Footystats Diary, footy's best kept secret, 2005: Worth repeating

Footy's best kept secret ...

2005: Worth repeating

See also – Worth Repeating – 2004, 2003

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Kennett vows to shepherd
his chicks outside Hawks' nest

Chip Le Grand
The Australian
Monday, December 12, 2005

JEFF KENNETT is walking as he talks. Up from the table, across the room, and to a whiteboard where he begins to diagram what he sees as one of the biggest problems confronting professional footballers.

Kennett calls it the cocoon – his word for the cloistered, highly paid and unreal world that young footballers enter the moment they are drafted by an AFL club. His plan, one of several he has in mind for Hawthorn ahead of his unopposed election as president at Wednesday night's AGM, is to reconnect Hawthorn players with life beyond the football bubble.

The Hawthorn players will today be addressed for the first time by their famously direct president elect. Most likely, they will be drawn the same graphic Kennett outlined in his Richmond office for the benefit of The Australian. What it demonstrates, Kennett explains, is the way young players enter the game and then become increasingly cut off from life experiences as their AFL careers grow, their incomes balloon and they are feted as sporting celebrities.

"It often worries me that a player, once they are selected by a club, enter a cocoon of unreality in terms of life's circumstances and passage," Kennett says.

"The outside world is locked out and because they are full-time footballers and don't have jobs, they live in this cocoon and the longer they play, not only do they get more money, but they get more adulation and attention and they are further divorced from life.

"If you are totally cocooned in an environment where you walk down the street and everybody wants to shake your hand and get a signature, and you are well paid and have got a fast car and lovely flat, you can very quickly lose sight of reality."

It is here that two of Kennett's post-political passions neatly intersect. Within six months of losing government in 1999, Kennett became the chairman of Beyond Blue, a national depression initiative aimed at raising awareness about mental health. What he has since discovered is that elite athletes are particularly susceptible to depression at the end of their careers. In the case of AFL football, he believes this is in part because of their sheltered club existences.

The AFL, clubs and the AFL Players Association all recognise the need for footballers to be educated and trained for life after their last game. Kennett hopes to take the idea a little further by using his and the club's business network to encourage players to form links with community organisations, acquire education and financial training and develop an interest in the arts.

"I want to make sure that when they finish playing football, they are as complete citizens as they would have been had they not gone into football," Kennett said.

"That might sound silly, because they are going to have more money. But I often question whether they are as complete citizens as the individual who wasn't captured in this cocoon and had to keep growing and fighting."

In true Liberal Party fashion, there is a mutual obligation involved. In an industry where the size of television contracts has begun to rival playing contracts, Kennett will today tell his players in no uncertain terms where their loyalties must lie.

"I think a lot of footballers forget that the people who pay them are not the board and they are really not the sponsors; they are the members. And the members are often pensioners who have very little wealth yet who every year pay their subs. That is what underlines the payments to the players. That is what provides the television product which earns the rights which comes back to the club.

"We all need to understand that this isn't about an individual player, it is not about a board or a board member. It is about the value we give back to the rank and file supporter."

The caveat Kennett places on all this is that the players will be answerable to the coach and chief executive; not the president. In this sense, they will be free to accept or disregard whatever advice he gives. But as much as the former Victorian can-do premier has no intention of micromanaging club affairs, there are early signs of a Kennett revolution taking place at Glenferrie Oval.

Under a plan endorsed by Kennett and club chief executive Ian Robson, the contract of senior coach Alastair Clarkson will be formally reviewed midway through next season and a decision made on his future tenure.

At this point, Kennett has been impressed with his dealings with the young, ambitious Clarkson, who has diligently stuck to a long-term youth policy in team selection and recruitment despite receiving no promises beyond his own two-year contract.

This was reinforced at last month's national draft, where Hawthorn used three of its first six selections on players unlikely to play senior football next season because of injury and school commitments.

"For a coach with a year to go, that is a terribly courageous thing to do, knowing that those three are probably not going to play many games for us at all next year," Kennett says.

"I am greatly impressed by his character and his priorities. I like people who establish a strategy and fundamentally stick to it. You live or die by that and he understands that as much as anyone else."

However, the realist in Kennett knows that Hawthorn must improve its on-field performance from last year for Clarkson to keep his job. "We have got to see growth, we don't have to see a premiership," he says.

Kennett has personally written to all living Hawthorn past players inviting them to become involved with the club. At the top of his list is premiership captain Don Scott, a vocal critic of the outgoing president Ian Dicker.

"I like Don," Kennett says. "Don is an individual and the club will and should never forget that without him and his passion, Hawthorn wouldn't exist today as an independent club."

In the meantime, Kennett has an ambitious plan to expand Hawthorn's territory from the inner eastern suburb of Glenferrie out to its new training and administrative headquarters at Waverley and beyond to regional Victoria in Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley.

Seen on a map, this would give Hawthorn a massive brown and gold wedge stretching east from the Melbourne CBD from which to draw new supporters, members and sponsors, in addition to its Tasmanian stronghold.

Seen in Kennett's terms, it is the difference between Hawthorn being able to compete with Melbourne market heavyweights Collingwood and Essendon or fighting for survival in a national competition he expects to shed Victorian teams.

"If in 10 years' time there is going to be 10 Victorian clubs – which I doubt – and Hawthorn is going to be a Melbourne team, then we are going to have to start thinking outside the square.

"The best brands in Melbourne are Collingwood and Essendon, in terms of their professionalism and financial base, and Geelong because of its location. The other clubs all have a brand but it is subservient to the others and the struggle for us to gain attention is much higher. So we have got to do things differently if we are going to create a brand that people will want to be associated with."

Kennett will reveal the details of his plan when he chairs his first post-election board meeting on Friday.

Internally, other changes will be felt at Hawthorn under Kennett.

Under Dicker, a businessman who has invested enormous time and a substantial personal fortune to keep Hawthorn afloat since the failed merger in 1996, the board operates a system of sub-committees with overlapping responsibilities. Kennett will strip these back, introduce a genuine board of governance and defer the running of the club to Robson.

Strict cabinet confidentiality will be imposed on board meetings, and leaks by directors will be punished with removal from the board. Kennett will limit his own term to between three and five years. He will commit to being present at most but not all Hawthorn games and club functions.

"I am very acutely aware of the amount of time Ian Dicker spent at the job," Kennett says. "He fell in love with the club and the players in a way that I find absolutely extraordinary. It is his great passion and his wife's. They have given their lives to the club over the last nine years.

"I have been through politics for the last 23 years and I gave my life to politics. If I ever went back to politics I wouldn't give my life to it again. If I take on anything new, whether it is Beyond Blue or football, I will never give my life to it. It is a matter of making sure you are professional but you don't allow it to become overly consuming.

"You have got to be able to stand back and look at it critically. That is the whole role of governance. That is why you are on the board. You are not there to be in love with the players or in love with the CEO. It matters not whether you are there for every game. What matters is what you deliver to the club."

Whether Kennett can deliver in three years or five is no easy question. Financially, the club has tough times ahead, with an $800,000 bill for its Waverley fit-out due early in the season. On the field, Clarkson and his recruitment manager Chris Pelchen are heading into the second season of a long-term plan geared to achieve premiership success by 2010.

But wherever Hawthorn ends up under Kennett, it is well and truly on the move.

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Draft's air of insignificance

Jake Niall
The Age
Sunday, December 11, 2005

TUESDAY'S pre-season draft, the first to be conducted in cyberspace, should take no longer than three or four Matthew Lloyd set shots on goal.

No more than 10 names will be recorded, via the click of a mouse. Carlton will type Dylan McLaren's name first, Collingwood is expected to plump for a kid – Tasmanian Sam "Apple" Iles perhaps – before Hawthorn grabs Brent Guerra with the third pick.

The media won't be there because, as the writer Gertrude Stein said of sprawling, decentralised Los Angeles: "There's no there there." With no place to assemble or gathering to intrude on, the fourth estate will be prepared to descend on Windy Hill to get some vision of Scott Camporeale in red and black and the mandatory soundbite from coach Kevin Sheedy.

Camporeale remains the story, months after the trading period ended, due to the sad fact that he is the only brand-name player certain to be picked among those in this shallow pre-season draft. Even for the footy junkie, this draft dose will be a downer – a short, uneventful trip.

"Campo" aside, the draft will be more notable for those who aren't selected — the 40 or so AFL footballers discarded in 2005 — than for the survivors. Shane Woewodin, spurned at the national draft, heads the desperate throng hoping for a last-minute act of clemency.

The pre-season draft, the vehicle that delivered Paul Roos to Sydney for the 1995 season and yielded Adelaide gems in Tyson Edwards (1995) and Simon Goodwin (1996), has been downsized, almost to the point of irrelevance.

The pre-season draft mattered when two or three dozen players were selected, when there was often a quality player out of contract, when there was no rookie draft. While bargains abounded in the mid '90s, these days, it is merely an appetiser sandwiched between the main events – the national and rookie drafts. It exists largely for legal reasons – to ensure that uncontracted players have a mechanism to change clubs; otherwise, their trade would be restrained and they'd have compelling reasons to challenge the AFL's rules in court.

The uncontracted can request a trade and, failing that, end up in the pre-season draft as Nick Stevens and Jade Rawlings did when Collingwood and the Kangaroos were unable to consummate deals with Port and the Hawks back in 2003.

Historically, the pre-season draft also has been the H-bomb that forces clubs to negotiate deals. Dozens of players have played the traditional October game of "trade me to this club or I'll go into the (pre-season) draft".

For the player manager, the pre-season draft gives his client leverage. Confronted with losing a player without compensation, clubs nearly always make a deal.

But precious few A-graders are leaving their club these days. Sticking with one's mates and knocking back an extra $100,000 a year is in vogue. Most of the better players who shift clubs do so only to return to their home state.

Meanwhile, the 25-year-old who resides on the fringe of AFL lists has never been so dispensable, or his livelihood so marginal. Clubs increasingly would rather take a chance on a teenager they haven't road-tested than employ the retread.

Discards can nominate for the national draft and, unless they have an iron-clad guarantee a club will pick them, most seek to maximise their draft opportunities by plunging into the deeper November pool. This trend has further diminished the quality of this draft.

Furthermore, recycled players are available in the rookie draft, where you can pay a pittance and keep a player on standby until injuries strike. The only qualifier is that the player must be aged 23 or under. Thus, Steven Armstrong, a Melbourne discard, is certain to be a rookie selection, while unlucky former Bombers Damian Cupido and Marc Bullen, both of whom turn 24 next year, are ineligible. For them, it's pre-season draft or bust.

Many have noted the discriminatory, ageist nature of the rookie rules and there is talk that the system of pre-season and rookie drafting will be reformed. The AFL is understood to be weighing up holding the rookie draft immediately after the national draft, with the pre-season draft becoming a lifeline for players older than 19 or 20.

It will probably remain in its reduced, second-rate state until the rules are changed. Free agency, the players' perpetual pipe dream, would render it all but obsolete.

With several picks already locked in, the odds aren't much better than one in 10 for the remaining rejects. Campo's defection and "Woey's" fate excepted, the first online draft will be as quiet as a mouse.

AFL pre-season draft

1. Carlton: Dylan McLaren
2. Collingwood: Sam Iles
3. Hawthorn: Brent Guerra
4. Essendon: Scott Camporeale
5. Richmond: pass
6. Brisbane Lions: David Haynes
7. Kangaroos: Cameron Thurley
8. Port Adelaide: Tom Logan
9. Adelaide: Jason Porplyzia
10. Essendon: Chris Heffernan

Expected picks at Tuesday's draft.

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Footy should stand by its history

Martin Flanagan
The Age
Saturday, December 10, 2005

What fans of Australian football call their game is very much their business.

THE football naming-rights argument is a small matter of large consequence. Politics is largely decided by headlines that transfer the meaning of a mere handful of words. In sport, in this part of the world, one of those words is football. Whoever owns that word to some extent owns the future.

What devotees of the round-ball game call their sport is their business. What we call our game is very much our business. Our game was always seen as football, or a version thereof.

The earliest match reports are unambiguous about that. It is perhaps worth noting that the first games were also played with a round ball.

I also would argue that it is not correct to imply that there always has been one intrinsic form of football – that is, the round-ball game known in this country until recently as soccer.

My impression is that up until the 1850s, football was pretty much a case of anything goes and strictly local. One reason football was codified in the colony of Victoria was that attempts to play a version of the game resulted in chaos because many of the young English gentlemen playing had gone to different schools, which had different rules.

And that is one reason we should not change any of our names or titles. We were codified first. Our oldest club is the Melbourne Football Club. It has a claim to being the oldest football club in the world. That was in 1858; the round-ball game was codified in the 1860s.

It now bills itself as the beautiful game. Back then, it sold itself with the title – the Simple Game.

Soccer is the global game. This is the era of globalisation. This challenge was always coming and, as a letter to this newspaper pointed out, the issue twists multiculturalism around.

For years, soccer was seen as the game of multicultural Australia and the word football meant things like Victoria Park on a Thursday night, watching training in the rain. Now the situation is reversed. We are the minority culture. Globally, we are overwhelmingly so. Locally, it is a close-run thing.

The middle-class invented team sports as we know them in the middle years of the 19th century. They saw games as a way of teaching values, in part because they saw new values were required by the new age they were then entering.

In Melbourne, Tom Wills advanced the notion of establishing a code of football as an alternative to military service, noting the threat of the Russian navy to the wealthy young colony.

Tom was not long home from Rugby, where football was, frankly and obviously, a war game. The boys' jerseys were marked with the insignia of the various royal houses of Europe. What in rugby are now called the backs was then called the light brigade, the forwards the heavy brigade.

Tom was captain of the Rugby XI the year after the Charge of the Light Brigade occurred, four Rugby old boys taking part. He was not captain of the Rugby XV because it didn't exist. Rugby had no one to play football against because nobody but itself then played that way.

Our increasingly feminised middle class looks to games such as ours and rugby and sees games that are too rough, in which injuries are likely. The middle class is said to be where all revolutions begin.

At the moment, locally, it still watches our game but increasingly its children play soccer. The irony is that, historically, there is much more violence at soccer matches than all the other codes combined.

The Socceroos have injected something new into the national sporting scene and deserve all the support they get. But the naming-rights issue goes beyond that. At present, people tell you they follow, for example, Collingwood and Liverpool. That's fine – but both call themselves football clubs.

I'm not saying one is better than the other but I am saying one has an extra importance to me because Collingwood is part of the place I'm from. It opens doors on to all sort of aspects of history that matter to me because they are, in some part, mine.

Earlier this year, I thought Collingwood was right, refusing to invent a second jumper to please the game's marketing gurus. Collingwood plays in the guernsey it has always played in. Equally, I don't think it should be known as the Collingwood Aussie Rules Club.

At some point, globalisation will ebb and there will be a re-awakening to local excellence. Australian football is an example of local sporting excellence. Visitors from other countries have long remarked upon it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, thought it the best code of football he had seen.

He had played both soccer and rugby, and was an enthusiast for boxing.

C.B. Fry, who represented England at three sports, including soccer, concurred. He said of the various football codes, the Australian was the most athletic.

Australian football should stand by its history; as I write this, I'm about to drive to Darwin with Michael Long and am hoping to see more of the other side of it.

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The changing pace of the game

Sunday Herald Sun
December 4, 2005

The rule changes
AFL operations manager Adrian Anderson says fans like the free-flowing, open nature of the game.

"We surveyed a lot of fans in terms of what they like and don't like about the game and it is clear one of the things supporters like most about the game is its free-flowing, open nature," he says.

1 – Remove requirement to wait for flags to be waved before bringing the ball back into play after a point

AFL Rationale: More continuous play, reduced capacity to set up zones, improve flow of game, fewer chips to static players
Adrian Anderson on its impact: "This rule came about in 1942 when some goal umpires were getting caught out of position after a quick rebound kick, so it wasn't ever part of the game other than a practical thing for umpires. The original rationale for the rule is no longer valid."We will monitor it closely ... and look at any potential affect on rushed behinds and any other aspects of the game."

2 – Allow shot on goals from directly in front if mark taken or free kick awarded in goalsquare

AFL Rationale: Reduce time taken to line up for goal, rewards mark/free kick in goalsquare.
Anderson: "Allowing a shot in goal from directly in front is partly practical. It also reduces the time taken and it's a reward for a mark or free kick in the goalsquare."

3 – Automatic restart of "time on" from the time umpire crosses arms to when the ball is bounced/ thrown up

AFL rationale: Increase accuracy of time on, decrease margin for human error.
Anderson: "This one is more about making sure we accurately and consistently measure time on. There were some problems this year. We want to make it easier for timekeepers to accurately measure the time the ball is not in play."

1 – Limit time for players to line up for set shot on goal
Anderson: "We looked at a number of examples and the vast majority of players would easily be able to shoot for goal within 30 seconds, so we don't expect players to have too much difficulty."

2– Reduced tolerance for holding players up after mark of free kick (50m penalty)
Anderson: "Last year the focus was on the third man in. If you weren't involved in the marking contest and you came in and held up a player that would be paid. This year we will continue but even if you are involved in the marking contest it will be reduced tolerance for unnecessarily retarding your opponent and preventing the play from continuing."

3 – Stricter interpretation for deliberate kick out of bounds
Anderson: "The laws committee felt that often players weren't being penalised, simply because they kicked it out of bounds rather than handballed it or thumped it out. The players are very adept at kicking the ball in a way that will deliberately take it out of bounds. So simply to kick the ball 30m forward to touch, no matter where you are on the field, if the intention was to take it out of bounds, the umpire will interpret that as deliberate.

4 – Stricter policing of holding and blocking in marking contests
Anderson: "This is something the umpires will attempt to clarify. They will be releasing a DVD before the season and they will set their standards for the year. It is an area where it was felt they, on occasions, had neglected to pick up infringements."

5 – Less time taken to award a 50m penalty
Anderson: "If you are holding up your opponent (delaying the player getting to the new mark), it makes it easier and gives more time for your teammates to flood back."

6 – Focus on detection of infringements by taggers
Anderson: "I don't think tagging will ever die because there will always be star players who will have players paying them close attention. What has to happen is that they should only be able to do that with legitimate tactics. "The rules committee was of the view that there were occasions when the umpires hadn't been detecting illegitimate tactics by players. There's nothing wrong with good, close checking. But when it involves infringing the rules of the game then it should be penalised."

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Haste for change could devalue the game

Richard Hinds
The Age
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

AUSTRALIAN football is mostly the product of evolution. The quick, skilful, athletic game seen today might not be instantly recognisable as the one played by portly gentlemen cricketers during their winter break 150 years ago. But the many changes have occurred mostly at a gentle pace and reflected a gradual shift in the demands of the fans, the nature of the participants or even the mores of the time rather than any single person's view about how it should be played.

So when the AFL makes wholesale changes to the rules without apparent consultation with the clubs and coaches, you must wonder if, just like in some American schools, Darwinian theory has been replaced by some cockeyed version of creationism.

When those changes smack of a knee-jerk reaction to the success of one team, Sydney – and AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou's well-known personal opinion about how the Swans play – you certainly have to fear the league is playing God with the rules; that an attempt is being made to pull the tail from the monkey before it is ready to drop off.

The common theme of the grab bag of rule changes and new interpretations announced by the AFL last week was that they will "speed up the game", as well as reduce the capacity for teams to control the tempo of a game.

It seems no coincidence that the changes have come within six months of Demetriou's unprecedented attack on the Swans. As misguided as his prophecy that the team "north of the border" would never succeed playing its supposedly ugly style of football proved to be, the measures look like a calculated response to the tactics employed by coach Paul Roos and his team.

The changes will strike a chord with some. Two months after Leo Barry soared in front of the pack to complete the final breathtaking act of one of the most compelling grand finals in living memory, there are still those who bemoan the fact the Swans and Eagles kicked just 15 goals between them, rather than racking up the types of cricket scores common in the often lopsided deciders played over the past 20 years.

Forgotten in the haste to create a free-flowing, uncontested, high-scoring version of the game by removing packs and stoppages and making life more difficult for defenders is that goals scored without physical pressure are instantly devalued. Witness basketball, where the ball goes from hoop to hoop with such ease that only the most spectacular score breaks the monotony.

One aspect that set this year's grand final apart was the premium on every goal. At the same time, the self-sacrificial acts that stopped opposition thrusts, with players hurling themselves recklessly at opponents or into packs, were far more memorable than the cheap scoring in lesser contests. Remove the packs and you also remove these acts of heroism.

By putting too much emphasis on speed, the AFL is also in danger of dulling an edge it has on other codes – the fact that the game has a place for players of varying shapes and sizes.

Relative plodders such as Brett Kirk, Jude Bolton and Amon Buchanan might not have been in the top 5 per cent at the AFL draft camp, but their big-hearted efforts in the grand final demonstrated that the old-school footballer retains a starring role in the modern game.

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Players may challenge AFL's sex rules

Caroline Wilson
The Age
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

AFL footballers are considering challenging the competition's radical new rules relating to sexual assault, claiming they could erode their fundamental rights.

AFL Players Association chief executive Brendon Gale confirmed last night that players would take their concerns about the "Conduct Unbecoming" rule to a criminal law expert before deciding on a court challenge.

Under its "Respect and Responsibility" policy released this month, the AFL can impose a range of punishments, including suspension and delisting, to players accused of sexual assault — even before their cases have been heard in court.

While Gale said that the players association supported reform of the game's culture regarding treatment of women, players believed a fair trial in sexual assault cases might be prejudiced by the new rules.

"This new rule has the potential to take away the fundamental rights of a citizen," he said.

Gale said the move to test the new policy before a criminal lawyer emerged three days ago at the players association's 2005 Executives and Delegates Conference.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou and football operations general manager Adrian Anderson addressed the weekend conference and Demetriou is understood to have been made aware of the challenge.

The conference unofficially resolved that the players — 70 per cent of whom have volunteered to become delegates for new programs to improve the game's treatment of women — had not been made fully aware of the consequences.

The rules, which could also see a player punished for making an inappropriate payment to an alleged victim of sexual assault or for responding to a sexual assault allegation in an inappropriate manner, have been passed by the AFL Commission.

The move to challenge the new rules was supported by the players association's 11-man executive. Of the 16 clubs, all were represented by two or three delegates apart from St Kilda and Brisbane — both of whose playing lists were involved in pre-season training in China and New Guinea, respectively.

"This is not like the WADA (World Anti-Doping Authority) situation where we were dealing with an international sporting drug code," Gale said. "This is criminal law and incarceration we're talking about."

The players' objections relate to three major areas of the new rules; the power to suspend a player being investigated or having been committed for trial over an alleged sexual assault.

The two other concerns were the newly regulated compulsion to notify the league of any investigation — which the players believed eroded a footballer's basic privacy rights — and the ban on making payments to alleged sexual assault victims — which could be seen as "hush money" when in fact such an exchange of money could be an out-of-court settlement or victim's compensation.

The AFL formulated the new policy in the wake of a series of sexual assault allegations that smeared football codes early last year, including St Kilda players Stephen Milne and Leigh Montagna being investigated over sexual assault allegations. The two were never charged.

In 2001, Adam Heuskes (formerly of Sydney, Port Adelaide and Brisbane), Peter Burgoyne (Port Adelaide) and Michael O'Loughlin (Sydney) paid an Adelaide woman $200,000 after rape allegations. It was that payment which the AFL took into account while formulating its "Respect and Responsibility" policy.

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AFL moves to speed up the game

Chip Le Grand
The Australian
Saturday, November 26, 2005

Full-forwards have been given the hurry-up, kick-in players the green light and scragging taggers formal notice under rule changes and new interpretations designed to keep the game flowing and the ball in play.

In the face of a revived threat from soccer for the hearts and feet of future players and concerns that Australia's national code has become too stop-start in its modern guise, the AFL is hoping its new rules will reduce the number of players around the ball and improve the spectacle of matches.

"The core objective is to maintain the appeal of the game and arrest the slide towards a more stop-start game," AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said yesterday.

The three rule changes and seven altered interpretations, outlined to club coaches yesterday, will come into effect for next year's pre-season competition and carry through to the 2006 premiership.

Anderson said the new rules were in response to long-term trends in the game and denied that either Sydney's tempo-controlling game style or the nature of this year's grand final had influenced the rule makers.

"We are looking here at long-term trends over a 40-year period," he said.

"If anything, last year came back slightly towards a more continuous style. We don't look at individual clubs or games."

Of the changes, the most dramatic is the decision to allow teams to kick in from a behind before the goal umpire waves his flags.

While the change removes an officiating anachronism - the delay was introduced in 1942 to give goal umpires time to keep score - its effect will be to give the team kicking in the option of an immediate restart. This will make it more difficult for the other team to establish a defensive zone and increase the likelihood of more "end-to-end" play.

Anderson said a second ball would be stationed next to the goal post, as was done in this year's International Rules series against Ireland. When the rule was trialled during this year's pre-season competition, it halved the average time taken to restart play.

The other two changes - allowing players to kick from directly in front of goal from set shots in the goal square and the introduction of automatic time-on at bounces around the ground - address technical anomalies. The AFL estimates the new time-on provisions will add between two and three minutes playing time to a game.

The more contentious changes are those to rule interpretations.

Under the so-called Matthew Lloyd rule, umpires will call play on against players who take more than 30 seconds to have a set shot at goal. This will rely on umpire subjectivity and a degree of common sense, with Anderson conceding it was possible that a player who took too long to have a shot after the siren could be stripped of the ball.

The flipside for Lloyd and all marking forwards is that the umpires will be asked to show less leniency toward defenders who hold and scrag during a marking contest. The prohibition on defenders "chopping the arms" of forwards, the subject of conjecture last season, will continue.

Another change guaranteed to occasionally frustrate supporters, players and coaches is the decision to give players who deliberately kick the ball out of bounds no more latitude than those who handball it over the line. This new interpretation, if consistently applied, will herald an end to the "educated kick" along the boundary, where defenders left with no other option kick for touch 20 or 30metres upfield.

After another heated mid-season debate on the conduct of tagging players, field umpires not in charge of play will be responsible for protecting the competition's elite midfielders from holding and illegal tactics at the scrimmages. This is the Chris Judd rule, if you like, and should go some way to cleaning up the tagging technique of players such as Kangaroos stopper Brady Rawlings.

The AFL has also signalled a further crackdown on players who retard their opponents after a mark or free-kick has been paid.

The last two changed interpretations are targeted at the umpires themselves. The boundary officials will be instructed to throw the ball in with less ceremony and delay, in a move designed to give the teams less time to organise at the stoppages and improve the flow of play. Field umpires have also been told to be quicker in pacing out 50-metre penalties so as to reduce the disruption to play.

The assumption that the football is less free-flowing now than it was 40 years ago is based on an analysis of grand finals by Adelaide researcher Ken Norton and statistics compiled over the past six seasons by Champion Data.

According to Norton, a comparison of grand finals since the 1960s shows that, although match durations have not changed, total stoppage times have more than doubled since 1961. Over the same period, the speed of ball movement has increased considerably, creating a game played in shorter, faster bursts.

The Champion Data statistics, taken since 2000, underline the shift away from long kicking towards short kicking, the increased emphasis on possession, reduction in contested marks, the use of zone defences and a falling clearance rate from stoppages. This in turn creates more ball-ups and more time in which the ball is not in play.

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Roos rails off against 'one size fits all' changes

Michael Gleeson
The Age
Melbourne, Saturday, November 26, 2005

Dramatic AFL rule changes designed to halt a trend towards a staccato rugby-style game and open up play will kill the careers of some players and allow only a single homogenised game plan among all teams, according to Sydney coach Paul Roos.

The rules changes and crackdown on the policing of existing rules announced by the AFL yesterday will target defensive tactics and encourage the game to be more open.

Coaches briefed on the changes were surprised and disappointed they had not been consulted earlier, and queried who was driving the need for change when match attendances and television audiences were at record levels.

"I think it is clear that they are going for a generic game of football and they are trying to have one style of play for everyone. And there are some players who are playing AFL football now who will no longer be able to play AFL football and we will all only go for guys who can run a 15 beep and are six foot three (190 centimetres)," Roos said.

The changes follow the Swans' premiership success in playing a lock-down style of game. While the league had been thrilled with the club winning, it has been less than pleased with the style of play adopted by Sydney – and other teams – in recent years. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou controversially condemned the Swans' "ugly" game plan early this year.

The most radical change sanctioned by the AFL Commission will mean players are encouraged to play on immediately after a behind is scored without waiting for the goal umpires to wave the flags. Spare balls will be positioned behind the goals. When this change was trialled in the Wizard Cup, the time taken to kick in after a point was nearly halved.

The president of the AFL Players Association, Brendon Gale, said he was initially concerned that waiting for the flags would affect the longevity of players' careers. "But there's been some expensive research done that suggests by keeping the game flowing, players get more fatigued and the intensity of games drops. As a result, there's a reduced chance of injury," he said.

The signalling of time-on will be changed, as revealed in The Age, at around-the-ground bounces. Time will automatically stop when the umpire crosses his arms for a bounce and resume only when the ball is bounced or thrown up.

It should deliver greater consistency between quarters and reduce confusion for timekeepers. There is no change to when time is blown for a free kick, the blood rule or other occasions.

Players who take a mark in the goal square, or are awarded free kicks in the goal square, will no longer be put on severe angles, but will take their kick from directly in front of goal. A player who marks the ball but lands outside the goal square is considered to have completed the mark outside the square, so would be put on an angle. It is up to the umpire to determine where the mark was completed.

The AFL also flagged a broader range of changes in interpretation designed to crack down on negative defensive tactics.

The coaches were warned there would be a tough new stance on deliberately kicking the ball out of bounds. Players who kick the ball out of bounds deliberately will be penalised, whether or not they gain ground further afield by "kicking to touch".

A "Matthew Lloyd rule" has been introduced, capping the time a player takes for a set shot on goal – at about 30 seconds – before being called to play on.

There will be renewed vigilance on taggers who "scrag" ball players and impede them at contests.

Umpires also will no longer wait for players to make position at boundary throw-ins.

"It will never be how it was but ... the focus is to keep the ball in play and make it more continuous," AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said.

"This will have two clear effects - there will be fewer players around the ball because you are less able to make the same number of contests, so it is less stop-start, and there will be fewer collision injuries.

"Our focus has been to bear in mind the traditional highlights of the game such as one-on-one contests, contested marks and positional play."

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Fans rate men in white highly

Mike Sheahan
Herald Sun
Melbourne, November 12, 2005

As bizarre as it may sound, football supporters were more satisfied with umpires this year than their own team.

The standard of umpiring was rated "good to very good" by 74 per cent fans. Only 11 per cent rated the umpires "poor to very poor".

The corresponding figure for clubs was 73 per cent positive, with 15 per cent in the negative.

The figures are contained in an AFL brand tracking survey headed "Ratings of AFL Values, The Game and AFL Administration", conducted by national research company Colmar Brunton.

AFL chief executive officer Andrew Demetriou's rating climbed into positive territory.

More than one in two of the 1187 respondents – 53 per cent – said they agreed with the statement: "The game is in good hands with Andrew Demetriou as CEO".

The figure was up from 46 per cent in 2004. The negative factor remained at 7 per cent.

The AFL's "strong leadership" was endorsed by 62 per cent of respondents, up by 7 per cent.

One of the most interesting results was the 60 per cent positive answer to the statement: "The AFL is doing all it can to make sure all 16 teams survive".

The figure was up 7 per cent in 12 months, with just 9 per cent answering in the negative.

The response was reinforced by the 60 per cent positive response to the statement: "The AFL manages the competition in a fair-handed manner".

More than eight in 10 (83 per cent) supported the notion of teams playing finals in their home state if they earned the right, regardless of any agreements on venues.

The figure was up 5 per cent in 12 months.

Almost eight in 10 (77 per cent) said it was better to watch a game live rather than on television.

Despite frequent negative publicity about the behaviour of players, 65 per cent rated them good role models, up by 9 per cent.

One of the concerns for the AFL will be the attitude to the costs associated with the game.

Only 50 per cent agreed to the proposition: "The cost of going to the football offers better value for money than other sports".

While the figure is up from 44 per cent, 17 per cent of respondents disagreed, with 33 per cent undecided.

What will please the AFL is the strong positive response to questions about venues and crowd behaviour.

More than nine out of 10 (94 per cent) approved the quality of stadium facilities, while 90 per cent said they were happy with crowd behaviour.

The response to the crowd behaviour question is surprising. Perhaps it was relative to crowd behaviour at the racetrack in spring.

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AFL to alter priority pick order

Caroline Wilson
The Age
Melbourne, November 11, 2005

THE contentious issue of priority picks in the AFL draft will soon become a thing of the past in a matter of days with the commission now certain to remove the rule in its present form.

The AFL commissioners and their executive team will this weekend spend two days at Moonah Links on the Mornington Peninsula deliberating over a long list of on and off-field issues, but most have already privately resolved to accept the recommendation from Adrian Anderson's football department to rid the game of the extra first-round draft pick.

Carlton, Collingwood and Hawthorn – which all won the right to a priority pick this season – will be the last three teams to be given the chance to draft two elite young footballers before higher-placed teams have taken a choice at all.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou is also expected to address the commission on behalf of his sub-committee, which has been negotiating the next round of AFL broadcasting rights.

The rights are expected to run from 2007 until 2011, but could be extended until 2012 should channels Seven and Ten win the rights and agree to alternate the broadcast of the six grand finals to be contested in those years.

It is understood that Seven and Ten and the AFL are now engaged in serious and practical talksthat would result in the networks televising five free-to-air games each week during the home-and-away season and all AFL finals, with the legal problems surrounding the AFL's opening offer apparently resolved.

Other key issues to be raised by the commission over the two day meeting include:

u Reforms to the new AFL reporting and judicial system;

u Extra funding towards game development particular in NSW and Queensland and strategies to expand the Sydney market following the Swans premiership;

u The Sydney player apprenticeship scheme, which will be launched next year and have every AFL club take charge of at least one Sydney teenager respectively.

The AFL executives had planned to scrap priority picks earlier this year but their proposal was rejected by the commission, which insisted that further research on the issue was required.

The feelings from the commission was that it was unwilling to eradicate any rule that had generated such positive publicity and hope for supporters. Richmond, Hawthorn and the Bulldogs all benefited last year when those clubs were able to bolster their lists significantly.

Richmond's priority choice, Brett Deledio, won the Rising Star award. But as several clubs have argued, successful teams such as West Coast have been able to recruit future champions such as Chris Judd following one poor season.

Judd won the Brownlow Medal in his third AFL season.

As a result of the AFL's ongoing consultation with clubs, it appears likely the priority picks will be retained for clubs winning five games or fewer, but the priority choice will not be taken until after every club has taken a player in the national draft.

A second option to be considered would result in a rolling three-year system under which unsuccessful clubs would need to demonstrate three poor years in succession before being entitled to a priority pick.

The commission will also debate the option of creating a system in which clubs could make one-off submissions in a bid to recruit extra talent by demonstrating consistent poor performances.

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International Rules
Ireland's outrage intensifies

Charles Happell
The Age
Melbourne, November 10, 2005

THE controversial international rules series provoked more anger and resentment towards Australia than any other recent issue in Ireland, according to a cable sent by the Australian Embassy in Dublin.

In the cable, sent last week to the Foreign Affairs department in Canberra, the embassy said it had been besieged with angry calls – as well as threats of violence – from Irish fans incensed about Australia's heavy-handed tactics in the series.

As the acrimonious fallout from the series extended to diplomatic level, the cable said the phone calls, which ranged from "moderate to abusive and threatening", were unanimous in condemning the physical punishment meted out by the Australians.

Of concern to the AFL, the cable also referred to some callers "threatening violence" against the Australian team the next time it toured Ireland, scheduled for late next year.

It also noted that no other issue in Ireland in recent years had "generated this level of negative feeling" towards Australia, mentioning in particular the level of anger on talkback radio.

The chief culprit in the second-quarter melee, Brisbane Lion Chris Johnson, will face the tribunal via videolink tonight.

It is the severe way in which Johnson dealt with Philip Jordan, then Mattie Forde, that has sparked much of the outrage, not just in Ireland but in Australia.

Other Australian players, including Darren Milburn, Luke Hodge and Trent Croad, have also been criticised for their overly physical approach in the second Test. Letters to newspaper editors, and talkback calls to radio, have almost unanimously decried the tactics.

But it is only Johnson, the Australian co-captain, who will face the tribunal after being reported by Irish referee Michael Collins for striking Jordan and Forde at Telstra Dome last Friday week.

Tribunal member Richard Loveridge will chair the panel, while Kevin Sheehan will represent the AFL and Pat Daly the Gaelic Athletic Association.

The AFL has downplayed the significance of the violence but the league has changed the competition's rules so that players sent off in future will not be allowed back on the ground, nor will they be replaced. A penalty shot from close range is likely to be implemented in the hope that a certain six-point goal will act as a deterrent.

While not discounting the threat of retribution on Australia's next tour, it is believed the Foreign Affairs department is not overly concerned by the threats of violence .

AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said last night he was unaware of any increased security risk in Ireland. "I had hoped the government would let us know if they think there's an issue there," he said.

Locally, the treasurer of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Melbourne, Dermott Lamb, said his club was disappointed by the actions of some of the Australian players and called for a review of the competition's rules.

"I think they need to sit down and work out the rules again," he said. "The roughness needs to be taken out of the game, the tackling needs to be refined and players need to be penalised with suspensions in their own code."

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AFL releases new social policy

Matt Burgan
Sportal for
Tuesday, November 8, 2005

The AFL has released a policy that it hopes will create a better environment for women across all levels of Australian football.

The policy, titled “Respect and Responsibility – Creating a safe and inclusive environment for women at all levels of Australian football” was drafted by the league, as well as policy experts from area including women’s policy, policing, the law, discrimination, equal opportunity and public health.

The new policy was unveiled by the AFL at Telstra Dome on Tuesday and comes after a range of allegations made about the treatment of women made by past and present AFL players in the last few years.

The key points of the policy are:

u Introduction of model anti-sexual harassment and anti-sexual discrimination procedures across the AFL and its 16 clubs.

u Development of organisational policies and procedures to ensure a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for women.

u Changes to AFL rules relating to conduct unbecoming which cover the specific context of allegations of sexual assault.

u Education of AFL players and other club officials with avenues for dissemination of the program to the community level being explored.

u The dissemination of model policies and procedures at the community club level.

u Development of a public education campaign.

In announcing the policy, AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said it was no longer the sole responsibility of governments and their criminal justice and social agencies.

“The position of the AFL and our clubs is quite clear – we find any form of violence towards women abhorrent and we support moves by government and other community-based organisations to eliminate violence or the potential for violence,” he said.

The AFL will partner with VicHealth to implement the policy.

The announcement comes one day after Jane Hollman was appointed by the AFL to the new position of Manager, People and Culture.

Ms. Hollman will be responsible for developing and implementing a human resource strategy for the AFL and the clubs, designed to recruit, develop and retain people who work in the football industry.

She is currently Director of Human Resources, Asia Pacific, for Citigroup Asset Management after being Vice-President, Human Resources, Asia Pacific for Citigroup from 2002 to 2004.

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Second team for Sydney still a long way off

Michael Stevens
Herald Sun
Saturday, November 5, 2005

A second AFL team in New South Wales was inevitable but would not occur during his tenure, chief executive Andrew Demetriou told CPS Australia's Business of Sport function in Sydney yesterday.

Demetriou said that, as it had taken the Sydney Swans 20 years to develop into a premiership outfit, a second team was a long way off.

The AFL wants to eventually establish a second side in the western suburbs of Sydney.

And Demetriou said that the AFL would significantly increase its stake in the Sydney market, above the $8 million allocated this year.

A primary objective is to win over grassroots fans, starting with school children.

"We've just got to get our code into schools," Demetriou said. "We're doing a lot of work with schools and we need to spend more money on more programs in schools. It's a very difficult market in Sydney, but the Swans winning (the premiership) has certainly helped us. We spent $8 million on AFL-NSW and we're going to increase that substantially next year."

Demetriou touched briefly on the TV rights issue, saying that one of the key objectives was to gain better Friday night coverage in Sydney.

The AFL reportedly wants $135 million for the TV rights and Demetriou said he hoped to seal the 2007-11 deal before Christmas.

Demetriou also spoke about the league's deal with controversial betting exchange Betfair.

"We've got no issue about the integrity of our game and never have," he said.

On a second team being established in Sydney, Swans chief executive Myles Byron Hay said he would like to see his club well and truly established on a profitable basis before a second team was introduced.

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AFL man 'paid bribe for Cooper'

Vanda Carson
The Weekend Australian
Saturday, November 5, 2005

A FORMER football manager of the Brisbane Lions AFL team was the middleman for a $9000 bribe offered by convicted fraudster Brad Cooper, a court has heard.

Graeme "Gubby" Allan gave evidence against the former burglar alarm salesman at his trial on bribery and document-forging charges.

Mr Allan met Cooper through the Collingwood Football Club in Melbourne, where he was a player between 1981 and 1984 and manager until 1998. He played 141 games for Collingwood and Fitzroy between 1975 and 1984.

Cooper is a former director of Collingwood, sponsored the team in the 1990s through his company the Goodwill Group and arranged for HIH to sponsor the club before the giant insurer's $5.3billion collapse in 2001.

Mr Allan was one of several big names mentioned in the nine-week trial of Cooper, who was convicted of 13 charges on Monday. Former Olympian Dawn Fraser, veteran rocker Jimmy Barnes and Kerry Packer's poker-playing mate Ben Tilley also featured.

Cooper let the swimming legend live in his Sydney home, and paid bills and lent his car to Barnes. And Cooper did a property deal with Mr Tilley, sharing $1.965million from HIH for arranging the transaction - with the money paid just one day before HIH collapsed.

Mr Allan told the court he paid HIH chief investment officer Bill Howard the $9000 in January 2001, when Howard was staying at the French Quarter luxury resort in Noosa, Queensland.

It was the smallest of six bribes paid by Cooper in late 2000 and early 2001.

Howard, the key witness in the trial against Cooper, had his three-year jail term suspended for testifying against his former mate and other HIH executives.

Howard admitted accepting $124,000 in bribes. He rolled over to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission after he was threatened with criminal and civil charges in April 2003, following a royal commission inquiry into the collapse of HIH.

The court was told Cooper had transferred the funds into Mr Allan's bank account, which he withdrew and paid to Howard.

Howard approached Mr Allan, whom he had never met, in the reception area of the French Quarter resort. "I believe you're a mate of Brad's," Howard said.

The pair then walked out of the foyer and Mr Allan said: "I've been asked to give this to you," handing over an envelope containing $9000 in $50 notes.

Howard said he counted the money on the way back to his room. He testified that he used the money for expenses, including his accommodation at the five-star resort.

Howard was given the other five payments by Cooper in various luxury hotels in Sydney's central business district, and at Cooper's harbourside home on the city's north shore.

Cooper is in jail awaiting sentencing by judge Bruce James next month.

Mr Allan did not return The Weekend Australian's calls.

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Hybrid game changing two codes

Chip Le Grand
The Australian
Friday, October 21, 2005

THE value of International Rules has long been in the eye of the beholder.

While some see the annual series as little more than a curiosity, others consider it a genuine and worthy form of national representation. But one thing beyond argument is the influence hybrid rules has had on the indigenous football codes of both countries.

When the first Australian team arrived in Dublin in 1967, tour organiser Harry Beitzel warned Irish reporters: "We will change the way you play your game."

As Australia and Ireland prepare for tonight's latest rematch at Subiaco Oval, it is doubtful that even Beitzel would have envisaged the way both codes have been shaped by this unlikely sporting exchange.

If you visited Ireland and watched a Gaelic county match 20 years ago, you would have seen players taking free-kicks off the ground, a general fitness and conditioning level no better than amateur, suburban football and an antiquated system of referees keeping time, coaches being unable to bring substituted players back on and almost no examples of the overhead mark or "high fielding" as it is known locally.

Go to an Irish county match in another five years and you could see Gaelic players flying for marks and taking set shots for goal out of their hands. The players will be highly conditioned endurance and power athletes; faster and stronger than ever before. A runner will relay messages from the coach and a time clock will trigger the final siren. If a player is reported, he will be referred to a disciplinary tribunal.

Sound familiar? Some of it has already happened and some of it is being considered by the GAA, the governing body for Gaelic football and hurling. They are radical changes and the GAA is conservative by nature. But as Irish coach Pete McGrath said yesterday, sporting codes must evolve or stagnate.

"When people ask me what could Gaelic football take out of the International Rules, what I would say and what most people would say is the mark," McGrath said. "Even if it was just in the middle third of the field, it would encourage high catching and reward the man who has made the clear catch."

Pat Daly, the head of games for the GAA, said the 1990 rule change allowing free-kicks to be taken from the hands rather than off the ground is the most significant change of the past 20 years.

Having worked closely with the AFL's Kevin Sheehan to revise the hybrid rules, Daly confirmed that other AFL-influenced reforms were being considered. These include the introduction of team runners, an interchange bench and a time clock, and further changes to the tribunal system, which was modelled on the old AFL system two years ago.

At the same time, International Rules has influenced the rule-makers of Australian football, though more by interpretation than reform. Sheehan believes reduced tolerance towards players diving on the ball can be traced to Gaelic football, in which players are prohibited from picking the ball up once they have lost their feet. Such a rule was trialled in last year's pre-season competition, along with a continuation in play after the ball hits the post.

In the past five years, the charging rule has led to the virtual eradication of the traditional "shirt-front" and greater limits on the use of the hip and shoulder bump generally. In Gaelic football, only "shoulder-to-shoulder" side-on contact is prohibited.

The contemporary style of both games is also converging, with a shared emphasis on retaining possession, running the lines and finding smaller, mobile forwards in space rather than hulking key forwards in a crowd of players.

"Some of our coaches have looked at basketball and how they put numbers back and now that we have got respect for the Gaelic Athletic Association and their coaches, people like Sheedy and others will be moved to look at some of their strategies in terms of ball movement and deep defence," Sheehan said.

McGrath said the most direct influence of International Rules on Ireland's players and coaches was the recent improvements in conditioning, weight training and use of sports science. When the International Rules concept was reintroduced in 1998 after an eight-year hiatus, the relative size, strength and speed of the Australian players made a lasting impact on the Irish amateurs.

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Time called on measuring time-on

Michael Gleeson
The A
Melbourne, Friday, October 21, 2005

A RADICAL overhaul of timekeeping being considered by the AFL could lead to timekeepers automatically stopping the clock whenever a bounce is called without umpires needing to separately blow the whistle to signal time-on and off.

Such a change would likely add minutes to quarters, meaning the AFL could also look at cutting the length of quarters from 20 minutes before time-on is added.

The proposals stem from a broad-ranging review by the umpiring department and has included a study of the time lost in two games during the recent finals series.

A separate timekeeper sat with the official timekeepers during the matches and measured the amount of time the clock was ticking but no play was under way.

It was found that about three minutes of playing time a game was lost just in the period between an umpire calling for a bounce and actually bouncing the ball.

One option considered was to automatically stop the clock whenever an umpire crossed his arms to signal a ball-up and then only restart the clock when the ball left the umpire's hand for a bounce or when thrown up.

The umpire would not need to separately signal or blow his whistle for the timekeepers.

At present, time is lost at ball-ups when umpires wait for packs to clear, then signal their exit path to players before bouncing the ball.

A change such as that being considered would likely lead to greater consistency when time-on is applied.

A decision on when to blow the whistle to stop the clock is now arbitrary and generally influenced by the stage of the game and the amount of congestion around the ball and how long it would likely take to clear.

The AFL will examine more matches by video over the summer and if further reviews reveal large chunks of time — several minutes — were lost in the average game then there would be a push for change, possibly as soon as next year. If only minimal time was lost there would be no case for change.

AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson confirmed the review yesterday. "We have had a look at two games and compared the amount of time lost at bounces compared with the total amount of time-on called and we are reviewing that information to see how we measure time-on to see if there might be a better way," Anderson said.

"We will continue to review it and make a decision when we have a clearer view of how much time is lost in games. No change is planned at the moment for next season. It is too early to say (if there will be a change for next year). We just want to know what is the clearest, most consistent way of measuring time-on. Can we do it better?"

The issue of time-keeping became topical several times this season.

In the Collingwood-Sydney round-13 game, 19 seconds were seemingly lost, and, after the Sydney-Geelong preliminary final, Cats fans were perturbed that umpires blew time-on in the close final quarter which they felt was not the case in the first three quarters.

A change such as the one suggested would eliminate this complaint as the decision on whether to blow time-on at a field bounce would be out of the umpires' hands.

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Aylett passes on the baton

Karen Lyon
The A
Melbourne, Thursday, October 20, 2005

IF ALLEN Aylett was true to form this morning, he woke before dawn, headed towards his treadmill and, while exercising, read the papers for this morning's board meeting for his beloved North Melbourne football club.

Early morning starts are essential for the sprightly 71-year-old, who must tend to football business before heading to his South Melbourne dental practice for a day tending to cavities. But while the routine is familiar, today will be like no other because at 7am, when the board of the Kangaroos meets, Aylett will officially resign as chairman and hand over the role to his successor, Graham Duff.

Although he will hand over the reins to the current chairman of Racing Victoria, Aylett is not exactly saying goodbye to Arden Street. He has promised to stay on for a year or two so the transition can go smoothly, but his retirement as chairman brings to an end a unique period in the history of the club and the game.

A talented rover who was never dropped from the North Melbourne line-up throughout his illustrious 12-year career, his feats on the football field have been somewhat overshadowed by his lifetime as one of the most influential administrators in the game.

Whether it was with the likes of Ron Joseph and Barry Cheatley at Arden Street, or with Jack Hamilton and Alan Schwab in the offices of the VFL, Aylett never meant to be a football revolutionary. "I didn't go out to do it that way," he said. "The real thing is, I am a believer and I am determined and I have been able to have a vision, and I think that is born in people.

"I believe in something enough to be a driver and (then) drive, drive, drive. I have got on well enough with people to band people together, so it's just not me on the journey, it's a group of people on the journey. I never set out to do it, everything has just evolved. We were all young and gung-ho, not just about the North Melbourne football club but where football was going generally."

Although Aylett has never strayed far from Arden Street, he has worn many caps throughout his career. But there has been one constant during the journey; his wife Marj. When the then Marjorie Wapet transferred from Camberwell High School to University High in 1951, she could not have known that her fate would be sealed when a young boy walked late into chemistry class and stole her heart. Until then football had never been part of her life.

But while she continues to be amazed by the journey, Marj Aylett says she has loved every minute of the adventure.

"It was all very exciting and I don't think we were thinking long-term. It just snowballed and kept going. When you look back it has been just fantastic. We have met such fantastic people from all walks of life," she said.

She has been there for all the ups and downs. The premierships, the boardroom battles and even death threats when as president of the VFL, Aylett oversaw the relocation of South Melbourne to Sydney, a move that became deeply bitter.

His achievements at VFL level were yesterday lauded by Geelong president Frank Costa. "He's responsible, really, for the VFL coming of age as a national competition," Costa said of his long-time friend. "He really pushed our competition outside Victorian borders.

"He's a fellow with great vision and with the courage of his own convictions. He made something happen that most felt were impossible. What we're seeing at the moment is absolutely Australia's premier sporting competition ... Allen Aylett has to take an enormous amount of credit for being one of the key architects – if not the key architect – in putting AFL football together. I think football owes him an enormous debt."

Aylett's former general manager Ron Joseph was more effusive. "Even though (influential AFL administrators) Graeme Samuel and Ross Oakley would never acknowledge it ... the reason we've got a national football league today is because of Allen Aylett," he said. "He was the one who put himself at risk, he was the one who lost the presidency in the fight to go national. He orchestrated Sunday football and Friday night football and the rationalisation of grounds, and he's never really been acknowledged for it because football's not an industry that has grace.

"His contribution to the AFL has been incalculable ... Allen never gets any credit and if he does, it's fleeting."

Marj Aylett said the different stages of her husband's career had all been enjoyable. "I was very proud of him, watching him play football," she said. "It was great him being president of North because that was such an exciting time, and then it was interesting being chairman of the league because you were divorced from the clubs aspect. I used to miss that closeness of watching my team every Saturday but I did adjust to that."

In the early 1970s her Moonee Ponds house was once mortgaged – along with the homes of all the other board members – to secure the Kangaroos' future. Allen Aylett was determined to provide the club with the premiership that had alluded it.

"All of us mortgaged our houses with the bank and so the money came forward," he said. "That was the enthusiasm that was rampant. And everyone around just got hold of it."

Tired of listening to cries of "Poor old North" from the other clubs, Aylett and his board set about changing the balance. Ron Barassi was secured as coach, and some of the money secured from the houses was used to lure players like Doug Wade, Stan Alves and Barry Davies.

Marj Aylett did not know her house helped build the club's first premiership but both agree that that September night in 1975, as the celebrations continued at the old Southern Cross ballroom, was the highlight of their time in football.

"The minute the siren went there were just tears and tears and I think you just sort of exploded and I don't think I will ever forget that feeling," she said.

Although he was named in the forward pocket of North Melbourne's team of the century and earlier this year announced as the player of the 1950s at the Shinboners gala tribute night, Joseph said Aylett should have been the first legend of the club. "From the Kangaroos point of view, he was the first player to play 200 games, he was the first premiership president, and whilst I've always been a great admirer of Wayne Schimmelbusch and what he achieved, it was laughable and almost destroyed the credibility of North's hall of fame in that Wayne Schimmelbusch was given the honour of being the first (legend), because clearly Allen Aylett should be the first by that far in his contribution to North Melbourne."

Costa described Aylett as "an absolute champion".

"He led from the front, got the hard ball and he was a committed team player as well," Costa said.

When Aylett returned to Arden Street in 2001 after the death of the club's former chairman and his great friend Ron Casey, the man who had put business into football was surprised to see how much things really had changed.

"It was totally different from what I was used to. The professionalism was much more increased, of course," he said.

The days of players celebrating a win well into the night and the chairman's wife cooking them all bacon and eggs on the Sunday has been replaced by dietitians, ice baths and recovery sessions, and although the Ayletts continue to love the game, the romance of the 1970s is still fondly remembered. "We were all growing up together and we the board, from me, the chairman to all the board down, we weren't much older than the senior players," Aylett said.

After 53 years, Aylett says he will miss little.

He and Marj intend to be in the grandstands, sharing the matches with at least some of their four children and eight grandchildren. He might be walking away from the responsibility but not the game.

"I don't think I will miss anything because I really think it is time and I still have something to add in this transitional period," he said.



Grand final win shows a mission accomplished

Karen Lyon
The Age
Melbourne, Thursday, October 20, 2005

Sydney's thrilling premiership victory fulfilled a long-held dream for Allen Aylett.

"He always said he wanted to see a flag flying over the Sydney town hall," his wife Marjorie said this week. "Well, they were certainly flying it high over the harbour bridge."

Aylett and his family endured much in the emotional battle of 1981, when the then-VFL was instrumental in persuading the South Melbourne Football Club its future belonged in the Harbour City.

To see Sydney, after all the battles and missed opportunities, finally realise the dream and win a flag was an important moment for the national competition and Aylett.

"I remember when we played our first game in Sydney in 1979 and the Kangaroos played Hawthorn, after the 1978 grand final and it was so a huge thing," he said.

"I remember at the press conference after the match (veteran Age journalist) Ron Carter said what a fantastic success it has been, and I said: 'Yes, it has been a success but it is the first of 1000 steps.'

"Well I reckon the 1000th step took place on grand final day because there is now a premiership flag flying in every capital city."

Aylett said the VFL always believed Sydney would be a success.

He said with the decision-makers of business and corporate chiefs well based in the city, the competition always needed a presence.

After three years of games in the city between 1979 and 1981, Aylett and his general manager Jack Hamilton knew the time was right for a Sydney-based team.

"It was a gut decision," he said this week.

Current commissioner Graeme John, who was the South Melbourne president at the time, and that board conceded that the time was up for the Lakeside Oval based club.

When they agreed to play home games in Sydney, the board was thrown out by the "Keep South at South" group. It led to a bitter fight.

A special Christmas Eve meeting of the VFL was called and it was decided that if South Melbourne was not based in Sydney by January 31 then it would not be playing anywhere.

"It created a lot of ill-feeling, so much so that we were under police guard and bomb threats and our kids were seeing these reports coming through on the television news," Aylett said.

There were concerns over bomb threats and even that one of their four children could have been kidnapped.

"It was a stressful time," remembered Marjorie Aylett.

"After a day or two, we thought 'we will be careful' but it's the old story, life has to go on. So it did" she said.

"It still kept going because at (son) Rick's party, and his birthday was in June, we had to have security guards.

"We went to Geelong at the end of the season and the police were in the car and following us down."

Despite the problems the Swans have endured, Aylett said he had taken great delight in both of their grand final appearances since the club shifted home.

"In 1996 when we played Sydney, I thought, 'Gee, you can't get any better than this.' The Kangaroos were playing Sydney, and I was standing at the MCG while they were playing the national anthem and I was crying."

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Money hunger puts fans on the outer

by Graham Cornes
The Advertiser
Adelaide, Saturday, October 8, 2005

WHEN did football cease to be a game of the people?

Eddie McGuire received a standing ovation for a speech he delivered two weeks ago, at the Carbine Club luncheon here in Adelaide. He struck the right chord when he spoke about our great game, its history and traditions; how important it had been in times of war to help maintain morale; how "up there Cazaly", a football exhortation, became a battle cry and then an anthem. He told of the Saturday afternoon rituals in Melbourne and in Adelaide, when the urban tribes gathered to watch their heroes at the local footy ground. He reminisced about the great names of football, mainly Victorian, but he threw a few South Australian legends in as well. He proposed a toast to football, and the assembled masses, seduced by his impressive oratory, stayed on their feet and applauded. But he was peddling them a dream; a dream that has long been shattered. The game is no longer accessible to everyone.

The AFL's powerbrokers, Andrew Demetriou and Ben Buckley sat down this week to negotiate the next raft of television rights for the game. With that comes the frustrating inevitability that Crows and Power fans, and by that we mean the majority of our state, will have to subscribe to Foxtel if they want to see all of their teams' games. There is no maybe or perhaps at this stage, simply an acceptance that it will happen. How on earth have we allowed this to happen? Still, the AFL wouldn't be the first organisation or group to sell its soul. For if you remove the game further from the reach of the average football supporter, you are surely removing its soul.

The AFL will be awash with more money than it could ever have believed. Of course money allows you to do many constructive things for your corporation. Conversely, it allows you to waste more of it on ill-fated projects - like converting recalcitrant league and union die-hards in NSW and Queesland. And isn't that the greatest irony? The AFL will insist its broadcast partners televise their games live into the Sydney and Brisbane markets, but expect the fans in the traditional states to fork out for pay-TV subscriptions.

How much money is enough? The average wage of the AFL footballer is now over $200,000 per annum. Yes, the players do deserve to be paid in proportion to the revenue their efforts generate, but how much money does the game need to generate? Does the salary cap have to be close to $7 million? Does every football club need a coaching team to rival the White House's war cabinet? (and we know how reliable that is.) Do Port or the Crows really need to spend any more money on major upgrades to their training facilities? If preserving the rights of the average football supporter means a little less than the $130 million per annum the AFL is expecting to get, it surely is money well spent (or saved).

We have anti-siphoning laws in our country to prevent the sporting organisations from selling out and removing the popular sports to pay-TV, as has happened overseas. However there are always loopholes. There's no point we, in Adelaide, being able to watch Victorian teams on free-to-air television if our beloved Crows and Port Adelaide are on Foxtel.

Realistically, there is not much the football public can do about it. The clubs have the greatest clout. Port has declared publicly it will vigorously resist moves to have its games moved to pay-TV. The Crows, with their sold-out games and waiting lists, are publicly silent, although they assure us privately that they are consulting strongly with the AFL. We'd feel a lot more confident if their position was stated publicly and forcefully.

I received a letter last week signed simply: "Damien Elliot, son of a truck driver". It railed against the increasing corporatisation of football and how the AFL was losing touch with grass-roots supporters. But the most significant point he made was that football was once the one activity in which a battler could take on the rich guys and win. No longer is that possible, he lamented. Of course his football is simply a metaphor for modern society, but he is right.

I ask simply: is the game better for all its contemporary riches? I don't think so, but how will we know if we can't see it?

Graham Cornes can be heard on 5AA.

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Trading, the AFL's dark side

by Greg Baum
The Age
Saturday, October 8, 2005

MOST in football accept trade week now for what it is, a necessary evil. But that does not mean that there will not be many sore hearts around Australia this morning, and elsewhere in the world, too, where players are sojourning in the off-season. The mixed blessing of telecommunication means that the dotted line can just as easily be in Mexico City as Melbourne, Ankara as Adelaide.

Some will have been moved on despite their wills, others kept despite a longing to leave, yet others left to wonder if they are still needed. Friendships will have been strained, some never to repair.

"It’s a difficult time for everyone: players, managers and clubs," said former Hawthorn football manager John Hook. "But we all know it’s part of the system now."

Some fans will be aggrieved, too, for fans can afford to be choosy and sentimental in a way players and clubs cannot. This is a game of hard ball, and both sides play it.

For some, it will all work out. Darren Jolly, 12 months ago trade bait for Melbourne, now a Sydney premiership player, is one. But for others, it will be the beginning of the end. When Rick Olarenshaw left Essendon by mutual agreement in 1998, his preference was to go to the Kangaroos. Instead, after a long and demoralising wait, he was traded at the 11th hour to Collingwood. He was in Bali at the time.

At Collingwood, he was immediately uncomfortable. "As soon as I walked into the place, it was just a different vibe to Essendon. Different culture," he said. "I’d been at Essendon since I was a teenager. I had a lot of friends there. I got to Collingwood and it just had a different feel. That made it hard right from the start."

Then injury struck. "I walked out of Essendon fully fit, and I left Collingwood a cripple," he said.

Olarenshaw was disillusioned by the system. "I was prepared to be traded, so that was a good thing. But a lot of bullshit gets talked," he said.

"You don’t know who to trust. You don’t know who’s telling you the truth. I’m not a person to hold a grudge, but there were certain things that were done during that time that put me off a few people."

He could not help but reflect. If he had stayed at Essendon, he would have won a premiership within two years. If he had gone to the Kangaroos, he would have won a premiership the next year. If he had entered the pre-season draft, he would have gone to Brisbane, which was on the threshold of a trio of premierships.

"It’s a life-changing thing, the decision you make," he said. "In the end, I went to Collingwood and it was probably the worst experience of my life."

Justin Blumfield, another Bomber, was reassured by the club before leaving for a holiday in the Cook Islands in 2002 that all was well. While he was snorkelling one day, the club called to say that it was in salary cap strife and would trade him.

Blumfield was shocked. He was a premiership player, had many mates at the club and had just signed a new two-year contract. "I said: ‘I’ve got a contract. I don’t want to leave. Why does it have to be me’?" he said. "But you also know in the back of your mind, it’s a business decision."

Minutes before deadline, Blumfield was sold to Richmond, to whom he had never spoken. He decided to make the most of it.

"I gave it 100 per cent. But in the fifth game I ruptured my quad muscle to the bone, and was out for 14 weeks. Then I had a knee injury the next year," he said.

"Then the new coach comes and all of a sudden your career’s finished."

Olarenshaw felt that Blumfield had acceded to a trade more out of duty to Essendon than regard for himself. When Blumfield returned to Melbourne, he was met by a quizzical Michael Long. "He said: ‘You had a contract for two years. Why did you leave? You could have stayed’."

Blumfield says now he should have bided his time. From afar, he had believed the club’s line that he might become frustrated in the reserves, which he now recognises as a standard pitch.

"I thought maybe a change of clubs might be good for my footy career," he said. "But it’s easy to think that at a time when you’re so far away from your manager, your parents. It was a hard decision. I probably shouldn’t have made a decision then and there."

He was bitter that management could have been so wrong in its sums, and sad to be leaving everyday friendships. Fortunately, he rekindled some when he returned to the club this year to play for the Bendigo Bombers.

Olarenshaw and Blumfield now run Athletes 1, managing other footballers, for which job they say their own experiences are invaluable. Six are at Brisbane, four of them out of contract.

Only this week, Olarenshaw has had to help one weigh up between a trade and a new contract.

Olarenshaw said players now were wiser and worldlier about draft week. "I explain to the kids: ‘Don’t take it personally’.

The majority of the list is tradeable," he said. "I had one club say about one of my players: ‘This kid is untradeable’. I said: ‘Really? What if I gave you Cooney for him?’ They said: ‘Oh, yeah’.

"I tell that to the kids. I say before they go on their footy trip or their overseas holiday, not many people are safe. You might get brought up. It’s nothing personal. It might mean the club requires something, and they’ve got to give something. It probably means in a way that they rate you. A lot of people don’t understand that."

Besides, players are no longer all pawns; more aggressive management means that rejection can cut both ways. "It's a difficult time, and not the most loved by recruiting managers," Blumfield said.

"You try to build a good relationship with your players for the entire year, and then one week of the year a deal might come up and end the relationship. But players are getting more thick-skinned. They understand it's a business. At the same time, I was very, very disappointed."

Clubs and officials are natural anti-heroes in the trade-week cut and thrust, but they have feelings, too. Danny Corcoran, while football manager at Essendon and Melbourne, was the man in the front line of the phone calls. It could hurt in many ways, he said. It hurt to think of the injury a trade might do to the morale of the player and the club.

"Once you uproot them out of their support system, you can damage them as players," he said. "If you get the heave-ho, you've got to fight your way through it. But when you don't want to go and are forced to go, that makes it really tough."

It hurt to hear from Gavin Wanganeen that he wanted to leave. It hurt to have to tell Scott Cummings that he had to go; Matthew Lloyd was coming. "If you've got three of X, and you only need one, someone becomes vulnerable," he said. "Often, they're people you really like. They've been terrific servants of the club. It's really tough."

Both Bombers and Demons came under salary-cap pressure in Corcoran's time, which he said made it more of a strain. "All of a sudden, the older contracts started to bite. That was a really tough period.

"That was when pay cuts started to appear for the first time. It was also when clubs were first forced to off-load players they didn't want to off-load." Two at Melbourne were Stephen Powell and Shane Woewodin.

Corcoran said he gulped sometimes before picking up the phone. "But clubs have got very much better now at managing their caps and their forecasting," he said. "They're looking further ahead now."

Hook, who brokered many deals in a long career at Hawthorn, also proceeded sometimes with a heavy heart. "You're dealing with different individuals. If they're sensitive people, you know you might get the wrong reaction," he said.

The fall-out can last. When Port Adelaide was formed in 1996, it offered the Hawks a deal they could not refuse for Nick Holland. "That deal was all in place. It would have been the deal of the century," Hook said.

"But Nick was the one that didn't want to go in the end. They'd shown an interest and we had to explore it, and we told him that. But when it got to when the deal was do-able, he didn't want to go, and then was upset that we'd even contemplated it.

"But a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, and I think there's a better understanding and acceptance of the system now. In saying that, it still can be a very difficult and traumatic time . . . I don't miss it. I really don't. I've been involved in a lot of big trades over the years. It's a very stressful time for all involved in it."

Two years ago, Jade Rawlings demanded to be traded to join his brother at the Kangaroos. Hook said Hawthorn was happy to oblige him, but by the second-last day of trading, it was clear that no deal could be struck.

"At the end of the day, the club had to come first," he said. "Schwabby wanted a player to replace him, and they couldn't deliver that. Our first obligation was to the Hawthorn footy club. That had to be met."

Hook said he tried that night to convince Rawlings to stay, but he would not be budged, and the next day the infamous Veale deal was done, sending Rawlings to the Bulldogs.

"It wasn't that we were trying to be vindictive. We were doing what we felt was the best deal for the footy club at that time," Hook said. "That causes angst. It causes relationships to fracture. It fractured mine with Jade for a while. I like Jade. I knew him as a 17-year-old. Time heals the fractures again. But it's not pleasant. It does fracture good relationships."

Hook said, and Corcoran affirmed, that the key to surviving draft week for everyone was honesty. Corcoran said Melbourne coach Neale Daniher insisted on telling any and every player whose name bobbed up.

"When you know you're going to put someone out there, you're better off telling them," said Hook. "It minimises the heartburn that goes on with some. If you tell porky pies and tell them you're not doing it when you are doing it, it's a fatal mistake."

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Sydney rapt in red, white and lyrical

by Neil McMahon
Sydney Morning Herald (also The Age)
Saturday, October 1, 2005

It took this to really know what they'd done: a city conquered end to end, and of all the things Paul Roos has found hard to believe in the past week, this seemed the most fantastic.

The scenes in Sydney yesterday made Leo Barry's mark on the siren last Saturday seem commonplace. That was easy. This was ludicrous: in the heart of rugby league country and two days before that code's grand final, the streets were a sea of red and white, with tens of thousands celebrating that other game from the south.

Thirty-thousand, they said. That, and maybe more. Lots. It seemed the Victorian capital had finally won an age-old battle, the invaders coming up George Street on foot, armed with flags and small children and singing that infernal battle song: " Cheer, cheer, the red and the white …". Over and over.

In speeches, the Lord Mayor and the Premier and the NSW Governor acknowledged the national game, a grand grand final in that other city, and a team that used to bear the name South Melbourne. They had won the greatest trophy, said Morris Iemma, and brought it here.

Was this Sydney, at lunchtime, on a Friday, in September? It was, and if the crowd was racking its brains to remember the last time the city rocked like this – "It was the Olympics," said one with certainty – that was nothing compared with the disbelief on the faces of the Swans.

Did this embrace seal the meaning? "I think it does," Roos told the Herald, calm as ever but betraying the slightest hint this had jolted even him. "We had the parade in Melbourne and the parties and then the SCG, but this is just amazing."

He signed autographs, shook hands, posed for pictures and then, when officials tried to usher him inside, he turned and waved again. He was moved; another man was forlorn. The lone West Tigers fan looked scared. Two days before his own big day, this surely wasn't right, but having taken temporary ownership of the CBD the Swans were generous. "It's your week next week, mate," he was told. "This is ours." Had the Tiger had some mates, they might have been incited to fight back, given the rhetoric from the podium. Mr Iemma was so roused that Roos suggested he give motivational talks to his players. Clover Moore was beaming, happy her constituents were grinning like pianos on a perfect Sydney day.

But as she often does, the Governor, Marie Bashir, quietly stole the show, knowing just what to say and how to say it. For starters, it sounded like she'd written the words herself, and unlike the other two leaders she had attended the game. She heaped praise on the southern capital and spoke lyrically of the game. " Australian rules," she said, noting the beauty of the name.

Nick Davis, goal-kicking hero, worked his way down a line of fans, reflecting that this would surely help the team and the code. "It's great for the game," he said. Great indeed, and while no one would pretend that one day, one week and one parade constitute a war won, in combination they suggest a major battle over. Yesterday the Swans were the city; that won't last, but they can retreat to their corner of it knowing it's secure.

A little after 1 o'clock it was over. Barry Hall disappeared inside – relieved, you suspect, because partying like that for a week takes its toll even on the big and the bad. But Brett Kirk – Buddhist, tough guy - lingered. He looked like he'd sign his name and smile all day if they wanted him to. "It's a dream," he said.

After 72 years of nightmares, they'd surely earned that.


In a lavish event later (at the Hilton Hotel), Kirk finally shook off his bridesmaid tag, having finished runner-up in 2003 to Adam Goodes, and again finishing second to Barry Hall in 2004.

Kirk polled 575 votes to beat Hall, last year's Skilton medallist, by 74 votes. Defender Craig Bolton, a quiet achiever on the Swans list, was third, with the man who snapped the winning goal in the grand final, Amon Buchanan, finishing fourth on 442 votes.

Kirk, who along with Hall is considered one of the two leading candidates for the captaincy of the club in 2006, had yet another spectacular season. He led the entire AFL in tackles with 136, and was sixth in the competition in disposals (leading the Swans) with 570.

Jared Crouch was last night voted as the inaugural winner of the Paul Roos Best Finals Player Award finishing with 119 votes over the four weeks of the finals.

Swans Life Membership was awarded to Roos, 150-game players Adam Goodes and Ben Mathews, director John Gerahty and long-time reserves team manager Graeme Cox.


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Swans still swimming against the tide

by Jenny McAsey and Nicole Jeffery
The Australian
Saturday, October 1, 2005

ANOTHER grand final played 1000km from the MCG said volumes about how far Australian football has come in Sydney – and how far it has to go.

It was three weeks ago, at Henson Park in the inner-western suburb of Marrickville, the venue for the Sydney AFL's under-18, reserve and first-grade grand finals.

The under-age premiership was fought out between the Sydney Redbacks and St Ignatius College, Riverview, the only GPS school in Sydney which offers the code as part of its regular sports program and the alma mater of Swans premiership hero Leo Barry, who boarded there during his secondary schooling (but before the code was on the school program).

Because there are no other private school teams to compete against, Riverview plays on Saturdays in the NSW AFL's community-based club competition, and on September 10 it reached the pinnacle.

While the code takes a back seat to rugby union at the school, several hundred students came in a convoy of buses to support their mates in the big match.

At half-time, with their team well in front, dozens of boys jumped the fence with a ball. But it wasn't a Sherrin. The kids had a rugby ball and began a game that ran the length of the ground, throwing it back and forward in front of the AFL fans.

"It was symbolic," said Dale Holmes, general manager of the AFL NSW-ACT and the man who will have hands-on responsibility for overseeing the code's development in the wake of the Swans' breath-taking victory.

"What it said is, 'yes, we've got them to our game, it is great to see St Ignatius College involved in our community club football environment, but here are the hurdles and challenges that we still have because there is a strong rugby culture'.

"That was a nice juxtaposition of where we are at."

Riverview is a beacon of hope for the AFL in NSW, and Sydney in particular, where the game has not yet fully penetrated the school system, either private or public.

In NSW and the ACT in 2004, there were only 64 primary school teams and 99 secondary school teams, according to the AFL's annual report.

By contrast, even in Queensland there were 751 primary and 453 secondary school teams.

The number of children getting a taste of the sport in NSW through the AFL's junior development program, Auskick, has expanded dramatically in recent years, but only a small percentage are converted to play in community-based sides.

And the ones who do often fall by the wayside in their teenage years. One of the major obstacles is that schools – especially the private schools which are bastions of rugby union – have until now resisted adding Australian football to their already-crowded programs even if some kids want it.

Take Will Langford, the son of Hawthorn champion and NSW-based AFL commissioner, Chris Langford. Will is a talented Australian footy player but plays compulsory sport – rugby – for his private school on Saturdays in winter, then rushes off to play his game of choice for his local club, often not making it until half-time.

It is a difficult trail blazed previously by Lewis Roberts-Thomson, who was a member of the first XV at Sydney private school, Shore, before he converted to AFL as a teenager and starred in the Swans' grand final win last Saturday.

But Roberts-Thomson's story is rare. In 2004, not one boy from NSW was taken by an AFL club in the national draft. Holmes, who took up the NSW post last year, is working to change that and feels as if some ground is finally being made.

This winter, for the first time, eight Sydney private schools – St Ignatius, Newington, Kings, Scots, St Aloysius, Knox, Trinity and Cranbrook – fielded 16 teams in a five-week program that ran during July and August and included a game at Telstra Stadium before the Swans played Brisbane.

The round-robin competition was a small step, but Holmes is in discussions with the private schools to expand the program next year. It could be scheduled at times, such as Friday nights, that didn't interfere with their existing sports. Australian football, so dominant elsewhere, still has to tread carefully in Sydney.

The private schools are the toughest nut to crack because of the history and the culture. In effect AFL has been a no-go zone.

"These schools recognise there is a growing demand for the game and kids should have the opportunity to play the game they love," Holmes said.

"In the school system, there is significant interest in AFL, and now with the Swans winning the premiership it will be at the highest point ever. Our job is to take that from being passive to active interest in the game.

"We won't get people who are entrenched in their existing sport. What we will get is the swinging voter, where people are interested in looking at other sports."

Sydney Swans chairman Richard Colless harbours no illusions about the fact that even after winning the premiership, the Swans played second fiddle in the news in Sydney this week to tomorrow's rugby league grand final between Wests Tigers and North Quensland.

"I get horrified when I hear people in Melbourne say the game is going to explode here, because they don't understand," Colless said. "We are a minority sport here – a significant minority sport – but we are not the main event in Sydney."

Colless warned that the hardest work was still to be done if the Sydney Swans' success was to convert to wider support for Australian football in NSW.

Even the pre-eminent code of rugby league doesn't take its support for granted.

"In a record-breaking year for our game, it's a nice reminder of how competitive the Sydney market is," National Rugby League chief executive David Gallop said of the threat posed by the Swans' grand final success. "I don't think we have ever been complacent about the Swans or the rugby union or the A-League, and that's why we continue to dominate."

Those who have spent years trying to preach the AFL religion in the league heartland know better than to expect that one premiership will lead to a mass conversion. It has taken 23 years of painstaking work for the Swans to reach this point and they still have virtually no grassroots base to build on.

The AFL's national census shows that less than 3 per cent of people in New South Wales aged between five and 39 play the game and the penetration is even lower in Sydney (1.6 per cent).

Not even AFL rights-holder Network Ten is making bullish predictions about future ratings despite attracting almost one million viewers in Sydney for the grand final.

"I think there will be a heightened awareness of the Swans next year," Ten's general manager, sport, David White said. "But anyone who thinks when they run on to the ground on the first Saturday next year that they will replicate the ratings they had last weekend is living in la-la land. Our Saturday night ratings for the Swans have been small."

The Swans were famously beaten up by SBS cooking show, The Iron Chef, in prime-time ratings in June.

"It was only when they became grand final contenders that the audience started to clamber on board," White said. "I think the biggest winner will be the Sydney Swans, rather than AFL."

Sydney AFL officials are not even aiming to replicate the success of the Brisbane Lions in establishing an AFL place in Queensland, because of the ferocious competitiveness of the local market.

Colless regards himself as an optimist but 12 years pushing uphill in NSW has also made him a realist.

"The Lions compete against one rugby league club; we compete against 12," he said.

"Winning the premiership is not a panacea. It's raised the profile and strengthened the platform. Doors that were closed to us will open, which is a much better position than we were in a few years ago, but that's not a guarantee of anything."

However, Colless believes that if the Swans and the AFL "work like never before" in the next 12 months they can make inroads.

Mike Bushell, of Sports Marketing and Management, believes the Swans have found a niche as Sydneysiders' "second favourite team".

"I think it has become an exclusive ticket, and it's the only unifying sporting product that represents Sydney alone," he said.

"My gut tells me the supporter base will grow dramatically next year but success will be needed to maintain it.

However, he warns that the Swans will have to keep winning, as the Brisbane Lions did, to cement their place.

"Sydney likes winners," he said. "So it could come off that high if they don't perform adequately. If they go down like Collingwood did, I don't think the Sydney supporters will be as loyal as the Collingwood supporters."

If the champagne goes flat, the party could be over very quickly.

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Three days of tropical toil honours Broadbridge

by Dan Oakes
Phi Phi Island
The Age
Melbourne, Saturday, October 1, 2005

IT WAS when Trisha Broadbridge dedicated Phi Phi Island's new education centre to "my late husband" that eyes began to mist up. He was not just Troy Broadbridge, footballer, but also Troy James Broadbridge, son, friend, soulmate and victim of the Boxing Day tsunami.

And few people could ever have had their lives so splendidly commemorated.

You could have been excused for dismissing the trip to Thailand by 34 Melbourne Football Club players as a gimmick, a contrived public relations exercise to portray footballers, a breed not normally noted for civic-mindedness, as good citizens.

But what the Demons have achieved in the three days in building a schoolhouse, teachers' quarters, toilet block and playground and landscaping a dusty patch of land, has surprised many, including, you suspect, themselves.

In conditions combining 38-degree heat and strength-sapping humidity, they have hammered, sawed, painted and lugged, more often than not in good humour — unless you count Brad Miller swearing at a hammer drill.

These Demons are no saints. They have whistled loudly and appreciatively at bikini-clad women by the pool, told off-colour jokes and played hip-hop at high volume. But it is unlikely that the village children, who now have access to the sort of facilities they could only have dreamed about, would be too perturbed by that.

"I guess for us the season started on that Boxing Day when we found out that Troy was missing, and then on the 28th we found out that he was dead," Melbourne president Paul Gardner said yesterday at the education centre's official opening.

"That's a long time for young guys, and they are young — you forget how young they are really until you see them here — and they do what young guys do: do bombs in swimming pools and run around and take the mickey out of each other. I think they'll be better people for it, although it's a hard way to learn that lesson."

The Thai ambassador to Australia, Suchitra Hiranprueck, described the building of the education centre as "humanity at its best" as she sat watching children stream into the schoolhouse. Inside, on the walls above the new computers, were letters from students at St Finbar's primary school in East Brighton to the children of Phi Phi.

"Dear children from Phi Phi Island, we hope you like your new things like pencils and other stuff," read one of the letters.

The education centre's newly installed teacher said it was difficult for visitors to understand how important the centre was for local people, whose livelihoods were seriously affected by the tsunami. "It's very overwhelming, what Trisha has done for the school and the kids, because I think the kids around here are very poor and have nothing at all," Pattara Naksalab said.

"For the kids, one, two or three years old, to be able to come to the nursery and get looked after and learn English makes me happy. I want to teach the kids to be good people."

Last night Trisha and the players held a private memorial service on the spot Troy was dragged from Trisha's arms by a nine-metre wave.

But yesterday afternoon was a moment of celebration.

"Today is the happiest I've been since I lost Troy," Trisha said.

"When the school was officially opened it felt like when Troy said yes when we were exchanging our wedding vows. It does match up to that feeling."

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Swans get Kid gloves treatment

by Mike Sheahan
Herald Sun
Melbourne, Monday, September 26, 2005

IN THE end, it was the most improbable result of all: Sydney and Andrew Demetriou shared the last laugh.

The Swans won the flag with the lowest winning score since 1968, yet Demetriou tipped them in the AFL Record to win by four points. Spot on.

It may have been a grinding win, a tribute more to commitment and self-belief than skill and flair, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The Grand Final and its climax was a magic moment in the history of sport in Victoria, make that Australia, given where the premiership cup has gone for the first time.

It wasn't an exhibition, yet it was a classic contest. Gripping theatre that held more than 90,000 people at the MCG spellbound for the best part of three hours.

The Paul Roos theme is simple: you play one on one and aim to beat the other bloke more often than he beats you. Sydney has won the flag kicking 40 goals in four matches.

The way the game is evolving is a cause for concern, but that's a topic for another day.

The Sundance Kid, as Kevin Sheedy christened Roos, is an extraordinary success story. So cool, so measured, so positive, so assured, so smart, so mature.

Michael Willesee asked him about 2006 at the club's premiership dinner on Saturday night. Sundance said it would be a disservice to the huge achievements of 2005 to move on so quickly to next year.

He was, of course, absolutely right. The sense of achievement, of joy and relief, of history, was palpable on Saturday night.

Sydney finally had an AFL flag, South Melbourne finally shed the millstone of the longest wait in football history for a fourth flag.

The relocation from Lakeside Oval all the way to Australia's biggest city, so emotional, so chaotic during the early 1980s, has had a fairytale ending.

Skilton, Round, John, Goldsmith and Rantall, some of the most famous names in South Melbourne's history, embraced the moment with all the emotion and pride they would have shown had the Swans still been based in Melbourne.

Amazing to think the battling old Swans, who had played (and lost) only two finals in 35 years in the VFL before moving to Sydney, have blossomed into the champion team of the national competition.

Despite criticism from Demetriou and others from early in the season, Roos held his nerve.

He set a structure and imposed a style that he, his support team and, most important, his players adopted.

After starting the season with two wins from the first six rounds, the Swans finished with 13 from 16 from Round 10.

Remarkably, after four hours' combat with West Coast in two cities 22 days apart, the Swans and the Eagles finished dead-square with 123 points each.

Sadly for the Eagles, they won a qualifying final by four points, the Swans the Grand Final by the same margin.

Both teams wasted chances to take a stranglehold on the game, but the end result was the most enthralling playoff in years, perhaps ever.

West Coast kept coming and might have pinched it but for the reckless abandon of Deniliquin's favourite son, Leo Barry.

Not for the first time, let me remind you Barry stands 185cm, yet he took a mark in a pack of eight in the dying seconds to save the Swans.

While Sydney's success is predicated on defence and minimal risk, it is the audacious style of defenders Barry and Tadhg Kennelly that is so vital to the success.

Michael Gardiner had a shocker for West Coast, yet Gardiner had a 14cm and 15kg advantage on Barry and was seen pre-match as a huge threat.

Roosy told 3AW 90 minutes before the game Barry was his full-back and would go to the goalsquare for the opening bounce, standing whoever ended up alongside him.

The coach also gave Lewis Roberts-Thomson the task of playing centre half-back after a couple of shaky performances. LRT marked in the hot spot early on and never looked back. He won't ever get to represent the Wallabies, but he has lived a dream: the kid from one of Sydney's most exclusive schools who helped win an AFL premiership.

In the end, it came down to the last play of the day. Barry takes a mark most boys wouldn't even dare to dream, centimetres in front of 200cm Eagle Mark Seaby, who found nothing but fresh air when his hands came together.

Seaby did nothing wrong in that contest, but close Grand Finals are decided on heroics, and Barry did something that will be admired for as long as football is played.

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Football's future defended
in a tight contest

by Tim Lane
The Age
Monday, September 26, 2005

The Swans' style of play has its detractors, but it also has reaped rewards.

So Andrew Demetriou, like Allan Scott, was wrong. The premiership coach inevitably has the last word. The Swans' method won them their long-awaited premiership and only the worst curmudgeon would begrudge Paul Roos' team its triumph.

Over three seasons, they have been diligent, committed, courageous and almost always admirable. This was a flag as well earned as any in living memory.

If Demetriou was right in that it wasn't pretty, the message from the grand final is that it's not Roos' problem. If there is an issue, it's for Demetriou and his football brains-trust to work on.

What we got on Saturday was a modern-day classic. In fact, we've been getting them right through this September, the month of the great goal famine. The finals, the grand final in particular, inevitably provide a distillation of the modern football product. On Saturday, we got a total of 15 goals. Not since a wet day in 1960 has the season's climax yielded fewer.

The message of this month couldn't have been more emphatic. Winning football is now first and foremost about defence. It's a game of defence all over the ground. Twenty-two players rotating, working constantly, key forwards regularly pushing up to the centre line and beyond, never giving an inch.

The Swans lost a final when they conceded 69 points on the first weekend of the series and that was the highest score kicked against them in four games. They themselves averaged only 10 goals per match on their way to a premiership. While there has been much discussion about West Coast's lack of target forwards, the Swans slowly strangled everyone in their path in this extraordinary four-week performance.

The season's best two teams kicked a total of 35 goals in two matches. Not that they were alone in their frugality. Third-placed St Kilda, the highest scoring team across the whole season, kicked only 19 goals in two finals.

This is the modern game and it has plenty of upside. Four of the nine finals were decided by slim margins and others were gripping struggles. Most importantly, this new game delivered the closest finale in nearly 30 years. After two decades of regular anti-climactic blowouts on the big day, this was a relief almost as joyful for the non-committed as was the outcome for supporters of the Bloods.

Cliffhanging finishes, such as the Swans' hair-raising semi-final win over Geelong, compensate for a multitude of sins. No one talks of the fact that St Kilda's win in 1966 was a game of many errors. It is remembered for its thrilling finish.

Neither should Saturday's clash be remembered for its errors. Mistakes were made and scoring opportunities lost by both teams, but that fact spoke more of the unrelenting nature of the contest than of poor skills. The traffic was at peak-hour volume all day, with little intervention from the policemen, and only the best navigated and most technologically advanced machines could find a way through it. Chris Judd's performance stood out because of the game's nature.

It is reasonable to ask, though, whether the Australian game was intended to be about defence. Once, not long ago, we took pride in the fact that ours was a game indicative of the national personality in that it was not restricted by an offside rule and was based largely on attack. We usually refer to our goal as the one we're attacking, not the one we're defending.

Saturday's game stands as a landmark of change. Fifteen goals were scored in two hours in perfect conditions. While that still represents about four times the scoring rate of an average soccer match, and at the last reports the round-ball code was managing to survive, I suspect the public would become impatient were this to be the norm across whole seasons.

A captivating triumph by the team from the nation's most populous city is a triumph for the code. The manner of the victory is thought-provoking for those who ponder the game's future.

Ultimately, Andrew Demetriou was wrong, but he is entitled to go on believing that he was at least partly right. And that gives him something to think about.


West Coast's struggles to convert since round 14 this year:

Entries into forward 50: Average  51 a game (ranked 5th)
Marks in forward 50: Average 10.5 (15th)
Marks in forward 50 during three finals: 20
Goals from inside forward 50: 132 (15th)
Goals inside forward 50 during finals: 27

(Source: Prowess Sports)

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Brownlow night helps Swans see past Sydney

by Mark Fuller
The Age
Thursday, September 22, 2005

IT WAS not so much a historic night as the night that Sydney re-acquainted itself with history.

The symbolism was powerful. For more than a decade after the Swans had been transported from Lake Oval to the Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney had operated like a team without a past.

That changed in 1993, when the AFL puts its full weight behind an enterprise that had foundered under private ownership.

Football legend Ron Barassi, a man whose name resonated north of the Victorian border, agreed to coach the Swans, and Ron Joseph, a respected administrator who oversaw the rise of North Melbourne in the 1970s, became chief executive. Richard Colless, a former president of West Coast, replaced former AFL administrator Alan Schwab as chairman after Schwab had died suddenly.

Joseph came to see that there was little sense of connection between the Swans of Sydney and the Swans and Bloods of the old South Melbourne that had spawned the new entity. What's more, he sensed that there was a passionate groundswell of Swans supporters who were crying out for that connection to be made.

The breakthrough came at the end of a 1994 season in which the Swans finished last with only four wins. Joseph had arranged the club's first Brownlow Medal event, arranging for a television feed from Melbourne into the function at Randwick racecourse.

The concept for the evening was "The night I won the Brownlow", and Joseph had arranged for North's dual Brownlow medallist, Keith Greig, to speak, among others.

More significantly, he had invited Bob Skilton, South Melbourne's three-time Brownlow Medal winner and the club's enduring champion, to attend the function.

"I rang Skilts and said if you could come it would be fantastic," Joseph recalled yesterday. "He rang me back and said, 'Look, I really love my Brownlow Medal night in Melbourne, and Marion and I like that and, look, I won't come.' I said, 'It'd just be fantastic to have you.'

"Anyway, he rang me back in a couple of days and he said, 'Look, I'll come up'."

Skilton was the special guest, but just as memorable for Joseph was the roll-up of 600 Swans supporters.

"I marvelled at the crowd first, the crowd that Australian football pulled to a Brownlow Medal night in Sydney. That was the first thing that staggered me," he said. "No one had done it before and so we run this Brownlow Medal night and the next thing we're packed to the rafters."

The Brownlow Medal function gave the Sydney faithful — most of whom Joseph believes were expats from Australian football states — a connection to the culture of the game. Skilton's appearance gave them a chance to express their need for a connection with Swan history.

For Joseph, who had been a Bloods fan as a boy and had idolised Skilton, the occasion was overwhelming.

"Skilts came up and when he was introduced to this crowd … they just stood and cheered and clapped and clapped and clapped," Joseph said. "I had tears in my eyes."

Joseph cannot recall the much of what Skilton said that night.

"I think I was wiping tears away from eyes all night," he said. "As I remember it, I think he was stunned by the reception he got.

"It was almost like the count that was going on Melbourne paled into insignificance when this triple Brownlow medallist from South Melbourne got up at this function in Sydney."

It was night that still resonates with Skilton. For him, it was confirmation at last that Sydney football people had a strong desire to feel a part of the South Melbourne legacy.

"I don't think the Swans had ever just wanted to be Sydney. I think they've wanted that history. I know at one stage there we felt it wasn't so, but that was a misunderstanding, and I think that misunderstanding made the bonding stronger," Skilton said.

He said he had always kept in contact with the new entity, but said the involvement of South Melbourne people had improved with the influence of Colless.

"These days I know there's a more concerted effort to make South Melbourne people realise that that's where the Swans started."

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Technical argument - quick decision

by Nikki Tugwell
The Daily Telegraph
Wednesday, September 21, 2005

BARRY Hall, dressed in a dark suit and club tie, arrived for the tribunal hearing 45 minutes early flanked by his defence team headed by Melbourne criminal lawyer Terry Forrest, QC, Swans general manager of football Andrew Ireland, the club's information technology manager Anthony Cahill and player welfare manager Phil Mullins.

Hall was greeted by fans carrying "Free Barry, Let Him Play" signs outside the venue.

The 6pm hearing started 10 minutes late and despite naming the victim, St Kilda's Matt Maguire as a witness, Sydney informed the tribunal that no witnesses would be called.

Representing the prosecution case against Hall was Will Houghton, QC, who made it clear that the only issue in dispute was whether the incident was behind play as the match review panel deemed or in play as the defence claimed.

Houghton showed television coverage of the incident first and contended that Hall's action constituted behind play.

Hall's team showed two angles on the incident recorded by two "iso-cameras" simultaneously by splitting the television screen and pointed out that the whole drama took place over six to eight seconds.

Forrest argued that Hall was not off the ball, but trying to put himself in play according to the AFL's own rules. He then demonstrated this by tending into evidence the league's own Laws Of The Game Interpretations DVD.

Forrest argued that what Hall did to Maguire was the same as the AFL's own example of what constituted "in play", namely, an incident involving Essendon's Dean Rioli and Kangaroo Adam Simpson.

The example the AFL uses to demonstrate behind-play was the incident in which

Collingwood's Brodie Holland king-hit Sydney's Paul Williams at Telstra Stadium in 2003 in back play.

Forrest told the tribunal: "What he [Hall] did was stupid but it was not Brodie Holland."

Sydney decided against challenging the charge that Hall's conduct was reckless because if they failed on that point they would not have been able to claim the 25 per cent penalty reduction for the early plea and, therefore, the key forward would have still missed the Grand Final.

Following tribunal chairman David Jones' summations and directions to the jury they retired and within four minutes they unanimously agreed that Hall's offence occurred in play.

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Sydney's beginnings were boom and crash

by Steve Strevens
The Age
Friday, September 16, 2005

Sydney's football journey began long before the Swans. Steve Strevens remembers.

SYDNEY in the 1970s was a wonderful city in which to live. I shared a house in Paddington, which in those days was home to gatherings of hippies, where kaftans, beads and illegal substances were the norm.

It was a heady time — the sun, the beaches, the pubs, the music.

Then there was football.

I played for South Sydney. Although nowhere near as successful as our rugby league counterparts, we were still the Rabbitohs, nonetheless.

An eclectic bunch, we attracted players who had stopped off on the then traditional journey around Australia. A couple came from South Australia, a few from the West and some from Tasmania. Most were from Victoria.

There was Peter Marks, who played for Fitzroy reserves and whose other claim to fame was to be beaten at the post by Jean Louis Ravelomanantsoa in the 1975 Stawell Gift.

Wayne Bruce, who we named Batman, obviously, had played with South Melbourne reserves while Bob Hankinson, our coach, had been at Collingwood.

As most games were played on Sundays, we would get together on Saturday afternoons and watch the live telecast of the VFL match of the day from Melbourne.

The standard of Sydney footy was pretty good in those days. Each club had VFL reserves players or some from the VFA. Indeed, the NSW team that was made up predominantly of players from the Sydney league, beat the VFL seconds by 77 points in 1972.

NSW was coached by former Richmond legend John "Swooper" Northey, who had been recruited by Western Suburbs, a club with the luxury of poker machines. Northey was a revelation, although a target for many unscrupulous opponents, who pounded him at every opportunity.

Former Carlton star Mark Maclure was a youngster at the time, having moved to Sydney with his father who was in the navy. Maclure played at Eastern Suburbs, and remembers receiving a good grounding in the rugged football environment. "They reckon it was as tough as the old VFA," he said this week.

There were many other identities. Sam Kekovich coached Newtown in his inimitable style, as did Alan Joyce before taking Hawthorn to a flag. Steve Rixon played for St George before saving his hands for wicketkeeping.

Our games were played on grounds surrounded by proper fences; with gates and turnstiles and old brick grandstands. Not that we had a huge following, although grand finals were played in front of 12,000-strong crowds.

Maclure was right. Some games were brutal, especially those against Balmain at Leichardt Oval. On one occasion, I was decked behind the play, whereupon Mick Lumsden came rushing towards the culprit, dived over my prostrate body and delivered his form of retribution.

An all-in brawl ensued, which included our president, the one-legged Jack Armstrong, who hopped over the fence and charged as fast as he could towards the fight, waving his crutches to anyone within range.

We reached the finals in 1974 and Inside Football called us the Foreign Legion. One of our less well-credentialled recruits, football wise, was Marty Rhone, who, after recording Denim and Lace, decided to top off his career by playing with us. Marty played only seconds, but he certainly attracted the women.

Then in the next few years, things began to change. South Sydney folded, as did a few other clubs. The TV broadcasts moved to the middle of the night.

The Swans came in 1982 and we thought that with them would come a renewal of the competition. Nothing much happened. Clubs still folded or amalgamated and many of the grounds were rationalised. Trumper Park, home to Easts, became inner-city parkland. West's ground, Picken Oval, had the fences and changing rooms demolished. And Paddington changed dramatically. too.

The locals stayed but the rest of us moved back home to states where footy was appreciated more.

But we never forgot those years; everyone's second team is the Swans. Each time they play, we remember what it was like before them. We still hope that Sydney will embrace football in general — not only the Swans — and that it gains rather than loses more local following.

And in far-flung corners of the country tonight, no matter who we barrack for, we will be urging the Swans to victory and smiling at our memories.

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TV blunders of our time

by Caroline Wilson
The Age
Sunday, September 11, 2005

Channel Nine no doubt will win the ratings in Melbourne this week, a victory it will rightly use to justify the following, but for those of us who see that network and cricket as inexorably entwined, it seems that these are strange times for television sport.

As Nine ploughs through another September with no AFL finals, it must be relishing the approaching summer now that Test cricket seems to have been well and truly resurrected by the best Ashes series in decades.

Certainly it was Channel Seven that owned the rights to overseas Test cricket and it surprised no one that both networks turned their back on this wonderful series, given that Foxtel already had the rights and neither was prepared to take a risk on prime-time first sessions.

Nor could Nine have known when it dumped Shane Warne that the leg spinner would cement his reputation as one of Australia's greatest sporting leaders, as well as sportsmen - probably now second only to Don Bradman in terms of cricket.

Instead, this English summer of drama and intrigue and a new sporting hero named Andrew Flintoff has belonged - in free-to-air terms - to SBS and a coverage that has increased in both stature and lucrative commercial breaks as it progressed. Fresh from its not-so-distant World Cup soccer coverage and Tour de France triumphs, as great as the cricket has been for SBS, imagine how much better it would have rated on Channel Nine.

Hard heads will argue convincingly that while free-to-air networks might upset sports lovers – and hurt their own production teams – by treating big live telecasts with contempt, the fact remains that it is only by ratings they are judged. But the truth is that the Nine production teams that have lived Test cricket for years will be gutted by not showing the 2005 Ashes.

Realists will also point to pay television. It is Foxtel's role now to show English cricket's first sessions or British Open golf from the earliest stages. But is it simply too romantic to yearn for the days when we watched the best international and local sport for free and not $50 a month?

Television can do wonderful and dreadful things but where sport is concerned, it is the blunders and contemptuous treatment by networks that anger us like no others.

And we're not talking about the likes of Lou Richards mocking the Collingwood theme song on World of Sport three decades ago.

Nor Channel Ten throwing in a commercial break two Australian Grands Prix ago just as Mark Webber crashed his formula one car. Nor, as tasteless and childish as it was, do we include Russell Robertson's Matthew Head joke on The Footy Show last month.

We are talking about great TV sporting blunders of our time. Here is a random top-10 selection in no particular order. Correspondence welcome.

1. The pronouncement in the early '90s to Sam Newman by his former employer, then Channel Seven sporting chief Gary Fenton, that a prime-time football program not televising a game of football would not work.

2. The Seven Network's annual $3.3 million offer to the VFL at the end of 1986 – the same amount as the previous year despite the introduction of West Coast and Brisbane and, therefore, the true birth of the national competition in 1987.

Channels Nine and Ten – as part of a "keep off the grass" agreement – refused to better that bid and the rights were sold to Broadcom and onsold to the ABC. Seven, with new owner Christopher Skase, bought back the rights after just one season.

3. Channel Two's rigged VFL barrel draw of 1987. Then league chief executive Ross Oakley, encouraged by the ABC's Friday night football host Drew Morphett, threw back the first two winning entries for an all-expenses-paid family trip to the US and Canada because they were not Victorians and wedged a third envelope into the side of the barrel to deliberately allow a Victorian to win.

Morphett, his producer and the VFL as a corporation were all found guilty of rigging a raffle and placed on 12-month good behaviour bonds. Three families were sent to the US by the league.

4. The National Basketball League – seeking better quality live prime-time coverage – ends its agreement with Channel Seven in the early '90s and moves to Channel Ten.

5. Channel Nine departs its cricket coverage for The Price Is Right in July 2004, and misses Warne's equalling of the world wicket-taking record.

6. Several days later, Nine's British Open coverage of the final day's play at Troon does not begin, as expected, at 10.45pm, with the network instead scheduling an old Clint Eastwood movie. By the time the golf began after midnight, the tournament leaders had played six holes. The programming decision was attacked in Federal Parliament the following week.

7. Channel Seven, realising that AFL football shows can work in prime time, poaches The Footy Show's executive producer Harvey Silver along with former footballers Jason Dunstall and Doug Hawkins – but not Eddie McGuire or Sam Newman or Trevor Marmalade – and launches the ill-fated Live And Kicking in 1997.

8. Channel Nine and Channel Ten each pledge an annual $23 million – an amount that rises incrementally each year – to the AFL as part of a five-year broadcasting agreement but the Nine deal leaves it without one match in September.

9. Cathy Freeman wins Olympic gold in Sydney and, afterwards, makes an affectionate comment about her family and how happy they are despite not being drunk and Channel Seven edits Freeman's words from the interview.

10. Ron Walker squeezes $60 million from the Nine Network for the exclusive rights to the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, a move that infuriates Nine's new boss Sam Chisholm.

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Prime time payback

by Elisabeth Sexton
Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday, September 10, 2005

WE ALL know a good courtroom stoush makes great television drama. Sydney is about to discover whether a barney over television can make a decent legal case.

The biggest names in media and telecommunications are primed to begin airing grievances they have been nursing for years over football and money.

So much is at stake that the case, starting on Monday, promises to be one of the most expensive in Australian history. Dozens of top barristers and scores of solicitors are involved, a star of the London bar has moved to Sydney for the duration, and heavyweight international academics, including a Nobel Prize-winning economist, will be flown in to give expert evidence.

The largest hearing room in the Federal Court has been remodelled and a super-size table has been installed. Retired judges who have made quiet inquiries about reserving a seat to watch the circus have been told they will have to join the hoi polloi in the upstairs public gallery.

When it's all over, control of the pay television industry could change hands or the court could set new rules on how Australian football and rugby league games are televised.

Then again, the case could turn out to be a record-breaking pursuit of a hopeless cause.

The West Australian entrepreneur Kerry Stokes has spent almost five years and more than $50 million developing a lawsuit against many of his traditional rivals in the media.

Stokes claims his Seven Network is the victim of collusion to kill its pay television business, C7. He's just a sore loser, reply those on the receiving end, which include News Corporation, Telstra, the Nine and Ten networks, Foxtel and Optus.

But they are taking the case seriously. They have been working for years to develop defences that their conduct was a legitimate pursuit of their own commercial interests.

The lawsuit creates a new division in the ever-shifting allegiances among Australia's media empires. It pits Stokes against Rupert Murdoch (whose News Corp was a 15 per cent owner of Seven alongside Stokes until 1997) and Kerry Packer (whose Publishing and Broadcasting backed Optus Vision, a staunch competitor of the News-backed Foxtel in the early days of pay television).

The timing is significant, given that the Communications Minister, Helen Coonan, is embarking on media industry reform which could lead to new alliances.

The case could directly influence that process, because Coonan is insisting the industry present a unified view on what changes the Government should make, which could be a stretch while the case is running.

On the other hand, political developments which put the ownership of media empires in play could suddenly make it worth Seven's while to settle.

But many predictions that Stokes was just angling to be paid to go away, or positioning Seven for future commercial deals, have been confounded so far.

The most recent speculation about an impending settlement came in March when Seven teamed up with Ten - one of the parties it is suing - to bid for the free-to-air Australian Football League rights from 2007-2011.

The case has a lot to do with football, because so much money can be made by televising it in Australia.

Two pivotal events are negotiations held five years ago over the rights to broadcast AFL from 2002 to 2006 and rugby league from 2001 to 2006.

Free-to-air AFL coverage switched from Seven (after 44 years) to Nine and Ten, while C7 lost the pay TV rights to Foxtel, which is jointly owned by Telstra, News and Nine's parent, Publishing and Broadcasting. C7, which sold programs to Optus and Austar, also failed to win the National Rugby League pay TV rights. It shut down in March 2002.

The football organisations which sell the rights have been dragged into the dispute, prompting the AFL chief executive, Andrew Demetriou, to warn his 16 clubs that the expected $7 million legal bill could affect spending on grassroots issues.

The NRL chief executive, David Gallop, says it is frustrating to be spending money on legal fees that could be directed to supporting the game.

While football fans might be interested in what Demetriou and Gallop and their respective predecessors, Wayne Jackson and David Moffett, have to say in the witness box, the case will also have something to offer those of a more intellectual bent. At a preliminary hearing in July, the barrister John Sheahan, SC, for Seven, said the expert evidence already exchanged between the parties raised conceptual issues "at the very highest level of sophistication".

American academics retained by the two sides "raise issues between themselves that have never been considered by an Australian court", Sheahan said. He also mentioned that a single expert report filed by News Corp weighed 14 kilograms.

Seven's key expert witness will be Daniel McFadden, a Californian professor who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2000. He will be pitted against the head of the economics department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Professor S.P. Kothari.

McFadden's award (for his work on "microeconomics", or the use of computer power to analyse economic decisions made by individuals, households or firms) rated a mention in the football pages of the San Francisco Chronicle. This might endear him to the judge hearing the Seven case, Ron Sackville, who has already warned the parties he is "a devotee of AFL and have been for all but the first five years of my life".

The legal fraternity will have its own version of a Nobel laureate in the person of the London silk Jonathan Sumption, QC, who was hired to head Seven's legal team in June when a leader of the Melbourne bar, Allan Myers, QC, fell ill.

Last seen defending the British Government in a shareholder class action involving a failed rail privatisation, Sumption is regularly described in the British press as one of the top two or three commercial barristers.

News of his retainer has been greeted in Australia by a mixture of scepticism that no local could handle the case, anticipation of an impressive performance and intense speculation about his fee scale, sign-on bonus and accommodation expenses.

Sumption's record suggests he will give as good as he gets. After Britain's Guardian newspaper calculated that his 2001 income was equivalent to that of "eight High Court judges and 69 refuse workers put together", Sumption, who writes books on medieval history in his spare time, wrote a spirited response in a letter to the editor.

Admitting to the "horrid crime" as accused, he wrote that his clients were "hard-nosed professionals spending their own money, with plenty of cheaper alternatives to choose from".

Stokes is not exactly spending his own money. He owns 43 per cent of the shares in Seven and the network is the litigant. But the single-mindedness which has brought the unusual case to trial is widely attributed to his personal doggedness. That could make him a hero to Seven's shareholders if he wins.

While detailed arguments are yet to come on how the alleged damage to Seven should be calculated, figures of $600 million to $1.1 billion have been mentioned in preliminary hearings. This could be a windfall equivalent to up to half the current share price.

Seven's future earning power could also be enhanced if Sackville not only agrees with its allegations, but grants the remedies it is seeking.

Seven is asking the court to give it more negotiating power in future sport rights deals. More drastically, it also wants orders forcing News Corp and Publishing and Broadcasting to sell out of Foxtel, giving C7 guaranteed access to Foxtel's cable and banning Foxtel and Telstra from involvement in television programming.

The potential downside for Stokes is equally dramatic. Seven spent $27 million on the case in the year to June, and has told shareholders to expect a similar bill this financial year.

If Sackville decides that the loss of the football rights was the result of robust corporate rivalry rather than commercial thuggery, Seven will not only lose this $54 million but will have to pay its opponents' legal bills.

Stokes is expected to be the first witness, likely to be called on Monday fortnight after opening addresses and preliminary skirmishes about admissibility of evidence. Much will be riding on his performance.


AFL spends millions on its defence

The Age
Monday, September 12, 2005

The AFL finds itself in the bizarre situation of being simultaneously wooed and sued by Channel Seven.

The network, with which the AFL had a cuddly relationship for decades, has included the sport's governing body in its legal action, forcing it to spend $7.5 million defending itself. These are millions that would otherwise go to clubs, equal to $450,000 for each of the 16 clubs.

For a richer club – a Collingwood, West Coast or Adelaide - this money might be found on a president's car dashboard. For a struggler – a Carlton, Western Bulldogs or Kangaroos – it is a lot of chook raffles.

For Seven, to be seen to be costing the game so much at a time when it is trying to climb back into bed with the AFL is extraordinary. Seven is about to make an offer, in concert with Channel Ten, to buy the rights to broadcast AFL from 2007 to 2011. The last deal netted the AFL $450 million.

Seven holds the advantage of bidding last for the next round of free-to-air broadcast rights – although not the pay TV rights – which are up for renewal at the end of the 2006 season.

When Seven announced it would join Ten to jointly bid for the rights, it was assumed within football circles that the network would drop the AFL from the legal action. As both sides agree, the AFL was only incidental to the case. It was the meat in the News Ltd-Channel Seven sandwich.

In essence, the case as it pertains to the AFL is this: when the league awarded the last broadcast rights contract to a News Ltd-led consortium, the effect was to reduce competition in the market and kill C7, Seven's pay TV business.

Channel Seven has not accused the AFL of acting improperly in awarding the contract. It has not accused it of a lack of transparency; it is simply alleging that the effect of awarding the contract was to reduce competition.

If, in the worst case for football, the court found completely in Seven's favour, the AFL could find itself jointly liable for the $1100 million damages sought by Seven as compensation. Even a small contribution by the AFL to such a payout could be catastrophic for some football clubs dependent on league largesse to survive.

What is of equal concern to sports administrators is not only the immediate impost of lawyers' fees, or the threat of compensation, but the longer term impact on their rights to negotiate.

Seven is seeking a court ruling about the way rights negotiations are handled by sporting bodies in future. It wants an order requiring sporting bodies such as the AFL to deal equally with all parties and forbid exclusivity.

Sports administrators fear that this could reduce their bargaining position and the price.

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'Heading' for trouble in Showdown city

by Geoff McClure
Sporting Life, The Age
Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Malcolm Blight said on television on Sunday he couldn't think of a bigger sports event to be staged in Adelaide, such is the anticipation of a "showdown" final between the city's two AFL teams. Which is a scary enough prospect for the fans of the clubs, Adelaide and Port Adelaide, but even more so if you're caught in the middle of it all. People such as the football scribes, the most notable being Michelangelo Rucci, the chief football writer at Adelaide's only daily newspaper, The Advertiser.

Rucci's problem, you see, is that well before his thoughts turned to journalism, he was a diehard Port fan, a scar he has carried since the Power joined the league back in 1997, even though he insists he has always tried to be equally as critical of Port as he is of Adelaide, when and if they deserve it.

A scar? Well, consider the fact that when the two teams clashed in April, his car was smashed by fans wielding steel bars outside AAMI Stadium, and that his parents also have been subject to death threats. And then there was the campaign conducted on one of the big footy websites, in which the paper's advertisers were urged to withdraw their support until Rucci was sacked.

Rucci has remained stoic through it all, sometimes even giving as good as he gets, like last Saturday night after the Crows had lost to St Kilda (meaning that a Crows-Port semi-final was imminent). "We're coming to get you," bellowed a Crows fan, who spotted him strolling across the ground. "Is that right?" replied the Tiser's chief footy man. "Well, you had better be quick."

The papers themselves (and we're including the weekend rag, The Sunday Mail) are generally much more circumspect in their treatment of their readers. Yesterday's Advertiser front page carried a very unbiased "Ultimate Showdown" headline, complete with equal-sized photographs of two of the teams' stars, Adelaide's Andrew McLeod and Port's Brendon Lade, while the previous day, The Sunday Mail managed to find a way of not upsetting its Crows readers even though they had just lost a final that most people thought they should have won. After an early edition that forecast "civil war" was looming, its main edition diverted to the much more trusted Adelaide axiom of "never trash your own teams".

Under a strap heading of "Adelaide falls short - just", the banner headline read: "A Hiccup."

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'Star' dogfight – KB returns fire

by Geoff McClure
Sporting Life, The Age
Friday, September 2, 2005

AND we thought that football award voting disputes were limited only to the Brownlow Medal. What about the stoush that erupted yesterday between Western Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade and former star Kevin Bartlett over the former Richmond champion's assessment in the AFL Rising Star award of Doggie teenager Ryan Griffen.

The 19-year-old South Australian finished second in the award with 34 votes, nine behind the eventual winner Brett Deledio, but no thanks to Bartlett, one of the nine judges, who was the only one not to have him in his top five, a decision Eade said he was "amazed and gobsmacked" by.

"Here's a bloke who's meant to know a bit about footy," thundered Eade. "Everyone said it was too close to call between the two of them (Deledio and Griffen). I have no idea how Bartlett came to his decision to leave him out."

Well, here's how, Bartlett hitting back at Eade yesterday, and doing so with the help of a set of charts that not only appear to support his argument but — depending on how much importance you place on statistics, of course — even indicate that the other eight judges may have got their voting wrong.

The stats we speak of are respected stats firm ProWess' personal Rising Star rankings, based on 17 different categories, from possessions, to contested and uncontested kicks, right down to the "one percenters". The bottom line is that not only did Griffen not finish in ProWess' top five, but he only narrowly made the top 10, finishing ninth, with 652 points, 296 behind the top-placed Deledio.

"I think Griffen will be one day an outstanding player, but in the context of this year I rated him sixth in the Rising Star," said Bartlett.

For the record, ProWess placed Griffen 13th in kicks, eighth in handballs, 14th in contested-ball gets, 11th in uncontested-ball gets, 16th in marks and 10th in tackles.

1. Brett Deledio (Rch) 948
2. Jed Adcock (Bri) 842
3. Brock McLean (Mel) 836
4. Kepler Bradley (Ess) 729
5. Justin Sherman (Bri) 688
6. David Mundy (Fre) 662, Jordan Lewis (Haw) 662
8. Anthony Corrie (Bri) 658
9. Ryan Griffen (WB) 652
10. Adam Selwood (WC) 647

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Ben Graham: Kickin' back

by Mark Cannizzaro
New York Post
Monday, August 29, 2005

Ben Graham was taking in the popular movie, "The Wedding Crashers," on Saturday night when he noticed eight messages on his cell phone.

The news was good.

Graham's brave journey, uprooting his wife and kids from Australia to come to America while attempting to make it in a foreign professional sport was a success.

Graham, the 31-year-old former Australian Football League player, is the Jets' punter, having beaten out NFL journeyman Micah Knorr for the job with his strong left leg.

"I guess at this point now it's up to me to do the job," Graham said. "(The preseason competition) was a lot different from what I expected. Not knowing anything about it, once we got into a groove and the first week was through, I realized the nature of it and how cut-throat it is."

One of the most critical parts to Graham's development as an NFL punter has been learning how to hold on field goals and PATs.

"I learned early on how important that was to earning the job and I decided I wasn't going to let that prevent me from winning the job," Graham said. "The punting is something I've done for a while now, but the holding is the thing that probably means the most to me ... It's an important job and I've worked really hard on that aspect."

Asked what he feels the challenges for a rookie his age will be, Graham said: "Whether you are a 23-year-old rookie or a 31-year-old rookie, I think It's the same. I'm just trying to cut my teeth in this game.

"I was up against it in the beginning. I had never produced any numbers in college. I had to make sure everything I did from the minute I got off the plane was all the right things to be able to have them put their trust in me to be able to do the job."

What the Jets did in choosing Graham for the job is take a chance on a player with a lot of potential upside because of his extraordinary strong leg. Graham is the seventh punter in coach Herman Edwards' five years, so the Jets have never settled on a punter they were comfortable with.

Graham could become a true weapon.

"The thing we liked about (Graham) is that he hasn't punted in a game yet where guys have handled his ball very well," Edwards said. "For some reason, every time he punts, guys drop the ball. We kind of laugh at our guys and they see it every day. Our guys can't catch it. Our guys are tickled to death on the sideline when he starts punting in a game. They say 'Watch.' They're almost betting money that those guys aren't going to be able to handle it because it's a tough punt, especially when ... it starts curving away from them."

Graham said he was close to finishing his career in Australia anyway, which made this challenge so intriguing.

"My body was probably only one year away from giving it up down there anyway," he said. "(Being a punter) is easier on your body and you still feel a part of the team. You're coming on to help them out, try to put the opponent's offense back as far as they can go."

Asked if he'll mix it up a little bit physically in the punt coverage game, Graham said: "Absolutely. Every chance I get during practice I jump in. I'm sure there'll be times I'll get an opportunity to get amongst it. I've watched a lot of tape and I'll just keep my wits about me. Hopefully I don't have to make a tackle. That's the key isn't it? You want them to make a fair catch."

Asked what the biggest adjustment is from his previous sport to the NFL, Graham said: "We play 120 minutes of non-stop football. Here it's 60 minutes of stop and start football and it takes twice as long ... You have to concentrate on your job and don't worry about anyone else here."

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Inquiry clears umpire Head

by Matt Burgan
Sportal for
Friday, August 26, 2005

AFL field umpire Matthew Head has been exonerated of any wrongdoing in the 'whispers in the sky' incident, which was alleged to have occurred on a flight from Perth to Melbourne immediately following last Friday night's Fremantle and St Kilda clash.

Channel Nine reporter Tony Jones had alleged that Head said, "now we know what it feels like to have a win" after the match in which St Kilda lost to Fremantle with a kick after the siren.

The match came in the wake of public comments earlier in the week by St Kilda coach Grant Thomas critical of AFL umpires. The comments attracted a fine of $15,000 for Thomas from the AFL.

An inquiry has found that Head did not make the comments alleged, but the investigator Allan Roberts was also satisfied that Jones had "definitely not" lied.

The AFL commissioned the investigation on Monday night, and AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said on Friday that he was satisfied the investigation had been "thorough and comprehensive".

"I'm confident that every issue has been dealt with in depth and with a great deal of professionalism and expertise," Anderson said.

Roberts, a former assistant commissioner of the Victoria Police, was assisted by Bill Kneebone, a former Victoria Police detective senior sergeant and senior steward of the greyhound racing control board.

"Where we have not been able to interview any persons, due to their identities not being known or not being available, we have noted the transcripts from media monitoring and taken those into account," Roberts said.

Roberts agreed that Head was cleared on the balance of probabilities, along with fellow field umpires Brett Allan and Derek Woodcock.

Roberts made several findings as part of his investigation, including that –

u The allegation that umpire Matthew Head stated "now we know what it feels like to have a win" is not substantiated.

u In respect to an allegation or inference that umpires Brett Allen, Matthew Head and Derek Woodcock acted inappropriately in either the St Kilda or Fremantle dressing rooms prior to the match, has not been the subject of any complaint by the St. Kilda Football Club and no further action has been taken.

u The allegation that all umpires were celebrating the win by the Fremantle Football team after the game in the umpire's rooms is not supported by any evidence. Our finding regarding this allegation is that all umpires are exonerated.

u The allegation that umpires Brett Allen and Matthew Head behaved inappropriately in the Qantas Club Lounge Room at the Perth airport is not substantiated. Based on all the available evidence both umpires are exonerated.

u The allegation that an umpire made reference to "20,000 and four points" to (Channel Nine commentator) Eddie McGuire whilst waiting in the line at the boarding gate of the Perth Airport is not substantiated. Umpire Brett Allen corroborated the version given by McGuire that words to the effect, as alleged, were said by some person. The evidence of a St. Kilda Football Club official that Brett Allen made the comment directly to McGuire is not supported by any other person. As umpire Matthew Head was delayed at the toilet, and later joined fellow umpire Brett Allen in the line at the boarding gate it is possible, if not probable, that he was not in the line when the comment 20,000 and four points was made. He did not hear any such comments.

Roberts also said that the investigation found that 'Jonathan from Brighton', who telephoned Triple M last Saturday supporting Jones' account, had given a false identity – and was in fact a Triple M and Channel Nine employee.

When asked in Friday's media conference whether Tony Jones had lied, Roberts said: "definitely not".

"My job is not to investigate Jones," Roberts said.

Head said he was disappointed with Jones' comments, because "it's my name that's up there".

"It's been an incredibly difficult week, being unable to defend myself against such serious allegations. At no point, did I have any conversation with Tony Jones and the comment that is now well known in the media was definitely not made by me. This is why Brett Allan and I asked for this investigation," Head said.

"My biggest concern is the irreversible damage done to my reputation and the umpiring fraternity in general. As has always been the case, the focus should only be on the game and not umpires."

Anderson said Head had demonstrated "maturity" after being placed "under an enormous amount of pressure".

"If there was ever a message we want to send to kids who want to be umpires, I don't think we could find a better role model on professionalism and keeping your cool under pressure than Matthew has this week," Anderson said.

Anderson said the attack on Head and Allan this week had been "unjustified and wrong".

"It has reinforced to the AFL that we must not tolerate officials of our game denigrating our umpires," Anderson said.

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Open field in battle for the eight

by Rohan Connolly
The Age
Monday, August 22, 2005

ONE week of the AFL home-and-away season left, three spots in the final eight still up for grabs, and as many as a dozen teams left with some chance of seeing September action.

That's the fascinating scenario as 22 rounds of AFL football culminate this weekend in a thrilling climax that could have supporters all over the country reach for their calculators as eagerly as their Footy Record.

In fact, with just eight of 176 scheduled games to go, there are three races of sorts going on.

West Coast, on top of the AFL ladder since round four, is starting to get the wobbles, having lost three of its past five games. It will lose the minor premiership if it is beaten by second-placed Adelaide in Perth on Saturday.

The composition of the top four is settled, but positions six, seven and eight are still very much undecided, with seven teams still scrapping it out for them. Even 12th-placed Richmond is still a tiny chance after pinching victory in the last minute yesterday over Hawthorn.

There's even a battle happening at the bottom of the ladder. Hawthorn, Collingwood and Carlton can all still end up with the wooden spoon. But what normally would be a motivator isn't the case this time. That's because if any of the Hawks, Magpies and Blues win, they will forfeit a priority draft pick, granted for having won less than 25 per cent of their matches.

The action starts on Friday night when the Western Bulldogs attempt to pick up the percentage deficit on their rivals for a place in the eight with a big win over Collingwood.

A truly "Super Saturday" will determine top spot, between the Eagles and Crows, while the winner of the Port Adelaide-Fremantle clash will make the eight, and the loser almost certainly miss out. And, unless Brisbane defeats St Kilda at Telstra Dome, the Lions will miss an AFL finals series for the first time since 1998. The unknowns continue right up until 5 o'clock on Sunday afternoon, as all three of the last scheduled home-and-away games this year have some sort of impact on the final eight.

Five weeks ago West Coast was an unbackable premiership favourite, sitting four games clear on top of the ladder. Three weeks ago a resurgent St Kilda took over that mantle. But the Saints, having lost last Friday night after the siren to Fremantle and devastated by injury — they are without at least five key-position players, have blown-out in the market, last night drifting from $3 to $5.25 to win the flag.

Adelaide and West Coast are now joint premiership favourites at $3.15, while Sydney's odds shortened significantly after its win over the Kangaroos, coming in from $7 to $4.50.

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Memo coaches: you're out of bounds

by Peter Schwab
The Age
Friday, August 18, 2005

HERE'S a suggestion for AFL coaches thinking of commenting on umpires: don't.

What's to be gained other than the immediate satisfaction of releasing some pent-up frustration that might or might not be warranted?

As a coach, I never made too many comments to players about how they performed straight after a game in case my assessment was not accurate.

Same with trying to pass judgement on umpires in the aftermath of the game. How would coaches really know how the umpires performed in a match without a full review?

Besides, why waste your energy and focus on a factor in a game that is beyond your control. The best approach to umpiring – and one that seems to have been adopted by Denis Pagan – is to accept they will interpret the laws a particular way and adapt to those interpretations.

Even if the umpires' performances are ordinary, all coaches really do in publicly bagging them is give the game a negative focus and on a personal level make themselves lighter in the pocket.

That's not to mention the impact AFL coaches' statements have on the wider football community. Most AFL umpires could cope with increased scrutiny and comment, but that's not the issue. The issue is this: if we allow open criticism and demeaning views of the umpires, then it becomes open slather at every other level.

If being an umpire is seen as a position where no respect for the role is given, then who would want to take it on? Games need to be officiated and if we can't recruit people of ability to fulfil such a critical role, then the code will suffer.

I am not a subscriber to the view that because you have to attend a news conference, you are compelled to answer every question put to you.

Coaches would be wise to direct questions about umpiring back to the media. The media has a role to play in observing and analysing umpiring standards and can do so free of any AFL sanctions. Nobody is saying such an integral part of our game should be immune from criticism.

If coaches wish to be critical of AFL umpiring standards, they should direct their concerns where it has the best chance of being acted upon and that is to the AFL and its umpiring department.

Umpires, like players, should be held accountable for poor performances and from my observations at AFL level they are. Performances below a standard means they can be and are omitted for matches by the AFL umpiring department.

In my role as a radio commentator, my comments on umpiring are quite simple: if they make a mistake I say so, but I have no desire to analyse them as I do football players and teams. For the simple reason the game is about the participants and that's where I prefer to maintain my focus.

Peter Schwab was the AFL's director of umpiring in 1998-99.

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Should coaches be able to criticise umpires?

by Michael Gleeson and Greg Baum
The Age
Thursday, August 17, 2005

(Michael Gleeson)

Umpires' decisions are as important in a game of football as any player's kick, mark or handball. They, like those players' kicks, marks and handballs, deserve open and honest scrutiny.

For a player or coach not to be able to talk about something fundamental to what is occurring on the field is absurd.

To condemn those who dare critique umpires is as farcical and pathetic as blaming umpires whenever your side loses … or as tiresome as the AFL fining coaches for doing so.

Despite appearances at certain matches, football fans are not stupid and deserve to be treated, like the umpires, with a degree of respect.

In the recent Collingwood-Fremantle game, which prompted Michael Malthouse's outburst on umpiring, the role of the umpires and their adjudications were as much a factor in the game as any of Matthew Pavlich's possessions.

This was not a media-contrived story. Fans gave a standing ovation in the last quarter when a free kick was finally awarded to the Collingwood full-forward. Admittedly it would be fraught to consider a Collingwood fan the arbiter of permissible behaviour but it is equally inadvisable to ignore the obvious. Impartial observers of that game – from the TV commentary to the press box to the AFL umpiring department's own review of the match – felt the umpiring was poor and a significant factor in the match.

The same fans are smart enough to know when coaches are merely deflecting and when they have legitimate ground for grievance if they whine about umpires weekly.

It is reasonable to argue that the threat of the fine that hung over Malthouse for commenting on the umpires only incited the prickly coach to embellish after the Fremantle game. In for a penny … in for $5000.

Is the answer to make all penalties so prohibitive? No one is calling for open-slather weekly attacks on umpires or personal abuse but surely there is a balance to be reached.

The breathless desperation to issue fines with parking inspector officiousness only reinforces the perception of the homogenised football world where the AFL is in authoritarian control.

(Greg Baum)

In an ideal world, coaches would criticise umpires from time to time in the media. In this ideal world, their criticisms would be infrequent, temperate, coolly reasoned and impersonal, would prompt unhysterical debate about rules and interpretations, and would be balanced periodically by praise for the umpires' handling.

In this ideal world, the umpires would accept the occasional criticism that came their way, knowing it was born of the passions of the game and not meant to cause personal anguish. They would even sometimes admit that they had been wrong.

In this perfect world, coaches would criticise umpires without risk of inflaming the tempers of fans, who would see that venting their wrath at umpires was part of the theatre, but nothing more. No prospective umpire would be deterred.

But football is not an ideal world. Coaches could not be trusted always to be restrained and considered in their critiques, nor the rest of the football community to react soberly. Soon, it would become a free-for-all in which blame for every defeat would be laid at the feet of officials. Think of the Premier League. Manchester United has not suffered a defeat in the past decade that in the view of ever-sour Alex Ferguson was not down to incompetent or even biased refereeing.

In this real world, umpires would get their backs up, naturally. In this real world, maddened fans would see a coach's barbs as strength to their arm. In this real world, players, parents and watchers at all levels would see umpires as fair game. In this real world, a siege mentality would exist that did nobody any good.

I have been as frustrated by umpires and their decisions as any other fan. But I still think it best for people in powerful places to say what they must when the door is closed.

Or at least they should exercise the kangaroo diplomacy that John Kennedy did one day while coaching North Melbourne. "Normally when I'm asked about the umpires, I say: 'No comment'," he said. "Today, I say: 'Absolutely no comment whatsoever'."

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The 16 men who run the AFL clubs are well aware of their position in the pecking order each time they convene at the league's instigation at chief executives' gatherings.

Information is divulged but rarely debated to any significant effect. Decisions are handed down, occasionally disputed but rarely changed. At Thursday's meeting of the 16 clubs at Lancefield, it was reported that the club chief executives voted to make alternative strips compulsory.

Hardly. There was no vote. Simply those rebel clubs sticking to their traditional jumpers were told to comply. End of story.

Still the debates are lively enough and the AFL's relatively new chief executive Andrew Demetriou has spiced things up a little, too. At one recent club retreat, the 16 chief executives were asked to write down three little-known facts about themselves, place them in a hat and get everyone guessing which fact belonged to which chief executive.

Who would have guessed, for example, that Geelong boss Brian Cook was a one-time Golden Gloves boxing contender? Or that Kangaroos chief Geoff Walsh had played on the MCG on the last Saturday in September – although not in the main game.

But no degree of convivial post-meeting entertainment has diluted the fact that the clubs fear that while they have lost much of their power, others are gaining it. Three days ago, the increasing influence of player managers was raised again as a topic of discussion.

Not only have the players and their association become increasingly well-paid stakeholders of the professional game, but player agents, some clubs fear, are forging stronger relationships with their players than the clubs themselves.

According to Thursday's debate, while most player managers charge between three and five per cent of their clients' contracts, a handful of agents are taking as much as 20 per cent of their star footballers' marketing money.

But while that issue provoked some emotion, as did the funding of the AFL's planned apprenticeship scheme involving Sydney teenagers and youngsters from overseas, the most heated debate centred around football's hottest on-field topic – the protection, or lack thereof, of ball players.

No sooner had the league's football operations manager Adrian Anderson completed his report regarding umpiring performances in 2005 and the work of the new reporting and tribunal system, than he was challenged.

When Anderson, who had already confirmed that the tribunal system would be reviewed and fine-tuned at the end of the season, provided positive statistics regarding the umpires' performance this year, they were immediately disputed by Adelaide chief executive Steven Trigg.

Trigg, we are told, delivered a passionate and articulate attack on the umpiring interpretations that have also been analysed and found wanting this week by Age columnists Tim Watson and Tim Lane and, more controversially, seized by Mick Malthouse in a post-match interview last Sunday.

Malthouse put the spotlight on Shane Parker's close but unpoliced attention on Chris Tarrant. The coach did the cause of umpiring no favours and was fined $5000. Malthouse claimed he had become the victim of a police state while the umpiring fraternity felt he escaped lightly. Collingwood and Malthouse critics branded him a whinger.

The Magpies' fraternity is understood to have become equally agitated early in the game when James Clement rendered Matthew Pavlich's shoulders out of action. Believing Clement had given away a certain free and goal, they could not believe their eyes when the vice-captain got away with chopping the Docker's arms.

As a result of Trigg's refusal to accept the AFL's statistics, a dramatic debate ensued regarding the umpires' increasing trend to award free kicks against ball carriers – disturbingly when they were prone or kneeling. Trigg said it would turn people off the game, that the entertainment value was being closed down by the tacklers and the AFL umpiring department's determination to favour them.

Significantly, three of the AFL's most experienced chief executives chimed in supporting Trigg – Cook, Greg Swann (Collingwood) and Peter Jackson (Essendon). And at least two club chief executives spoke privately to Anderson last week urging him to instruct umpires director Jeff Gieschen to move in favour of the play-maker.

Demetriou himself even raised the possibility on Thursday of a fourth umpire – something the AFL trialled over the pre-season – placed on the ground specifically to keep an eye on off-the-ball incidents.

If Malthouse was applauded for providing food for thought after the Fremantle loss seven days ago, then Adelaide's Trigg – whose club has no reason to whinge at present – has done his bit as well. The chorus directed towards the AFL has become deafening.

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AFL pay packets revealed

AFL supremo Andrew Demetriou was paid $560,000 in his first full year at the helm of the country's biggest sporting competition, slightly less than the reported package of $600,000 on his appointment in 2003.

Details of Mr Demetriou's pay were disclosed in notes to the AFL's 2004 financial accounts lodged with financial regulators this month.

While the National Rugby League and National Basketball League have not disclosed directors' salaries, Mr Demetriou's pay compares favourably with the boss of the Australian Rugby Union, Gary Flowers.

Mr Flowers earned about $310,000 in calendar 2004.

The AFL accounts also reveal that former chief executive Wayne Jackson walked away with at least $800,000 in 2003.

Also buried in the notes is a disclosure on the value of business between the AFL and a company associated with its chairman, Ron Evans.

According to the disclosure, the AFL paid $663,575 to Spotless Group, a company in which Mr Evans is a shareholder and director.

The AFL directors stated in the accounts that the payments were made to Spotless for providing catering services at several venues.

"All dealings with the firm are in the ordinary course of business and on normal commercial terms and conditions," the AFL stated.

While AFL directors are among the highest-profile business people in the country, their average annual fees are not that hefty at about $20,000.

They appear to be in line with most ASX-listed companies that generate annual revenue of $200 million.

Non-executive directors at similar-sized companies receive fees of up to $40,000.

At Cricket Australia, not all directors are paid, but those who are receive up to $20,000.

The AFL passed the $200 million revenue milestone for the first time in the 12 months to October 2004, but its net earnings dipped by more than 20 per cent to $3.36 million.

In 2003 it posted a profit of $4.95 million.

The recent growth of the AFL in terms of revenue has established it as a top-500 company in Australia.

But unlike most corporates, its net profit is exempt from tax, because much of its revenue is distributed to the 16 AFL clubs and state football associations in the form of grants.

Partly as a result of this relief from a nominal company tax rate of 30 per cent, the AFL balance sheet is very healthy, boasting accumulated profits of more than $45 million.

Speculation that the AFL may seek a share market listing by 2010 continues to simmer, despite comments by Mr Demetriou that the board would not embrace such a proposal.

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MCC targets Anzac Day

Having achieved a historic agreement with the AFL, the MCG has also revealed that the stadium is working towards hosting the 2006 Anzac Day clash between Collingwood and Essendon.

MCC general manager Stephen Gough is understood to have told both clubs that the ground could be ready for the round-four April 25 clash, contrary to conventional wisdom that the game would be played at Telstra Dome because of Commonwealth Games issues.

While the AFL had believed that it could not schedule football games at the ground until round seven because of the refurbishment of the MCG and the removal of the running track after the Games, Gough and his deputy Trevor Dohnt now believe the work could be hastened to allow the re-opening of the football venue for the traditional blockbuster that falls on a Tuesday next year.

The AFL is understood to have put its 2006 draw on hold, awaiting confirmation from the MCG. While the issue was not raised during the peace talks two days ago, AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou and his deputy in charge of next year's draw, Ben Buckley, have indicated they would happily switch the Collingwood-Essendon game back to the MCG should the issue be clarified by early next month.

In the meantime, it appeared last night that the feud between the AFL and its traditional football home that has lingered for half-a-century has moved towards a genuine resolution.

Having relinquished its contractual right to a preliminary final every year in the interest of fairness to all 16 clubs and the spirit of the national game, the MCG has received in return:

u minimum 45 home-and-away games each season - four more than Telstra Dome's guaranteed 41;

u ten of the best 12 home-and-away games;

u 14 Collingwood games a year;

u the capacity to host blockbusters from other football codes such as the Bledisloe Cup;

u an average minimum of 10 finals in five years over weeks one and two of September;

u the guaranteed right to every preliminary final played in Victoria as well as the grand final every year until 2032.

Having initially requested eight of the 22 Friday night games and a virtual guarantee that the MCG would get bigger annual home-and-away attendances than Telstra Dome, the MCC and MCG Trust gave ground on both requests, instead demanding a five-year review of the deal achieved yesterday.

Remarkably, the sticking point centred upon the wording of the MCG's guaranteed crowd figure in the deal signed again in 2001, which stated that the AFL would use its "best endeavours" to achieve an annual attendance of 1.7 million and "reasonable endeavours" to lift that minimum to 2.1 million.

MCG Trust chairman John Wylie wanted the AFL to change the wording from "reasonable" to "best". The AFL said no and on Wednesday night Wylie is understood to have eventually backed down.

The AFL reasoned and the stadium accepted that with 10 of the best 12 home-and-away games and a minimum 45 matches along with the grand final and a minimum average two finals over weeks one and two each September, that the 2.1 million figure should be achieved anyway.

Certainly, if the 2005 season is anything to go by, there will be no worries with crowds. The MCG still has a reduced capacity and was hampered by a punishing AFL draw and yet, even if it misses out on hosting preliminary finals, the stadium should still come close to achieving a total attendance of about 2 million.

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Negotiations back on track

THE AFL's attempts to remove its preliminary-final impasse before this year's finals series appear back on track after AFL commission chairman Ron Evans and MCC Trust chairman John Wylie last night declared they had reached the "semblance of an agreement".

No deal has been done and as the AFL's long-term contract with the MCC stands, at least one preliminary final will have to be played at the MCG this year.

But in a significant turnaround from 12 days ago, when negotiations dissolved into acrimony, Evans predicted a new agreement could be finalised as early as next week.

Wylie confirmed that the parties were "close to an agreement".

Wylie's conciliatory remark was in stark contrast to his comments before a two-hour meeting with Evans and AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou, when he said "substantive" issues remained in the way of a new agreement between the league and its premier venue.

Heading into the meeting at Evans' Queen Street office, Wylie confirmed reports in Tuesday's The Australian which revealed a breakdown in negotiations between the parties at their previous meeting.

Although Wylie insisted the MCC was re-entering negotiations with an "open mind", he said "new issues" introduced by the AFL at its last meeting had derailed the prospect of imminent agreement.

"I think there are a number of substantive issues that we need to address head-on," Wylie said.

"We do understand if clubs earn the right to host a home preliminary final they have a legitimate expectation there that in the context of a national competition (that) needs to be dealt with.

"But we have got a contract and contracts can't just be ignored, so we are trying to find a fair resolution for everybody."

Pointedly, Wylie said the MCC would only negotiate issues which "relate purely to the preliminary final".

It is understood the previous negotiations broke down over an ambit claim by the AFL for a share of ticketing and advertising revenues from the ground throughout the season.

That claim was last night withdrawn by the AFL.

Asked whether the parties were closer to a resolution than at the start of the year, Wylie said: "We have still got some significant issues to knock over but the MCC Trust and the MCC are going into this on the basis that we are trying to find a resolution."

The requirement that at least one preliminary final is played every year at the MCG has again reared as the most contentious issue facing the AFL as the finals approach.

For the first time, however, public pressure has fallen on the AFL, rather than the MCC, to find a way around the contract.

Last year Brisbane was forced to play Geelong in a preliminary final at the MCG despite the Lions having earned the right to a home final. This year, it is Adelaide, Sydney and potentially Brisbane again who stand to be disadvantaged by the contractual requirement, which was originally agreed to as part of the financing arrangements for the MCG's Great Southern Stand.

This week, Adelaide chairman Bill Sanders, Crows chief executive Steven Trigg, Sydney coach Paul Roos and Brisbane chairman Graeme Downie all urged the AFL to fix the problem.

Adelaide refused to rule out future legal action if it was denied the right to host a preliminary final at AAMI Stadium.

The 11 Victorian clubs benefit from the present arrangement but are also pushing for uncompromised preliminary final scheduling.

Richmond coach Terry Wallace yesterday described the contractual anomaly as "ludicrous".

"They just should be entitled to home finals, that is it," Wallace said. "I just think the whole thing is ludicrous. To think that we play a 22-round season and you finish in an entitled position, and to then have that entitled position taken off you, I find that really ludicrous and the sooner it gets fixed the better."

The Australian reported last month that the AFL and MCC were close to settlement.

The parties had agreed in general terms to a new agreement in which the MCC would give up its right to a preliminary final in exchange for more regular-season games and a better mix of high-drawing matches at the ground.

"We are in a position where we want it fixed and it should be early next week," MCC chairman David Jones said at the time. "Resolution is in the air."

Any such feelings of goodwill evaporated when the AFL approached the MCC with its new claim on MCG cash streams. A sense of resolution now appears to have been restored, with the respective boards due to consider the proposed new terms before next week's meeting.

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Clubs in line for hand-outs

THE AFL commission has endorsed a change next year in special assistance to financially disadvantaged clubs, which could lead to an increase in base revenues for more Melbourne-based clubs.

The competitive balance fund - which this year funded the Western Bulldogs, Melbourne and the Kangaroos with a combined $4million - ends this year.

It will be replaced by an on-going annual special distribution, which will start with a $5.4m pool next year to be distributed to clubs eligible under a new formula.

This system will be reviewed after three years.

The funds will be given to eligible clubs monthly from next year, on top of the 2006 annual AFL dividend to clubs of about $4.33m each.

In changing the way special financial assistance is allocated, the AFL has tried not only to implement a fairer equalisation program, but will eliminate the associated stigma directed at the clubs that have been historically disadvantaged.

Criteria for eligibility is similar to the equalisation system, and clubs still will be subject to competent management requirements.

The Bulldogs, Demons and Kangaroos will be first to benefit but other clubs, including Richmond, could qualify.

Under the special distribution, it is understood the Bulldogs will receive not less than their present $1.5m annual funding, while the Demons and the Kangaroos could received on-going benefits of up to $1m each.

The formula is based on general guidelines of historical handicaps, especially to Melbourne-based clubs, in a bid to stem the widening gap between the revenues generated by the rich and poorer clubs.

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Australian pro makes change
from AFL to NFL

At age 31, Ben Graham is not your average rookie NFL football player.  His age however, is only the beginning of what makes him different.  He is used to kicking a different textured ball on an oval shaped field, wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt in competition, and has the ability to play any position on the field, the Australian football field that is.

Although this is the first time the Melbourne native will be playing NFL ball he is no stranger to the game.  Eight years ago, Graham got his first chance with the Jets and decided to let it go.

“In 1997 Eric Mangini, who was an assistant coach with the Jets and is now with the Patriots, came to Australia to scout the AFL and showed interest in me,” Graham said.    “He basically said, ‘We think you’ve got what it takes and we would like you to come to come work out with us in July.’  But at that time I had a contract and it was a timing issue. 

“Since 1997 I have shown a keen interest in the NFL and in the off-season I got used to the different balls, learned the rules, and watched as many games as I could,” Graham continued. “I even came over to the states and went to games, so it’s been an eight year process.”

Graham’s continental relocation would not have been possible if he did not have a strong background to build from.  The 11-year professional football veteran started his career early and continued playing well past the normal retirement age.

“I got drafted at eighteen and I started my professional career straight out of school,” Graham said. “The average AFL career ends by the age of 26, but I played until I was 30.  So, I had two options, take one more year in the AFL or embark on a career in the NFL.  My football career can take me from when I’m 18 until who knows when…when I’m in my forties.  It’s a risk I took, but it was a journey I started in 1997 and I always knew I was going to do it.” 

Ending one career to begin a new one is always a risk, but the differences in these two games make the transition an even bigger gamble.  If anyone has seen an Aussie football game they can understand the differences in the two styles.  To the unknowing, it is nothing like rugby, it is nothing like soccer and it is nothing like the NFL.  It is a combination of all three.

“In Australian rules football every player has to do everything,” Graham explained. “They have to run, they have to mark and they have to tackle. Here it is so specific.

“The biggest adjustment I have had to make is not being able to do everything,” Graham continued. “I want to go out there behind Chad Pennington and learn how to throw the ball and I want to be beside Justin McCareins when they are doing the wide receiver drills. I don’t like just standing on the sidelines watching, I want to be involved so I can learn and be challenged.”

Even though Graham has not been able to learn much about other positions, he has definitely had the chance to learn about his own.  Changing from an AFL fullback to a New York Jets punter has been a welcomed challenge.

“When it comes to punting I had to learn the technique a little bit and refine it from what I was used to, but its what I have been doing all my life,” Graham said. “I get to catch a football and kick it.  That’s what I love doing.”

Evolving his raw kicking talent into something that can be used on the field may take some time, but Graham already has the ability to punt the  AFL ball known as a Sherrin for more than 90 meters. 

Having an understanding of what he is capable of is something that has helped Graham become so successful.  This understanding is also what has helped him make the transition from AFL football fame to a fairly unknown NFL rookie.

“You succeed in a football club when you know your place,” Graham said. “If you come in with a big ego and a big attitude you won’t make it, or you will get knocked down so hard you won’t be able to recover.  If you’re a humble guy, you know your ability, and you are working with your strengths and you can identify your weaknesses, you are much better off.”

Despite his attempts to remain humble, Graham’s obvious differences draw attention wherever he goes.  When a 6’4’’man with an Australian accent leaves his home and travels thousands of miles in an attempt to fulfill an eight-year old NFL dream, it is impossible to avoid inquisitive teammates. 

“They have been great,” Graham said. “Everyone is interested in Australia. They all want to visit because they have heard so much about the beaches, the women and the weather. They have shown so much interest in it and the accent, they like the accent. When we talk they ask me, ‘What do u call this? What do you call that?’”

The longer Graham is around the more he educates his fellow teammates on his home and his culture. There is however, a slight confusion on some things.

“In the weight room I hear good-day mate and I’ll turn around thinking someone is talking to me, but they are actually talking to another player. The funny thing is people think I know everyone who is Australian. Kevin Mawae's little boy thinks that I’m best mates with Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter."

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Saints, Eddie make up

ST KILDA president Rod Butterss yesterday said he regretted calling Channel 9, Eddie McGuire and Sam Newman terrorists after both parties went some way to burying the hatchet at a meeting.

The 90-minute talk yesterday at Nine's headquarters in Richmond were held between Butterss, Saints coach Grant Thomas, McGuire and Nine heavyweight Paul Waldron.

The meeting began 20 minutes late because Waldron, Nine's managing director, was finishing a telephone conversation with the network's Sydney-based boss, Sam Chisholm.

Despite a fiery start and handshakes at the end, it's not known if Thomas will appear on The Footy Show.

The talks, initiated by Waldron on McGuire's request, were hardly friendly from the outset.

Butterss and McGuire, who termed the talks "open and frank", expressed their anger about the recent events between the club and the TV station.

Butterss last night called the talks "feisty". However, both McGuire and Butterss said they ended peacefully.

"We had a very open and frank discussion. We were all conscious of where everyone was coming from and we decided there was two things that could happen here," McGuire said last night.

"St Kilda could go to war with Channel 9 or we work out a way of going forward that is conducive to everyone's needs and that was the option everyone has taken.

"In some areas we've agreed and in others we've agreed to disagree, but we've all moved on."

Butterss said: "The hatchet has been buried. It started out a bit feisty, mellowed in the middle, we went through the Valley of Death, we came out the other side and we spent the last 40 minutes hugging."

The drama began a fortnight ago when Newman attended a Thomas press conference and posed a range of questions, including some about Thomas's personal life.

Butterss responded on Sunday by accusing Nine and Newman of ambushing the coach, calling them hijackers and terrorists.

He also likened Channel 9 owner Kerry Packer to the 20th century Melbourne businessman John Wren, a well-known and colourful benefactor to the Collingwood Football Club.

McGuire last night described Butterss' comments as "more than slightly extreme" and was reluctant to comment about the Wren comparison.

"I think the reference was to a fictional character called John West and that fictional character is not one I would draw comparison to," McGuire said.

Butterss also apologised to McGuire and Waldron for his use of the word terrorist.

"I regret that. That was a lack of judgment on my part," Butterss said.

In the end, the Saints have agreed to make players, above the contracted stars Aaron Hamill and Nick Riewoldt, available to appear on the show.

Thomas, who is yet to appear on The Footy Show, will now speak directly with McGuire over issues.

Butterss said he didn't expect Thomas on the show in the near future.

"That remains to be seen," he said.

"One of the things we agreed on was to see how it goes. We've agreed to have a dance, but let's take it a step at a time.

"If things are going along in the right spirit then, who knows, he might even go on.

"But that would take a little bit of time I would suggest."

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AFL to meet doping body

The AFL will send a special delegation to the World Anti-Doping Agency in a bid to find a way to come into line with the drug-testing body's tough rules on illicit drugs.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said the AFL wanted to become "WADA-compliant", and overcome the differences on marijuana sanctions that will cost the AFL millions in Federal Government funding through the Australian Sports Commission.

Demetriou yesterday told The Age the league was trying to arrange a meeting with WADA, probably at its Montreal headquarters, in a bid to outline its position and try and reach some accommodation. He said the AFL wanted to meet WADA before the end of this football season.

The AFL has deprived itself of federal funding because it cannot sign on to WADA's drug code. The AFL's only substantial difference with WADA is on the issue of cannabis (marijuana), with the league opting for confidential counselling for those who test positive rather than WADA's hefty suspensions for positive tests (in competition).

The AFL has come under sustained attack for not adopting the WADA drug code, with criticism from politicians and other sports and from some league clubs, which believe the refusal to adopt WADA's rules has hurt football's image in the community. The AFL's drug code was formed in a negotiation with the AFL Players Association, which favours counselling rather than punitive action for cannabis.

Demetriou said the AFL intended to send a senior delegation that would include medical commissioners Peter Harcourt and Harry Unglik - who framed the league's drugs policy - as well as the AFL's legal counsel and probably football operations manager Adrian Anderson.

"We're trying to have a dialogue with them so they can understand our position, hopefully in that we can try and become WADA-compliant. Our objective is to become WADA-compliant," Demetriou said. "We want to become WADA-compliant, but we certainly want to have constructive dialogue and get them to understand our position."

The AFL would argue to WADA that it was compliant "in nearly every aspect of what they're trying to do", with cannabis sanctions the only sticking point.

"We want to give them an understanding of our illicit drug policy and how we test for 44 weeks of the year, and how we go about the treatment of the policy," said Demetriou, who expressed disappointment that the AFL had been portrayed as soft on illicit drugs, given that it introduced a policy that had players tested out of season, for 44 weeks.

The AFL also was in the process of arranging an "imminent" meeting with the Federal Government. Demetriou said the Government had "left the door open for continued dialogue" on the issue of the WADA code.

The AFL's drug code, however, cannot be changed in the course of 2005, so if the league managed to adhere to WADA, this would not take effect until 2006.

Demetriou said the AFL's recent 31 positive tests for illicit drugs by players - of which 26 were for cannabis - were all found in out-of-competition testing. The positive tests occurred as part of the AFL's "monitoring" of illicit drugs, before it had established its present illicit drugs regime. "The fact of the matter on the WADA, who don't test for out of competition for illicit drugs, not one of those people would have been picked up."

Melbourne chairman Paul Gardner called the AFL's marijuana stance "a PR disaster" that made it appear "elitist and above the law."

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Drugs impasse costs AFL $1.5m
AFL: "most vigilant of any sport"

With Cricket Australia and the Australian Rugby League signing on yesterday, the AFL is the only one of the country's three major professional codes not adopting the WADA code. The league's position puts it at odds with several AFL coaches and clubs.

"Unfortunately, this means that, as of tomorrow, the Australian Government cannot provide funding (for the AFL)," the federal Sports Minister, Senator Rod Kemp, said in a statement yesterday.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said yesterday that the AFL believed it was "99 per cent WADA-compliant" now and that its drug-testing regime was "probably the most vigilant of any sport in the world and easily the most vigilant in this country".

Differences in the way the AFL believed testing for illicit drugs, such as marijuana, should be conducted and positive tests dealt with, meant that the league could not sign the agreement as demanded by the Government.

Demetriou said talks between the AFL, the Government and the Australian Sports Commission had failed to resolve the differences. He said the AFL could not agree with WADA's approach on illicit drugs which emphasised in-competition more than out-of-competition testing, nor with its sanctions.

At a joint media conference yesterday also attended by AFL football operations general manager Adrian Anderson and AFL medical commissioner Dr Peter Harcourt, the differences appeared a matter of degree rather than of a more fundamental nature. It would be fair to say, judging by the reaction at the conference, they are difficult to explain.

Harcourt said the differences were "all about illicit drugs". He said that in terms of performance-enhancing drugs, the AFL and WADA codes were "exactly the same".

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Connolly faces Perth blowtorch

All new coaches begin their careers starry-eyed. You've just got the big job, you're young, enthusiastic and the possibilities seem endless.

Then, one day, it hits you. Things don't go well and you're suddenly under pressure. You've never felt anything like it before. Everyone's on your back and you begin to doubt whether you're up to the task.

Worse still, the trauma of your day job permeates your whole life. The pressure doesn't end when you return home. Your wife and children often feel even more aggrieved than you do.

In the past, these cycles seemed to spin a little slower. Now you can find yourself in and out of the gun over a matter of weeks. Six games ago, Collingwood travelled to Perth to play Fremantle and we were belted by almost 20 goals. The Magpies came under enormous scrutiny and, while I generally try to avoid negative stories, you know what's being said.

Back then Sydney was being lambasted for playing dull and ineffective football. AFL chief Andrew Demetriou felt compelled to warn the Swans about their responsibilities to the NSW market and coach Paul Roos was copping it.

As we've entered the break, the circle of life has turned. Roos held his nerve, the Swans have started winning and, if they beat Collingwood tomorrow night, Sydney will be fifth and a game from second.

Meanwhile, Dockers coach Chris Connolly has had the kind of week most of us have nightmares about. When Fremantle belted Collingwood after just beating Melbourne at the MCG, it seemed the Dockers were set to play finals.

Connolly was being praised for turning the side around by playing positive, entertaining football. Since then, he's gone from Swiss chocolates to half-sucked boiled lollies.

I won't offer advice to Fremantle about its recent slump, but let me restate the golden rule of modern AFL football: A healthy side is a successful side. Fremantle has lost several top players over the past month. As the competition evens, no side can soak up this sort of pain without suffering consequences.

What many readers - and most coaches - won't understand is the extraordinary amount of extra pressure that comes from coaching in Perth and Adelaide. These are by far the most parochial markets in Australia. Coaches not regarded as part of the furniture are treated much more harshly than local heroes.

I spent 10 years at West Coast but felt a section of the public regarded me as "that Victorian". We made the finals each year, but that didn't stop local pundits offering free and regular character assessments.

I'm sure Robert Shaw and Gary Ayres felt the same shifting from Melbourne to coach Adelaide. Neil Craig is obviously an excellent appointment for the Crows, but being a South Australian gives him an enormous advantage.

Connolly and his young family will be wondering what's hit them. The row over Freo's form is overshadowing everything else in town, including the Eagles' outstanding run of form.

That West Coast is so successful and its coach John Worsfold is a football icon in the west only exacerbates Connolly's problems.

All 16 coaches are under intense pressure and you could argue being responsible for a giant like Collingwood can be an added burden.

In my opinion, there's no comparison to the scrutiny you endure in Perth and Adelaide.

I'm not grizzling about it. I had a wonderful decade in Perth, made many friends and thoroughly enjoyed my job. I'd do it all again, despite those pressures. I have no regrets at all about my time in Perth.

And I can assure Chris Connolly that you learn to live with the pressure. It never goes away, but you eventually prioritise your life and shield your family from the worst of it. Ultimately, your footy side has got to start winning - that's just a given.

And when the wheel eventually turns, Connolly will be a tougher, better coach for his recent experience.

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Australia rules in the battle of Britain

Many Melbourne-based football clubs have benefited from the drain of young people out of rural Victoria. Amateur clubs such as University Blues and Blacks have consistently built strong teams around boys from the bush, most of whom have moved to the city for education or better employment prospects.

In recent weeks, the flood of talented players to Western Australia has also come to prominence. However, Victorian country boys are now powering clubs to premierships in some even more unlikely places.

Last year, the West London Wildcats won the British Australian Rules Football League premiership, with a 10-goal thrashing of the Wimbledon Hawks in the grand final.

Among the Wildcats' best players were centre half-back Chris Schleter, who was a star for Hamilton Imperials before heading overseas, centre half-forward Simon Dean, who started his career at Wangaratta Rovers, and Damien Stewart, who coached Newlyn to the 2003 Central Highlands league premiership.

Continuing the trend, West London has started the new BARFL season, which began in early May, with more than 20 country Victorians on its list.

They include onballer Sam Heffernan, who grew up in Terang and last year coached Central Murray League club Lalbert, and defender Bernie Pedlow, who played in Meeniyan-Dumbalk United's grand final loss to Tarwin in the Alberton league last year.

"I didn't even know anyone played footy over here," said Pedlow. "I went for a run one day and saw some blokes kicking a red ball. I thought, 'Is that rugby?' But then I realised they were kicking it properly."

Pedlow has been a regular at Wildcats training ever since.

Also playing his first season in Britain is Justin McCallion, who won a premiership with Leongatha as a teenager, before being selected to play for Channel Seven's reality TV club, the Hammerheads, where he won the best and fairest.

Even one of regional NSW's most famous names is represented at West London, with Joel Daniher, whose father Mick is a first cousin of the famous Essendon quartet, playing his second season at the club.

Continuing the country theme, club president Matt Glynn hails from Benalla, while joint vice-president Ben Tatterson grew up in Mount Eliza on the Mornington Peninsula.

"Everyone goes home and talks about their experiences in London and that's how people get to know about us," said joint vice-president Bob Appleton, who has been in London since 2001. "Boys seem to come over with their boots these days.

"I came over to get away from footy, but I got the taste again and couldn't resist. So the gear was sent over and I'm still here."

West London was a foundation club of the BARFL when the competition began in 1990. Renowned from the start for having a rough and ready band of players, the Wildcats took little time to establish themselves as a force, making their first grand final in 1992. But the two-point loss to the Wandsworth Demons began an ugly trend. The Wildcats lost three grand finals in a row - one to Wandsworth and two to the London Hawks - from 1994-96, then fell at the final hurdle again in 1999, when a goal just before the final siren enabled Wandsworth to prevail by an agonising five points.

West London's reputation for choking in grand finals failed to deter a record number of players signing up for the 2000 season. Subsequently, the Wildcats formed a reserves team but as they had to play in the same division as the seniors, the new side was branded the Shepherd's Bush Raiders.

The influx of talent had the desired on-field effect and the Wildcats reached yet another grand final, after losing just one home-and-away match.

So seriously did they take their quest for an elusive flag, star onballer Tim Ockleshaw, who had kicked eight goals in the second semi-final but was now on holiday in Spain, was flown back to London for the grand final after a supporter offered to pay for his ticket.

The victory over Wandsworth sparked weeks of celebration, which included a trip to the Greek island of Corfu.

"We sank the cup in the Mediterranean a few times," said Schleter, who is now a permanent resident of Britain.

In 2001, the BARFL introduced a reserves competition, allowing the Raiders to flex their muscles against similar opposition.

With players continuing to sign up in droves, West London formed a second reserves team, the Ealing Emus. The Emus have yet to make the finals but such has been the Raiders' dominance that last year, they won their fourth premiership in a row.

Things haven't gone quite as smoothly for the Wildcats.

They slipped down the ladder in 2001, then got another dose of the Colliwobbles when they were thumped by North London in the 2002 grand final. In 2003, West London was undefeated going into the grand final but lost to Wandsworth by 15 points, taking its record to seven losses from eight grand finals.

Last year, the Wildcats regrouped and again marched through the home-and-away season undefeated before thumping Wimbledon in the grand final.

The club's second premiership was celebrated with another trip to Corfu. Such is the yearly turnover of players that Schleter was the only member of the 2000 team to feature in the second flag. West London started this season with more than 70 players on its list, allowing it to proudly proclaim the title of the biggest Australian football club outside Australia. But why travel halfway around the world to play footy and drink VB?

"The footy club becomes your community when you're living in such a big city so far from home," said Tatterson. "A lot of people think, 'Aren't you meant to be over here getting cultured and broadening your horizons?', but everyone gets involved in the footy club for different reasons. You can use it as a way to meet people or just to keep fit. Some blokes take the footy quite seriously and others just come down for a social kick around.

"How many other footy clubs do you know that go on a yearly trip to the running with the bulls in Pamplona or on an end-of-season trip to the Greek Isles? And our pre-season trips are to Sweden and Denmark. Although you're playing Aussie Rules, it is a lot different to home."

To boost their already growing membership, the Wildcats also recently added six netball teams to their line-up. The girls chose to be known as the Wild Kittens.

Tatterson said finding facilities for the netballers had been one of the club's easiest tasks when compared to the task of securing sports grounds big enough to accommodate a game of Australian football during the English cricket season.

After tiring of the hefty fees charged by their former landlord, Trailfinders Rugby Club in Ealing, the Wildcats have found a new home at Chiswick Park, just a drop punt from the Thames.

"This is our fourth home ground and most of them have been parks where we've just drawn some lines on the ground and put up goals," Appleton said.

Chiswick Park's undulating turf sits directly under the flight path to Heathrow Airport, where one plane lands every minute from early morning to late night. The aircraft noise is almost constant during training and matches.

The rugby club that shares the park has proved most hospitable, allowing the Wildcats to use its social facilities and profit from takings at the bar. A West London Football Club honour board has also been constructed and will soon hang proudly behind the beer fridge, which is always stocked with green cans.

Recruiting non-Australian players is another big challenge for BARFL clubs. Current rules stipulate that for matches in the premiership division, each team must have at least nine European Union players on the field at all times. The rule is part of the BARFL's stated aim to one day have an Englishman playing in the AFL.

Schleter said the battle to find EU players and the rising standard of the competition were the main reasons the team opened the new season with two losses.

Now back on track after solid wins over the Sussex Swans and Reading Kangaroos, the Wildcats have their eyes on another flag.

But first they have to overcome six other more than capable football teams, some angry bulls in Spain and the festivities that go along with an Ashes tour.

Such is the life of footballers on the other side of the world.


Founded 1990
Competition British Australian Rules Football League
Home Ground Chiswick Rugby Football Club, Duke's Meadow
Guernsey Navy blue and white horizontal stripes with black stylised cat
Nickname The Wildcats
Premiership 2 - 2000, 2004
Sister Club Geelong FC
No.1 member Geelong footballer Cameron Ling

North London Lions
Putney Magpies
Reading Kangaroos
Sussex Swans
Wandsworth Demons
West London Wildcats
Wimbledon Hawks

2004 West London Wildcats
2003 Wandsworth Demons
2002 North London Lions
2001 North London Lions
2000 West London Wildcats
1999 Wandsworth Demons
1998 Wimbledon Hawks
1997 Wandsworth Demons
1996 London Hawks
1995 Wandsworth Demons

Matt "Mattress" Glynn (president)

An accountant who grew up in Benalla, Glynn has been a Wildcats devotee since arriving in London in the mid-1990s. Now married to an Englishwoman, he has been a fixture on the club's executive for some years and this season took over as president. Glynn is also such a passionate cricket fan he spent his honeymoon watching the Australian tour of the West Indies.

Ross Giardina (coach)
Giardina arrived in London five days before the 2002 BARFL grand final. After watching the Wildcats go down to North London, he soon found himself on the club's end of season trip to Greece. While enjoying a few ales he was appointed coach and has remained in the position ever since.

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Class-act Hall offloads captaincy

They wouldn't dare.

Instead there were chants of "Bazza, Bazza, Bazza" as Hall, the grizzly poster boy for the Swans who grew up in Broadford, a blue-collar satellite suburb of Melbourne, went about his business with his more anonymous team-mates.

Riverview is one of only an estimated two (yes two) private schools in Sydney that even has Australian football goalposts, though to kick a goal yesterday you first had to get the ball through the union posts also erected on the field.

Football might not take priority but Hall's popularity transcends the overall standing of the code in Sydney.

So it was a little ironic that yesterday's one-off training session before hundreds of Riverview students was also the setting for the announcement of the next Swan to take the captaincy reins from Hall, who has been in charge for the past two weeks.

Ben Mathews is as respected and admired within the Sydney Swans as Hall is, but his public profile is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

That may change during the next few weeks as he gets his turn as captain and leads the side for the showcase game against Collingwood at Telstra Stadium on Saturday week and then against Richmond at the MCG the next round.

Coach Paul Roos said Mathews had been in good form, evidenced last Sunday by his stopping job on Fremantle captain Peter Bell.

It was typical of the unselfish role Mathews so often plays, either in defence or in the midfield.

He has been one of the Swans' most reliable players and while, he has good foot and hand skills and can run and carry the ball, he most often plays as a midfield tagger.

Roos said Mathews was one of the team's most important players.

"Benny has been in the top six in our best and fairest for five or six seasons. He has been one of the most consistent Swans players over that period," Roos said.

"He is not a flashy player but his standing within the group is very high and his standing within the match committee is very high because we often give him hard roles whether he plays on the quick small forward, or like he did on Bell for the whole game last weekend. The players certainly appreciate his value to the club."

Mathews follows Brett Kirk, Leo Barry and Hall as captains under the six-man rotational system, during which Sydney has won five of its six games. Jude Bolton and Adam Goodes are next in line after Mathews.

Like Kirk and Barry, Mathews is a proud NSW boy, hailing from a farm outside Corowa near the Victorian border.

He came to Sydney in the 1995 draft under the now defunct zone selection system and made his debut in 1997.

Aged 26, he has played 145 games. He laughed yesterday when asked by reporters whether he was a defender or midfielder. However, the question was a reflection of the fact he always plays a role for the team, rather than a position.

Mathews said the captaincy was an honour and said he would not be changing his low-profile ways.

"I don't think I'm going to be taking 14 marks and kicking five goals," Mathews said. "But if I can continue doing whatever job it is I need to do, whether it is a role on a player down back or in the midfield, I don't really mind, whatever Roosy requires for the team.

"But hopefully I will bring the commitment and passion that I show week to week ... playing 100per cent which I try to do every week and every other guy does as well, and Leo and Barry and Kirky have done. So if I can follow in their footsteps I will be happy."

Mathews said the main difference as captain was that he would have to be first man on the field before the game. "I usually run out last through the banner so that will change," he said.

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Ablett – fame and pain

Baker said he had discussed the prepared speech on three separate occasions yesterday with the champion footballer, who is in the Victorian town of Kyabram, where he has been undergoing rehabilitation.

"It is with great regret and humble apology that I am unable to attend this wonderful occasion," Ablett said in the statement. "However, due to my current battle with depression, I am not in a position to be able to accept this award in person.

"I did not make this decision lightly, but due to medical advice it was deemed to be best for my health that I did not attend tonight."

It is believed the AFL is trying to convince the reclusive superstar to be involved in a lap of honour before the start of the grand final.

Last year, it was reported that Ablett had asked to no longer be considered for membership of the hall of fame, but Baker said he was "most definitely" delighted to be part of the hall of fame.

In the statement, Ablett thanked the selection panel for deeming him worthy of the honour. "It's a great honour and privilege to be inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame - I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to play this great game and also to have played at the elite level alongside so many celebrated champions.

"Being chosen to be inducted into the hall of fame is one of the highest honours a player can dream of," Ablett said.

AFL chairman Ron Evans said last night the time was right for the troubled figure to join football's pantheon of greats.

Eligible for entry into the hall of fame for the past four years, Ablett has been overlooked by the selection committee - which Evans chairs – because of his part in the drug overdose death of Alisha Horan in 2000. Ablett was finally nominated this year.

In his forthright opening speech, Evans said Ablett had always been a "football genius, who has always been a troubled soul". While he said the time was right, he did not say why, only that he hoped the honour would bring Ablett back into the "football family".

"The best outcome to tonight's induction would be so that it encourages Gary to reclaim his place in the football world and, in doing so, confront and deal with some of the issues in his life. Gary Ablett, in doing so, would put his demons to rest," Evans said.

Yesterday, Leigh Matthews, an original hall of fame legend in 1996, threw his support behind Ablett's induction and used the biggest blot on his own career to support the argument.

"On a personal note, there's one bloke in the hall of fame who's been in the court on an assault charge . . . things happen, so I can't be a hypocrite here," said Matthews in reference to his on-field clash with Geelong's Neville Bruns in 1985, which left the Cat with a

Broken jaw and Matthews the centre of an off-field controversy.

"The criteria sounds good when you talk about integrity and character, but you can be the best bloke in the world and if you don't play footy really well, you're not going into the hall of fame - and I don't think you can reverse it."

Ablett was joined by seven others in the hall of fame – Ian Nankervis, Paul Roos, Peter Moore, Kelvin Moore, Stuart Spencer, Stephen Silvagni and South Australian administrator Max Basheer - while Collingwood's most famous coach, Jock McHale, became the 19th legend of the game.

Evans said Ablett had deserved to be a member of the hall of fame because of his brilliance as a player. "Over the years, we have overlooked Gary for several years, despite the fact his playing record is an overwhelming endorsement of his right to belong in this group," Evans said. "The reasons we did that are to do with the off-field events that took place some years after Gary's playing career ended."

Evans said he was delighted the selection of Ablett had won widespread community support, although he accepted that people continued to disagree with the former star's elevation into the group.

"We decided as a committee, and this has been broadly supported by the responses I have read in the press, seen on television, and heard on the radio, that the time was now right for Gary Ablett to be part of the hall of fame."

Evans was adamant last night that the AFL Commission would not change its criteria. "I think the 'integrity' and 'character' criteria should stay," he said. "We've applied that to the other inductees and other legends and I think the results speak for themselves."

Matthews took a contrary view and said the hall of fame was about on-field performance.

"When the hall of fame selection committee get nominations, I bet what they get is information on the player's playing ability. I don't think a private eye has done a personal dossier investigation of the guy's personal life and his standing and his character."

– with Peter Blucher

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McGuire: Swans on their own

Sydney believe it could be suicidal for them to bottom out for a few seasons, like St Kilda did, to secure some of the best young talent in the national draft and rebuild their list.

"This is a football competition not a marketing exercise and that's just bad luck," McGuire said. "And who says they can't bottom out? They did in the late 1980s and went from wooden spoon to the [1996] grand final.

"Collingwood went from the wooden spoon to the grand final in two or three years. No one wants to bottom out. It's tough; just ask me about it. We were on the bottom of the ladder for the first six weeks of the year; it's not fun."

The Swans chief executive Myles Baron-Hay and coach Paul Roos addressed AFL boss Andrew Demetriou and his entire executive in Sydney on Tuesday during a day-long forum about the difficulties the club faces in this market.

Roos believes it is vital that the Swans don't bottom out and Demetriou has mentioned that there needs to be a radical change in philosophies and structures including the national draft.

"Maybe we could finish on the bottom for one year but if you do finish one year on the bottom it doesn't really guarantee you anything unless you win less than five games and get an extra priority pick," Roos said.

"To finish bottom two or three years in a row ... it would probably wipe the Swans off the sporting map in Sydney."

However, McGuire believes the Swans overestimate their importance to AFL in the Sydney market.

"This stuff about Sydney being more important than everyone else ... come on, that sounds like [George Orwell's] Animal Farm: some pigs are more equal than others.

"'No' is the answer to that.

"We are a competition. I would suggest there wouldn't be a great deal of support for [priority draft picks and other concessions].

"But I believe as much as possible Sydney and Brisbane should keep Sydney and Brisbane players.

"Last year Sydney didn't draft anyone [out of Sydney] and in the past years the Swans have cleared Sydney-based players like Greg Stafford and passed on Lenny Hayes in the draft.

"You can't have it both ways. There is a wonderful thing in football where everyone pushes up things based on morality and the good of the code but self interest is never far from the thinking."

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AFL wants second Sydney side

A second team in Sydney's western suburbs and a premiership for the Swans were targets for the AFL as it tried to develop the code in the rugby league-dominated market, league chief executive Andrew Demetriou said yesterday.

Demetriou was in Sydney after a difficult week for the Swans in which they were again severely criticised for their "ugly" style of play and after The Age revealed their game last Saturday night was out-rated at times by a Japanese cooking program on SBS, The Iron Chef.

"We are in for the long haul and sometimes those things can happen," said Demetriou before a day-long meeting with 35 AFL management staff to discuss strategies for developing the NSW and Sydney markets over the next 10 years.

"We've been very pleased overall with the sorts of numbers we've been getting in crowds in Sydney and in particular with our television ratings.

"Probably not in my lifetime at the AFL but I'm sure down the track I would be extremely surprised if there wasn't a presence in the western suburbs of Sydney.

"It's a long-term plan. We want to get the Sydney Swans firing and maybe even winning a premiership."

Despite the recent criticisms, Demetriou praised the Swans for what they have achieved in the past 20 years.

"I think you are really being unfair to the Swans," he said. "They are one of the biggest brands in this country, one of the first-rate football clubs, turnover between $25 and $30 million, and this team has achieved enormous things in 20 years and I wouldn't underestimate the impact the Swans have had in this market.

"Back in 1998, when we had not one child participating in Auskick (the AFL's school's program), to have 30-odd thousand now, in the space of seven years, we are pretty proud of that, and to get more and more football grounds popping up, to get average crowds coming to the SCG of nearly 30,000, to have games being played out at Telstra Stadium, I don't reckon we've done too badly either."

Demetriou heavily criticised Sydney's style of play last month, calling it "ugly". It caused friction with Swans' coach Paul Roos, but the pair both said yesterday that the hatchet had been well and truly buried.

"We've spoken on the phone before today, and he (Demetriou) and I got together for about half an hour before I spoke (at the conference)," Roos said.

Ratings figures show that The Iron Chef peaked with around 50,000 more viewers than the Swans' game in a 15-minute period between 8.45pm and 9pm, which was during the half-time break in the game. Overall, the Swans game averaged 133,000 viewers, compared with SBS averaging 86,000 for the same time period.

The ratings figures for Swans games this season show that the Saturday night games on Channel 10 average 137,501, compared with 133,629 last season. The one Saturday day game averaged 95,012, significantly down on previous seasons. Sunday games on Channel Nine are averaging 121,500 and it has won the timeslot in each of the four weeks the Swans have been shown live.

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Peter Cameron:
Time to examine bouncing

Former AFL umpire Peter Cameron has echoed the sentiments of Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse and Brisbane Lions coach Leigh Matthews and says the rulings surrounding the bounce should be examined.

Cameron is in a strong position to pass judgement on the bounce, being a well-esteemed member of the 200 game club, having officiated 306 games including three Grand Finals.

While Cameron is not a definite advocate for the complete abolishment of the bounce, he would like to see a 'set bouncer' take to the field, to keep one of the few remaining traditional aspects of the game intact.

But, using Magpie Chris Egan's goal on Saturday that stemmed from an insufficient bounce as an example, Cameron does admit there is a problem with all umpires being expected to slam the ball into the dirt adequately each week - and believes the furore will keep potentially good umpires out of the game.

"When you look at a young guy like Mark Fraser who is possibly going to be one of the better umpires around, the only thing that is holding him back is his bouncing, that's all people remember about him from the weekend," Cameron said.

"I'm starting umpiring in the Yarra Ranges again this week, but I can't bounce, simply because I'm past that. So if I have to bounce, I wouldn't be able to umpire. Why take me away from giving something back to country football if I have to bounce?"

Cameron put forward the idea of having one umpire with the duty of bouncing in each game, as a way of shifting pressure from umpires who struggle to launch the ball, enabling them to concentrate more on decision making.

"I would like to see one designated bouncer, have one guy who bounces in the centre at the start of every quarter, after every goal if you like, it doesn’t matter," he said.

"The guys that worry about it because they know there is pressure on them to get it right, nine times out of ten they will screw it up."

But, the former Grand Final umpire said the complete removal of the bounce would be abolishing a traditional aspect that comes with a great deal of spectacular at the first siren in each game.

"It can't go totally. I think that's tradition, on the basis that we have very little left, the rules change all the time," he said.

"You go out and stand in front of 90,000 people, 14 million watching, and you're one person with 18 blokes on both sides and you're in a Grand Final. I've been lucky enough to do it a few times, and you put that ball up.

"I'm getting tingles now just thinking about it."

Peter Cameron will be umpiring in the E.J Whitten Legends Game, along with special-guest umpire and former champion Phil Carman, to be played on Wednesday June 15, 2005, at Telstra Dome.

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Time to blow whistle on tagging cheats; Umpires are making champions out of mediocre players

TAGGING is not something with which I've had a great deal of personal experience.

Opposition teams didn't see a need to attach a player to me during my illustrious career with Collegians "F Troop". In fact, I remember one day when the opposition, rather than tag me, allowed me to play as a spare man in attack. And I still didn't trouble the scorers.

It was at this time that my mates gave me the nickname "The Judge", because I spent most of the game on the bench.

But a lack of playing ability never diminished my love of the game that I consider to be one of the most exhilarating and demanding sports of all. And a lifetime of watching sport worldwide has left me in awe of the skill, courage and fitness displayed by current AFL players in what is arguably the longest game in the world, played on the biggest field in the world, at non-stop speed with a temperamental ball that has to be managed by hand and foot.

Whether it's Akermanis's ambidexterity, Judd's eel-like elusiveness, Robertson's aerial awareness, Tredrea's dexterity at ground level or the wizardry of a host of Aboriginal players, Australian football is, to me, just about the complete entertainment package.

But if there's one thing that I can't cope with in the game any longer it's umpires who – week in and week out – allow players who aren't capable of winning the ball fairly, on merit and within the rules, to cheat.

Umpires, who by their refusal to pay obvious free kicks, are making champions out of mediocre players and reducing some of the most gifted players in the game to mediocrity.

Worse still, they're forcing the real champions to take matters into their own hands with the dire consequences that we saw this week in the Judd case.

This is not just a West Australian thing. This time it was Judd; previously it's been Akermanis, Kelly and Cousins. As soon as their teams become serious premiership threats it will be Hodge, Ball and Ablett.

The methods and tactics employed by the likes of Steven Baker, and Anthony Franchina and Tony Liberatore before them, are a blight on the game.

Standing face to face with your opponent, your back to the ball, is not an offence in itself. But it's hardly the position to assume if you're going to attempt the most important and basic fundamental of the game – winning possession of the ball for your team.

Shepherding when the ball is more than 5m away is an offence, as are holding the man when he doesn't have the ball and striking with the elbow.

The bottom line is players like Baker, Franchina and Liberatore aren't good enough to be on the same ground as the champions that I've mentioned. Inept and incompetent umpiring has legitimised a role for them.

I don't have a problem with players being used in a defensive role, as long as they play within the rules and the spirit of the game.

Kirk, Ling and Licuria are outstanding players who not only reduce an opponent's effectiveness but win the ball themselves. Lamb, Pyke, Anthony Stevens and Shaun Hart did the same thing.

It's ironic that Kirk and Ling have been so good in both curbing and collecting that they are now tagged themselves.

I don't know another game in which such flagrant abuse of the rules is tolerated. Rugby, soccer, basketball, netball, hockey – it just doesn't happen in such a blatant manner as it does in Australian football.

Is that because the games are played on smaller grounds and the umpires are in closer proximity? Or is it because specific rules such as offside and the forward pass make it more difficult to hold and block? Or is it because coaches, players and umpires in other sports take greater responsibility for upholding the spirit and image of their game? I don't know.

What I do know is that the rules are there in Australian football and the umpires could do something about it if they wanted too. So why don't they?

I suspect they're too scared to because of directions they've been given in regard to the style and flow of the game. If that's the case, they're not protecting the good players – the ball players – and as a result, they're not protecting the game. (I think my suspicion is supported by an aggregate of just 14 free kicks being paid in the Essendon/Fremantle game last Sunday. There's never been a game of Australian football played in which there were only 14 infringements.)

I've heard people say this week that Baker's tactics are "all part of the game" and the treatment Judd received "goes with the territory of being a good player".

That's absurd. There's one set of rules under which all participants play. It's pretty basic stuff. But at the moment we have one player permitted to play outside those rules while his opponent is expected to operate within them. And if the latter goes outside the rules out of frustration and inaction on the part of the umpire, he's the one who's deemed to be the offender.

Since sport was first played, people have shown they'll go to extreme lengths to destroy an outstanding opponent. Bodyline was an example of that. Perhaps Phar Lap's demise was another. They had to go to the length of legislating against Bodyline to protect the batsman and the game of cricket.

They don't need to do that in football. The legislation is there. They just need umpires with the direction, the ability and the courage to pay free kicks. The Bakers of this game would then very quickly become redundant.

Baker's contribution to the game and the code last weekend can only be measured in negatives. His team was soundly beaten and his opponent, the best-and-fairest player in the competition last season, has now been suspended for a week and disqualified from the game's most prestigious award.

All because three umpires weren't prepared to apply the rules.

I've heard more than enough in the past two weeks about upholding the image of the game. Whether it's about pill popping or selecting your friends more carefully, everyone is concerned about the impact they might have on young players.

Well, this in-your-face tagging is another issue that could damage the game's image. Junior coaches and young players are already adopting such tactics. I saw it last year in a 12-year-olds' competition.

Wally Foreman is an ABC commentator and former director of the WA Institute of Sport.

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The truth about drug use
in the AFL?

As debate rages about whether AFL players take illegal drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine, an anonymous correspondent has his say:

I don't think the general public, let alone the AFL have any idea of how rife drug use is in our society today. And add Caroline Wilson to that list. Carro is normally right on the money, but her article in yesterday's Age was so far off the mark it made me want to double-drop some disco biscuits and head down to the seediest club in town just to clear my head. Clearly she and most other people in this debate have no idea what is actually going on in our suburban bars and clubs. In fact the only bloke who would appear to have half an idea (for a change) is Eddie.

I regularly head out to bars and clubs around the inner city and I don't mind having the occasional dabble in some recreational drugs, namely cocaine and ecstasy. I'm certainly no party animal but I'm not averse to a bender from time to time either, as are most of my mates. So having used drugs a number of times, it's easy for one to spot others who are also on drugs and also to sometimes cross paths within these bars and clubs with others that want to buy or sell drugs. Therefore some of the things I am about to say might surprise a few... while for those who socialise in similar circles to me, it will probably come as no surprise.

1) Over the past three years, I have spent countless nights at a club in South Yarra which, to be blunt, is a haven for pill-popping. I've lost count of how many times I saw one senior Carlton player at this venue in the early hours of the morning, looking a little worse for wear... and not as a result of alcohol. Now when you start to see this same player at this venue time and time again, with pupils severely dilated, you have to start asking questions. More often than not he was accompanied by a few of his team-mates who were equally wired. Little surprise then, when Lawrence Angwin makes his accusation about a couple of senior Carlton players "getting anything you want." Is it really that far fetched? I don't think so. But then again, I am an occasional drug user which probably deems my opinion and observations severely clouded and unreliable, just like Angwin.

2) I have a few mates who are current and past AFL players. Now as an example – after the grand final in 2002, I found myself sitting on a couch at a club in South Melbourne with two current Crows players, a current Power player and a former Crows player. What did we all have in common? We were all on ecstasy. Now personally I don't really see the problem with this, because effectively it was the off-season for these guys. But it proves the point that AFL players are just like anyone else in a bar and club and moreover, they have the income to support the hobby!

3) This one was the biggest eye-opener for me: at that same South Yarra club two weekends ago, a mate and I got chatting to two current AFL players around 3am. One of them is a former captain and knows my mate quite well. The boys were out celebrating a big win the previous day and were quite jovial. But you can imagine our surprise when the former captain enquired as to whether we could get him "four or five pills?" Sounds crazy? Well, I wouldn't have believed it myself unless I'd been standing there to hear it. I have to say, I was quite shocked. Here were two of the club's best players looking to buy drugs at 3am, seven rounds into the season proper!

I have a list the length of my arm of similar accounts that I've heard around the traps, but at the end of the day I wasn't there on those occasions and so I am not going to speculate as to the legitimacy of those stories. But I will say this – Caroline Wilson and the AFL can talk all they want about the stringent drug testing which is taking place, but clearly something's amiss. Why would a respected AFL player with over 200 games under his belt risk using drugs if there were such a strict drug-testing policy in place? It certainly didn't deter him that night I met him. And if this extensive testing really is happening, then surely there have been players caught out? So, Adrian Anderson, who are these players? Why isn't the AFL naming names? Perhaps a little petrified at the damage which it could cause to our great game?

Dale Lewis was shot down in flames when he estimated that 75% of AFL players have tried recreational drugs. Sure, during the season proper the majority of players probably behave themselves. But come the off-season, I'd say that 75% is being conservative. And for a real eye-opener, tag along with one of the teams during the annual exhibition match in old London town. It would appear that even the most disciplined players just cannot resist the London clubbing scene and all it has to offer. They're all over it like seagulls at the tip.

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Kids climb Peckers order

The Mallee Park football club on Eyre Peninsula has done a little better than merely survive in its 25 years; it has supplied the AFL with much talent. Ashley Porter reports.

Every night after school as many as 60 kids play what Jack Johncock calls rough and ready on the Mallee Park Oval. There is one football, no teams, no rules and the objective for the five-year-olds is not to get bashed.

So they learn how to dodge their 59 opponents. The eight-year-olds work on quick disposals before they're tackled, and the 12-year-olds do all of the above, plus kick the goals. But then they, too, get bruised when they train with the A-grade side twice a week.

Then on Saturdays those five-year-olds play against kids twice their age, and by the time they turn 12 they have played 100 games.

According to Johncock, it is why this amazing club at Port Lincoln on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula has produced so many champions.

There are currently eight AFL-listed players from the Mallee Park Peckers - Jack's son, Graham (Adelaide), Byron Pickett, Peter and Shaun Burgoyne, Elijah Ware (Port Adelaide), Harry Miller (Hawthorn), Eddie Betts (Carlton) and Daniel Wells (Kangaroos).

Kevin Sheedy is celebrating his silver jubilee as a coach, and it is 25 years since Mark Williams first played in the VFL/AFL, for Collingwood.

Coincidentally, Essendon and Port clash in this weekend's AFL's community round at AAMI Stadium.

It is therefore fitting that Mallee Park, which has the biggest AFL representation of any grassroots club in Australia, also celebrates its 25th year.

The Peckers have played in 18 of a possible 24 A-grade grand finals for 11 premierships, missed the finals only once, and this year are top in five of their six senior and junior grades. The under-11s have been top for the past 24 years, and have lost a total of five games in that time.

Johncock, the indigenous sports development officer for the SA Department of Sport and Recreation on Eyre Peninsula, played a key role in Mallee Park's development, was named its first life member, and, after being a former champion A-grade player and coach, is still getting plenty of kicks in B-grade at the age of 45.

Yet, for all of Mallee Park's success, its swarm of kids who all want to be the next Choppy Pickett or Graham Johncock, Jack says the club is not just about winning trophies.

The kids can see that by being disciplined, working hard and doing the right things in life, they can go on to be stars in the AFL, he said.

Every night, buses pick up kids as young as five from the schools and bring them to the Gidja (kids) Club on the outer wing of Mallee Park Oval. Volunteers make them sandwiches before they charge into rough and ready, where they are taught finer skills by junior coaches such as Antonio Highfold and Devlin Walsh. Nobody can go home until they have done their homework.

On this night, Graham Johncock, who is out of action for six weeks with a broken leg, was among the observers. "This is where it all started for me," he said. "We just wanted to play footy every day and night - that's all we ever wanted to do."

Peter Burgoyne snr, executive officer at the Port Lincoln Aboriginal Community Council, and father of Peter and Shaun, said Mallee Park had always encouraged a true community environment, with whites and blacks joining together to play football for the Peckers.

"Football is our life," Burgoyne said. "We have a summer so we can look forward to football.

"The after-school program brings the kids together and playing rough and ready every night prepares them for later . . . By the time they get to the under 17s they are able to handle the intensity and they know what is required to be successful. When they get to Adelaide, and play for the Port Adelaide Magpies, which have been great to us, it's not a hard cultural shock.

"We have a good support base here. Everyone helps and chips in for a common cause. We are like every other community whereby we focus on drug and alcohol issues, and we see football and other sports as a way of keeping our kids on the right track."

Jack Johncock said some players escape the AFL net. "The greatest player this club has ever produced was Fabian Davey, who on one day in the '80s kicked 11 goals from centre in a second semi-final," he added.

"Fabian had a good offer from Essendon, but didn't take it. Now he's settled down and playing for South Augusta in the twilight of his career.

"He's happy. Byron's brother, Marcus, is another who let his chance go, because after having a trial game with Essendon, he felt he couldn't hack the city.

"As good as they may be, some players just aren't destined for the AFL. A lot depends on whether their family structure is strong. If there is no support, they struggle. The community as a whole can only do so much - a kid's life starts at home.

"Our kids look forward to their footy because they know they have somewhere to go, and they can mix with their family and friends. They see the photos of the AFL boys on the wall, and they know they can do something with their lives."

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Footy risks rise: study

AFL players face an increasing risk of serious collisions, according to the latest research.

Conducted by the University of South Australia, the six-year study found that player speed has increased by 1.5 per cent each year since 1998 and players are also taller and heavier.

As a result, an average player can now expect more than 600 serious collisions throughout a four-year career.

"Six years ago, when we first started tracking key midfield players, more than two-thirds stayed on the ground for the whole game and when they fatigued they were moved to full or back pocket positions to catch their breath," said Kevin Norton, Professor of Exercise Science at the university's School of Health Sciences.

"Now more than two-thirds come off the ground regularly.

"Because of that strategy, the average speed of the game in the midfield stays high.

"That is problematic because the high speeds, while they look great, can lead to high-impact collisions and high injury rates."

Dr Norton said his research also revealed a significantly lower rate of serious collisions in Wizard Cup games because rules changes provide for more free-flowing play.

"We found that the number of serious collisions across the Wizard series was well below what we predicted, based on results for home and away AFL games," he said.

"In fact, it was only half of the number expected.

"The Wizard rules have resulted in longer play periods when compared with AFL games.

"Because umpires restart faster, players have shorter rest breaks.

"This means that their average running speed drops and there are fewer very intense two-second sprints per minute.

"The reduction in top end high speeds is almost certainly related to the lower incidence of serious collisions."

The study also found AFL players trained just as hard as elite athletes in other sports and had probably reached a peak in terms of their physiological capabilities.

It said the players train for about 1000 to 1200 hours annually, attending 100 training sessions in the 10 weeks before the official season starts and then 10 to 12 each week once the season is underway. "I think we've reached a stage now where it is very difficult to increase the physical workload that athletes are doing across all sports," said Dr Norton.

"We've saturated their physiological capabilities.

"Many of them sit on the edge of peak performance versus over training and immune suppression and illness, so we've got to get that balance right.

"We can't force the players to do more training but we can train them smarter."

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Pies' $6m bid to Brown riles Lions

The Brisbane Lions will ask the AFL to review its rules regarding off-field payments to players following the revelation that Collingwood guaranteed Jonathan Brown $6 million over five years.

The Lions, still seething at the Magpies' multimillion-dollar attempt to entice their star player to Melbourne through media inducements, believe non-Victorian clubs risk losing champions through big-money offers linked to broadcasting outlets such as Channel Nine.

On Tuesday, Brown committed himself to Brisbane until 2008 following revelations in The Age that Magpies president Eddie McGuire and chief executive Greg Swann had flown to Sydney last Friday in a last-ditch attempt to woo him.

After the 23-year-old centre half-forward, who enthralled the competition with his stunning eight-goal return against Essendon, and his advisory team agreed to an in-principle deal with the Lions this week, the club was told that the Collingwood offer involved $700,000 a year until 2010, along with the promise of $500,000 a year in off-field money - largely from television performances.

Brown has instead accepted a three-year deal with Brisbane, estimated at a total $1.9 million.

Sydney chairman Graeme Downie said last night: "My problem with the AFL is that it allows clubs to approach players while they are still contracted to other clubs. I'm not saying Collingwood broke the rules, I'm saying I don't like the rules."

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said he was unaware of the details of the Collingwood offer, adding he had not yet received any official complaint from Brisbane. Said Collingwood CEO Swann: "We do not comment on contracts regarding any players, be it our own or other clubs."

While Brisbane had spoken to Brown of the emotional and financial significance of remaining a one-club player, McGuire and Swann attempted to persuade Brown's adviser Glen Warry of the post-football opportunities on offer in Melbourne, not to mention those involving such a popular club as the Magpies. Warry is understood to have told Brisbane of the Collingwood offer late on Monday.

What has reportedly fuelled the Lions' anger at Collingwood has been the AFL's recent refusal to allow Brown a $20,000 endorsement deal with a sporting apparel firm.

The Lions believe that Collingwood, which for several years has led the charge against Brisbane's extra salary cap allowance, now boasts even more scope to pay big money to footballers through its Channel Nine connection.

The Magpies have also reportedly approached soon to be out-of-contract Saint Nick Dal Santo.

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Cousins' on last chance over
underworld links

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Live TV threat fuels concern

FOOTBALL Victoria says grass-roots football will be seriously jeopardised if the AFL allows Channel 10 to screen three games live on Saturdays under a new television rights deal.

Channel 10 hopes to show three games back-to-back, which would require the Saturday afternoon game to be screened live against the MCG gate and in conflict with hundreds of country and local football games.

Under the network's proposal, a likely Saturday schedule could involve a live Melbourne or Adelaide game about 2pm, followed by an interstate match at 5pm, with a night game shown with a minor delay at or about 8pm.

The proposal has also come under fire from SANFL chief executive Leigh Whicker, who said AFL club memberships and attendance figures could plummet if fans were given no incentive to attend games.

Football Victoria chief executive Ken Gannon said any live football would significantly hamper attempts to develop community football and keep country football alive.

"Everyone on one hand says country football is dying. While we don't support that, it seems to be inconsistent that we do something more to kill it," he said.

With channels 7 and 10 having joined forces for the rights deal from 2007 on, Ten is keen to take an extra game from Fox Footy to create an day of football coverage.

Current AFL regulations allow Channel 10 to show Saturday afternoon football on a 90-minute delay, which maximises game attendances and broadcast rights as well as encouraging fans to watch local and country football.

Whicker said any games shown live against the gate in Melbourne or Adelaide could cause plummeting membership figures for reigning premier Port Adelaide and struggling Victorian clubs.

A South Australian joint working party – consisting of the Crows, Power and the SANFL – will lodge its television rights submission to the AFL next week.

"Our (Adelaide v Port Adelaide) Showdown here has a nearly 15 per cent no-show rate and it is a sold-out venue," Whicker said of the match, broadcast live on television in Adelaide.

"They are the things that would concern us if there would be live against the gate. That would erode loyalty of club members and we don't want to see vast stadiums half empty for a television production."

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Essendon CEO: Local links suffering

The evolution of the AFL over the past 15 years has had the worrying side-effect of distancing Victorian clubs from the community, according to Essendon chief executive Peter Jackson.

Jackson, speaking about the expansion of Essendon's On the Ball program for teenagers at last night's pre-match dinner, said the league's transformation had damaged the grass-roots connections between clubs and the people who followed them.

"Our game exists, and we exist as a football club, only through the support of the community . . . The way the AFL competition has evolved over the last 10 to 15 years has actually distanced Victorian clubs in particular from the community," Jackson said.

"We've seen the demise of the under-17s, the under-19s, and then the reserves. We don't play games at local grounds any more, and that's eliminated the direct connection the community has with AFL clubs."

Essendon established On the Ball in 2003 with the Australian Drug Foundation and VicHealth to promote sport in regional areas as a stabilising influence for teenagers dealing with the traumas associated with adolescence.

The club is expanding the program - 10 classes came through the club last year to take part - and the Bill Hutchison Foundation has been set up by "people arms-length from the football club" to help raise extra funding to that provided by Essendon.

The AFL has designated round nine as its Community Weekend.

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Where's the remote?
STEVE PERKIN, Herald Sun, April 27, 2005

YOU may have missed the news last week, but NBC has paid $770 million to regain the broadcasting rights to the National Football League on Sunday nights for the next eight years.

NBC returns to broadcasting NFL after being out of the action since 1997.

Monday-night football went to the cable network ESPN for $1.4 billion.

The NFL's Thursday-to-Saturday package is still up for grabs.

The ESPN payout is a huge $705 million more than the ABC previously paid for Monday night football.

The Sunday deal is worth about the same.

The success of this bidding system will not have escaped the AFL, so be prepared to see, at some stage, our local game packaged into separate Friday, Saturday and Sunday parcels.

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Big spend, big reward for clubs

THE correlation between the AFL's biggest-spending clubs and success again proved a fairly accurate guide last year.

According to figures obtained by The Australian, five of the six clubs that spent the most on their football departments in 2004 played in finals.

In 2003, the three biggest football department spenders were Brisbane, Collingwood and Sydney who finished in that order.

Last year's runner-up, Brisbane, outlaid $12.525 million on its football department, more than any other club.

That figure, almost $1.5m above the average and more than $800,000 up on 2003, includes total player payments, payments to non-playing staff and coaches as well as fitness and medical costs and recruiting.

At the bottom end of the scale were the cash-strapped Kangaroos, who spent $9.15 million.

Last year's four highest- spending clubs - Brisbane, Collingwood, West Coast and Essendon which spent an average of $12.2m - won 49 home-and-away games.

The four lowest-spending clubs - Melbourne, Fremantle, the Western Bulldogs and the Kangaroos, with average spending of $9.8m - won 40 home-and-away matches.

Port Adelaide won its first premiership after spending $11.504m on its football department, the sixth highest figure in the competition. In 2002 the Power was one of the lowest and spent $9.5m, which increased to $10.6m in 2003.

Other significant increases in expenditure last year compared to 2003 were made by the Western Bulldogs (up $1.6m), West Coast (up $1.2m), St Kilda (up more than $1m) and Sydney, which increased its outlay by more than $800,000.

But the worrying trend for the league is the widening gap between the richest and poorest clubs - despite several years of special financial assistance via the competitive balance fund.

As the gap continues to grow between the revenue generated by the clubs with the biggest incomes to those with the lowest, so does the gap in spending on football departments.

The uneven playing field is being addressed by the AFL Commission in a revamp of special assistance packages to financially struggling clubs with traditionally lower supporter bases. Permanent corrective measures are being established by the creation of a new formula for assistance eligibility which is currently forwarded to the Roos, the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne.

Eligibility for the reworked fund, probably from next year, will be determined by several factors including memberships, attendances and stadium revenue.

Kangaroos chief executive Geoff Walsh yesterday expressed his concern at the widening gaps between clubs, but welcomed the moves to combat the inequalities.

The Roos have increased spending this year by about $500,000, including an increase in player payments from 94 per cent of the salary cap in 2004 up to 97.5 per cent.

To have won 25 and drawn one of their past 48 games is a remarkable achievement from such a low financial base over the past 25 months.

"Given the enormous financial restrictions, especially on the footy department, to not slide into the dark abyss of 15th or 16th and be anchored there, it's been wonderful testimony to (coach) Dean Laidley and to the discipline this club has had to apply to itself," Walsh said.

The Roos generated almost $3m in membership revenue last year, but is a long way from membership income leader West Coast, which reaped more than $8.5m from its rank-and-file supporters last year.

In 2002, the football department spending gap between top (Sydney, which spent $12.46m) and bottom (Western Bulldogs, $9.31m) was $3.15m.

Last year the divide between Brisbane and the Kangaroos stretched to $3.375m.

The average gap between the top four spending clubs and the bottom four was $2.05m in 2002. Last year that figure was extended to $2.4m.

Brisbane last year paid its players a record $8.543m while the Kangaroos distributed player payments of $6.848m.

The average total player payments per club was $7.596m, from an average total football department spend over the 16 clubs of $11.007m.

Medical and fitness costs shot up last year, with the biggest spenders being the top three clubs Brisbane, St Kilda and Port Adelaide.

Coaching payments increased by 15 per cent to almost $17m, but the rise was slightly inflated by payouts to sacked coaches Peter Schwab and Peter Rohde.

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The game is not the same when business rules sport

THE first mistake is to think that it is a game. It is hardly that. Football at AFL level is a business. Depending on the size of the club, a $17 million business or a $30 million business. But the game of AFL football is a business nonetheless.

When Eddie McGuire frothed on The Footy Show about the health of AFL football if Channel Nine was not in the mix in the next broadcast discussions he was actually talking about Channel Nine's business plan come 2007 and onwards. It was all about the bottom line.

So when we assess incidents and accidents, patterns and rhythms, we must do so with that as our backdrop. Football is a game but when played by the AFL it is a business.

Football is played by men who devote their youth and a significant part of their adult lives to the game. Some do nothing else. It is their profession. At least four AFL players earned more than $800,000 last season. Each club is allowed $6.3 million a season to pay its players. That is more than $100 million for the competition. It is a sport but not a game.

Football is played within extraordinary parameters. It is illegal to push a man in the back, no matter how lightly. Yet it is legal to knock him stupid in a contest for the ball. You may not hold your opponents jumper with thumb and forefinger but you can shatter his ribs in a tackle.

Within those laws is an unwritten code which the players observe. The code has been moulded over time. In a game where violence is applauded and considered a virtue, players invoke their own set of rules. They know the inherent dangers in football better than anyone. The knowledge of the mayhem that is possible is the bond between the player and his opponent.

St Kilda believes that Mal Michael and Chris Scott broke that code when they made contact with St Kilda skipper Nick Riewoldt on Thursday night. They bumped the 22-year-old on his right shoulder which they knew was tender but they had no idea of the specific injury. However, it is fair to say that both players had seen and suffered enough shoulder injuries to know that Riewoldt was in a spot of bother.

Brisbane would argue that Riewoldt was moving back to his position on the ground, was not in the hands of a trainer or medical staff, and so was fair game. And the Lions would be right.

Once Riewoldt began to move into a position to play on he was signalling that he remained part of the game. The bumping might have been an unsettling image but in a volatile and brutal business, it was acceptable.

If Riewoldt had been injured before the game and carried a tender shoulder on to the field he would have been bumped and crunched well before the first bounce. As it was the contact made by Scott and Michael on Thursday night was nothing more than the bumping that goes on before a game begins or during a match as players try to establish and maintain a presence.

Riewoldt was shocked. It was his first game as skipper and as he sat on the boundary he knew he was looking at as many as six weeks on the sidelines. Riewoldt is a young man who lives only to play football. He was also shocked by the Brisbane players' lack of sympathy. He cried.

He is in good company. When James Hird's foot once more gave way on him, the Essendon skipper sat on the bench and cried. A passionate business.

St Kilda set the tone for the match. All week coach and players stated that they would not be intimidated by the Lions' physicality. The club practised its tackling in special padded training gear.

Such public declarations demanded a response from the Lions. It was duly delivered and St Kilda was overwhelmed brutally and mentally. By the end of the match St Kilda was neither skilled nor ruthless. Just exposed.

The incidents between Michael, Scott and Riewoldt leave the AFL with a problem. While football is played as a business at league level it is not around the suburbs, in local under age competitions or in the schools. There it can only survive as a game. But these clubs and players take their lead from the AFL competition.

It hardly wants under-12 players being as calculating and ruthless as Scott and Michael. In 1997, when the Bulldogs' defence turned on rookie West Coast ruckman Michael Gardiner en masse, the commission found three Bulldog defenders guilty of conduct unbecoming.

And they were. The image of the Bulldog defenders gang tackling the rookie Gardiner before the ball had been bounced was sinister. It was unprecedented bullying and violent. And it was premeditated, fuelling an already volatile environment.

On Thursday night at the Gabba Scott and Michael were uncompromising. That is neither a breach of law nor code.

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TV's big men fly in contest for football

The news that it's open season in the contest for television rights lent spice to last night's AFL season launch. Intensive pre-season activity has resulted in Channel Ten, which shares current rights with Nine, changing sides to make a joint bid with Seven for the 2007-11 contract. In some quarters of the broadcast world, one can hear loud noises of the sort that greeted Ron Barassi's earth-shaking defection from Melbourne to Carlton in 1965. Forty years on, much bigger money is at stake in the battle between the big men of television, who have the egos and the will to win of elite footballers. It's not just business, it's personal - the key deal-makers, Seven's David Leckie and Ten's Nick Falloon, both fell out with Nine's owner, Kerry Packer. To add to the intrigue, Ten is one of 20 companies sued by Seven for alleged collusion in the lead-up to the last rights deal. The prospect of new media ownership laws lends urgency to the networks' fight for market share and revenue - Nine relied on pre-season football coverage to counter Seven's surge in the ratings. As Seven broadcaster and former footballer Tim Watson observes, the networks are as fierce in their rivalry as Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon. While one might idly speculate which channel best matches each club – Channel Eddie seems obvious – the networks are acutely aware that viewers won't match fans for loyalty.

Among the public, there may be some sentimental support for Seven as the home of football for more than 40 years, but there are questions about the future that supporters of football and of individual clubs will want answered before the AFL signs any deal. The AFL may have to rethink assumptions about what kind of deal is likely to replace its current contract. The $450 million question is whether the transformed negotiating landscape – has it become a buyers' market? – will affect the size of football's financial pie. It is reasonable to suppose that the current deal was the basis of AFL chief Andrew Demetriou's guarantee that all 16 clubs would survive. Although this was welcome, clubs would have known they could not rely forever on exponential growth in broadcast revenue to cover their own failures. Deals aside, a slowing economy has its own big impact.

The AFL must also be concerned about national coverage, because the conflict with Nine's rugby league commitments in NSW and Queensland means some unfortunate souls have to wait up until the early hours to get their Aussie rules fix. Those who prefer football in the daytime will note, too, that a night grand final isn't on the Seven-Ten agenda. Their plans to screen more matches free to air should similarly please fans who long to see more of teams outside the heavily supported few. Nine, though, has made a success of big matches on Friday nights and its commitment to innovation and technical excellence can be seen with every game it does screen. The AFL has a lot to weigh up – including money, obviously – to ensure it secures a deal that, as Demetriou says, "benefits our 16 clubs and the supporters of our game". That must be the bottom line.


Football TV rights ambush

by Caroline Wilson
Chief football writer
March 17, 2005

Channel Seven has stunned the football world with a bold bid to regain TV rights from 2007.

Channel Seven has made a bold pitch to regain a slice of the lucrative AFL television rights, forming an alliance with Channel Ten in a multimillion-dollar deal that threatens to sideline bitter rival Channel Nine.

Channel Ten shocked the Packer-owned Nine and pay TV group Foxtel, its partners in the current $450 million television rights deal, by announcing yesterday that it had broken ranks.

The corporate manoeuvre - designed to win the free-to-air rights from 2007 until 2011 - has also frustrated the AFL, which learned of the new partnership only two days ago.

The Seven-Ten alliance involves a deal for the broadcasters to annually alternate live coverage of the grand final - which neither network would push to televise at night - and the Brownlow Medal count.

Kerry Stokes' Channel Seven would take over Friday night football from Channel Nine and Ten would push for its long-held ambition to televise three Saturday games back to back. The remaining AFL finals would be carved up by the two networks.

AFL executives, who had been hoping to better the league's current broadcasting deal worth $450 million over five years - and were largely satisfied with their current media partnerships - seemed stunned by the move and particularly concerned at Ten's part in the deal. The new agreement looks to have limited Nine's bargaining position and shifted the power in the crucial multimillion-dollar negotiations, creating a buyers' market. The key facets of a new deal could be resolved as early as next month.

Although Nine could bid alone or join forces with Foxtel, the free-to-air network would also be curtailed by its Friday night and Sunday afternoon allegiance to rugby league in NSW and Queensland.

Seven and Ten - which this year will show AFL games for the first time in prime time in Brisbane on Saturday nights - are thought to have agreed to increase free-to-air football coverage in NSW and Queensland.

The Seven-Ten partnership is unusual also because the Seven Network is embroiled in a landmark legal battle with its new negotiating partner, scheduled to open in court on July 18. While Seven indicated yesterday it planned to go ahead with the case, media experts were tipping it could loom as an intriguing negotiating tool.

Seven is suing the AFL, the National Rugby League, Nine and Ten, Foxtel and the AFL's internet provider Telstra, accusing them of colluding in the lead-up to the last round of football broadcast rights.

Should the two networks win the rights, their carve-up scheme would also prove a fillip for free-to-air football fans. While the Fox Football network has indicated it would push for four of the AFL's eight weekly home-and-away fixtures, Seven and Ten want six games between them, with Seven's remaining two matches coming on Sunday.

Foxtel could be compensated by a better-quality game - currently it holds exclusive weekly rights to the nominal worst three games of each round - to be televised as a live twilight game each Sunday.

Neither Channel Nine sports chief Gary Fenton nor the network's face of football, Eddie McGuire, would comment on the bombshell public announcement yesterday, which came in the form of a carefully worded statement from Seven to the stock exchange.

Nine is believed to have fired off a series of angry letters to the rival networks questioning Seven's right to strike a deal with Ten.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou would communicate only by a public statement: "The AFL is confident of securing an outcome which benefits our 16 clubs and the supporters of our game and will be exploring all options for our future broadcasting arrangements."

The deal has come after months of negotiations between Channel Ten and the other free-to-air networks. It is believed that Ten chose to join forces with Seven, which pioneered TV football coverage, due to Seven's trump card in holding the right to bid both first and last for the football rights.

Seven paid $20 million in 1997 for the right to bid first and last over the following two rounds of media negotiations. It is thought that Ten relinquished its exclusive role as AFL finals broadcaster as part of the potential deal to be included in that last bid for the next rights round.

The Age on March 18 summarised –

Football's great TV heist
The deal between Seven and Ten for AFL television rights for five years from 2007

Back in the game
– Once synonymous with football in Victoria, would regain the rights after five years on the sidelines.

The deal maker
– Television's one-time minnow has negotiated itself into a position of strength, sharing last right of refusal for football rights. Football-led revival likely to continue.

Out of bounds?
– Stands to lose football just when it is being challenged for supremacy in the ratings.

How it would work
– To alternate between Seven and Ten. Other finals to be shared.
BROWNLOW MEDAL – To alternate between Seven and Ten.
FRIDAY NIGHTS – Channel Seven
SATURDAYS – Channel Ten hoping to show three games, back-to-back. Foxtel to show one or two games.
SUNDAYS – Channel Seven to televise two games, Foxtel one.
FREE-TO-AIR – Could show six games per weekend, up from five.
FOXTEL – Now shows three games per weekend. Wants four, but could end up with only two.
NIGHT GRAND FINAL – Likely to fall off the agenda.
TWILIGHT GAMES – Could become regular part of fixture, possibly shown live on Foxtel on Sundays.

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Fong in call to arms for footy's future

The emerging rivalry between football codes in Perth escalated last night after a passionate call to arms from WA Football Commission chairman Neale Fong.

Fong used his speech at WA's gala Hall of Fame induction dinner to announce the establishment of a Hall of Fame photographic display at Subiaco Oval and to congratulate 10 new inductees and legends Jack Sheedy and Steve Marsh, but also to warn of the threat to football posed by rugby union and soccer.

Fong refused to mention the rival codes by name but he spoke of "great challenges" facing football in 2005, posed in part by the "growth of other codes". He went on to add more spice to the simmering debate over the use of Subiaco Oval by WA's new Super 14s rugby team, and the rivalry with soccer, which is now marketing itself head-to-head with football by re-naming its peak body the Football Federation of Australia.

Fong took a veiled swipe at both rivals, while stressing that football was the only code made in Australia for Australians.

"It has been said that another ball game is the game they play in heaven," he said.

"Let me say this, and say it very clearly, Australian football is the game made and played in Australia.

"It is our game. It grew up here. It is part of our heritage. Its roots are with our people. It has embraced people from many overseas lands.

"Other codes can use our name, they can use our ground. They can try to take our sponsors, even our kids. But they can never take our past. It is ours and it is ours to keep. Together let's continue to grow and build our great game."

A truce had existed between rival football codes in WA. The WAFC has rented Subiaco Oval to both soccer (for NSL finals involving Perth Glory) and rugby union (for Test matches and preliminary matches of the 2003 World Cup).

But with the Super 14s team due to kick off in Perth in 2006, and soccer's new A-League marketed more aggressively against football, that truce is shaky and Fong's words last night are another indication football is preparing for battle.

The WAFC faces ticklish negotiations with its own parent body the AFL, rugby and the State Government over the Super 14 team's use of Subiaco Oval while Members Equity Stadium undergoes a $25 million revamp. The WA Government is placing mounting pressure on the WAFC for a reasonable deal to use Subiaco.

Sydney Swans chairman Richard Colless has warned that the success of a Super 14s team in Perth would inevitably lead to the establishment of a rugby union team in Melbourne and a Super 16s competition to rival the AFL.

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A new base for Demons?

The Melbourne Football Club's dream of celebrating its 150th birthday at a permanent home near the MCG has moved closer to reality with the revelation that the Demons have found a landlord in a planned $100-million, 20,000-seat stadium and training facility at Olympic Park.

The stadium – seemingly abandoned by the Victorian Government following the loss of the rugby Super 14 licence to Perth last year – could be resurrected within three months by Sports Minister Justin Madden.

The State Government looks set to announce by May that it will relaunch the major project. The move, a fillip for the Olympic Park precinct, would resolve the Demons' search for a permanent home and see Melbourne and Collingwood share a new training ground – a first for the AFL.

In a series of ramifications for sport and major events around the city the new stadium would also see –

Collingwood's training ground moved along Swan Street, potentially to the Olympic Park athletic track site.

The Magpies and the Demons to share the AFL-sized training facility.

Melbourne Storm, Melbourne Victory and the Melbourne Football Club to open for business as early as November 2007 with commercial premises and merchandising stores fronting Swan Street.

Those offices linked to the new stadium, which would initially boast a seating capacity of 20,000 with Melbourne Victory to play 14 games there each season and Melbourne Storm 12 matches a year.

The Demons sharing indoor training facilities such as a gymnasium and swimming pool with the rugby league and soccer clubs, while having separate rooms for its players ideally linked to the training ground.

Melbourne, which in 2000 took over part of the AFL's lease at the MCG, released as a sub-tenant but insisting on a more permanent ground agreement with the stadium – part of wider and renewed fixturing talks with the MCC and MCG Trust.

The Melbourne Tigers basketball team offered administrative and training headquarters at the new Swan Street stadium.

The government is understood to have warmed to the prospect of the stadium, despite losing the rugby licence, largely due to the prospect of attracting major soccer, rugby and rugby league support along with other major events to the precinct. It sees a 20,000-seat facility as more economic for certain events than the significantly larger Telstra Dome.

While construction could not start on the stadium – likely to be situated in the vicinity of the Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre – until after the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the indications are that the Demons' new home could be completed in time for the 2008 pre-season.

"We have made it clear we want to have new headquarters in place by November 2007," said Melbourne chief executive Steve Harris. "That is the official start of our 150th year and a key pillar in our business and fund-raising strategy."

Collingwood chief executive Greg Swann said the Magpies would not object to a new outdoor facility on the proviso it remained in the vicinity of the Lexus Centre. He said the club had no significant issue with sharing a major ground with Melbourne.

Melbourne Storm chief executive Brian Waldron said: "One of Melbourne's major icons is sport and the prospect of three clubs from three different codes, all named Melbourne, is obviously exciting.

"There's enormous cost savings as well as synergies we can work on if we shared commercial facilities along Swan Street."

The Demons have heads of agreement in place with the Melbourne Olympic Park Trust to investigate the possibility of both shared and individual facilities but the trust's interim chief executive Sue Nattrass confirmed that both Melbourne and Collingwood had indicated a willingness to share an outdoor AFL-sized training ground, likely to be situated between the Lexus Centre and the new stadium.

"There is no precinct like this in the world," said Nattrass, "when you consider the Arts Centre, the Botanical Gardens, the Music Bowl, Olympic Park, the tennis centre leading to the MCG – it is clear this is a wonderful place for a new stadium and we've still got Melbourne Storm and Melbourne Victory to look after."

Nattrass said she was "hopeful" the government would re-launch the project and that it would certainly be situated on the south side of Swan Street.

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Blues lose $11 million

Carlton's massive financial loss of more than $11 million will not affect the club's ability to re-sign dual premiership coach Denis Pagan or force the Blues into cutting into their salary cap, according to club president Ian Collins.

Yesterday, the Blues announced a financial loss of $11.146 million, outstripping the AFL's then record loss of $7.5 million posted by the club two years ago. The vast majority of yesterday's huge figure comes after the club devalued the grandstands at Optus Oval.

Pagan's three-year contract is up at the end of this year, but Collins said the financial plight of the club would not hamper the Blues' efforts to re-sign him.

"I think we have got scope within what we are doing to make sure that our coach will continue to be coach of the Carlton Football Club going forward," Collins said.

However, the president said the club would continue to look at all football costs at the end of the year.

"Your core business is football. We are governed by a salary cap and we will make sure that we operate within the salary cap and we will play our players as prudently as the system allows within those lines," he said.

While Collins continues to suggest the club could seek assistance from the AFL's competitive balance fund – although stresses it will not do so this year - the Blues have no desire to pay less than 100 per cent of the salary cap. "We are not at that stage. We are working through with a redirection order," Collins said. "But the real issue is that we have no qualms – if we do need the assistance, we will apply for it."

The financial result announced for the Carlton Group – the Carlton Football Club and the Carlton Cricket Club and Football Social Club – was, in fact, a profit of $229,978.

But with the Blues set to play their last match at Optus Oval in round nine this season, when they take on Melbourne, the club has significantly devalued the financial value of the ground, to the point where the stands are worth only $3 million. The club still owes about $2.7 million on the stands. It also had to take into consideration interest payments of $219,000 in the total loss figure.

It is a big turnaround from the end of the 2003 season, when the club posted an overall profit of $200,000. However, the club continues to falter under the weight of its debt and continues to be cash-starved.

"We have liabilities of $15.1 million and assets which don't match that, so it is not a pretty picture when you look at the balance sheet itself," Collins said.

"It is fair to say that we are in a position where we are relying on the AFL and its redirection order, we are in a position where we are relying on our bankers. But we have consulted and have approached the people concerned to advise them of our current situation and based on our projections ... they are comfortable."

Collins said the club would need to be "very prudent" with its costs and needed to increase revenue.

The Blues are hoping the move away from Optus Oval to Telstra Dome and the MCG will result in a growth of revenue, through sponsorship, membership and attendance. Collins believes Carlton's membership could grow to as much as 50,000 over the next two to three years.

It already has improved its sponsorship revenue and hopes with more free-to-air coverage in 2005, more sponsors will be attracted.

"There is no doubt we recognise we have a long, long way to go. However, we believe the right decisions ... to grow and reach the goals we have set," Collins said.

The Blues hope to redevelop Optus Oval as an elite training facility and are still keen for another AFL club, most likely the Kangaroos or Melbourne, to join them at the venue.

The club will hold its annual meeting on March 23.



Devaluing assets that force an ugly bottom line and poor cash flow because of a lack of sponsors  and free-to-air television spots.

Expensive contracts, such as that of  Anthony Koutoufides, which continue into 2006.

Contract negotiations with coach Denis Pagan, who is out of contract at the end of 2005.

Lack of major sponsors. The Blues could not attract a full complement of sponsors in 2004 and have lost the opportunity to sell a naming-rights sponsors to their home ground from 2005.

Membership numbers. Ian Collins wants 50,000 members in the next two years, but will there be a backlash from supporters who wanted to stay at Optus Oval?

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AFL looks to NZ for expansion

by David Reed
The Age
Melbourne, February 25, 2005

The league hopes New Zealand can become a land of the long, white Australian football goal posts.

The AFL's focus on expansion has shifted to New Zealand, with community camps to be held there next year, as well as a Wizard Cup game, probably between Geelong and Melbourne.

The two clubs have been sounded out about the idea, with the Cats particularly keen as the club is popular among the burgeoning Auskick centres in NZ.

Positive strides have been made in converting predominantly expatriate playing stocks to a 50-50 split with local players.

Last year, the AFL appointed former St Kilda player Rob Malone as general manager of the NZAFL, one of five full-time staff, including three development officers.

Malone found a market, if not quite ripe, certainly revealing buds of fruit. For instance, Friday night football is somewhat of a hit, albeit on Saturday mornings when it appears on NZ television screens.

The main success has been exposing 15,000 Kiwi schoolchildren to the game in the past year. Auskick centres and structured competitions for 13 to 18-year-olds are in place in four regions - Waikato, Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury - aided by $150,000 of AFL funds.

"We need to be realistic and understand that Kiwis have not grown up with the game and it will take time," Malone said. "(But) for AFL to be considered the No. 1 alternative winter sport in NZ outside of rugby and netball in the future is not out of the question."

Malone is putting the finishing touches on his proposal to get the camps and pre-season match and while the top brass at the AFL will have the final say, Malone says it could be the first step towards playing a home-and-away match overseas.

"(A pre-season match) is quite realistic as it is only a three-and-a-half hour trip from Melbourne to Auckland or Wellington - AFL teams are currently travelling from Melbourne to Darwin and so on," he said. "Regarding future official matches, I would think the AFL would like to see more growth in the game, raw numbers. However, I think it certainly could work."

The raw numbers of players Malone refers to are stark - there are only 800 registered senior players - but he said moves to convert school players into weekend participants in a rugby union stronghold was where the battle was being fought.

"It is certainly a different environment than growing up with the code in Australia," Malone said. "The Kiwis love any type of ball sports and as there are certain similarities with rugby, they enjoy it. They certainly enjoy the physical side of the game, particularly the Samoan and Maori players.

"The 360-degree-nature of AFL also appeals to the Kiwis, with no knock-on or forward pass rules as such."

AFL football has strong historical links with NZ dating back to the 1890s, when former VFA and VFL players headed across the Tasman in search of work.

A local league boomed so much that in 1901, there were 115 teams and NZ competed in the 1908 Jubilee Australasian Carnival at the MCG, beating NSW and Queensland. But the interest all but disappeared until it was revived in the 1970s.

The AFL then got involved, scheduling an Ansett Cup match between Melbourne and Sydney at the Basin Reserve in 1998 followed by two more games in Wellington in 2000 and 2001.

Despite last week's glowing annual report, AFL Commission chairman Ron Evans said he wanted the game to grow faster. He cited south-east Queensland and western Sydney as the boom areas but the shift further east won't be easily dismissed.

The NZ investment is due to be reviewed next year.

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Welcome to a brutal new world

The conclusion was definitive. On night one of the revamped judicial system the lesson was simple; the last place a player wants to be from here on is the AFL tribunal.

If you walk the corridors of this tribunal the process is likely to be brutal and the consequences more severe than most have come to expect.

Byron Pickett's hip and shoulder to the head of Adelaide opponent James Begley won't be the most violent incident of the year, yet in any season a six-week ban would have been in the very top range.

There was once a rule of thumb that a decent whack deserved a couple of matches. Now there's a mathematical system and when the sums reach seven points and beyond you're in diabolical trouble.

To recap the events of the past 12 months, the clubs launched a series of scathing attacks on the conduct of the panel. It was labelled pathetic among many other colourful descriptions.

In each case, the jibes were fired by the disgruntled; an official who'd witnessed one of his club's players slapped with a suspension.

A great many commentators were hoodwinked into joining this side of the debate. The unimaginative and ill-informed catch cry - from those who rarely, if ever, attended the actual hearings – became: "The tribunal is inconsistent".

And football fans, a group that had never, ever witnessed a tribunal hearing, declared they had lost faith in the system.

With this as the backdrop, the serious folk at headquarters radically revamped the system in the off-season.

Largely based on the fixed penalties structure employed by the NRL, the AFL aimed for greater certainty, increased professionalism and, thus, less flexibility.

Those who will sit in judgement will now have all played the game with distinction. Both the prosecution and defence council can be drawn from the legal fraternity. And a former county court judge will always preside.

The demands of the clubs and the wider football community have been met.

And it all falls under the heading; be careful what you wish for.

The lies that became the staple of these hearings just won't wash anymore.

Will Houghton QC is the prosecutor and in the first case was the star. He cut through the vague utterings of Pickett, leading the Norm Smith Medallist to discredit his own testimony.

His final stroke was straight from the courtroom.

"When you saw Begley fumbling you decided to line him up," the prosecutor chided the witness. "You decided to lay him out."

Such pointed questioning is rare in this forum but is going to become the norm.

Right now the QC versus the footballer is a lopsided fight.

The case was lengthy, almost two hours, which will annoy some, but no time was wasted.

Deputy chairman John Hassett, a retired county court judge, expertly guided the jury through the areas of dispute.

And it was a surprise to no one present when the jury returned a points value of 660 for the offence. That translated to a six-week suspension.

The grading of the offence by Peter Schwab's match review committee was vindicated. Schwab and his colleagues had a solid opening weekend. The three "plea bargains" they offered were accepted.

Pickett was referred directly to front the panel, such was the seriousness of the charge.

At its conclusion Port Adelaide lashed out at the "tribunal". In truth, it was taking aim at the jury, the only three men who sat in judgement on this case.

On Tuesday night they were: Stewart Loewe, 321 games with St Kilda; Wayne Schimmelbusch, 306 games with North Melbourne; and Emmett Dunne, 129 games with Richmond and Footscray and a long serving member of the previous tribunal.

Port Adelaide's assertion is that these three men don't know what they are doing.

In truth, these three men knew exactly what Byron Pickett was doing.

If you thought the ex-players might find some bond with the current day accused and go easy, you were wrong.

The Power's criticism is as predictable as it is small minded.

It brings to mind Paul Keating's quote: "In the race of life I'll always back self-interest, because at least you know it's trying."

The old tribunal had its quirks but it wasn't fatally flawed.

The new tribunal is a well-thought out process with a couple of anomalies during the teething stage. Its professionalism and formality reflects the seriousness football now treats itself with.

The clubs will always complain about a system that suspends one of its important players.

And that sort of nonsense is becoming quite tedious.

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Happy constant in a changing game

The Age,
Melbourne, Friday, February 18, 2005

The hope each new season brings is a happy constant in a changing game.

Kevin Sheedy is entertaining us with divertingly offbeat ideas, so it must only be February, but tonight football resumes as the main entertainment. It is not only the Essendon coach who has offered up a talking point by suggesting umpires could end repeated ball-ups by kicking or throwing the ball into open space. (Heaven help the umpire who carelessly delivers the ball to a free player in a scoring position!) The AFL, which held its annual general meeting yesterday, has thrown up other points of contention: expanding the commission to open the way for adding a woman and, as an unforeseen consequence of a reformed tribunal process, raising questions about how the system of penalty points might impinge on the venerable "fairest and best" criteria for the Brownlow Medal. (We certainly support the former; on the latter, we maintain that the AFL must closely heed the football community's feelings about any move that might diminish the medal's lustre.) But the clubs, too, have started the season on a controversial note with a majority of presidents now willing to explore a night grand final.

This pre-season has been largely scandal-free, but there has been tragedy. When the Demons take the field tomorrow, everyone will feel for the teammates, friends and family of tsunami victim Troy Broadbridge. In the circumstances, yesterday's decision to let the club add a player to its list is compassionate and correct - although Sheedy was entitled to argue for a restricted choice of replacement. For all his flamboyance, his success is founded on shrewd good sense, a trait he shares with Collingwood president Eddie McGuire. Both men support the addition of a female commissioner because they see that, on balance, the benefits of going beyond an all-male pool of talent and keeping AFL administration in touch with the whole community outweigh concerns about a less-than-ideal process. We note the rule change enabled a commission of "up to nine", meaning it can readily be trimmed if it proves unwieldy.

When this weekend's games begin, attention will of course shift to the players and what their performances tell us about their teams' prospects this season. Hope springs eternal, nurtured by new players and, this season, by new coaches at a quarter of the clubs. For some, grim reality will already have begun to intrude by autumn, but now is still the time for everyone to enjoy the late summer indulgence of a football fan's dreams.

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New rules speed up the game

by Jon Pierik
Herald Sun,
Melbourne, Friday, February 11, 2005

ON-FIELD action is set to become quicker than ever this season after the AFL umpiring department revealed it would clamp down on time-wasters.

Umpires have been told to immediately penalise any player who is tackled and attempts to hold the ball in when it is not pinned to him.

It's hoped the crackdown will cut the number of stoppages, and already seems to have had the desired effect.

There were just eight field bounces in last weekend's match between the Western Bulldogs and Indigenous All-Stars in Darwin.

Another rule change will be to allow players who have taken a mark or won a free kick, and are not shooting for goal, only 10 seconds – down from 15 – to dispose of the ball before the umpire calls play-on.

AFL director of umpiring Jeff Gieschen and umpires coach Rowan Sawers revealed the changes to the Herald Sun yesterday.

"It's to improve the pace and the look of the game," Gieschen said.

"We don't want it to be stop start, stop start, like rugby."

But the likes of Essendon full-forward Matthew Lloyd can maintain their extended preparation lining up for goal.

Sawers said umpires had been lenient in recent seasons on players who tried to force a stoppage rather than move the ball on. This would now change.

"We don't want field bounces, we want to move the ball on," he said.

"We feel it's a better spectacle if the ball is moved on."

Umpires will also keep a vigilant eye on:

THE new ruck rules, ensuring the game's big men have eyes only on the ball – and not their opponents – at centre bounces. Any unnecessary bumping, blocking and pushing at throw-ins will be penalised. Anyone who steps out of the new 10m centre circle in his run-up will be free-kicked.

tackles. Players with their heads over the ball will be protected.

DEFENDERS attempting to spoil an opponent by chopping at his arms will be penalised. It's always been an unwritten law that defenders were allowed to do this, but that has changed. To reinforce the move, the law has been documented in the rule book.

putting their hands on the back of an opponent to get balance. This will be allowed but the player is not allowed to push off.

blocking of opposition players at stoppages.

Gieschen said his 33-man field umpiring squad would make mistakes this season because they were "only human" but said they were under far more scrutiny than their cricket and tennis counterparts.

Sawers said policing the new ruck rules remained an umpire's toughest challenge.

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AFL to rethink TV deal

by Jim Wilson
Herald Sun,
Melbourne, Saturday, February 5, 2005

THE battle for control of TV rights in football beyond the end of next season has intensified with two of the AFL's senior management team flying to the US for talks with sporting and television executives.

Ben Buckley, general manager of broadcasting and major projects, and commercial operations boss Gil McLachlan will attend Monday morning's NFL Super Bowl but it's a series of meetings over the next few days that will go a long way to helping the AFL in its strategy for negotiations in coming months.

"This is a major fact-finding mission and will revolve around the biggest day on the American football calendar," AFL chief Andrew Demetriou said.

But it's more than that with Demetriou keen to see how American football and its army of fans cope with having the sport split among four television networks.

Fox Sports, ESPN, ABC and CBS all have a slice of the NFL pie and there's no doubt the AFL is looking at how that dynamic works and whether it's viable to contemplate football across three free-to-air networks and a pay-TV outfit.

Sources, though, have indicated that while the league wants as much money from this next round of rights, which should be finalised by the end of this season, coverage on Seven, Nine, Ten and Fox Footy may be simply too much.

Like American football, where the NBC network is a non-rights holder, it's considered attractive to have a non-rights holder "on ice" to push up the asking price next time around.

In this market, Channel 7 fills that role and will have first and last bid come crunch time. It's no surprise the network invited Demetriou and Buckley to its private box for last Sunday night's Australian Open final.

Seven slashed its coverage of golf and the Athens Olympics last year hoping to get as much cash in the coffers for a full-scale assault on regaining the jewel in the crown.

Nine has turned Friday night football into the best coverage across the board but its problem is rugby league and not being able to show AFL at a reasonable time in the crucial Sydney and Brisbane markets.

This time around the AFL wants the game on in those markets much earlier, and Nine must find a solution.

Ten and Fox Footy, who will also want a better deal, complete the fascinating picture.

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Lawyers hold Elliott's family silver

by David Elias
The Age,
Melbourne, Friday, February 4, 2005

If sold at estimated value, the silverware, antiques and artefacts would leave John Elliott with $1.

The lawyers of former business leader John Elliott are holding some of the family silverware as security against fees.

Mr Elliott filed for bankruptcy yesterday as he promised, after a creditors' meeting last week refused his five cents in the dollar offer to settle his debts.

And with his petition he filed a new statement of affairs that shows he owes $109,292 to law firm Middletons.

The firm has accepted silverware, antiques and artefacts that would leave Mr Elliott with just $1 if Middletons sold the goods at their $109,293 estimated resale value.

South Yarra auction house Christie's is holding more antiques and artefacts worth $135,000 that Mr Elliott, 63, claims to own.

His estranged wife, Amanda, has valuables worth $68,000 that she insists are hers.

Middletons, which has acted for Mr Elliott in matters other than the Water Wheel civil penalties case that became his final undoing, is his only secured creditor.

The other 16 parties, owed a total of $9.038 million, are unsecured.

The papers filed with insolvency trustee service ITSA show Mr Elliott has $232 in the bank and a $483 overdraft.

Meanwhile, he and the National Australia Bank are squabbling over $130,000 the bank says he owes.

The former Liberal Party and Carlton Football Club president, who gave his occupation as a consultant and public speaker, claims his family company Ebek owes him $621,000, but he is likely to receive no more than $100,000 from it.

This leads to the possibility that his trustee in bankruptcy, Sterling Horne, might take wind-up action against Ebek.

Failing that, a creditor might take action against the trustee to ensure Ebek is wound up. The most likely such creditor would be the administrator of failed flour and rice miller Water Wheel, who is owed $1.66 million.

This is the result of penalties imposed after the Supreme Court found Mr Elliott had allowed the company to trade while insolvent. Others who might take this action are the four government creditors, owed a total of $1.72 million, who block voted against Mr Elliott's Part X settlement offer and forced him into bankruptcy.

Mr Elliott later accused the four - the Australian Securities and Investments Commission that launched the Water Wheel action against him, the Tax Office, the Australian Crime Commission and the Victorian Government solicitor - of vindictiveness and said the authorities had been out to get him for years.

Mr Elliott's debts yesterday stood at $9.038 million, which included a new amount of $110,000 owed to Mr Horne's company Bentleys MRI for work done as his controlling trustee in the run-up to last week's meeting of creditors.

His assets amounted to $850,000 and included $5687 in a superannuation fund, $52,170 in two insurance policies, $1786 worth of Haoma gold mining shares, and a $69,603 shareholding in the NSW Ricegrowers Co-operative.

He also had $3114 held in trust by lawyers Tress Cox, a $50,000 interest in the ownership of the racehorse Primrose Penny and $19,000 of household furniture and effects.

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AFL boss wary of prejudice

by Matt Cunningham
Herald Sun,
Melbourne, Saturday, January 22, 2005

AUSTRALIA had become a conservative country, less welcoming to newcomers than it was 50 years ago, AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said yesterday.

Speaking at the Australia Day lunch at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre, Mr Demetriou said Australians were more inclined to self-interest than sharing and more interested in the stock market than education.

In a veiled dig at Prime Minister John Howard, Mr Demetriou said he wanted Australia's boundaries to be open, and our welcome without prejudice.

"The next decade is a watershed for us as a country," he said.

"It will see the transition from the Howard era to another era.

"What will come after John Howard?

"Who can know?

"All I can do is hope that the next generation of our leaders -- whether Liberal or Labor -- will think broadly and challenge their values and our values, rather than building barriers between us and a world we need."

Mr Demetriou said in the John Batman Oration that when his parents arrived in Australia from Cyprus in 1951, newcomers were treated with respect and allowed to do their own thing.

"The beauty of the time was that although they weren't overtly embraced, they were allowed to be whatever they wanted to be, without prejudice, without any sense of superiority," he said.

"The Australians of the '50s wondered aloud about the strange habits of all these newcomers from Europe, but they let them be themselves, and this is a wonderful thing."

But Mr Demetriou said Australians today had become wary of newcomers.

"I can't quite work out why this is, but I suspect it's an indication that the whole world is less trusting of the unknown than it has been in its modern history," he said.

"Terrorism has played a huge part in this lack of trust, but so too has localised violence and predatory behaviour."

Mr Demetriou said Australia's reaction to the tsunami disaster had brought out the best in the nation.

But he questioned whether the outpouring of compassion was a true reflection of the nation we had become.

"Despite our response to the tsunami, we remain the conservative country we have become in recent years," he said.

"When we, as a country, reflect on where we came from we look narrowly, inwardly, rather than considering all the influences that have made us the country we are."

Mr Demetriou said he hoped the Australia of the future would react differently to an event such as the Tampa incident, than it had in 2001.

"I'd like to think we might ask how do we embrace the people on board rather than how to rid ourselves of the problem," he said.

"I'd like to think we'd respond as we did when the tsunami struck, rather than how we did when the Tampa arrived, uninvited, on our shores."

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Tears as Broadbridge laid to rest

by Paul Anderson
Herald Sun
Melbourne, Friday, January 21, 2005

TWO grieving families, former football champions and opposing players united to farewell Demons backman Troy Broadbridge yesterday.

Broadbridge, a 24-year-old newlywed, was killed by a tsunami on Phi Phi Island off Thailand on Boxing Day.

His wife, Trisha, survived. The couple were on their honeymoon and had been married just eight days.

About 600 mourners – some who cried and others who stood in stoic respect – gathered at St James Catholic Church in Gardenvale to say goodbye to the quiet achiever known as "Broady."

Football legend Ron Barassi; Richmond coach Terry Wallace; and Bali bombing survivor and former AFL player Jason McCartney were among the mourners.

Melbourne and Sandringham football club members sat as one.

Former Melbourne players Troy Simmonds and Brownlow medallist Shane Woewodin were also there with Hawthorn players including Richie Vandenberg and Joel Smith.

Wearing her wedding dress, widow Trisha kissed her late husband's coffin after repeating the vows she declared on their wedding day.

"Troy, you are my best friend. I promise I'm going to love you no matter what happens," Trisha recited.

"I will always stand by you like you have stood by me. I love you so much because of everything you've done for me, for the person that you are, for the heart that you have.

"For the unconditional love, for your caring nature, for your determination. I love you so much Troy."

On the coffin were Broadbridge's Melbourne Football Club jumper and Sandringham guernsey, in which he won two grand finals.

Melbourne Football Club drafted Broadbridge from Adelaide as a rookie in 2000.

Brownlow medallist and former Melbourne ruckman Jim Stynes, a mentor at AFL level, spoke of Broadbridge's impact.

"He kicked a goal with his first kick in AFL football. He kicked his second a week later," Stynes remembered with a smile.

"He was getting excited by the fact he was becoming a midfield goal-kicking machine.

"However, coach Neale Daniher had other ideas for the big redhead, moving him to the backline as third tall, which put an abrupt end to his goal-kicking talents."

Injuries interrupted Broadbridge's next two seasons before he consolidated his spot in the side last year.

"Giving up was not an option for Troy Broadbridge," Stynes said.

"Troy had a huge leap. Could take a great mark. Ran like a greyhound. Could catch up and match up on talls and quick smalls.

"He was quietly confident with a wicked sense of humour, but above all was the most selfless footballer to play at Melbourne that I can remember."

The service heard Broadbridge was not one to be swayed by peer group pressure, even when it came to putting blond rinse through his red hair like his teammates. And he always tried to include Trisha, even at times when girlfriends and wives were not considered part of the football inner sanctum.

"During half-time at a Sandy game ... Troy invited Trisha to have a kick-to-kick, to the astonishment of Neale Daniher who remarked in the coach's box, `That kid Broady must be in love'," Stynes recalled.

"Troy cared and loved Trish, no matter what. It was love demonstrated in its purest form – innocent and untainted, intense and sensitive, youthful and promising.

"Some will remember the way Troy died, but I will remember the way he lived and the way he played."

Broadbridge's uncle, John Evans, paid respect to Trisha's family, the Silvers, when he told the service: "Troy would expect nothing but the best for his team and everyone who relied on him.

"Trisha, the Broadbridge and Silvers families, and the Melbourne Football Club has the challenge ahead, particularly this year.

"Troy's spirit will beam brightly as their guiding light. Happy, handsome and humble, Troy James Broadbridge rest in peace."

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to be continued ...

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