modern coaches have the ability to be able to plot moves and the downfall of opponents from the warmth and comfort of a coaches box, the fact that every single premiership Carter delivered came while he was right in the middle of the action alongside his teammates makes his achievements all the more remarkable. A magnificent leader of men, he never asked more of his charges than he himself was capable of, and as a result his men would often follow him anywhere.
As magnificent as his record as a coach may be, it must not be forgotten that Carter was also one of the finest players in Tasmania during his career. A versatile defender of singular talent who played more than 150 senior games, he was known throughout the state as the ‘Black Snake’ thanks to his speed and elusiveness on the field. Selected in the Tasmanian squad for the inaugural Australia Football Carnival in Melbourne in 1908, Carter holds the honour of being named Tasmania’s first captain at such an event. His side would take out the Division Two title at the tournament, largely on the back of their captain’s magnificent form, with Carter emerging from the Carnival as the inaugural recipient of the Bibby Trophy as his state’s most outstanding player.
In eleven seasons between 1904 and 1914, Carter guided the teams under his tutelage to nine association premierships and two runner-up finishes, placing him comfortably amongst the most statistically successful coaches in the history of the game. Always a believer that you should go out on your own terms and at your peak, Carter retired as both player and coach after Cananore’s 1914 TFL grand final loss to North Hobart. Aged 33, he stepped away from the game for more than 20 years, before somewhat surprisingly returning to the coaching fold with Cananore in 1937. Unfortunately, it was a vastly different game from the one Carter had helped pioneer, and despite his best efforts the Canaries won just a single match for the season to finish with the wooden spoon. It was an unfortunate postscript to one of the finest coaching careers the game has ever known, but it in no way diminished the reputation or legacy that Carter had indelibly left on the Tasmanian football landscape.
Undoubtedly one of the finest football minds the Apple Isle has ever produced, Bruce Carter passed away in 1956 at the age of 74. He has been posthumously honoured several times: an inaugural inductee into the Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame in 1987, he was also an inaugural Legend of the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame in 2005, and was later immortalised when he received Icon status in 2012.