The AFL off-season of 2012/2013 will be forever remembered as the Summer of Schadenfreude. For some of us it was a learning experience for the others it affirmed what many of us have long suspected.
To recap for those who’ve been overseas, under a rock, on another planet or loudly cursing Greg Broughton in a panic room this summer has confirmed that:
- Balfours is actually a front for over paid, underperforming Adelaide hacks
- Despite being redundant on Hot Seat – the old Phone-a Friend segment as alive and well at Eddiewood
- Hirdy is so vain, he’s sending his players to a botox clinic (him not getting an earjob was too obvious not to be a front)
- And; Melbourne’s 2009 season was taking inspiration from ‘lay down’ Sally Robbins
Yes, this summer has provided no shortage of material for internet nuffies (yours truly included). However, the most surprising thing about this season of scandal has been the amount of people who are actually surprised by it.
There has been no shortage of journalists and others who have called for a Spanish inquisition and for all of the teams to have been involved such scandals to be purged from the league. Historically financially poor teams have also had their place in the competition brought into question for living off of handouts.
“THE COMPETITION’S INTEGRITY IS AT STAKE!” – is the catch cry from these noble justice seekers. This sentiment is naïve, misguided & wrong. It’s one thing coming from keyboard warriors but quite another coming from revered experienced football journalists.
Whilst the AFL puts up a front of equalisation through the mechanisms of the draft & salary cap it most certainly isn’t an even or fair competition.
There is a fixture (set up to maximise revenue, crowds & ratings) not an even draw, some clubs are more equal than others (draft, salary cap & player roster wise in expansion markets), some clubs have greater market share/opportunities simply due to geography & as Jake Niall put it in last Sunday’s Age the league often doles out punishments that fit the particular club, not the crime committed. The AFL giveth & the AFL taketh away.
When combining these factors with the fact that players & coaches are under extreme pressure to justify their positions due to the prevailing cultural paradigm that premierships are the only measure of success – an AFL club has at best a one in eighteen chance of satisfying its stakeholders in any given year. It should come as no surprise to anybody that clubs and individuals are willing to push the rules to their absolute limits in this cut-throat environment.
There is no club in the AFL that has not been touched by some form of scandal, ethically dubious behaviour or allegations of cheating. In short all clubs have brought the game into disrepute at one time or another. Just as all clubs have benefited from an inequity in the AFL’s doling out of food stamps. All clubs are on handouts one way or another.
To draw up a rough list of larceny:
Adelaide: - Cheated the salary cap with Kurt Tippett
- Had first dibs on the footy mad SA market & players, also galvanising the non-Port supporter base
Brisbane: – were gifted first choice of Fitzroy players after the 1996 merger
- Alistair Lynch was accused of unfairly benefiting from steroids used to treat his chronic fatigue syndrome
- AFL salary cap concessions during premiership hat trick (were able to recruit Blake Caracella after Essendon were forced to let him go due to salary cap squeeze)
- Players using IV drips to aid hydration after games during premiership years
- The process in hiring Michael Voss
- The sacking of Brendan Fevola
Carlton: – Found guilty of systematically rorting the salary cap between 1998 and 2002.
- Sacking Karl Norman & Laurence Angwin for taking ecstasy yet tolerating Brendan Fevola’s drunken antics for years and then sacking him when memberships stabilised.
- Delisting Lance Whitnall when captain
- Tanking in 2007. Sacking Pagan & then hiring Ratten on the back of a 6 game losing streak at the end of 2007
- Judd’s 3rd party deal with Visy when Dick Pratt was president
- Sacking Brett Ratten & hiring Mick Malthouse.
Collingwood: – poached Mick Malthouse from West Coast when under contract
- Left Victoria Park in a decrepit state leaving council to foot the bill for the clean up when they moved to the ‘insert corporate name here’ centre.
- Monopoly on several blockbuster clashes giving the club excellent opportunities to attain good sponsors
- Fixturing benefits and TV exposure giving the club excellent opportunities to attain good sponsors
- McGuire using his position in the media to press Collingwood’s wares giving the club excellent opportunities to attain good sponsors
- Tanking allegations in 2005
- Altercation involving Dane Swan in the city that left a man with permanent brain damage
- Alan Didak consorting with Hell’s Angels
Essendon: – Cheated salary cap in 1993 and the won the premiership.
- Monopoly on Anzac/Dreamtime blockbusters
- Going the knuckle in the 2000 Grand Final
- Hird’s ‘disgrace’ jibe at umpire Scott McLaren
- James Hird/Bomber Thompson’s ascension & the sacking of Matthew Knights
- Attempting to take over and then moving away from Windy Hill. Disenfranchising some members and bullying other local sporting clubs.
- Controversial sport’s science programs in 2012
- Fremantle: – List concessions upon entry to AFL
- allegations of tanking in late 1999 (Hasleby Cup vs Geelong)
- dropping key players en masse for round 21 clash against Hawthorn in Tassie as part of an alleged strategy to gain a home final
- Sacking of Mark Harvey/hiring of Ross Lyon
Geelong: – Kardinia Park stadium deal, more revenue per patron than other Victorian clubs at MCG/Etihad.
- Matthew Stokes cocaine controversy
- Allegations of 3rd party deals with local businesses for some players
Gold Coast: – Salary cap/list/draft/financial & zoning concessions
- Allowed to sign Karmichael Hunt under AFL marketing budget (approx $1m outside the salary cap)
GWS Giants: – Salary cap/list/draft/financial & zoning concessions
- Allowed to sign Israel Folau under AFL marketing budget (approx $1m outside the salary cap)
- Tom/Phil Scully controversy
Hawthorn: – Allegations of tanking for a priority pick in 2005
- Line in the sand thuggery
- Drugs scandal & subsequent injunction in 2007
- Rushed behinds in 2008 Grand Final
Melbourne: – Cheating salary cap in 1998
- Tanking allegations in 2003 & 2009
- Receiving AFL competitive balance fund
- Poor treatment of former staff & players
North Melbourne: – Wayne Carey’s off-field antics & consorting with criminals
- Anthony Stevens lacerated face & neck after rowdy night at Ascot Vale Hotel
- Rubber chicken video
- Receiving AFL competitive balance fund
Port Adelaide: – Inception meant that Fitzroy died
- List concessions upon entry to AFL
- Receiving AFL welfare post 2011
- Treatment of Mark Williams/Matthew Primus
Richmond: – Allegations of tanking in 2004
- Terry Wallace ‘doing nothing to win” in round 22 vs St Kilda in a game where Trent Cotchin was at stake
St Kilda: – Sacking of Malcolm Blight/hiring of Grant Thomas personal friend of chairman Rod Buttress
- Sacking of Matthew Capuano (mid contract)
- Milne/Montagna rape case & possible cover up/police corruption in 2004
- Sacking of Grant Thomas after falling out with Rod Buttress
- St Kilda schoolgirl saga
- “No fat chicks” comment by player at Melbourne airport
Sydney: – AFL intervention in signing of Tony Lockett
- Salary cap/list/draft/financial & zoning concessions
- Barry Hall’s exoneration at Tribunal for 2005 Grand Final
- Kurt Tippett signing
West Coast: – access to the best WA state league players on inception into VFL
- Allegations of performance enhancing/illicit drug use in premiership years
- Ben Cousins saga
- Allegations of tanking in 2010
- Allegations of draft tampering re. WA state players (most notable Jack Darling)
Western Bulldogs: – Receiving AFL competitive balance fund
- Handling of Akermanis signing/sacking
- Tom Liberatore drug scandal
To sum up, all clubs have their own self interest at heart in the pursuit of success & all clubs have been guilty of bending the rules or having players involved in controversies that have damaged the image of the game. To single out one club as doing more harm to the game than another is a bit like debating whether terrorists or white collar criminals are more damaging to society.
If you want to wind up opposition supporters, go ahead; but be prepared to get some back. However, chest beating journalists bleating about the integrity of the game are either trolling, stupid or simply a bi-product of an industry that has more journalists on its payroll than federal politics or all of the above. The high moral ground is built on a pile of the AFL’s own bulldust!