Career : 2012 - 2014
Debut : Round 6, 2012 vs GWS Giants, aged 19 years, 75 days
Carlton Player No. 1137
Games : 14
Goals : 2
Last Game : Round 21, 2013 vs Richmond, aged 20 years, 182 days
Guernsey No. 21
Height : 190 cm (6 ft. 2 in.)
Weight : 74 kg (11 stone, 9 lbs)
DOB : 22 February, 1993.
Nineteen year-old Josh Bootsma’s debut game for Carlton against the GWS Giants at Docklands Stadium in round 6, 2012 was truly remarkable. Not so much for the impact he had on the game, nor for the number of possessions he gained. Rather, it was for the extraordinary reaction to him from the throngs of Carlton supporters in the stands.
After spending most of the game nervously sitting on the sidelines as his team’s substitute, Josh ran onto the field in the last quarter, to a huge (and totally unexpected) roar from the Bluebagger faithful. From then on, every one of the blonde youngster’s seven possessions was greeted by the swelling roar of “Booootss!” – and didn’t the television commentators love it!
Why was there such a warm response to the young West Australian? Perhaps it was his stick-thin frame and his mop of blonde curls, or his obvious nervousness on the bench. Or maybe it was the conviction that had grown through the club that this kid could play – as demonstrated by his sparkling form for the Northern Blues during the previous fortnight. Then of course, there was his name – tailor made for a supporter’s shout.
After being at the centre of Carlton’s post-game celebrations of a 67-point win over the Giants, Josh must have reflected on how he had come so far, so quickly. A 2011 draft bolter, he seemed to slip under the radar of some clubs, playing country football at Albany, WA until halfway through the season before joining South Fremantle and helping them to the WAFL Colts Premiership. At Albany, Josh was coached by his father Brad, who represented Fremantle in 23 matches through 2000-01. The Dockers made enquiries into Josh’s availability under the father-son rule, only to lose interest when it became clear that he didn’t qualify.
Prior to the 2011 AFL National Draft, North Melbourne and Sydney interviewed Josh, but Carlton swooped first with the club’s first selection (number 22 overall). At the time, Carlton’s National Recruiting Manager Wayne Hughes rated Bootsma as potentially a running midfielder. “Josh came to our attention at South Fremantle Colts. He’s a quick running player with good skills and a right footer. He’s a development player - he’s hardly scratched the surface, and didn’t play in Perth until round 11.”
Despite his spectacular debut, Blues coach Brett Ratten immediately urged supporters not to put undue pressure on the club’s latest cult figure. "He'll get another taste, but I can't say when,” said Ratten. "It's hard with the kids. You want to keep progressing your list, but if you push them too hard too quickly, you can dent their confidence or put them into a state of fatigue, which then they can't get up for the next game. And that hurts their season. I don't think Josh is going to become the Hercules of the competition; he's going to be a finer type of athlete who can really run. And that's going to be one of his strengths."
‘Boots’ went on to play a total of five matches in his debut season, highlighted by his effort in Carlton’s shock loss to Port Adelaide at Football Park in round 10. While his team was swamped by nine goals, Josh just kept competing - collecting 17 disposals, 4 marks and laying 6 big tackles to earn 16 Best and Fairest votes. Only David Ellard (32 votes) and Zach Tuohy (26) did better that afternoon.
Obviously, 2013 couldn’t come quick enough for Carlton’s latest cult figure, even though the replacement of Brett Ratten with Mick Malthouse between seasons might have slowed his progress. That wasn’t the case, however. Josh was challenged regularly by Malthouse, who asked him to play on some daunting opponents in his nine appearances for the year – most memorably when he began at full-back on Richmond’s Coleman Medallist Jack Riewoldt in round 21, and was overwhelmed in a traumatic first ten minutes.
That proved to be Bootsma’s last game in 2013, and indeed the last game of his career at Carlton. Although the club confirmed its faith in him by extending his contract for another two years, he allegedly turned up for 2014 pre-season training in poor shape. Over the following weeks he was late for training on more than one occasion, and failed to attend appointments arranged for him by the club.
On top of those indiscretions, the real crunch came in early June, when it was revealed that Bootsma had sent “inappropriate” images of himself to a teenage girl via social media. A member of the public had alerted the club that photographs had been circulated, and an investigation began that soon confirmed the truth of the claims. Discussions with Josh’s management and the AFL Players Association followed, and all parties agreed that his contract should be terminated.
Announcing the decision, Carlton’s General Manager of Football Operations, Andrew McKay said; “The Carlton Football Club has high expectations of its players and staff; we expect them to uphold certain standards. The club has attempted to offer Josh numerous forms of welfare and support in recent times, however he has continuously not lived up to the standards expected of a senior listed AFL player. This latest issue has left the club with no other choice but to take this course of action. Carlton players and staff receive education on both social media policy, and AFL Code of Conduct on a regular basis.”
McKay also stated that Carlton would continue to offer counselling and welfare support to Bootsma in the immediate future, but that his days as a Carlton player were definitely over.