Footystats Diary, footy's best kept secret, 2009: Worth repeating

Footy's best kept secret ...

2009: Worth repeating
(January – December)

see also – Worth Repeating – 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003

most recent –


Kennett criticises World Cup planning

Will Brodie
The Age
December 15, 2009

Jeff Kennett says he 'backed off' a World Cup bid after receiving entreaties from the Sydney Olympic bid campaign.

Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett says "no-one has done the work" on the Australian World Cup bid, and the disruption caused by a successful bid to Australia's other football codes could have a heavy "emotional cost".

Speaking on radio station SEN's Hungry for Sport program this morning, the former Victorian premier said that he supported the "concept and principle" of the 2018 or 2022 bids, but that "emotion", rather than good planning, was ruling the application.

"I have yet to see any evidence ... any detailed work ... on the cost and ramifications of the bid" Kennett said .

"... For us in Australia it would mean that those codes which occupy 95% of the football activity and 95 per cent of the public's involvement, emotional and attendance (sic) ... has to step aside for a period of time sufficient to wreck the year to allow the code that only represents five per cent of our activity."

Kennett said that hosting the World Cup would be "wonderful", but then expressed reservations about the impact the world's biggest sporting event would have, not just on the local codes, but on the emotional well-being of the populace.

"It really worries me that this bid, when you put in security etc, is not only going to cost a lot of money, it is going to disrupt the majority of Australians for the best part of the year. And that's serious, because wearing my hat as the chairman of Beyond Blue, I have come to realise that after family and our employment, which provides us all with stresses and anxieties from time to time, we turn to our sport to put a balance in our lives.

"And if we don't have the opportunity to provide our public with a balance for a year forget the financial cost, the emotional cost will also, I think, be a very heavy price to pay."

Kennett, who once himself led a nascent bid to host the World Cup, said that the Australian bid "just doesn't equate with countries that play soccer as their winter sport".

"I have yet to see any evidence that anyone, be it the Federal Government who is backing the bid, or Soccer Australia has actually done the detailed work as to both the cost of staging the World Cup and then the ramifications of such.

"For instance, if we win the World Cup and it goes ahead, AFL, league, rugby union are all going to have to continue to pay their staff, pay their players for that year.

"But of course there won't be grounds to attract crowds that will attract revenue. No-one is offering compensation. No-one has done the work.

"And I don't know how NSW right now can justify a new stadium (a $150 million upgrade of the Homebush Stadium is being mooted) when the state is fundamentally broke.

"So I'm in favour of the concept and the principle. But before you build a house, before you build a company, you have got to actually have done the work to work out what it is going to cost and how you are going to deliver it. I haven't seen any evidence of that."

Upwards of $100 million could be required to bring Australian stadia up to World Cup capacity requirements.

In 2008, Kennett called on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to utilise the skills of Victorian major events specialist Ron Walker in a bid to snare the World Cup for Australia.

In 2001, Kennett offered to take a hands-on role in the running of the game, which was then beset by financial and political crises. He advocated for an independent commission to run the game in Australia, in the same way the AFL commission ran its sport at arm's length from its individual clubs. He was consulted by then Soccer Australia supremo Ian Knopf during this period.

He has been president of Hawthorn since December 2005 and was premier of Victoria from 1992-1999.

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Herald Sun reveals demands on World Cup hosts

Fiona Hudson
Herald Sun
December 14, 2009

The Herald Sun on Monday (14th) explosively revealed all Melbourne bars would be granted late-night opening in a push by global soccer chiefs to seize control of our city if Australia hosts the World Cup.

Fiona Hudson reported: The move to override existing local liquor laws is contained in a secret contract that cities trying to woo the world's biggest sporting carnival in 2018 or 2022 must sign.

The Herald Sun provided a link to the Host City Draft Contract available on the Internet which outlines dozens of onerous conditions soccer's ruling body FIFA demands of World Cup host cities. Under the draft agreement, FIFA would demand that Melbourne:–

CLOSE any road or restrict public access to roads at any time during the event;

DEVOTE special traffic lanes and provide police escorts for FIFA officials, teams and VIP guests;

TONE down promotion of the Melbourne Cup, AFL Grand Final, F1 Grand Prix or other major sporting events in the year leading up to the soccer carnival;

KEEP airports open later into the night and open them early in the morning;

REMOVE advertising and commercial logos across the city at taxpayer expense.

GIVE special treatment to preferred commercial partners, potentially costing locals work.

TURN the city into a cultural desert by banning substantial cultural events – such as music concerts - on the days before or after matches.

The Herald Sun asked Football Federation Australia for an official copy of the Host City Agreement that Melbourne will be locked in to if Australia's bid succeeds. But public affairs chief Bonita Mersiades refused to release the document.

Asked why it should stay secret – given the significant impact it could have of the daily lives of Melburnians – she said FIFA had stipulated it not be released. But the Herald Sun found copies of the Host City Agreement freely available on the websites of other bid cities.

Cities in the US and UK, in particular, have had public debates about the impact of the agreement before deciding to bid. No such public debate has occurred in Melbourne, despite a formal pledge from Kevin Rudd and premiers including John Brumby effectively locking Australia in to FIFA's demands.

The clause overriding existing local liquor licensing laws comes as Melbourne grapples with booze-fuelled violence.

The document specifically orders that all bars, restaurants and shops within the host city be granted licences for late-night opening each match day at a minimum, and preferably every day of the carnival.

The draft contract is full of clauses pushing costs on to taxpayers and granting FIFA immunity from responsibilities. State government spokesman Cameron Scott said last night Australia's bid team could still negotiate some clauses.

"We are confident the bid team can work through these issues with FIFA to achieve the right balance between hosting of the world's largest and most spectacular events, supporting Melbourne's vibrant entertainment industry, and ensuring we keep our streets and late-night venues safe,'' he said.

"As we saw from the Commonwealth Games, Melbourne is capable of hosting such international events that provide a celebration for the whole community without compromising these processes.''

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was in Copenhagen last night and unavailable for comment.

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Soccer Australia outlines AFL options should Australia win World Cup bid in 2018 or 2022

Jim Wilson
Herald Sun
December 11, 2009

An early start to the season and relocation of games to Princes (Visy) Park, Kardinia Park (Skilled Stadium) and interstate are among the options given to the AFL by Australia's FIFA World Cup bid organisers.

Football Federation Australia has sent a document to the other codes, outlining the options for their sports should Australia host the event in 2018 or 2022.

There are four options presented to the AFL – using the 2018 calendar as a guide - which all work on the assumption that the AFL will have moved to a 24-week season.

The grand final is locked in for September 28 on all options.

One option is to start the season as early as February 2 and have a nine-week break.

Another is to begin the season as normal in early March and relocate games for nine weeks at alternative venues.

FFA chief Ben Buckley envisaged some clubs, such as Collingwood, Essendon and Richmond, playing home games at the revamped base of arch enemies Carlton.

Others, such as North Melbourne and Western Bulldogs, would have bases at Skilled Stadium, while yet others would find themselves playing in Launceston, Darwin and Canberra.

The document also proposes that St Kilda play at Geelong, and factors in a yet-to-be-built or funded 'E-Gate' stadium in West Melbourne as another option for AFL matches.

Buckley said the FFA was "working with all the sports and we are not pointing the finger and saying, 'You should do it this way'.

"It's not our right to tell someone how to run their own sport, but we've simply put some options forward.

"We want to explore with the AFL and governments the alternative venues and what it might take to upgrade those and to use on a temporary basis to satisfy the needs."

Buckley, who was Demetriou's No.2 at the AFL, said he "totally respected" the AFL.

"I grew up in the AFL system and they gave me a huge start in my professional career," he said.

"We've seen from the outset the World Cup is a World Cup for Australia and not just for a sport. It's not just for football and it will have wide-ranging benefits for all Australians.

"We respect the fact there are complex issues and I respect other sports have to protect the interests of their own stakeholders.

"We are listening. We will seek to solve the problems in partnership with the sports and the state and federal governments."

Visy Park, which has not staged an AFL match since 2005, would need a considerable and costly upgrade if it was required to host games.

"The capacity right now is around 20,000 and it would need plenty spent on it to bring it up to a match venue," a Carlton spokesman said.

"There's no seating at one end of the ground where the old Heatley Stand used to be, and across the board the outlay would be significant.

"Media facilities would need upgrading, maybe even a second tier on the Legends Stand would be required, and that all costs a lot of money."

The AFL maintained its stance that the FFA was reneging on a promise made last year that Etihad Stadium was not part of the World Cup bid.

"The AFL supports our bid for the World Cup, no question, but we need Etihad Stadium to run a viable competition," an AFL spokesman said.

It remains unclear whether FIFA would permit AFL games being played in Melbourne during the cup.

"We want to work with Victoria to bring as many World Cup games to Victoria and we acknowledge taking Etihad out of the AFL fixture for a period of time will be disruptive," Buckley said.

* 24-round season starts February 16
* Rounds 13-16 at relocated venues
* Then a five-week break for the World Cup

* 24-round season starts March 9
* Rounds 10-17 (including split rounds) to be played at relocated venues

* 22-round season starts February 2
* Nine-week break (between rounds 14 and 15) for the World Cup

* 17-round season starts March 9
* Nine-week break for the World Cup

* Adelaide and Port Adelaide to play at AAMI Stadium and Darwin
* Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast to play at the Gabba
* Fremantle and West Coast to play at the WACA Ground
* Sydney Swans and Western Sydney to play at the SCG

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Hawthorn goes back to school
to plant AFL seed in New Zealand

Stephen Rielly
The Australian
November 23, 2009

Understandably, the announcement last week of Hawthorn's plan to drive an AFL flag into New Zealand turf and lay claim to whatever football potential it can discover there met with a muted response.

Talk of the world as Australian football's oyster is not new and, of course, after-shocks from the news only days earlier of Kevin Sheedy's appointment as coach of a team from western Sydney that will enter the AFL competition in 2012 were still being felt.

Understandably, too, what coverage the announcement did garner was given over to Kurt Heatherly, the 190cm, 14-year-old nephew of former All-Black Jeff Hine, who has turned his back on exceptionally promising careers in basketball, rugby and cricket for the opportunity to become Hawthorn's first international scholarship player.

What the brief attention paid to Hawthorn's scheme did not allow to emerge, though, was something potentially far more significant than the public relations value of Heatherly's signature.

Where the AFL, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and what it admits will be generations of persistence, is out to conquer a region of NSW, it seems Hawthorn and AFL New Zealand have won access to the children of a neighbouring nation of 4.1 million people for several hundred thousand dollars a year.

Sport at junior level in New Zealand is conducted almost entirely through the school system, at primary and secondary level. What Hawthorn and AFL NZ have been able to do is infiltrate that system, to win, for example, approval from the New Zealand Secondary Sports Council for the expansion of a development competition pitched at Year 9 and 10 students.

The competition, known as the Hawks Cup, was trialled in 28 schools this year but will move into 70 schools in the Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and Hamilton regions in 2010.

The best of the players will be invited into regional talent squads and it is expected than some of them will represent Oceania, which is to field a side in the annual AFL national under 16 championships from next year.

The truly critical breakthrough, though, is not the NZSSSC's official endorsement of the Hawks Cup, but an undertaking to add AFL football to the school sports curriculum in 2011 if the competition is deemed a success next year.

There are 42 sanctioned school sports in New Zealand at present. AFL football would be the 43rd. In a 40-week school year some serious jostling for prominence will still be required but as Hawthorn's general manager of personnel and strategy, Chris Pelchen, says, all schools have to expose all of their students to sanctioned sports. "Every secondary school child will be exposed to AFL football. "Every one of them," Pelchen said.

"The importance of that sort of opportunity can't be overstated.

"It will introduce the game and encourage understanding of it at a grass roots level. Right now AFL football in New Zealand is largely an expatriate interest. To get a foothold in their schools is just an enormous leap forward ."

It is a leap that the AFL is a long way from making in NSW.

Coincidentally or not, it is a timely push into New Zealand for the Australian game and the Hawks alike.

Hawthorn president, the restless Jeff Kennett, turned to his various managers five months before the club won the 2008 premiership with a question: "What next?"

With the Hawks on their way to the flag, more than 50,000 members, a growing and increasingly profitable stake in Tasmania, where the club plays four home games a season, and yet another multi-million-dollar profit, Kennett wanted, and wants, more.

He took some convincing but the president is now enamoured of the idea of what he calls the Tasman Triangle, a connection through Hawthorn between Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand.

The Hawks have an exclusive agreement for their livery to appear on everything AFL NZ issues from now on, to the point that future national teams will be known as the Hawks and wear an impressive silver and black version of the Hawthorn jumper. The entire AFL presence in New Zealand has been given the acronym HANZ UP, which is shorthand for Hawks Australia New Zealand.

For their missionary effort, the program itself has been given Hawthorn's name, colours and interest although a priority claim to players does not exist.

The Hawks are certainly making an investment in New Zealand — it has two part-time scouts in the country now answering to east coast recruiting manager Graham Wright, is lobbying the AFL to provide the finance for the appointment of two AFL NZ development officers and will spend six-figure sums each year to support its various programs and scholarships but they are certainly expecting a return.

When Kennett asked his question 19 months ago, what he was really asking for was a way to grow outside the claustrophobic and all but wrung dry 10- team Victorian AFL market.

"If we find a home for the game with only 0.02 per cent of the New Zealand population that will amount to 8000 potential players and members," Pelchen said. "We're looking for a niche, but if we do it right we believe it can become a permanent market, a constant source of players and members for Hawthorn."

There are, of course, other imperatives at work. Such as the concern that as the AFL competition admits a 17th and then 18th team over the next three years finding players, certainly elite athletic talent, is going to get harder than it already is for the established clubs.

Then, there is the thought that games against the expansion sides are likely to be commercial disasters of the type witnessed when Fremantle and Port Adelaide, for example, play in Melbourne.

It could make compelling commercial sense, apart from anything else, to play one or two of the extra home matches each season, against Gold Coast and western Sydney, not at the 100,000 capacity MCG or 50,000 capacity Etihad (Docklands) Stadium but Wellington's cosier Basin Reserve with an underwriting, such as teams get for taking games to Darwin.

"My belief is that AFL football will be played on a regular basis in New Zealand within 10 years," Pelchen said, before making the point that it is a shorter flight from Melbourne or Sydney to Auckland than it is to Perth and that, unlike nations in the near Pacific, there are no visas required to travel between the two countries.

"I'd add that coming to Australia there are far fewer difficulties for a New Zealander to deal with than there are for an Irishman, a South African or Pacific Islander."

In New Zealand, the move also appears fortuitously timed. The government, through its peak sports body, the Sport and Recreation Commission, or SPARC, has committed to more than trebling the funds available for junior sport over the next four years, an increase from $25million to $82m.

It has done so with two objectives; an improvement in adolescent health and a higher profile on the international stage. It is a fine time, then, for a sport, particularly a foreign one, after a warm reception for a grass-roots sortie.

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'No cash' for AFL in report

Dan Silkstone
The Age
November 19, 2009

The AFL has rejected suggestions it will triumph financially from the controversial Crawford Report and its recommendation that the Federal Government redress a ''bias'' towards funding Olympic sports.

Many critics have questioned the panel behind the report, suggesting its members – including AFL commissioner Sam Mostyn, former commissioner Colin Carter and David Crawford, who restructured Australian football in the 1990s – are too close to the AFL.

But the league maintained yesterday that it had not asked for a single additional cent from the Government when it appeared before the Crawford panel last year. Nevertheless, the AFL stands ready to use its broad appeal to help the Government improve community health and activity.

"We are also always happy to partner with the Federal Government, particularly in looking at how we can use Australian football to get more young kids physically active and playing sport - any sport,'' spokesman Brian Walsh said last night.

''Any move to give more young people an opportunity to be active and to take part in sport is a good thing for the country. If more kids play sport as a result of this report, then that is a great step forward.''

The response came as the Australian Olympic Committee began planning its response to the report, which says that the Australian public needs to be re-educated about sporting success and recommends abandoning the goal of being a top-five Olympic nation.

A study group – dubbed ''Coates' army'' by some – has been assembled by AOC president John Coates and features former and current Olympic athletes and administrators. The group will craft a response to the Crawford Report, with the document to be prepared by EKS services, the Swiss-based consultancy responsible for Rio de Janeiro's winning games bid.

The group of 18 includes marathon great and former Australian Institute of Sport head Robert de Castella, former swimmer and now Swimming Australia director Chris Fydler, gymnastics head coach Peggy Liddick, Australian Commonwealth Games chief Perry Crosswhite and Yachting Australia president Andrew Plympton.

Olympic sporting bosses continued to savage the report yesterday. Rowing Australia president Patrick McNamara called the report flawed and misguided and said it would ''extinguish the aspirations of so many Australians''.

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Why Sam must get the boot

Rebecca Wilson
Herald Sun
November 19, 2009

Several months ago, an impeccably dressed Andrew Demetriou took me for a coffee in a Sydney cafe with his media offsider, Tony Peek.

The AFL's public relations machine was in full swing, determined to win over a cynical Sydney media that had little real interest in the Western Sydney franchise.

So sensitive to stressing the AFL's anti-sexist line is Demetriou that he wisely wheeled out the eloquent and intelligent female AFL commissioner Sam Mostyn at the Western Sydney launch.

Demetriou is smooth as silk, looks you in the eye and has a huge respect for women. He talks openly and affectionately about his wife and daughters.

The AFL chief is savvy enough to know that the way to a footy fan's heart in this toughest of Sydney markets is to make the new club as female-friendly as possible, with zero tolerance for badly behaved footballers.

In short, Demetriou pressed all the right buttons. He drew a line in the sand with the other macho footy codes. AFL, he pledged, is the one code geared to women and families, the one modern game that understands it is not OK to abuse women.

Much closer to home, Demetriou has let himself down very, very badly in his anti-chauvinistic crusade. Back in his home town of Melbourne, the AFL chief and a group of television bosses have turned a blind eye to the biggest single thorn in their side.

Sam Newman is the antithesis of Demetriou's image of a modern footballer. He is an arrogant, self-serving human being who has hidden behind the image of a man's man for far too long.

But he cannot be the sole acceptor of the blame for his errant ways. The Melbourne media, and in particular the Nine Network, have allowed Newman the leverage to behave appallingly at any opportunity.

Just this week, Melbourne's Channel 9 boss Jeff Browne apologised on behalf of the network for remarks made after Newman's completely unclever and unfunny segment last year.

This was the Footy Show episode in which he fondled a lingerie-clad mannequin after attaching a photo of Age football writer Caroline Wilson to it.

A subsequent Newman tirade against female AFL board members accused them of being liars. One of them, the Western Bulldogs director Susan Alberti, took him on in court and won. Channel 9 this week agreed to pay Alberti a defamation settlement of $220,000 plus costs (an estimated total of $500,000) after she took the network to court over Newman's allegations.

"I didn't spend the last 30 years doing what I've done to have this happen to me, so I feel very vindicated," Alberti said.

"I'm treated very fairly in football. I don't have a problem. I've been involved in football for over 50 years, so I would hope that women would continue to participate, continue to be on boards, and there's room for everyone."

Not in Newman's world, there's not. He has not apologised. Once again, his bosses said sorry on the network's behalf but refused to force Newman to do the same. He remains unrepentant and, even worse, employed.

"It's not my money," he declared. "Channel 9 can do what they like. As long as they didn't include my name, that's fine by me."

Channel 9 is a blokey world that shamelessly exploits every antiquated notion of sexism in both its Sydney and Melbourne footy shows. I had the displeasure of working for a single show on the Sydney version, which I can safely say was the worst and most humiliating two hours of my life.

The male hosts, former rugby league players Paul Vautin and Peter Sterling, refused to speak to me. They made it well known in the media before my appearance that I would not be welcome.

They insisted they would not talk to me before, during or after the program. I was even forced to sit in a separate empty room before the show because they refused to be in the same space. They kept their promise during the telecast as well.

The Jack Daniels-swilling audience of blokes sitting in the front row, loved the hatred, because it gave them a feeling that the old, macho world is pretty damned good after all.

Just like Newman's small and vocal fan base, they refuse to believe footy is any different from the good old days and the public humiliation of a woman proved it.

Nine is one of the last major bastions of chauvinism, which has allowed several modern aspects of sexual equality to pass it by.

Browne and Nine Network CEO David Gyngell have sat back and watched this world flourish under their stewardship. They preside over declining ratings for both footy shows, but refuse to yield to public pressure for change.

Perhaps they actually like Newman, Vautin and co because they hark back to those politically incorrect days when boofheads were an accepted part of footy culture. How else do you explain their apparent endorsement of Brendan Fevola's on-camera antics at the Brownlow Medal ceremony?

After last year's Footy Show incident involving the mannequin, Gyngell issued a pathetic excuse of an apology, saying he was displeased. Another Newman mate, Eddie McGuire, supported Newman's employment at the TV station.

The boys' club that is, and was, Channel 9 reigned supreme, oblivious to just how much damage Newman does to their brand each week.

Sam Newman is now way beyond any psychologist's kind words. He is a recalcitrant who negates every step forward Demetriou and the game have taken in recent years. He will not stop the bile because he believes those who oppose him are the misguided ones.

Newman has never been funny but he is now just more bitter and misogynistic than before. His brushes with the

law have underlined his aggressive, nasty streak.

Demetriou can take as many female journalists as he likes to coffee. He can talk up the changes and show us the statistics that reflect more women are coming to AFL games.

The bottom line is, while you can still turn on the television to see Sam Newman wearing his AFL hat on a program strongly endorsed by the code, none of it means a pinch of anything.

Newman's number is up.

Jeff Browne cannot hide behind written apologies shrouded in legalese for another second.

The women on the AFL boards united under one banner to nail Newman. Those female AFL fans who are providing Demetriou with his positive statistics should now do the same, telling Browne to sack Newman or face the backlash.

So many recently retired AFL players are well-spoken, respectful and thoroughly admirable people. They would probably kill for a chance to fill Newman's shoes.

We can live without his snarl, without the constant barbs aimed at women and the downright sleaziness of a man who must now have finally run out of lives. He is a relic whose bosses should put him on the extinct list before it's too late to salvage their already tattered reputations.

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Sheedy tackling geography of code and city

Peter Lalor
The Australian
November 14, 2009

Two scenes in far eastern Sydney last week that maybe tell a story about where the AFL is going in that disjointed part of town.

Driving past the SCG, you spy a tanned and shirtless Paul Roos. Almost as bronze as the statue of him holding up the 2005 premiership cup. Must have been for a swim in the ocean, you think.

The charismatic coach has got it sorted. Incredible pad in Randwick, halfway between work and play. Legacy bolted to the concrete and set on a plinth.

Not a bad life those Swans boys have. Almost all are shacked up in the eastern suburbs, handy to the ocean and the SCG, the beach-side cafes and the inner-urban boutiques. And yet, the club has struggled so hard to get young players to commit that it gets thrown buckets of money by the AFL to help it help the youngsters overcome the hardship of living in the alien city. Pulling into the car park at the football stadium you enter the NSW AFL headquarters and there's not a soul in sight. Nobody is at reception, the tea rooms and offices empty, every desk vacant.

You find them all in the boardroom, hanging on to every word of an avuncular man from the south. It's Sheeds. Kevin Sheedy. Master raconteur, footy legend and the messiah come to introduce a foreign religion to the heathens huddled some 60km to the west.

He's been appointed coach of Greater Western Sydney and already he's doing a great job, attracting truckloads of media attention. The GWS side will make its debut in the AFL competition in 2012. There's been a lot of half-baked jokes made around those initials. Some say it should be GPS. Someone else says it stands for God-knows Where it iS.

Victorian football reporters shuttled in for meet and greets at the code's $30 million Blacktown complex, rub their weary eyes and talk of the drive from the airport. How they got to Homebush and kept driving and driving. And driving.

The horrified Melburnians tell tales of how they tried to find a cafe latte but all they could see were housing estates, toll booths, McDonald's and more McDonald's. They'd never ordered a coffee at a drive-thru before.

These are people who, like most visitors to Sydney, spend their times somewhere between Bondi and the bridge. Went as far west as Newtown once, but thought it didn't scrub up in comparison to Fitzroy.

They thought Waverley was a folly, but this GWS business has an air of Burke and Wills to the whole thing. Maybe one day the AFL will travel out with its buckets of money for the settlers only to find a few scattered graves and initials on a telephone pole. You can be sure sometime soon someone will tell you the GWS joke.

It's a hoary old sports gag that at one stage was about the kid that comes from Rwanda (you can insert the name of any war-torn place) to play football for Collingwood (you can use any hardscrabble suburb). The story goes that his mother calls the rooms at half-time of the match demanding he come back home and protect them. Life is hellish. The dog has been killed, his sister shamed, his father abducted and their home is under attack from the local militia.

"C'mon mum," says the boy. "The club told us it would take a while to settle into Collingwood/Port Adelaide/GWS."

At the same time the AFL is introducing football to the west, the west is introducing the concept of a Greater Sydney to everybody else. It's a lesson in the new geography. Sydney's compass passed its use-by date years ago.

In truth, Parramatta is now the heart of the pancaked city, Homebush is in the east and those seaside clusters that once called themselves the eastern suburbs are, in fact, the far east.

Sheedy is a master of bluff and bonhomie. He arrived early in the week talking about his love and knowledge of the city. He remembers Liverpool from 40 years ago.

"I have been coming in and out of Sydney for a long time with Essendon," he says after the staff have cleared the boardroom.

"I was coming up in the '60s and '70s when I was in the army, out at Casula in the engineers, it was a terrific eye opener. When I played for Prahran in the VFA we used to come on interstate trips ... I sat near the Sydney harbour and couldn't believe it. I saw the Opera House getting built."

He is not bothered that the west is a place oblivious to the AFL.

"It's all Australia isn't it?" he asks. "Why shouldn't you be working and toiling your own sport in your own land, whether it's western Sydney, the Gold Coast or Cairns?

"I have been on the road with this game for 40 years. Let's go on an adventure and see if we can get it right. That's what people have been doing all through history, going to frontiers and trying to get things right, get things better, trying."

When other coaches have come to Sydney they have promised the wife and family a home by the sea, but Sheedy won't be able to do that. He and his wife Geraldine have not worked out where they will stay. "We've got friends in Sydney," he said. "We have to work out where we are going to live eventually. Maybe somewhere in the north, near the river or Parramatta, or Baulkham or Pennant Hills or Liverpool."

Sheedy talks of Australia's migrant experience in decades past and sees a new chapter of it opening up in GWS. "When I grew up, after the war years, when we had so many people come here from the war-torn countries," he says. "Some of these were people we were at war with but they became very, very good friends.

"That is quite amazing to experience that through your life, the Italians, the Germans, the Greeks, everybody. In the end it is great that we can put our hands out to people from countries who were struggling, who have had problems, whether it is tsunamis, drought or famine.

"These are people are just looking for a chance and we should be on the doorstep. It is a chance for Australia and the AFL to say 'Hi', this is our game, you might like it'. And you might find another Dipierdomenico (Robert, former Hawthorn footballer) or the Ukrainian Jesaulenko (Alex, Carlton star) we don't know what is going to come but if you are not there you are not going to get anybody.

"When you have got an exciting game, don't fail it. After the knowledge and experience the game has given me ... you have to come back and say this is what I have learned over the last two years as an ambassador and in the 40 years before that.

"Maybe this is a good way to help the people of western Sydney shape this game, but this is the menu, have a look at it. It's not a bad game, we are not trying to pinch your rugby league and rugby union, but we are the new kids on the block."

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Sheedy no great western force just yet

Tyson Otto
Melbourne's Herald Sun,
November 12, 2009

Kevin Sheedy is the AFL's top gun in the battle for the west, but fewer than one in five people in western Sydney know who he is.

Sheedy was yesterday often confused for Wests Tigers and Australian Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens.

The AFL's $200 million invasion of western Sydney appears to have a long way to go, with a Daily Telegraph survey revealing most western Sydney residents cannot identify many of the AFL's biggest stars, including Sheedy.

Brisbane Lions recruit Brendan Fevola was recognised by only one in 10 people in the survey conducted at Blacktown's Westpoint shopping centre.

The former Carlton spearhead was wrongly identified as Roosters forward Willie Mason more than 10 times.

."Swans star and dual Brownlow medallist Adam Goodes was recognised by one in four western Sydney residents.

"He's a Swans player, but I can't think of his name," said Brett Stevens, from Penrith.

Mike Bell, of Roseville, said: "He's another rugby player. He sure looks a lot like Ernie Dingo, but I can't get his name."

Carlton captain Chris Judd was mistaken for former Swan Barry Hall by a number of people.

The Daily Telegraph yesterday surveyed 156 people in Blacktown, asking them to identify five AFL stars and NRL marvel Jarryd Hayne from photographs.

The investigation revealed that:

HAYNE was easily the most identifiable footballer, with almost half of the respondents naming him as the Eels rugby league star.

GOODES, who features in a Gatorade television advertisement, was the most identified AFL star, with 25.6 per cent of those interviewed correctly naming him.

ONLY 16.7 per cent of people could identify Greater Western Sydney coach Sheedy.

More than half of the respondents were unable to name any of the football identities.

Of those interviewed who classed themselves as keen sports followers, about half were of the opinion the proposed Blacktown AFL team would be able to secure its own territory in western Sydney.

"It's probably a good thing. Blacktown isn't really serviced by Parramatta or Penrith so it's good for Blacktown," said Mark Maiorana, of Quakers Hill

Many respondents said they would not support the AFL's 18th club, but said the code was a threat to rugby league in the region.

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Biggest fan base? Not the Magpies – says poll

Stathi Paxinos
The Age,
October 22, 2009

For years the black-and-white hordes have told all who would listen – and plenty who had preferred not to – that Collingwood was the biggest sporting club not only in this universe but in every parallel one as well. The most passionate fans, the biggest support base, the most glorious history - the Magpies supposedly had it all.

But the truth, it seems, has finally come out. Collingwood is not the most popular club after all – not in this world, not in Australia and not in Melbourne. According to a recently released Roy Morgan poll, the Magpies are not even the most popular team on Swan Street.

Yes, that's right, the Melbourne Storm, which next year will move its home games from Olympic Park, which is beside Collingwood's Lexus Centre, a couple hundred metres down the road into the new rectangular stadium nearing completion, rated more fans (826,000) than did the Magpies in an identical Roy Morgan poll released earlier this year. Collingwood, said the poll, had just 731,000 fans. In fact, Brisbane Broncos were crowned the most popular club by the survey, with their 1,259,000 fans eclipsing the Sydney Swans' 1,217,000 (registered in the earlier poll, which relegated Collingwood to third place behind the Swans and Brisbane Lions).

But even these results could not draw the usually vocal Storm chief executive Brian Waldron – whose team has won three premierships since coming into the NRL in 1998 compared with Collingwood's one flag since 1958 – into a free shot at that most vocal of Magpies, club president Eddie McGuire. ''I can't do it, he'll kill me,'' Waldron laughed when presented with the opportunity.

The polls – which each asks about 20,000 respondents across the country ''what [AFL or NRL] team do you support?'' – must be viewed with a cautious eye. Teams such as the Broncos, Storm and Swans – which have a whole city from which to draw support – are more likely to attract higher numbers than a team such as Collingwood, which has to share its pie with nine other Victorian clubs.

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AFL sets up new Sydney Team GWS foundations

Martin Boulton
The Age,
October 21, 2009

Recruiting and draft concessions for the AFL's new club in western Sydney were based on a ''generational decision'' to introduce a team into a non-traditional football region, according to league boss Andrew Demetriou.

Team GWS (Greater Western Sydney) will get the first pick in each round of the 2011 national draft and picks 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 13 and 15 in the opening round – before the team's entry into the 2012 AFL season.

A major difference with the new Gold Coast franchise, which can sign one uncontracted player from each club before entering the competition in 2011, is a decision to allow Team GWS two years to sign uncontracted players.

If the new club, which will be based at Blacktown Olympic Park, has not signed 16 uncontracted players at the end of the 2011 season, it can sign the balance – up to 16 players – at the end of its first season.

''The AFL Commission is fully aware that establishing an AFL club based at Blacktown Olympic Park is one of the most significant challenges ever undertaken by the AFL,'' Demetriou said yesterday.

He said the success of the league's 18th team would be judged ''during the next 20 to 30 years'' and the concessions revealed yesterday were aimed at developing a ''community club'' that was strong on and off the field.

The league's legal and business affairs manager, Andrew Dillon, said the concessions were also designed to give the incoming team from western Sydney access to experienced AFL players.

The club will also have zoned access (up to 16 players) in southern NSW and ACT and all areas outside the current NSW scholarship region during the 2010 to 2013 national draft period.

Team GWS will also be able select up to 12 17-year-olds (born between January and April 1993) at the end of the 2010 season with the option to relocate to Sydney for the 2011 season. The club can also opt trade some of those 17-year-olds for experienced AFL players from other clubs. To assist the club's trading window at the end of 2011 and 2012 seasons, Team GWS will also have access to an extra four 17-year-old's (born between January and April 1994) to be traded to other clubs.

At the end of 2011 and 12 the new club can also pre-list 10 players who had previously nominated for the draft or were previously listed with an AFL club. In next year's rookie draft the club will have selections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 and in 2011 will alternate NSW priority selections with the Swans.

The new club's expanded list of 44-50 players, plus nine rookies in 2012, 13 and 14 will also be granted an extra $640,000 to $1 million in salary cap allowances, reducing down to $200,000 to $520,000 in 2018 before a senior list of 38 players and nine rookies is reached in 2019 (with no additional salary cap allowance).

Team GWS high performance manager Alan McConnell, who will coach the team next year in the TAC Cup, said the increased list size and salary cap relief were major tools for development.

''We are delighted with the access we have also been given to players in the Northern Territory, ACT and southern NSW,'' McConnell said.

''It (the concessions and rule changes) gives due credit to the size of the challenge ahead and differences that exist between the build of our list for Team GWS and the Gold Coast franchise.''

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Annual Review to consider
repeat offenders may be hit harder

The Age,
October 14, 2009

The AFL is weighing up whether to increase tribunal penalties for serial offenders, a move that would ramp up the pressure on temperamental Western Bulldogs star recruit Barry Hall.

Under the current tribunal system, penalties are increased for prior offenders, but the maximum is 50 per cent for players suspended for more than five matches in the previous three years.

The league has asked clubs for feedback on whether that cap provides a sufficient deterrent.

Former Sydney premiership star Hall, last week traded to the Bulldogs, would be one player liable to be hit with a bigger penalty for any future offences if that change occurred.

He will enter the 2010 season with suspensions totalling 10 matches hanging over his head.

He was banned for seven games for a huge hit on then-West Coast defender Brent Staker in 2008, as well as a one-match sanction later that year for attempting to strike Collingwood's Shane Wakelin.

Hall was then hit with a two-match ban this year for hitting Adelaide's Ben Rutten, an incident which ended his Swans career.

Upon joining the Bulldogs last week, Hall said he was confident he could keep his infamous temper in check, but added: "I can't promise anything".

The AFL is also putting several other aspects of the tribunal system under scrutiny as part of their annual review.

They include looking at whether players who obviously stage for free kicks should be fined.

The league is also considering whether to ease the eligibility criteria for the Brownlow Medal, to allow players who have committed offences which earn only a reprimand to remain in contention.

They are also looking at whether current penalties punishing unreasonable contact to the face are appropriate.

Carlton captain Chris Judd was a notable offender under that charge, copping a three-match ban for contact to Brisbane's Michael Rischitelli in the Blues' elimination final loss last month.

The club unsuccessfully appealed that decision.

The AFL will also assess their sanctions for umpire contact and for dangerous sling tackles.

Other issues to be looked at are whether to have three regular tribunal members, rather than a rotating panel, and whether incidents in intraclub practice matches should be covered by the tribunal system.

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New claim against Fevola

Martin Blake and Andrea Petrie
The Age,
October 10, 2009

An incident in the women's toilets at Crown with a newspaper reporter has emerged from the debris of Brendan Fevola's catastrophic Brownlow Medal night.

The Herald Sun reporter has not made an official complaint but is believed to have been upset at the time. AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said that the woman's claims, which are that Fevola sexually harassed her, were being taken ''extremely seriously''.

''We've got a respect and responsibility policy for women that's been in place for five years now and any contraventions of that policy will be viewed very seriously by the AFL,'' Anderson said.

''We have spoken to the employer of the woman concerned, we've provided support and access to counselling, and we've also made it clear that the AFL is ready and willing to act on any breach of what we expect of our players to behave towards women.''

Carlton president Stephen Kernahan yesterday admitted Carlton had not conducted any inquiry into the matter. He said it had become a matter for the AFL. The Blues put Fevola up for trade soon after the full-forward's drunken rampage and the deal was done yesterday with the Coleman medallist switching to the Brisbane Lions.
''It's an AFL call from here and we're officially not involved with that,'' Kernahan said.
''I think everyone knows of an alleged happening at the Brownlow. I think it's already being looked at by other parties.''

Anderson said the AFL was ready to act if required. 'We've provided support and also indicated that we're willing and able to act as soon as she would like to talk to us,'' he said.

Fevola, who is on holidays with family on the Gold Coast, said he regretted Brownlow Medal night.

''I want to express my deep sorryness,'' he told reporters. ''I think on Brownlow night, as I stated in my statement when the Blues were putting me up to trade, that I pretty much made a dick of myself that night - obviously had too much to drink.
''I don't think I missed too many people that night. I've apologised to the AFL, to the club, to my supporters, to the players, to other media people that were there and I want to express my deep sorryness again, because it was absolutely disgusting, my behaviour.

''I've got to earn a lot of trust, particularly from 'Vossy' [coach Michael Voss] and the players.''

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AFL trade week: done deals

The Age,
October 9, 2009

1. North Melbourne exchanges Josh Gibson and its round five selection (currently number 69) to Hawthorn for its round two selection (currently number 25) and its round three selection (currently number 41).

2. The Sydney Swans exchange Amon Buchanan to the Brisbane Lions for their round two selection (currently number 28).

3. The Brisbane Lions exchange Bradd Dalziell to West Coast for Brent Staker and its round three selection (currently number 39).

4. West Coast exchanges Mark Seaby to the Sydney Swans for its round two selection (currently number 22).

5. Melbourne exchanges Brock McLean to Carlton for its round one selection (currently number 11).

6. The Sydney Swans exchange Barry Hall to the Western Bulldogs for their round three selection (currently number 47).

7. The Sydney Swans on-trade their round three selection (currently number 47) to the Brisbane Lions for its round three on-traded selection (currently number 39).

8. Essendon exchange Andrew Lovett to St Kilda for its round one selection (currently number 16).

9. The Sydney Swans exchange Darren Jolly to Collingwood for its round one selection (currently number 14) and its round three selection (currently number 46).

10. St Kilda exchanges Xavier Clarke to the Brisbane Lions for its round four selection (currently number 60).

11. Geelong exchanges Shane Mumford to the Sydney Swans for its round two on-traded selection (currently number 28).

12. Hawthorn exchanges Josh Kennedy to the Sydney Swans for its round three on-traded selection (currently number 39).

13. Hawthorn exchange Ben McGlynn to the Sydney Swans for its round three on-traded selection (currently number 46) and its round five Selection (currently number 70).

14. As part of a three-way exchange, Essendon exchanges its round three selection (currently number 42) to Port Adelaide.

15. As part of a three-way exchange, Port Adelaide exchanges its round three selection (currently number 40), its round three on-traded selection (currently number 42) and its round four selection (currently number 56) to the Geelong Cats for its round six selection (currently number 97).

16. As part of a three-way exchange, the Geelong Cats exchange its round two selection (currently number 33) to Essendon.

17. Hawthorn exchanges Mark Williams to Essendon for its round one on-traded selection (currently number 16).

18. Port Adelaide exchange Shaun Burgoyne to Hawthorn for its round one selection (currently number nine) and its round one on-traded selection (currently number 16).

19. Essendon exchanges Jay Nash to Port Adelaide for its round two selection (currently number 24).

20. West Coast exchange its round four selection (currently number 55) to the Sydney Swans for its round eight selection (currently number 118).

21. Carlton exchanges Brendan Fevola and its round two selection (currently number 27) to the Brisbane Lions for Lachlan Henderson and its round one selection (currently number 12).

22. Richmond exchanges Jay Schulz to Port Adelaide for Mitch Farmer and its round five selection (currently number 72).

23. Richmond exchanges Andrew Raines to the Brisbane Lions for its round three selection (currently number 44).

24. Fremantle exchanges Brett Peake to St Kilda for its round three selection (currently number 48).

25. Fremantle exchanges Marcus Drum to the Geelong Cats for its round three selection (currently number 49).

26. Essendon exchanges its round four selection (currently number 58) to Hawthorn for its round six selection (currently number 89)

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Loyalty benched as pragmatism rules

Greg Baum
The Age,
October 8, 2009

This trade week has been unlike others in recent history in two ways. One, an advance, is the number of deals already done. Pragmatically, clubs have accepted that the bird in hand now is worth at least the two in the bush that after tomorrow's deadline can never be caught. Carlton's astute work yesterday was an example. Although anxious to wash its hands of Brendan Fevola, once it might have hesitated over such a bombshell deal until it was too late to stitch it together. This time, it was not caught – as Fevola too often is – with its pants down.

The other shift, a regression, is the rhetorical premium some clubs are putting on loyalty, and the unfair way this reflects on players.

Loyalty in professional sport is a nuanced concept. The loyalty of fans to their club is unqualified and unalloyed. It can never be bought or sold. It is wilfully and admirably blind. It inspires spontaneous and indignant protests such as Carlton's in support of Fevola earlier in the week and Hawthorn's standing up for Campbell Brown yesterday. It is black and white, founded entirely on what its heroes do on the field, not having regard for the complexities off it. It does not have to deal with the harsh realities of running a club. But it is what clubs depend on, and the game, too. It is for life.

The other – the loyalty of club to player, and player to club – is different. It is intense and exacting, as only the bond can be between those thrown together in the cause of combat, but necessarily it is fleeting. From the moment a player signs with a club, he is on the road to leaving it, sooner or later, sometimes on his own terms, more often on the club's. It is the implicit clause in every contract. It is 'til death do us part, except by agreement.

Unquestionably, Josh Gibson was ill-mannered in the way he left North Melbourne, not bothering to pre-empt his announcement to teammates, for instance. This prompted high-minded sermons from new coach Brad Scott and football manager Donald McDonald characterising Gibson as a deserter and claiming that the club was well rid of him because it wanted only players who were committed utterly to the North cause. This is the way a club must think.

But the cause Scott was committed to until a month ago was Collingwood's, and the cause he might have been committed to now might have been Richmond's if the game of musical chairs had played out differently, and the cause McDonald once was committed to was Hawthorn's.

Moreover, who at North can truly say that even if Gibson had remained staunch, the club would not have traded him anyway, for that is what this week is all about? The fact that a player is talented is no protection, and indeed sometimes leaves him more vulnerable; it makes him tastier bait.

It is why Brown's name bobbed up yesterday, so infuriating Hawks' fans. It is why every AFL footballer, no matter where he is in the world this week, sweats on the ringing of his mobile.

There is a further irony in the Gibson case. For all we know, one man who might have been deeply offended by Gibson's abrupt departure was Adam Simpson, a former captain, a heart-and-soul player, at that time still under contract to North, and still in the club's bosom. Now he is an assistant coach at Hawthorn, where one of his charges will be Gibson.

The posturing is everywhere. St Kilda professed to be disappointed with Luke Ball's decision to ask for a transfer to Collingwood. Coach Ross Lyon said he expected an appropriate return, in terms of ability and leadership. As things stand, that actually means a marginalised footballer with no formal leadership role, for that is what Ball has become under Lyon. The coach need not apologise; he has said repeatedly that he is obliged to do what he thinks is best for the team, no matter how wrenching.

But he can hardly have been surprised by Ball's request, and ought not to impugn his loyalty. Ball has been defined by loyalty, but as noted, in the football ecosystem, loyalty has a short half-life.

What to do? The system compels turnover, hurts players and hurts fans. Fans recover: three wins in a row the next season quickly transcends the pain. Fans are nothing if not resilient. Some players recover, some don't. There must be a system; everyone accepts that. But it could be more humane, which underscores the players' association's push for a form of free agency.

In the meantime, the faux and sometimes hypocritical emphasis on ''loyalty'' ought to be toned down. Not every player moves because he wants to. Not every club moves a player on because it wants to. Brad Scott, damning Gibson, said North would bring in in his place two players who desperately wanted to play for the club. But the fact is that the two, as yet unknown, will have no choice. They will be desperate to play league football, of course, but not until their name is called out on draft day will they know that their desperation henceforth will be in North's cause.

Hawthorn's great maverick ruckman Don Scott once said that he felt minimal loyalty to the club, but much to the group of players who were his contemporaries there. For all the rhetoric, not much has changed.

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AFL players nervous ahead of national draft

Jon Anderson
Herald Sun,
September 29, 2009

Only the elite few at each club are untouchable. For the rest nervous times await. Some should be more nervous than others.

Mark 2009 down as the season when AFL clubs decided aggressive pre-draft trading was the way to go.

The unavailability of 17-year-olds, with the Gold Coast having access to the best 12 in the country, has recruiters declaring the November 26 national draft to be somewhat thin after the first 12-15 picks.

And that's where the trades come into play. If you can't find what you are looking for via the kids, go with what you know.

And it could involve established players such as Western Bulldog Brian Lake and Geelong's Mark Blake, despite the latter having played in his second straight AFL Grand Final with Geelong on Saturday.

The Western Bulldogs have told Lake and his management that he won't be traded under any circumstances.

With the parties believed to be up to $100,000 apart in salary talks, Lake is said to be willing to take his chances in the pre-season draft.

Which means Melbourne would get first crack at the 27-year-old full-back, who was recruited from Woodville-West Torrens in 2001 with pick 71.

That would mean the Bulldogs get nothing for a player who is a large part of their planning going into the 2010 premiership campaign.

It is hard to see it happening but, remember, Port Adelaide got nothing when Nick Stevens returned to Melbourne in 2004 and joined Carlton.

Blake is a different case, the 200cm ruckman refusing to sign the new contract offered during the season.

Seven weeks ago departure from Skilled Stadium seemed likely as Blake languished in the VFL, but when rookie Shane Mumford tired towards the end of the season the Cats turned to Blake to give them predictable results at stoppages.

Blake, Mumford and Trent West are all out of contract at Geelong, while giant project player Dawson Simpson has re-signed with the club.

Blake is building a house at Ocean Grove, but with 29-year-old Brad Ottens expected to play at least two more seasons, competition for rucking sports will remain intense.

On the subject of the Cats, don't rule out interest from them in Fremantle defender Marcus Drum, whose uncle Damian played with Geelong.

Geelong is keen to replenish its defensive stocks with Tom Harley, Darren Milburn and Matthew Scarlett part of an ageing defence.

Drum is 22 and was taken with pick 10 in the 2005 draft, so he won't come for nothing.

Carlton is another side desperate for defenders, hence its interest in West Coast's Matt Spangher and Andrejs Everitt of the Western Bulldogs.

Could we even see Chris Tarrant bob up in a Blues jumper, the 29-year-old having declared his interest in returning to Victoria. The expected retirement of Stevens will leave room in Carlton's salary cap.

Spangher is a Melbourne boy and wants to return home while Everitt is said to be seeking a change of environment after being overlooked by the Dogs for all three finals.

St Kilda's Matt Maguire is another defender who could create interest at the Blues, although as of yesterday he was said to be favouring Hawthorn or Essendon, both of which have shown keen interest.

The environmental change can also be applied to Fremantle's Brett Peake, who has made his intentions to begin again outside Perth very clear.

There has been some interest from Melbourne in the 26-year-old who boasts explosive running ability.

Now, to arguably the best credentialled player in trade talk: Port Adelaide's Shaun Burgoyne.

Almost 27, it has been a stunning fallout at Alberton Oval given earlier this year he was coach Mark Williams' preferred choice as captain.

Hawthorn has put pick No. 9 on the table for the sublimely skilled Burgoyne, Port responded by asking for pick No. 9 and Jordan Lewis. Lewis, though, does not want to leave Hawthorn and that deal won't be happening.

If other players from the Hawks become involved look for names such as Mitch Thorp and Ben McGlynn.

As for Josh Gibson, who has declared his intent on joining Hawthorn, pick No. 25 from the Hawks is said to be on the table.

Andrew Raines will leave Richmond for Brisbane for the Lions' third-round pick while Shane Tuck is another Tiger looking for a new club, probably somewhere who wants a player capable of winning contested ball.

Essendon and Andrew Lovett are expected to part company, with Sydney having shown some interest in a player who can break up a game with blistering pace.

Collingwood and Essendon could look at a Leon Davis-Lovett swap, although the former is 28 compared with 26 and the Bombers have been steadfast in pursuing their youth policy.

The Magpies have been fielding calls about 20-year-old key position players Nathan Brown and Ben Reid. Travis Cloke's name has also been raised.

In terms of players wanting to return to their home states, West Coast's Ben McKinley is a name that has surfaced again, the 184cm forward originally from Old Ivanhoe.

The biggest deal to be locked away is Brock McLean to Carlton with Melbourne getting pick 11.

Depending who you speak to, that is either a win-win or a plus for Melbourne, given McLean hasn't played his best football in the past two seasons.

The reality is he hasn't completed a pre-season in that period and the Blues know the improvement will come now he is free from injury.

Sydney is expected to take West Coast ruckman Mark Seaby for a second-round pick, while Brisbane has shown interest in Brent Staker.

Hawthorn continues to be a potential player with the names of Josh Kennedy and Jarryd Morton having roused interest from rival clubs.


Brent Reilly, Robert Shirley, Taylor Walker, Nick Gill

Bradd Dalziell, Jamie Charman, Scott Harding, Rhan Hooper

Brendan Fevola, Andrew Walker, Brad Fisher, Adam Bentick

Leon Davis, Travis Cloke, Chris Dawes, Ben Reid

Andrew Lovett, Jason Laycock, Jay Nash, David Myers

Chris Tarrant, Marcus Drum, Steven Dodd, Ryan Murphy

Mark Blake, Kane Tenace, Trent West, Ryan Gamble

Beau Dowler, Mitchell Thorp, Mark Williams, Rick Ladson

Clint Bartram, Brock McLean, Paul Johnson, Brad Miller

David Hale, Daniel Harris, Corey Jones, Sam Power

Brett Ebert, Shaun Burgoyne, Danyle Pearce, Justin Westhoff

Adam Pattison, Jordan McMahon, Jay Schulz, Jarrad Oakley-Nicholls

Raphael Clarke, Luke Ball, Matt Maguire, Stephen Milne

Barry Hall, Nick Malceski, Henry Playfair, Ryan Brabazon

Ashley Hansen, Ben McKinley, Mark Seaby, Matt Spangher

Andrejs Everitt, Guy O'Keefe, Cameron Wight, Wayde Skipper

Note: The Herald Sun nominates these players as potential trades and is not stating they will be traded.


1993 Nathan Buckley to Collingwood from Brisbane Lions for pick 12 (Chris Scott)
1997 Wayne Schwass to Sydney Swans, Shannon Grant to North Melbourne
1999 Brett Montgomery to Port Adelaide, Nathan Eagleton to Western Bulldogs
2001 Damien Hardwick to Port Adelaide from Essendon for pick 47 (Andrew Welsh), Barry Hall to Sydney from St Kilda for pick 13 (Nick Dal Santo)
2006 Chris Tarrant to Fremantle from Collingwood for Paul Medhurst and pick 8 (Ben Reid)


1995 Craig Davenport to Carlton from St Kilda for pick 19 (Barry Hall)
2000 Evan Hewitt to Adelaide from North Melbourne for pick 23 (Drew Petrie)
2002 Nick Davis to Sydney from Collingwood for pick 21 (Bo Nixon)
2003 Jason Gram to St Kilda from Brisbane for pick 23 (Matthew Moody)
2004 Brad Ottens to Geelong from Richmond for picks 12 and 16 (Danny Meyer and Adam Pattison), Chad Morrison to Collingwood from West Coast for pick 37 (Mark LeCras).

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Lost your bounce?
Melbourne's post-footy blues

Max Cooper
The Age
September 29, 2009

Saturday's final siren brought euphoria to Geelong fans and heartbreak to Saints supporters but for much of the rest of Melbourne it symbolised the onset of post-footy blues.

Geelong may be preparing to paint the town blue and white at its grand final winner's street parade today but in the capital, the streets are feeling a little forlorn to some.

St Kilda cheer-squad president Pam Mawson has more reason than most to be feeling flat.

The self-confessed football tragic said it would take time to recover from Saturday's defeat and cheer-squad members had been sharing their disappointment as they cope with the loss.

"It takes a lot of picking back up. I'll probably catch up with others and read about how the Saints are feeling, a few are going to the best and fairest, that will help," she said yesterday.

"I don't read the Geelong bits in the paper, I only read the Saint bits. I don't want to read about how wonderful they are."

But it's not just St Kilda fans who are feeling drab, according to Victoria University sport studies lecturer Matthew Klugman.

"Even those whose teams don't make it to September, they still after the grand final sense that something's ended and there is some mourning and grieving that goes on," Dr Klugman said.

The heart of Melbourne beats to football's rhythm during the AFL season, Dr Klugman said, which makes Victorians more susceptible to post-season blues than followers of other codes.

Fulfilling social lives that centre on weekend football games can suddenly seem sparse before the spring racing carnival and cricket offer a distraction for sports fans.

"I think it's like an emptiness, there's that thing has been so central to their lives and it's gone for a long while," Dr Klugman said.

"There's an emptiness and an ache and then for most people it will die down and the hope will start springing again."

Dr Klugman, who has written a book Passion Play about AFL fan life, said while Geelong supporters would be relishing in their "glorious summer" some passionate St Kilda fans could be experiencing a feeling akin to trauma.

In the most extreme cases, he said fans of losing sides reported feeling grief as intense as if a family member had died.

Many would talk and think about the game incessantly for years until St Kilda were able to cinch a premiership and achieve redemption.

Ms Mawson said St Kilda's devastating loss to Adelaide in 1997 had "ached into my soul".

She recorded the clash on videotape but has never been able to watch the game.

This year, she said the Saints' gallant grand final effort meant she would be able to stomach watching a repeat as she clung to the promise of the coming season.

"I think this time, it's so hopeful they are going to get up and do what Geelong did last year and take that to heart and hopefully win next year, you've got to hold that in," she said.

"We're not wanting to wait another 43 years, I won't be around."

Meanwhile in Geelong, Cats' cheer-squad president Norm Richardson was yesterday gearing up to lead today's parade and bask in the glow of a grand final win before heading off for a month-long Bali break on Sunday.

Mr Richardson said the grand final euphoria would last a few weeks before the cheer-squad regrouped and got down to the business of securing back-to-back premierships.

This season was Mr Richardson's last as president. He said after feeling the bitter sting of defeat in 2008 as well as in 1989 and the 1990s, Saturday's win was the sweetest retirement gift.

"The victories stay forever ... they take away a lot of pain," Mr Richardson said.

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Ticket 'system' robs loyal fans

Damien Barrett
Herald Sun
September 26, 2009

The State Government once was gung-ho about the rorts attached to AFL Grand Final ticketing.

We'll stamp out the problems, it said. Trust us, we'll make sure more common footy supporters will have access to the big game.

It is no longer gung-ho about it and it also says there is no need to look into what some AFL club officials refer to as a rort.

The government now does as the AFL does and conveniently hides behind the Grand Final ticketing "system", a system that seemingly legalises much of the rubbish relating to tickets, which went on before legislation was introduced with the claim it would be stamped out.

Allocation of seats to the AFL's big day is not a "system" in the eyes of so many people familiar with how it all works.

To them, "system" is replaced by terms such as "corporate scalping", "gouging" and "legalised scalping".

In March 2002 then-sports minister Justin Madden made some claims he knew would be well received by the general public.

"We want to ensure the people who support sports week in and week out are not disadvantaged when it comes to getting to see the premier events," Madden told the Herald Sun in an article where he outlined the merits of the Sports Event Ticketing (Fair Access) Bill, which was before State Parliament.

"That is why our proposed legislation will counter excessive corporate ticket grabs and greedy individuals marking up tickets exorbitantly for personal gain."

He went on: "The critical issue is the large-scale corporate scalping where third parties obtain large slabs of tickets, which stops distribution to genuine sports fans at a reasonable price."

With today's St Kilda-Geelong Grand Final the seventh AFL Grand Final to fall under that legislation, very, very, very little has changed.

People who support football week in and week out continue to be severely disadvantaged when it comes to gaining a ticket.

Excessive corporate ticket grabs not only have continued but actually may have increased. Greedy individuals do exorbitantly mark up the price of tickets for personal gain and third parties continue to obtain large slabs of tickets.

As revealed last week in a Herald Sun investigation, even if the common footy supporter is fortunate enough to snare a ticket for the Grand Final, he will be shunted way up into the nosebleed sections of the stadium.

Sitting way up in the bleachers may not bother you too much during the match, as being there is better than not being there.

Being there will likely override the fact that the seats and space normally reserved for you and your fellow football lovers on every other day of the AFL season will today be packed with people who wouldn't go to the footy unless there's a wine and food package attached to the day.

Being there to watch Nick Riewoldt and Gary Ablett and Jimmy Bartel and Lenny Hayes will even temporarily temper your annoyance that thousands and thousands of your footy-loving colleagues have been robbed of the chance of being there with you.

But at some stage tonight or tomorrow, your anger levels may reach the strength of those not fortunate enough to land a Grand Final ticket.

But don't bother complaining to the State Government about the AFL Grand Final ticketing "system".

It thinks everything is OK.

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New stadium deal 'momentous'

September 24, 2009

Western Bulldogs president David Smorgon has described the new agreement between the AFL and Etihad Stadium over match returns as a 'momentous' decision which will protect the future of the Victorian clubs for the foreseeable future.

The AFL and Etihad Stadium announced on Wednesday that the battle they had fought over several issues, including stadium returns to the clubs, had been resolved, resulting in a $5.5 million injection for tenant clubs, a boost of around $100,000 a game.

The decision protects the clubs from making a loss on playing matches at the 55,000 seat stadium, with the five tenant clubs, Essendon, Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne, Carlton and St Kilda, set for a $1.1 million windfall each every season.

Smorgon, whose club has been one of the worst affected by the previous agreements, said the decision would have a huge effect on those clubs which have been struggling financially and praised the AFL for its persistence in obtaining the best deal from both Etihad Stadium and from the MCG.

"It is a momentous decision for all Victorian clubs, but particularly for the smaller clubs. I think there's been disadvantages and inequalities in our system which has affected the small club in particular. Through no fault of their own, we've really struggled," he said.

"The AFL have worked very closely, very openly and transparently with the clubs on this issue. And I think since then the AFL and all the clubs worked particularly well together and we've delivered the right result, not just here at Etihad Stadium, but also at the MCG."

"The Victorian clubs in particular are going to be the beneficiaries of this. That will help reduce the gap that was appearing based on stadium returns, between non-Victorian clubs and Victorian clubs. All Victorian clubs will benefit, and particularly the smaller clubs, we are also going to be advantaged by this decision."

Smorgon said the spirit of co-operation between the clubs and the AFL was at an all-time high and that had helped achieve the desired outcome in the negotiations with both Etihad Stadium and the MCG.

"I think it's a credit to all of the clubs, who listened to this on Monday, and accepted without one word of criticism or knock back that this is the way we should move forward. We know as an industry we will get bigger, and everyone will be better."

AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou said that while the chief beneficiaries of this will be the smaller clubs, the bigger Victorian clubs believed this was the right direction to go.

"We had nothing but support from the Collingwoods and Hawthorns on Monday. We had that throughout the year. The clubs have been united when they say we've got a far better competition when we've got 16 clubs who have got the best opportunity to compete on the field." he said.

Demetriou said he expected that much of the extra revenue would go into the football departments of the clubs, but warned them to be careful with their spending.

"We had a very frank discussion with the clubs on Monday about being cautious and sensitive and not just spending all the money, let's not create football inflation," he said.

"It gives clubs a great opportunity to plan going forward with surety. With Etihad it's a 15-year agreement. At least they know that they can bank on that income coming in. It's up to the boards now at football clubs to manage their businesses and how they spend it."

Demetriou said the new agreement meant there was no chance of the AFL now imposing an equalisation tax on richer clubs and that it would review the current gate equalisation system.

"There's enough money washing around in the system that we don't have to introduce a tax. But the one area which we have flagged which we do think is an old inherited archaic system is our gate equalisation system and it is something we will undertake to review in 2010 for 2011," he said.

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Call for AFL to open its accounts

Laurie Nowell
Sunday Herald Sun,
September 20, 2009

Community leaders and charity bosses have called on the AFL to open its financial accounts to public scrutiny.

The call came as a study revealed the AFL had received up to $600 million worth of benefits from public funding in the past decade and almost $500,000 a year in direct subsidies.

The research, by the University of South Australia's Centre for Regulation and Marketing Analysis, also stated that the AFL had an unrivalled lack of transparency in its financial affairs.

The report's authors, John Wilson and Richard Pomfret, said the accounts of the major Australian professional team sports were non-transparent. "Given the industry's profitability, it is surprising that it receives public subsidies," they said.

"The overall outcome has been spending in the hundreds of millions of public dollars to the benefit of a profitable industry."

The biggest subsidies have been for ground upgrades, but there is also almost $500,000 a year in taxpayer funding, including $194,000 for the Australian Institute of Sport's AFL program and $216,000 for the sport's development.

"The idea that professional sports are a profitable industry, whose size and composition should be determined by demand and for which public subsidies are unnecessary, has not entered the public debate," the authors said.

"The political economy of sports subsidies appears to reflect politicians' beliefs that many sports fans are potential single-issue voters happy to see tax dollars spent to support professional team sports."

Charity leader Rhonda Galbally said the AFL should be more open about its finances.

"The lack of accountability and transparency are not good. It gets back to basic governance and it ought to be public," Ms Galbally, of website, said.

But she said the AFL should be commended for its inclusive social programs.

An AFL spokesman said: "Australian football is a non-profit community industry where the revenue generated at the elite level is ploughed back into all levels of the game, including community facilities and programs.

"The AFL, like all major community organisations, publicly releases its accounts as we are all required to do."

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Newman granted life, then loses the plot

Chris de Kretser and Daryl Timms
Herald Sun,
Sport Confidential

September 18, 2009

The Footy Show resident clown Sam Newman was told to get off stage after his boorish response to being made a life member by the AFL Media Association on Wednesday night.

Newman, one of five people bestowed with life membership at the association's annual awards dinner, launched into a bitter rant about the media when he was interviewed by Tim Watson on the honour.

His behaviour shocked the audience which included the AFL hierarchy led by Andrew Demetriou, club presidents and officials, media chiefs and football journalists from newspapers, radio and TV.

As his tirade grew more tiresome, he was told to get off stage by his former mentor, Channel 7 chief Ian Johnson.

Newman did so, praising Johnson and his other major supporter Eddie McGuire, who appeared embarrassed by his outburst.

And before storming off stage and walking out of the dinner, Newman said "Get F-----" to the audience.

Asked about his behaviour yesterday by Herald Sun reporter Siobhan Duck, Newman was unrepentant.

He said that he just wanted to let people know that he didn't really like or respect most of the people in the room.

That was contrary to a view expressed by Newman when first told of the award.

Association president, Herald Sun chief football writer Mike Sheahan, took him to task over that at the dinner.

"Sam told me a week or so ago that he would be honoured to accept this award," Sheahan said. "I think he told me a fib."

Sheahan said he had expressed his reservations to Newman about giving him life membership. Newman thanked him for his candour and said he was flattered by it.

Newman said yesterday he was only being "honest" when he got stuck into the media for its treatment of The Footy Show and hinted that he would have preferred to be at the Beyonce Knowles concert.

He denied he was drunk.

"I was wondering how long it would take them to start saying that," he said.

"I had two standard drinks of red wine with a lovely, large dinner so anyone who says I was drunk can go and get f*****."

Newman said he didn't like or respect many of the journalists in the audience and wanted to let them know it.

"Let's clear this up now. I am delighted with the award," he said. "But it only takes 10 seconds to say that.

"Tim Watson asked me questions and I was just answering those questions honestly.

"I would not choose to spend time in the company of most of the people there. And I don't think they would want to be in my company either.

"They're not friends, they're acquaintances. I just tried to make that clear."

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Brisbane record another loss but Queensland ready to take off

Greg Denham
The Australian
September 16, 2009

BRISBANE is set to announce a second consecutive year in the red, but its administration believes the code in southeast Queensland will "take off" over the next few years.

Coinciding with the start-up of the Gold Coast team in 18 months, Lions chairman Tony Kelly views Queensland as being the national "hot spot" for Australian football over the next couple of years.

Lions chief executive Michael Bowers describes southeast Queensland as "fertile ground" for the code's expansion, despite a lull in Brisbane since making four straight grand finals between 2001 and 2004.

Following an overall loss of $2.2million last year, which was due to a massive writedown of shares, Brisbane is heading for another significant loss this season of at least $500,000.

The Lions' 2008 result included a trading profit of about $100,000, which will be at least five times worse this season, mainly due to a decrease in corporate hospitality at the Gabba.

"It's too early to predict exactly what our loss will be, but there will be a trading loss, possibly about $500,000," Kelly said. "But we still have a reasonably strong balance sheet, in the vicinity of $3million." Brisbane, however, appears to be far better placed than Sydney in coping with the arrival of a second team.

The Swans posted a $797,520 deficit in 2008 and, after budgeting to break even this year, Sydney, which failed to make the finals for the first time in seven years, is again heading for a substantial loss, which appears certain to be more than $1m.

Following Brisbane's top-six finish and experience this year of playing in two finals, Kelly believes support will grow on the back of an improved season under new coach Michael Voss.

This year, Brisbane's membership of 24,873 was the lowest in the competition after it achieved a record high of 30,221 in 2004 following three successive flags.

Kelly was quick to point out that membership was up this year, particularly from 2007 when the figure dropped under 22,000.

"We've certainly taken a giant step forward performance-wise, and I believe we've captured the imagination of the Queensland public," Kelly said. "People are talking about the team again and everyone in the community feels that we are heading in the right direction."

Kelly attributes much of Brisbane's rise to the efforts of Voss.

"He's got an engaging personality and I think he's connected well with the public," Kelly said. "Voss's refreshing approach and presence in the media has also been outstanding.

"His performance with the playing group is beyond the expectation of many, but not mine personally."

In a crowded football market, both Kelly and Bowers believe the Lions have more than held their own, despite a slight drop in home attendances this season - down about 1000 on average from last year according to Bowers.

"In Queensland, there is a lot of choice within rugby league, rugby and soccer, as well as in lifestyle," Bowers said. "But we're starting to move our way up and we will get there before the Gold Coast starts. Our finals crowd (32,702) was a good attendance on short notice, considering the scheduling long before of a rugby Test on the same night."

Bowers said everything pointed to there being room for two clubs in southeast Queensland.

"The soil is very fertile for both teams," he said.

Kelly said Brisbane's improvement this year would lead to an increase in football department expenditure for next season despite its operating loss.

Yesterday, the Lions added Richmond caretaker coach Jade Rawlings and triple Brisbane premiership player Craig McRae to the staff as assistant coaches. McRae spent the past three years as the Tigers' development coach.

Brisbane will be active during next month's trade week, but it is not expected to trade away its first- or second-round national draft selections.

The Lions have verbally agreed with Richmond to trade in out-of-contract Tigers defender Andrew Raines. In return, Richmond will receive a third-round pick from Brisbane.

Brisbane and Sydney are two of four clubs the AFL expects to record losses this year.

The others are Port Adelaide and North Melbourne.

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Appeals board verdict signals the end of the bump

Martin Blake
The Age
August 28, 2009

A note for posterity: the bump finally died at 7.55 last night, upon the finding of the AFL appeals board after 140 minutes of legal argument and just five minutes of deliberation.

Peter O'Callaghan, QC, was charged with delivering the verdict, not only upon Lance Franklin, but upon a time-honoured skill of Australian football. There was not even a wake.

When O'Callaghan dismissed all three of the grounds of appeal put up by Hawthorn on behalf of Franklin, it can only have meant that the bump becomes an unnecessary risk for a player. Yet it was never outlawed by the AFL, and not one of the team of spruikers who work down at AFL headquarters was required to trot out a press release to say it was so. It has been done by stealth.

When the league introduced the appendix to its rough conduct rules in February after the Nick Maxwell case, it was not immediately obvious how sweeping the change would be. But it is now.

Franklin is stiff. When he knocked out Ben Cousins at the MCG last Saturday, he performed a bump that was correct in every tenet of the way the game has been played for more than a century. But in the new world, he should have tackled Cousins. If the message was not clear before, then it is staring players in the face now. No player travelling at high speed and bumping can guarantee that there will be no high contact to his opponent.

Hawthorn tried valiantly. Franklin's counsel, David Denton, spent more than an hour arguing unsuccessfully that the charge had been wrongly framed. This was dismissed in a second or two. Denton argued that the jury had been misdirected on Tuesday night. It was thrown out. Finally, he presented a case that the verdict of the tribunal had been perverse and unfair. All three arguments fell on deaf ears.

This was not a malicious act by Franklin. There remains a feeling that the rule was not meant for cases like this, which is why Hawthorn now intends confronting the league about it.

But people who have raged about the tribunal and the match review panel this week are missing the point. The rule, set down in February after the Maxwell case, is crystal clear. You can't blame the match review panel and the tribunal for applying it to this case. They were just doing their job. And three sets of people - the match review panel, the tribunal and the appeals board - all felt this way.

What the ''killing the game'' advocates ought to be focusing upon is that the rule was changed in an instant after Maxwell was reprieved of his big hit on West Coast's Patrick McGinnity in February, without reference to the laws of the game panel, the very group set up to tinker with the rules where required. Why that happened has not been fully explained.

The issue is the law or ''deeming provision'', which instructs the match review panel and the tribunal to disregard whether a bump is reasonable or unreasonable, and merely focus on the result of the impact, and whether a player had another option. The Franklin case suggests that the rule has been framed too tightly. Perhaps it is time to get the lawyers in again.

People will now continue to say that the game has gone soft, but this is overly emotive. They should go to a club medical room after a game, or sit by the boundary to hear the clashes of hard, fit bodies. They should count how many players head off for surgery next week to repair mangled joints in the off-season. They should take a peek at a video of a 1970s game and watch the players skirt around each other, tossing the ball in front so they cannot be tackled.

Cousins twisted like a rag doll when he was hit. As he lay on the ground, Franklin fell on to his back, gathered the ball and fired off a handball. The umpire did not even provide the cold comfort of a free kick, and play simply moved on around Cousins' fallen body. Don't suggest the game's gone soft.

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New hush money claim in AFL rape case

Rachael Brown
ABC News
August 28, 2009

A woman who claims she was raped by a Carlton AFL player 10 years ago has accused Victoria Police of offering her hush money for bungling her case.

The woman, known only as Kate, claims that in 1999 police waited two days before visiting the crime scene, failed to get the suspect's DNA, and records of his interview with police disappeared.

Kate has told ABC1's 7:30 Report program (August 27th) while she has now reached a confidential settlement, she was originally offered $20,000 to keep quiet.

Victoria Police declined to be interviewed because it says it cannot comment on any payments because of strict confidentiality clauses.

The allegations come two months after former Carlton president John Elliott said the club had paid hush money to women who claimed they had been assaulted or raped by its players.

The club has now banned Mr Elliott.

Kate also says the police now want her help investigating whether, along with slain gangland identity Jason Moran, a Carlton player was supplying drugs to some of his team-mates.

"[I had] bad depression. I now suffer from an anxiety disorder. I just want to be a happy person again," Kate said.

"There's been times in the last six years where I've thought of ending it because I don't see that it's ever going to get better."

Kate's memories of the 1999 AFL grand final are of bitterness and humiliation.

Carlton's season ended in a 35-point loss to the Kangaroos and according to Kate, a haze of alcohol and drugs – and her alleged rape.

She had met her idol, a Carlton player, at Crown Casino two nights after the club's defeat and agreed to go home with him. She says other players were at the Essendon house, some high on cocaine.

"In the middle of having intercourse, a person had walked into the room right in the middle of having sex and was sort of offering some drug and he said no," Kate said.

"Then he got a phone call and said he had to go get his keys and get his car from Optus Oval and that he would be back. So I went to sleep and that's when I woke up to being fondled and touched.

"I thought that it was the same person but when I noticed he was going - he was having sex with me, that it was a bit more rough. It just wasn't the same and he sort of popped his head up from under the covers and I realised that it wasn't who it was originally."

Kate says she ran out, telling numerous players she had been raped.

She claims some players, including one of Carlton's biggest stars at the time, tried to stop her from going to the police.

A week later, when leaving her job as a stripper at Melbourne's men's club Goldfingers, she says Mr Elliott was waiting for her in her boss's office. She refused to meet him.

"I wasn't offered hush money but I believe if I had've sat in that room I would have been offered hush money," she said.

Both Mr Elliott and Goldfingers boss Ray Bartlett deny the meeting ever happened.

'They failed to do so much'

Kate went to the police. Three years went by before officers told her there was not enough evidence.

But she feared she was being ignored because she was working as a stripper at the time. So she called in the police watchdog.

A leaked 2005 review by the Office of Police Integrity details a litany of errors in the police investigation.

The informant neglected to collect the suspect's DNA but told colleagues he had. He waited two days to visit the crime scene.

"By that time they could have washed sheets, they could have – they failed to do so much," Kate said.

"They let the players go on their overseas football trip before they even took a statement from the alleged player."

And both the master copy and the back-up of the suspect's police interview disappeared and have not been seen since.

"You don't completely botch a police investigation that badly just by mistake," Kate said.

Kate says Victoria Police then sent an apology and a sweetener to let it be.

"They offered me some money... $20,000... on conditions that I don't proceed with having it heard it court," she said.

"You think you can pay me off with $20,000? $20,000 is nothing, not that it was ever about money. But I think in some way they owed me more than just 20 grand. They owed me – doing their job properly."

Kate rejected the cash offer and tried to sue the officers involved. Her civil claim never made it to trial; the Victorian County Court ruled police do not owe a duty of care to an individual member of the public.

The ABC understands she has since signed a confidential settlement with Victoria Police.

They declined an interview but issued a statement saying: "Victoria Police can't comment on any payments because of strict confidentiality clauses."

'Embarrassment factor'

As for the botched 1999 rape investigation, one officer was disciplined and the other two have since resigned from the force.

Prominent Melbourne senior counsel Dyson Hore Lacy says Victoria Police regularly instigate settlements, most with confidentiality clauses embedded, so the public is none the wiser about the use of taxpayer dollars.

"I think with [Victoria Police] there is an embarrassment factor. It's the norm for confidentiality agreements to be signed with settlements against their members," he said.

"It may be an assault by a member against a member of the public. It might be a false imprisonment, malicious prosecution. There have been all sorts of cases."

This June, Kate's nightmare was dredged up again, with Mr Elliot's bombshell. He claimed his club paid four or five women up to $5,000 not to go public with their claims they had been raped by Carlton footballers.

"We did have a few problems here at Carlton as every club did," Mr Elliot said on a community television channel.

"I can't name them, because I can't remember."

Kate says it hurts to watch stars like Brendan Fevola and Ange Christou distance the current playing group from the controversy over the alleged payments of hush money.

She says although they were not involved in her alleged rape, she told them about it that night.

Mr Elliott has never spilled the beans as promised. The only questions he has answered are those of sex crime detectives. He has not responded to the 7.30 Report's requests for an interview.

Claims of underworld links

But in an astonishing twist, Kate suspects Carlton's tentacles stretched into Melbourne's underworld.

On the same day back in 1999 that she refused to meet Mr Elliott at Goldfingers, there was a separate incident as Kate was leaving the club.

She says she was confronted by the same man who was dealing drugs the night of her alleged rape – Jason Moran – who would be killed four years later at the height of Melbourne's gangland war.

"From nowhere, I got pushed into a little laneway that came off the laneway and had a gun put to my head and was told that if I was to mention anything about the drugs, that I would be killed and so would my family," Kate said.

"I was threatened by the same person who walked in on me having consensual sex."

The Moran brothers, Jason and Mark, who helped run Melbourne's underworld drug syndicate the Carlton Crew, were well known amongst the Blues; their grandfather worked for the club.

The ABC has contacted former members of the drug squad. None have been willing to reveal if any gangland links between the Moran family and the Carlton Football Club were investigated during Melbourne's underworld war.

Six years on from Jason Moran's death and police are now looking into claims one associate – a former player – was also dealing drugs to some team-mates.

The police want Kate's help, but she says she owes them nothing. The man police are interested in was the first player she told of her alleged rape.

Kate does not think her case was botched because of any drug links, rather police wrote her off because she was a stripper.

"From the moment I stepped foot into the police station, I was treated like crap," Kate said.

"I was treated so unfairly. I was thinking, they're not taking me serious. I mean, look what I do for a job."

Sex scandals are not uncommon in either football code - AFL and NRL - but Kate says her experience suggests Aussie Rules is just better at damage control.

"You'd hope that now they'd take it a bit more serious ... it might damage your club, but you know, you're damaging the whole AFL by hiding it, and girls like me coming out in the public and going 'well, you're not as good as what you think you are'," she said.

A spokesman for the Carlton Football Club says, given it was 10 years ago, the club is unable to comment on the allegation that drugs were involved on the night of Kate's alleged rape.

He says there has been no known link between the club and the activities of the late Jason Moran.

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AFL gets is right on club equalisation

Patrick Smith
The Australian
August 22, 2009

In the space of six months AFL football has been turned on its head. And in the most sensible way.

At the beginning of the season the commission had it in its mind that the financial chasm between rich and poor clubs – which was reflected on the field as well as the books – needed to be addressed. The solution would be to raise a tax on the wealthy clubs. Call it the Robin Hood rule.

When the plan was run by club presidents, Collingwood's Eddie McGuire, head of the most aggressive and influential club in the land, did not like what he heard. Not a bit of it. With support from Hawthorn's forthright chairman Cappuccino Kennett, McGuire argued that to rob the rich to pay the poor was to drag the competition down. Sabotage from within.

Better, argued McGuire, that the AFL leave the wealthy alone but lift its own funding of the weaker sides up to the levels of the bigger clubs. That way the push was towards excellence and not mediocrity. Those present say it was a passionate and persuasive argument.

And it must have been because the AFL philosophy swung 180 degrees. The commission decided to investigate a plan that would boost the monies available to poorer, less successful clubs to such levels that every club had an equal chance of playing at their best. No longer would clubs be forced to trim coaching staffs, rookie lists, recruiting networks, medical care or physical conditioning.

The change of philosophy, reported exclusively in The Australian yesterday, has seen the AFL administration undertake an overhaul of old equalisation and income distribution policies in what chief executive Andrew Demetriou reiterated on 3AW radio yesterday was "a comprehensive, radical new funding model".

The plan to ensure all clubs for the first time in the game's history would be able to spend the same amount of money on football fundamentals continues to be finetuned by the AFL and a refined version will be shown to the presidents in a meeting next month. While the principles driving the salary cap and national draft will not change, the new scheme will not affect clubs' ability to show initiative and generate other incomes. But it will ensure the club with the best football brain will have every chance to succeed and not just the clubs with the most money.

Described yesterday by Geelong football general manager Neil Balme as "a very mature way, a very intelligent way" to address the entrenched inequalities in the competition, the scheme was essential if the AFL was to grow to 18 clubs without great division among the existing clubs.

The AFL has set out generous draft concessions for the new franchises – Gold Coast and west Sydney – which come online in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Senior AFL officials have also said that the league would be prepared to spend as much as $400m over time to ensure the new teams are successful.

It would be inconceivable that the present 16 clubs would tolerate money being poured into the new teams while traditional clubs were forced to beg for money to field a rookie list, for example. The league needs all the goodwill it can muster to ensure the draft advantages and financial backing set aside for Gold Coast and west Sydney do not prove disruptive at a time when the AFL attempts to conquer new markets and will be on the eve of a new broadcast deal.

The AFL has spent millions ensuring clubs like Carlton, North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs have training facilities the equal of the richest clubs in the competition. It only makes sense then that it would also address their ability to compete in other non-regulated areas like recruiting and coaching staff.

There is much at stake as the football codes position themselves in a marketplace that is growing more competitive by the week. A look at the strength of our athletics team at the world championship suggests that not every sport gets its hands on the best sportsmen and women. The sport that presents itself professionally with the best facilities and the best opportunities for sports folk to earn money, profile and respect will be best placed to prosper.

The amount of damage rugby league has suffered in recent years will be realised in time. The AFL itself looks amateurish as the poorer clubs continually weep and moan about their tight circumstances, have supporters raise money so that a rookie can be added to the list, constantly tell supporters home games might be transferred to another state or venue to help make ends meet.

It is to the AFL's advantage that its clubs can be proud, competitive and well-run. It would be pointless for the AFL to win a battle on the Gold Coast or west Sydney and lose loyal troops in Melbourne.

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Radical plan to level playing field

Patrick Smith and Greg Denham
The Australian
August 22, 2009

The AFL commission is overseeing a revolutionary financing scheme that will ensure for the first time in the competition's history that all clubs have sufficient resources to compete equally on the playing field.

The commission met last Monday and was updated on the plan – outlined to clubs at the most recent CEO's meeting – that is engineered to ensure every club can meet costs for recruiting, drafting, rookie lists, additional services and salary cap payments.

The new system includes an overhaul of the equalisation systems and formulas that relate to gate levies and other income streams.

Further work on the scheme will be completed before a presentation to club presidents next month. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou told The Australian yesterday that it was unlikely the scheme would be ready by next year but still refused to rule out its implementation as early as 2010.

"The commission would want the scheme within two years. (A new Gold Coast team joins the AFL in 2011 and a side from west Sydney is scheduled to become the 18th AFL team in 2012). Because there is work yet to be done, it is not possible to say whether the new plan will be in place for next year," Demetriou said.

"This is the direction that clubs support. Rather than taxing the richer clubs to support the poorer-performing ones the idea is to bring the less-advantaged clubs up to a level that will allow them to compete with the very best," Demetriou said. "For the first time, clubs would be able to go head-to-head on the football field."

The new scheme has taken significant form since the AFL put together a series of options at the CEO's meeting in Sydney earlier this month. The benefits of the new scheme are obvious and engaging. Rather than lowering the standard by restricting the capacity of the richer clubs to spend, the AFL seeks to improve standards from the bottom to the top. And with teams finally self-sufficient, the league will have freedom to arrange the draw in the most attractive way for the new TV rights deal expected to reap $1billion in 2012.

One senior AFL official likened it to ripping up the nation's taxation system and "turning it on its head. It is revolutionary." Senior officials believe that further tinkering to the scheme when all money streams are freed up or re-negotiated (stadium revenue, broadcast rights) will ensure the clubs are sustainable and self-sufficient deep into the future. It is also envisaged that the scheme will help clubs ease existing debt burdens.

Demetriou said: "The idea is to ensure that every club has the capacity to pay the full amount of the salary cap if it needs to, as well as additional services (promotion and marketing payments to players). "The philosophy is not dissimilar to (Collingwood president) Eddie McGuire's suggestion earlier this year that rather than bring the strong clubs down to the level of the weaker ones, we lift the standard across the board.

"We can benchmark what it costs to run a football department. We have all those figures. At the moment the scheme could take the form of funding what the commission believes is a band of money which would enable every club to meet industry standards on everything to do with getting a competitive AFL team on to the field."

At present, the AFL recognises clubs that are adversely affected by poor stadium returns and traditionally small supporter bases and those clubs are compensated through the Annual Special Distribution scheme.

The AFL is in discussion with the Melbourne Cricket Club, the MCG Trust and the Victorian government on securing a better deal for clubs based at the MCG, Melbourne's premier stadium. All parties appear comfortable that a satisfactory outcome is not far away. A suggested compromise would be a five-year extension in the AFL-MCG contract if clubs receive an extra $100,000 for every game they play at the ground as the home club.

A dispute with Etihad Stadium, the No2 AFL stadium in Melbourne, is more complex and volatile. The AFL is preparing court action to recover as much as $20m it claims is owed in supply and pourage rights at the stadium since it came on-line in 2000. The court action would also address issues of the stadium's naming rights and a deal between management and A-League soccer side Melbourne Victory.

"We sought and got discovery on the documents we need just this week and our legal team is preparing our case. We intend to litigate. Always have," Demetriou said.

The new scheme is a melding of existing equalisation fund and special distribution formulas and is not dependent on resolution of the two disputes with the Melbourne stadiums.

The new scheme will be welcomed by all clubs. As it stands now the difference in football-department spends between the rich and poor clubs is growing bigger by the year. It gives the wealthy clubs the ability to pay 100 per cent of the player salary cap, have a full list of rookies, meet extra payments through the additional services payment scheme, run bulging recruiting networks and explore new directions in conditioning and medical practices.

Last year Western Bulldogs supporters were forced to hold a fundraiser to find $50,000 so the club could select Jamason Daniels on its rookie list and this week it has been suggested something similar might be needed to keep Jason Akermanis next year.

Some of the crippling examples of the uneven playing field in the AFL in 2008 are: the Western Bulldogs spent $12.9m (after a $1m increase on 2007 figure) on its football department, $4m less than the Swans' expenditure on their football department. North Melbourne's football department spend of $12.7m was the lowest in the competition. The Kangaroos were one of nine clubs which spent less than the competition average of $14.45m. The recruiting and list management contrast is stark if you compare the $1.23m spent by Collingwood last year to the Western Bulldogs amount of $381,000.

Sydney became the first club to pay its players more than $10m. Swans players earned $10.4m, while perennial strugglers North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs paid their players $8.6m.

Carlton was the leader in expenditure in fitness and conditioning, shelling out $1.43m, ahead of St Kilda ($1.38m) and Collingwood and Sydney, which each spent $1.35m. The cellar dwellers, again, were the Dogs ($770,000) and North ($780,000).

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Anti-siphoning laws for TV sports under review

Lara Sinclair
The Australian
August 21, 2009

The Rudd government will consider strengthening use-it-or-lose-it provisions for sports on the anti-siphoning list that are not shown on free-to-air television, under a review started yesterday.

Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy released a discussion paper calling for submissions on rules governing the broadcasting of sport on free-to-air and pay TV, beginning the long-awaited review of the anti-siphoning scheme.

Under the current legislation, more than 20 categories of sporting events – including the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, AFL and NRL premiership matches, rugby union Tests, most national team cricket and the Melbourne Cup – may not be shown on pay TV or digital multi-channels before free-to-air broadcasters have obtained the rights or shown them on their main channels.

The pay TV broadcasters yesterday renewed their call to be allowed to bid to show sports not currently being shown on free-to-air television's main channels.

Steve Bracks, the chairman of pay TV industry body ASTRA, said the Seven, Nine and Ten networks "use the system to keep a stranglehold on the sports codes, consumers, and to block competition".

"Australia's anti-siphoning list is the longest in the world, and most of the sport listed is not shown by the free-to-air TV networks," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Ten Network, which in March launched a sports-focused digital multi-channel called One HD, said the free-to-air networks should be allowed to screen more sport on their multi-channels.

Submissions are due by October 16.

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Ireland's call shows Swans are up to fight

Richard Hinds
The Age
August 14, 2009

Inevitably, all the attention at Sydney's double-barrel press conference on Wednesday was on the hastily orchestrated and remarkably smooth handover of the coach's whistle from Paul Roos to John Longmire.

A change of coach is always big news, even if only the timing of Roos's decision was surprising, but his replacement by Longmire was predictable and the process won't happen for more than a year.

Overshadowed was an announcement that could have even greater ramifications - the promotion of general manager (football) of Andrew Ireland to replace outgoing chief executive Myles Baron-Hay.

Longmire will inherit a team in transition after the retirement of most of its premiership heroes and suffering the draft-table consequences of an ultra-competitive seven years under Roos. Ireland's new role is even more daunting if the bottom line is any indication.

An $800,000 loss last year and the forecast of another ''significant'' shortfall this season. A steady decline in membership. A pitched battle to win corporate support underlined by a shortfall in match-day revenue.

And, perhaps most significantly, the realisation that the beloved ''Swannies'' of the 2005 and 2006 seasons have lost cache in a notoriously fickle sporting market as they are about to confront opposition from the AFL-sponsored West Sydney Whatevers.

Little wonder Ireland allows a knowing chuckle when you suggest it would have been easier to remain in his old job signing opposition players than it will be trying to recruit public and corporate supporters.

''There's no doubt we've got some pretty significant challenges ahead,'' says Ireland, who as Brisbane chief executive from 1990 to 2001 oversaw the club's transition from the Gold Coast to Brisbane.

''We're at a point, I think, where we need to re-engage with our members in an environment where the AFL will be throwing a lot of resources at the new club.''

Ireland's management of the Swans' cutting-edge football department since 2002 won deserved praise – not least from chairman Richard Colless, who regularly jokes he is so in love with his football manager his wife considers Ireland a serious rival.

For that reason, Colless was keen to make it clear that he was not solely responsible for Ireland's appointment. ''I am close to Andrew but I had a number of board members who have dealt with him tell me [that] we had the right person under our nose,'' he said.

''We could have undertaken a process that took four to six months to identify a candidate but we would have been wasting our time.''

Ireland believes his strong football knowledge – he was a stout grand final defender with Collingwood in the late 1970s – gives him a similar advantage to some other well-regarded chief executives with playing backgrounds, such as Geelong's Brian Cook. It will also mean he is more hands-on in football matters than his predecessor.

''I tend to compare footy to a cinema,'' Ireland says. ''You put on a dud film and they'll stop coming. You need a team playing strong, competitive footy, which is difficult in a seriously competitive league.''

But Ireland acknowledges that results alone won't get the club the 30,000 Sydney members that the Swans had ambitiously set out to recruit before the arrival of the Western Sydney Whatevers. He cites the use of new media and, perhaps, even the recruitment of another big-name player in the mould of Barry Hall and Tony Lockett (unlikely this year) as means to that end.

''But hopefully a lot of what we do comes from within,'' he says. ''I think you tend to be judged against what you've done and, compared to what we achieved, some will see the last few years as failure. We're rejuvenating with young players and I think there's some interest and excitement. It's up to us to build on that.''

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Sydney pays homage to Magic man

Stephen Rielly
The Australian
August 10, 2009

There may not be as much as there once was between the talent on the Sydney and Richmond lists, but there remains a world of difference between the two clubs as institutions, a vast cultural gulf that explains just about everything that took place at the MCG yesterday.

The Swans, typically tough inside and forever forcing the issue, made certain that the day Michael O'Loughlin became the first player in the club's history to play 300 games was a celebration. Of "Micky O", of the club's warrior spirit, of the past.

The great John Rantall, who was for decades the longest-serving "Blood", handed O'Loughlin his jumper before the game and then proudly watched on, amid a cast of former players gathered for the occasion, as the team of today went about routing Richmond, ultimately by 55 points.

An eight-goal third term from the Swans, which included two from O'Loughlin and three from best afield Adam Goodes, had the result set by the last change but long before Richmond had surrendered to a typically proud, combative and fierce Sydney side led, and embodied by, its captain Brett Kirk.

Kirk runs as if every step hurts. He is a graduate of the Adam Simpson kicking school and not often prolific as a possession winner, but on a special day he laid as many tackles as he had touches — 14 — as if to make his performance a personal gift to O'Loughlin.

Most of Sydney's best players of the last decade, at least those still playing, also obliged; the likes of Ryan O'Keefe, Jude Bolton and Goodes. And a handful of younger types paid their respects, too.

Kieren Jack went head-to-head with Ben Cousins and gave as good as he got, Jesse White led strongly and marked well at times, offering glimpses of key-forward potential, and Dan Hannebery showed that he has ball-winning touch.

If any further evidence of what sets Sydney apart from teams like Richmond was required, it was the sight of just about every Sydney player celebrating O'Loughlin's third-term goals.

"That's what the club is about, that emotion," O'Loughlin offered later. "That's why we won the grand final that year (2005). We just had so much respect and pride in each other. I'm exhausted and humbled now but thank God I came to this club."

Cousins has embraced Richmond wholly and continued yesterday to repay the club for its 11th-hour decision to revive his career but few would be surprised if he has not wondered how different his football life would now be if St Kilda chose him, as they wanted to for many months, instead.

For his 250th match, of which 12 have been in yellow and black, only Jake King, who shadowed Rhyce Shaw but managed to snag three goals while he was at it, turned up for the party.

This, to Richmond caretaker coach Jade Rawlings, was a contrast that didn't just affect the outcome of a football match. It was symbolically significant.

"They (Sydney) epitomised playing for the team today," Rawlings said

"To see Brett Kirk, at three-quarter time, still be really vocal towards his team-mates. I heard that at stoppages he was reminding them of the requirement to play for their mate and to see Brett Kirk run over to Michael O'Loughlin in the room, to see the way he acknowledged and celebrated, that sums up (Sydney).

"Brett Kirk brings his game to the table every weekend we have people who pick and choose when they bring what they've got. Who's going to turn up? That's a big question a lot of our players have to answer at the moment."

Rawlings said he was certain that the greatest challenge before Richmond is cultural, one that he didn't believe could be easily remedied.

"People have been talking about cultural issues at Richmond for a long time. Unfortunately, our players go back to habits which reflect badly on them. Because they can't fight through it, when it gets tough, or do something to help a mate or if it's not working out for them individually they can still have an involvement. Bring something to the table which is going to have an impact on the team."

Which remains a Sydney speciality.

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Who was Charlie Clymo?

Peter Hanlon
The Age
August 7, 2009

Bill McMaster, the former premiership ruckman, recruiter, coach and all-round genial gem of the Geelong Football Club, has seen the puzzled look on people's faces when they gaze up at the painting.

Among the montage of great moments and players sits a stern man in suit and hat. "There he is," McMaster says. "The most successful coach ever."

"Who?" they ask, brows creased. They've never heard of Charlie Clymo.

At tomorrow night's 150th birthday celebrations of the AFL's second-oldest club, talk will doubtless turn to the men who have sprinkled a little football gold on the city by the bay. If Clymo's name comes up, the conversation will be short. Because nobody seems to know much about him, beyond one amazing fact: he coached in the VFL for one season, took Geelong to the 1931 premiership, and never coached at the highest level again.

"It seems quite a mystery, doesn't it?" says Bob Davis, who oversaw the same number of flags yet enjoys an appreciably larger profile.

Beyond a Sam Wells caricature of Clymo (pictured), armed with grave countenance and disciplinarian's cane, the only image of him in Russell Stephens' history The Road To Kardinia is a group shot with the 1931 season match committee. He didn't even get a gig in the premiership photo.

The snippets of descendants and historians form only a skeleton sketch, with little meat on Charlie's bones. McMaster echoes Davis: "It's an amazing story. I'd just love to know more of it."

William Charles Clymo was born in Bendigo on October 30, 1884. It is not known why, but he was brought up by an aunt and uncle, Bertha and Nicholas Clymo, who sold hay and chaff, poultry and firewood.

Bruce Reid, the former Liberal party member for Bendigo, is Nicholas and Bertha's grandson. His mother was much younger than Charlie, and he used to quiz her on their cousin. When he was invited down from Sandhurst to play a practice match for Geelong in 1959, somebody made the connection, and his curiosity was piqued. "But I didn't find out a great deal about him, I'm afraid. I think he was a pretty hard task master. He knew what he wanted. If you didn't meet his standards …"

This supports one theory on Clymo's replacement by Reg Hickey for 1932 - that players were unhappy with his hard-nosed methods, and the committee supported them. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. In 1907, St Kilda recruited Clymo from Eaglehawk, where he was a champion runner in the local fire brigade. He played 43 games in three seasons as a ruckman-forward; McMaster was told he wore three-quarter length shorts and a cap at training. A Geelong Advertiser cutting from his first season shows how highly he was regarded: "As showing the mood in which St Kilda regards football at present, the case of Clymo is interesting. He is a miner from Eaglehawk and had to be ready for his shift underground at midnight on Sunday, so a little after eight o'clock yesterday morning, a St Kilda motor car took Clymo home to Eaglehawk."

In 1910 he moved to Ballarat and coached Golden Point to the premiership - a feat repeated in 1914 and 1919. He coached Ballarat from 1920-23, winning a flag in the last year, and is again listed as Golden Point's coach in 1926, yet doesn't bob up anywhere again until 1931 - as coach of Geelong.

"Anywhere up to the 1920s there was still talk around town of Golden Point - and other clubs up here too - going into the VFL; they were strong enough for the first half of the '20s," says Wayne Hankin, unofficial historian of the Ballarat Football League. It points to a standing to validate Geelong's appointment.

A VFL premiership won, Clymo was back coaching Golden Point in 1932. Hankin has a photo of that team, which finished on top of the ladder but was overrun by Ballarat in the grand final.

"They're a ragged lot because of the Depression, all their jumpers are a bit tatty and worn. Charlie's sitting in the middle at the front in his civvies - his hat on, his coat, a scarf and tie, looking very serious," he says.

McMaster has never seen a picture of him smiling, but doesn't buy the line that unpopularity cost him his job at Geelong. More than a decade ago he interviewed Milton Lamb, the last survivor of the 1931 premiership side before his death three years ago. He held Clymo in high regard. "Milton thought he brought the best out of everybody. He said he was an individual coach, one of the first who would go around to the players and talk to them, try and improve their skills and their game. He had no idea why he went back to Ballarat."

Another veteran of the day, Allan Everett, once told McMaster it was most likely down to money - that Geelong dallied in recontracting him, Golden Point stepped in with an offer that included a job, and he walked. "He was a working man, he wanted to work," McMaster says. "Maybe Geelong didn't satisfy him as Ballarat could."

After 1932, great nephew Billy Clymo says Charlie "disappeared off the earth". He has his Eaglehawk team of the century plaque, but little else. "You get to his name on the family tree and there's a complete blank."

Charlie Clymo obviously knew plenty about football. If only football knew as much about him.

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O'Loughlin reaches 300 games

Sebastian Hassett
The Age
August 6, 2009

Sydney forward Michael O’Loughlin was asked yesterday who he thought were the best two players to have reached 300 games.

O’Loughlin, who plays his 300th game on Sunday, looked through a sea of microphones and cameras to see a familiar face at the end of the question.

‘‘Well, you’d be one of them,’’ O’Loughlin replied to his coach Paul Roos, who’d temporarily wandered away from training.

Only momentarily satisfied by the response, Roos persisted: ‘‘And who’s the other one?’’

O’Loughlin began preparing a diplomatic answer before his coach interjected again, ‘‘It’s Johnny Blakey!’’

Roos finished his career with 356 games, three fewer than his assistant Blakey, with both enjoying a long association with Fitzroy before moving to Sydney and North Melbourne respectively.

But while O’Loughlin will finish his career this season and will barely make it past the milestone, he began life as a Swan in 1995 and will finish in the same red-and-white colours.

Originally a reluctant recruit from Central Districts in South Australia, the 32-year old will become the only player in the club’s 135-year history to play 300 matches when he runs out for Sunday’s clash against Richmond at the MCG on Sunday.

‘‘It’s a bit surprising with all the great players that we’ve had over our history,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve been trying to keep a lid on it but I’ve just had so many well-wishers and the response has been amazing, so I’m looking forward to it.’’

Asked if he would try to take ‘‘the emotion out of it’’, O’Loughlin thought about agreeing with the statement before pulling back.

‘‘I’ve been around long enough to know you’ve still got to prepare the way you’ve always done to get up for the weekend and nothing will change that side of things,’’ he said. ‘‘But I’ve got to organise people coming to the game, family and friends.

‘‘The club have been so supportive of it, just doing various things. Obviously they’ve put it out there so that all of our fans know about it. I’ve been here 15 years so I can’t fault the club.’’

In all those years, O’Loughlin has seen the club change considerably. He was drafted two months after Sydney finished 1994 with the wooden spoon. ‘‘When I first got here I didn’t see any footy fields. I saw a lot of rugby fields. Now that’s changed a bit. We’ve got a second side coming in, which will be interesting,’’ O’Loughlin said.

But it certainly wasn’t easy at the start for O’Loughlin, who had no idea his AFL career would rise to include a best-and-fairest award, dual All-Australian and club goal-kicking honours and, of course, a 2005 premiership medallion.

‘‘Back in those early days I didn’t know whether I’d be here for a year or two or whatever,’’ he said. ‘‘I came here as a pretty shy person. Now I’m pretty confident of knowing what I want to do and where I’m heading in terms of what’s going on in the outside world.’’

O’Loughlin won’t be the only one celebrating a milestone on the day with Richmond’s star recruit Ben Cousins playing his 250th game.

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Season '09 – the best ever?

Rohan Connolly
The Age
July 16, 2009

Has there been a better year of football than the one we're fortunate enough to be witnessing right now? If there has, it escapes me.

There's a tendency towards hyperbole these days, particularly when it comes to AFL football. Everyone's supposedly fitter, stronger, faster, and everything's apparently bigger and better. It's hard not to take all the superlatives with several grains of salt.

But sometimes, despite your most cynical instincts, you just have to sit back, soak it all up, and let forth the spruiker within. Which is a bit how I feel about season 2009.

We've still got seven rounds and a month's worth of finals to go, and already 2009 has to be considered an absolute classic. Full, as usual, of individual highlights, great marks and goals but, most importantly, full of fantastic games of football that we'll be recalling many years from now.

So good that the St Kilda-Geelong epic of a fortnight ago is being touted by some as the best AFL game yet played. I'm not sure I'd go quite that far (the 1994 preliminary final between Geelong and North Melbourne remains my No. 1), but the Saints-Cats stoush would certainly earn a spot in my top half-dozen, with a number of other 2009 classics not far behind.

They've come thick and fast this year, as early as round three, when Essendon and Carlton staged a free-flowing thriller that ended with a narrow Bomber victory and veteran Matthew Lloyd's declaration of a win as good as he'd been involved with.

A big call, but one he was revising within a fortnight when his Dons somehow got over the line on Anzac Day against Collingwood despite trailing by 14 points with less than four minutes to go.

That game had more great storylines than you could shake a library at — Paddy Ryder's heroic effort to ruck all day after David Hille was carted off with a serious knee injury just five minutes in, and a cracking game of football going this way and that before an almost unbelievable last-breath comeback and rookie David Zaharakis' last-second fairytale goal.

Much has been written and said about the St Kilda-Geelong game, four quarters of virtually everything you could ask for in a match — tight, tough but always fair play, a flying start by the Saints, a gritty comeback by the Cats, and Michael Gardiner's soaring grab to finish it off.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect, though, was that unlike so many other much-hyped clashes, this one played out even better than we'd hoped, between two great, even teams who could still barely be separated at the end.

It was so outstanding that it managed to overshadow another epic between Geelong and the Western Bulldogs which almost any other season would waltz away with "game of the year" honours.

The Doggies slipped as much as 37 points behind Geelong in the third quarter as the Cats' Steve Johnson and Gary Ablett wove their magic, but came charging home with six goals to three in the final term, the whole thing resting upon captain Brad Johnson's post-siren shot from close range but a tight angle. Same time, same venue last week, it happened again, the Western Bulldogs this time running down a Collingwood side that managed to get even further in front than had the Cats, after a sublime seven-goal first quarter.

Again, there was almost too much action and too much drama to take it all in.

A bit like the old-fashioned spearhead shoot-out between Carlton and Hawthorn in round six, when Jarryd Roughead and Brendan Fevola each finished with eight goals, but Fevola dramatically fluffed a chance for nine and his side the match points in the last stages.

Speaking of drama, Port Adelaide's last-gasp win over Richmond at AAMI Stadium in round eight overflowed with it, Warren Tredrea booting seven goals including the match-winner, the Tigers blowing what appeared a winning break, and Mitch Morton infamously playing on and booting out-on-the-full, much to Terry Wallace's displeasure.

Those arch rivals of a few years back in Sydney and West Coast staged yet another cracker, too, at ANZ Stadium in round eight, the sort that in 2006 we would have salivated over for weeks.

Yet so high has the bar been raised come 2009 that that one almost slipped under the radar.

That's what happens when a football epic becomes virtually a weekly occurrence.

And that's certainly the case this season, a year that, no matter what happens from here in, will be pretty hard to top.


1 – St Kilda 14.7 (91) d Geelong 13.7 (85), round 14, Docklands

2 – Geelong 17.14 (116) d W Bulldogs 17.12 (114), round 9, Docklands

3 – Essendon 13.15 (93) d Collingwood 12.16 (88), round 5, MCG

4 – Collingwood 17.9 (111) d W Bulldogs 16.14 (110), round 15, Docklands

5 – St Kilda 16.8 (104) d Carlton 14.11 (95), round 12, Docklands

6 – Hawthorn 16.10 (106) d Carlton 15.12 (102), round 6, MCG

7 – Port Adelaide 14.18 (102) d Richmond 15.9 (99), round 8, Football Park

8 – Sydney 16.10 (106) d West Coast 15.11 (101), round 8, Homebush

9 – Essendon 17.14 (116) d Carlton 16.16 (112), round 3, MCG

10 – North Melbourne 20.5 (125) d Port Adelaide 18.12 (120), round 7, Docklands

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Demons must keep up the fight – like Jimmy

Martin Flanagan
The Age
July 4, 2009

Before Thursday, when it was announced that Melbourne Football Club president Jim Stynes is battling cancer, I had often thought that Melbourne's two biggest assets were its history and its leader.

To some extent, the two are linked. The Melbourne Football Club began as an off-shoot of the Melbourne Cricket Club, which began as an off-shoot of the Melbourne Club. The Melbourne Club, in company with the Argus newspaper and the Legislative Council, ran the colony. I doubt there are too many Irish Catholics, particularly from working-class backgrounds, to be found in the early annals of the Melbourne Football Club. From what I gather, they still had the flavour of a gentlemen's amateur club when coach Checker Hughes arrived from Richmond in the 1930s.

Jim Stynes' life has a sense of fate about it. He came to the club as a result of a program initiated by Ron Barassi for attracting overseas talent to the Australian game. Barassi is Melbourne's last great son. He stands beside Norm Smith, Melbourne's greatest coach. The question that any historian will ask is where would Melbourne be now if Barassi had succeeded Norm Smith as coach in 1966?

But Barassi – who had a respect for Smith similar to the one now being displayed by Nathan Buckley for Mick Malthouse – would not become involved in any patricidal struggle. By the time Barassi eventually got to coach Melbourne in the 1980s, he had lost something – his fire or, perhaps, from the players' viewpoint, his magic. But he was still the game's great modernist and he saw the potential of attracting recruits from Irish football. As a result, 18-year-old Jim Stynes came to Australia to pursue a professional sport he had never played before.

He couldn't believe how big Melbourne was, how far apart everything was, and the first time he trained it was smotheringly hot. There was smoke and ash in the air. It was Ash Wednesday. This strange new land he had come to was burning.

Stynes is from a proud Irish Catholic family. As a kid, he went to camps where only the Irish language was spoken — English being the language of the invader.

Jim's "Uncle Joe" – his grandfather's brother – won an all-Ireland football title with Dublin. He also fought with Michael Collins' IRA brigade during the Irish war of independence. In Ireland, Collins is a legendary figure. There's a photo of Uncle Joe and Collins in Jimmy's autobiography.

I interviewed Stynes during his last years as a player. By then, his reputation was assured. He had this amazing capacity for playing with injury that befuddled coaches and medical staff. He established a record by playing 244 AFL games in succession. Mention that statistic to Melbourne captain James McDonald, a seriously tough player, and he just shakes his head and says: "How tough is he in the mind?"

Stynes was tall, highly mobile and amazingly brave. In the brawl that followed the start of the 1988 grand final, he had Dermott Brereton under one arm and Gary Ayres under the other. Ayres was a formidable figure but Brereton at his fiercest and most intimidating was more fearful than Barry Hall. And, three years later, Stynes won the Brownlow Medal.

Stynes told me the Brownlow was a direct consequence of the pain and humiliation he suffered after the 1987 preliminary final when he ran across the mark and brought Hawthorn sharp-shooter Gary Buckenara within range. Hawthorn won by less than a goal and Melbourne saw the magic of its first revival since Norm Smith's days dissipate.

Stynes ended up fleeing the country to get away from it all but on a train in Paris, a voice said: "Aren't you the bloke who ran over the mark in the preliminary final?" He knew then he was never going to escape what he had done. Instead, he resolved to return and redeem himself. Which he did.

We learnt on Thursday that Stynes, to borrow an image from a Jimmy Clift song, has another river to cross. He is not stepping down from the presidency, he says, but is taking "time out". To be frank, Stynes may have already given the biggest part of what he has to give the Melbourne Football Club.

The club looked to be going nowhere but down when he took over. Single-handedly he altered the trajectory. Before Stynes, Melbourne didn't have a story to sell. After him, it had his story, the story of a man who was already a football legend. He was back and there was only one reason he was back. He cared for his club, it was part of him — an old-fashioned sentiment, but at the end of the day football is an old-fashioned game. It's about representing a club.

This week, Melbourne coach Dean Bailey had his players jump off a pier into the chilly waters of Port Phillip Bay as a form of shock therapy. Theirs has been a most disappointing past three weeks. As the old poem says, it's not a case of whether you win or lose but how you play the game. Over the past three weeks, Melbourne looks to have lacked fight, which I would define as a spirit of plucky endeavour that resists the logic of defeat, that glories in victories won against the odds.

What does it mean to play for the Melbourne Football Club? It means you're part of a line stretching all the way back to Tom Wills. It means you're playing for the oldest football club of its sort in the world. It means you play for the red and the blue and stand in association with the great names of the club's past. And it means you play for Jimmy Stynes, because you never forget the great heart he showed when he played for you.

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Good luck Jimmy, I'm with you all the way

Geoff McClure
The Age
July 4, 2009

I have met Jim Stynes only a few times so I don't know him well. Sure, I watched his footy deeds from the press box during his celebrated career, marvelling at his courage and how he adapted to a foreign game. Never did I think that one day he and I would have so much in common.

That changed on Thursday night when my wife and I watched the news and saw the big Irishman, his wife Sam alongside, reduced to tears as he told of his battle with cancer. He spoke of preparing himself for the toughest fight of his life — and of his biggest fear, that his two young children might have to grow up without him.

Been there, done that, big fella. But I have news for you, Jimmy. If my experience is anything to go by, then no matter how bleak things seem in the first quarter, this is an opponent that can be beaten.

Not that I have beaten it completely — my doctors insist they will never guarantee I'm cured — but, thanks to wonderful medicos and the support of my family (like Jimmy, I have two children) who have pushed and pulled me through it all, I'm still here.

Four months ago I was a breath away from death. Now, the cancer "markings" in my blood that spiralled to 22,000 at their worst are now down to 170.

A miracle? Well, it will do me.

In fact, two doctors – my oncologist, Dr Rowan Doig, and Dr Peter Oziemski of the Epworth Hospital's intensive care unit – both dubbed me "Lazarus", neither knowing the other had done so. That's how close I was.

It began two years ago – Thursday, August 2, 2007 to be exact – when, after three months of complaining to my GP of needing to get up in the middle of the night to pee – I was sent to a specialist.

The scans were bad. The biopsy was worse. I was diagnosed with bladder cancer – and our lives were turned upside down in an instant.

My wife Jillian had endured her own battle with breast cancer years before. Now she had to tell our 22-year-old daughter Madeleine and 16-year-old son Sam the bad news. They heard it after Madeleine had watched Sam perform in the second night of a five-night school play. That he managed to hold down his lead role for the other three nights amazes me.

After a six-hour operation on August 13, 2007 – my 57th birthday – I learned that while some of the cancer had been removed along with my bladder, I would need ongoing treatment, including chemotherapy.

After months of treatment I was starting to feel I had it beaten, but then the cancer returned, this time wrapping itself around the outside of my rectum. Result: more chemo and 33 sessions of radiotherapy, five days a week. Next came a bowel blockage that also turned out to be cancer.

Last December, the four of us arrived in London to start a six-week trip of England, Europe and the United States. Immediately, I fell so ill I couldn't eat. My stomach ballooned. I went to St Thomas' Hospital in Westminster, which happened to have one of England's top colorectal surgeons.

If I was dying, the timing was lousy. This particular day after my arrival was set up for a reunion with five mates from my Fleet Street days working at the Daily Express in the 1970s. One was driving from the north, another from the Midlands. But there would be no reunion. In fact, no holiday.

The English doctors said the cancer was inoperable and that I should go back to Australia immediately and go into palliative care. I had only months or weeks to live, they said.

It gets worse. Because of the severity of my condition, according to airline rules, I could not make the 24-hour trip home without a qualified medical practitioner accompanying me. Christmas Day was just three days away. Where would we find someone to make a return trip to Australia at such a time?

I had given up believing in Father Christmas half a century ago, but I now believe in him again. And this one is real.

The first people my wife Jillian thought to ask for advice was a surgeon friend, Bernie Lyons, and his wife, Dr Jacinta Mogg, who were home in Melbourne.

They were having Christmas drinks when Jillian called, but Bernie immediately came to the phone. When she asked if he knew of anyone who might make a mercy dash to England, he didn't flinch.

"I will be on the next plane," he said.

Jillian was gobsmacked. Here was the head of the St Vincent's Ear, Nose and Throat department (who has since become an associate professor of surgery at Melbourne University) who was prepared to miss Christmas with his family to bring me home.

Within hours, Bernie was on his way. After just six hours in London (and a quick Christmas lunch with my family but no sleep) he was briefed about my condition, loaded up with the necessary medical equipment and instructions on what to do if anything went wrong.

This is no place for free plugs but the truth is that without Qantas, I might not have made it in time.

Contacted by a former work colleague, Geoff Easdown of the Herald Sun, Qantas staff swapped mine and Jillian's holiday bookings for tickets to Australia, and upgraded us to business class so the "rescue" (which required an IV drip system to be set up) could go ahead without hindering other passengers.

Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Jacinta Mogg arranged for an ambulance to drive onto the airport tarmac, so I could be whisked straight to Epworth. Despite the English doctors' gloomy prognosis, I wasn't going to palliative care. My oncologist Rowan Doig wouldn't hear of it.

All that was seven months ago. Today I am back to 85 kilograms – 23 more than when I was so thin and weak that most people assumed my days were numbered.

Looking back, so did I. But not Rowan Doig, nor my surgeon, Campbell Penfold. They admitted my prospects were grim, but never gave up on me. Within 24 hours of my return, Mr Penfold performed emergency bowel surgery and Rowan Doig organised new chemo treatment.

But soon things got worse before they got better. Days after starting the new treatment in January I awoke feeling so weak I told Jillian: "I think I'm going to die." I was nearly right. Without the two parademics who were at my bedside within four minutes of my son making a 000 call, and the brilliance of the Epworth emergency department, I almost certainly would not have survived. With my medical history on hand but no time for blood tests to establish what was wrong, they decided I probably had an infection from my latest chemo treatment and needed antibiotics. Fast. Septicemia had set in and without antibiotics I would die, and they knew it. As the paramedics carried me out of the house one of them asked Jillian quietly: "Where would your husband prefer to die?" and she said: "At home." Instead, that night I was perched up in bed in intensive care, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee. Better still, next day I got encouraging news from Dr Oziemski. "If the new chemo you are being treated with almost killed you," he told me, "there's a good chance it could be killing your cancer as well."

He was right. I was soon to discover the chemotherapy worked a treat.

Not only have those cancer marker levels hit rock bottom, but I am back walking normally, my legs have muscles again and my appetite and yearning for a glass of chardonnay (which had vanished for months) have returned.

A few months ago Jillian would add cream to ice-cream, force-feed me chocolate bars, anything to put some weight on me. Times change. This week she scolded me for eating too many biscuits. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

It has been an unbelievable and, at times, heartbreaking journey. As Jim Stynes is about to discover, cancer is like that. But it can be beaten, Jim.

Geoff McClure will resume writing the Sporting Life column on July 14.

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Second Sydney team has support: poll

Michael Gleeson
The Age
July 3, 2009

A third of people surveyed in NSW were interested in the AFL and almost a fifth would watch the games on TV, a poll on the planned team for western Sydney has found.

The Auspoll survey found that 6 per cent of people in NSW would make western Sydney their team, and 5 per cent would become members. Three per cent would switch clubs to follow the new club, perhaps indicating the Swans might lose some of their support. While the survey, which was not commissioned by the AFL, found an overwhelming 67 per cent had no interest in the AFL, this was not surprising in a rugby union- and rugby league-dominated state.

Importantly for the sake of the AFL's next broadcast rights agreement, 18 per cent of respondents said they would watch AFL games on television.

People in higher income brackets were more likely to be interested in the AFL.

The survey, of more than 500 people, was deemed an indicative sample in line with the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Auspoll chairman Adam Kilgour said the research showed there was a good level of interest in Sydney for a second AFL team.

"The encouraging thing for the AFL is the main interest is from the high-spending 25- to 34-year-old age group, and higher income earners. This would be music to potential sponsor's ears and good news for the AFL's media-rights partners," he said.

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Swans need to fall for flag tilt

Shane Crawford
Sunday Herald Sun
June 28, 2009

I spent the early part of this week in Sydney – and it made me realise how much work the AFL and Sydney have to do in that difficult market. Our great game barely exists in terms of publicity.

Driving around, I didn't see one Australian footy ground other than the SCG. On many of the ovals there were kids kicking a soccer ball.

It was just an observation, and it might not ring true with the junior participation levels, but on face value it shows the Swans have plenty of ground to make up in a city that has been their home for 27 years.

So imagine how much work the proposed western Sydney team has to do. That is a frightening thought.

Compounding that problem is the fact I barely heard anything about the Swans or the game while I was in Sydney. There was little on TV and radio, and they barely rated a mention in the papers.

One of the greats of the game, Michael O'Loughlin, announced during the week he would retire at the end of this season, but it got better and bigger coverage in Melbourne than it did in Sydney.

It wasn't until the Swans rolled out Barry Hall for a press conference to acknowledge his 250th game that footy got a reasonable run in the papers. Barry always seems to make news in Sydney.

My point is that the now struggling Swans, in danger of missing the finals for the first time in seven years, are not attracting the interest of their home city any more.

It's a shame, because there have been few more gritty teams in recent seasons than Paul Roos' men.

They have played in six successive finals series, they broke a 72-year premiership drought in 2005 and they have continued to regenerate rather than redevelop their list.

It's a credit to Roos and his players.

I always feared playing against the Swans because they played as if their lives depended on it. You just knew it was going to be a grind.

And you can perhaps understand why the club has been so loyal to some of their old warhorses.

Many of them have given their all, but the kilometres on their playing clocks have been pushed to the absolute limit.

As much as Roos and the Swans have tried to keep the list competitive by making a few subtle changes and loyally backing his players, it was never going to last forever.

And although the AFL would hate it to happen, Sydney needs to go backwards in order to go forwards and perhaps win that next premiership.

In my view, the Swans are as far away from an AFL flag as Melbourne and Richmond.

In some ways, their premiership window might be even further away, given I cannot look at their list and see a guaranteed 10-season youngster on their list.

They have a few kids with reputations, including Patrick Veszpremi, but I haven't seen enough to suggest that is going to be the case.

O'Loughlin will be gone at the end of the year, and perhaps earlier if his form continues to slide.

Hall's future is clouded and there are a few others who could be moved on at the end of the season.

I have some real concerns when I scan through their list.

The Swans could try to remain competitive, or they could seek a marquee player from another club as they have done before.

But they are much better off starting again.

The AFL do not want them to bottom out, because they would want the club to still carry the interest levels at their highest points.

But there might not be a choice.

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AFL bid to allay stadium fears

Caroline Wilson and Danny John
The Age
June 24, 2009

AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick has promised the National Rugby League that his controlling interest in ANZ Stadium would not harm the NRL's dominance at Homebush.

Fitzpatrick telephoned NRL boss David Gallop late yesterday to assure him that rugby league fixtures would not be jeopardised at the stadium.

"I appreciated Mike calling me," Mr Gallop told The Age. "Obviously the stadium's important to us and our game is important to the stadium so I would say the long-term viability of our relationship is secure.

"Because of that we would expect to run smoothly. Mike gave me a number of assurances in this regard."

The AFL was rumoured last year to be considering buying out the stadium, which hosts four home-and-away fixtures each year and an estimated 25 rugby league clashes.

However, with the AFL's plan to launch a second Sydney team, the competition's governing body has been attempting to strike a deal with the NSW Government to build a new, smaller venue at the nearby Sydney Showgrounds in the belief that ANZ is too big for regular western Sydney fixtures.

Mr Fitzpatrick is taking control of ANZ Stadium as a result of a management buyout of the infrastructure fund that owns it and which, in turn, is controlled by ANZ bank.

The stadium is just one of the fund's assets that includes power stations, pipelines and wind farms.

However, the main venue of the Sydney Olympics is its most high-profile business and was acquired by ANZ Infrastructure Services – as the fund is called – in 2007.

ANZIS itself was formed nine years ago when its current managing director John Clarke joined the bank with the intention of building up a specialist management division to own and finance infrastructure operations.

But the bank has since chosen to get out of the business and will now sell its 80 per cent holding to a consortium headed by Mr Fitzpatrick.

Mr Fitzpatrick will own 50 per cent of the business, with another 40 per cent taken up by John Clarke.

Last night Mr Fitzpatrick said the acquisition of ANZIS was a "family business" decision and would have no impact on the agreements that the stadium had with AFL or the major sports that used it — rugby union, rugby league and soccer.

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Sydney Swans forecast financial loss as
membership and attendances drop

Jenny McAsey
The Australian
June 20, 2009

Club chairman Richard Colless said the Swans were bearing the brunt of "AFL fatigue" in the city – a sobering assessment for the league's administrators, who are determined to plant a second club in Sydney in 2012.

Colless, who has been at the helm of the Swans since 1994 and is the longest-serving chairman in the competition, said the club failed to attract new members this season despite playing finals every year since 2003.

"Our membership numbers have gone down because AFL as a sport and hence the Swans are probably not at the forefront of people's psyche in Sydney the way they were a couple of years ago," Colless said.

As they prepare to play Collingwood in a season-defining game in Sydney on Saturday night, the Swans are sitting 10th and perceived to be entering a downward cycle as the best players reach the end of their careers.

But Colless believes the underlying reason for the Swans' falling support is not just their on-field prospects but a general downturn for the code in Sydney.

"That is part of it, but you look at some of the struggling Melbourne clubs, and their memberships have gone up. You can come up with any number of reasons – style of football, where the games are played, what time they are played, but I do believe there is a bit of AFL fatigue in Sydney at the moment," he said.

"The growth over the last 15 years has been extraordinary and I think we are just having a breather. I don't think it is terminal but we are the ones caught up in the middle of it."

The AFL released its mid-year review this week, which showed that TV audiences, attendances and membership were all down for the Swans.

Sydney's membership has fallen every year since 2006, when it reached a peak of just over 30,000 in the season following the club's historic premiership.

Last year, membership stood at 26,721, but this year it has plummeted to 22,658 according to AFL figures, while attendances are down to an average of 29,132 from a peak of 35,632 in 2007.

Meanwhile, in Melbourne a number of clubs are tallying record membership figures despite the global financial crisis. Collingwood released figures on Friday boasting it had signed more than 45,000 members for the first time, up from the previous club record of 42,498 set last year.

"I think it is actually a metaphor for the difference between Melbourne and Sydney," Colless said.

"In Melbourne in difficult times, people rally and in a lot of cases membership goes up. Here, people make more pragmatic and less emotional decisions."

Colless said the club was working closely with the AFL to find ways to increase membership and revenue and to better promote games.

However, the challenge comes at a difficult time for the club, facing an uphill battle to make the final eight this year. It has so far successfully defied the AFL's equalisation policies, not falling to the bottom of the ladder since the early 90s, when Colless came in and began to transform the club.

But coach Paul Roos gave a blunt warning last week that it was becoming harder each year for Sydney to defy the trend and avoid slipping down the ladder to rebuild.

"The challenge for this footy club and for the AFL bringing in a second (Sydney) team is if we go down for three years, well, it could be absolutely catastrophic," Roos warned.

Roos also admitted last week he was unsure of the long-term strength of the club's playing list because a number of the young players had been injured this year.

Because of its success, Sydney has not had a top-10 draft pick since 2002, when Jarrad McVeigh came to the club, and has regenerated its list with recycled players such as ruckman Darren Jolly and defender Rhyce Shaw.

The club stuck with its older players and had only three draft picks last year, and two of them, Dan Hannebery and Campbell Heath, have remained in Victoria to finish their schooling. The third, first-round pick Lewis Johnston, who could have played senior football this year, is injured.

A number of other players who have been at the club for three or four seasons, such as Daniel O'Keefe, Matthew Laidlaw and Ryan Brabazon, have not been able to break into the senior team.

The club will need to turn over players and stock up big at this year's draft because it is the last relatively uncompromised one before the Gold Coast team gets all the best pickings in the following few years.

Colless knows on-field success would help the bottom line, but it is not that simple for the Swans in a non-traditional AFL state.

"There is no question that the cure-all for every football club is on-field success, but we have just had our most successful run in the club's history," he said. "You can't expect to be in the grand final every year."

Colless said the hurdles for the club, which recorded a $300,000 loss last year, were immense. "I have to be careful I don't sound like I'm full of gloom and despondency, but it is hard. It has always been pretty hard but it is very hard at the moment," he said.

"We are down on membership and we are down on people attending games. You get that right and it is worth one or two more million dollars to you. You get it wrong and you've got gaping financial holes.

"We are looking at a loss well in excess of what is acceptable. We lost, in cash terms, $300,000 last year, and it's worse than that."

However, Colless refused to specify a figure.

The strength of support for the Swans, and the AFL, will be tested when Sydney plays the Magpies at ANZ Stadium.

In 2003, the same fixture attracted a record crowd of 72,393, the largest attendance at an AFL game played outside Victoria.

It was figures like that that convinced the AFL western Sydney was fertile ground for the code's 18th club.

However, attendances at Swans games at ANZ Stadium have been significantly down last year and again this season, to about 33,000.

While the club is hoping to attract 50,000 people tonight, Colless said he was worried the figure might be closer to 40,000.

He said the club was collaborating with the AFL to boost the club's revenue and shore up support in the long-term.

"We have to come up with an enhanced reason for members staying or joining. We have to be better at selling tickets to games for casual attendees, and we've got to be a hell of a lot better at promoting games, which is something you don't have to worry about in Perth or Adelaide or Melbourne," Colless said.

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Laidley's rift with CEO beginning of the end

Caroline Wilson
The Age
June 17, 2009

It was all over for Dean Laidley and he knew it. He could not sleep on Saturday night but lay awake in his Adelaide hotel room with only a replay of the Richmond-West Coast game for company.

He took a sleeping pill at 4am and slept until 10, breakfasting with his coaching panel before announcing he needed a walk to clear his head. Wandering though the rain-soaked streets of inner-city Adelaide on Sunday morning, Laidley reflected on his six-and-a-half often turbulent seasons at North Melbourne. He had made his decision. He also believed, despite what his president said yesterday, that the Kangaroos had made theirs.

Already, last week, at least one Melbourne-based club had contacted his manager, Ricky Nixon, and suggested interest in Laidley for a director of coaching role. The industry was reading the play and saw the writing on the wall for the second coaching departure of the season.

Two more calls came yesterday – one from outside Victoria and again for an operational football role – but even before then Laidley had begun to wonder whether, at the age of 42, it was time to choose a more secure position in football, the industry he does not want to leave.

On Sunday night after his last, forgettable game at the helm of the Kangaroos Laidley presented Adam Simpson with his 300-game medal and then asked for a private meeting with just his players.

"Thank-you for your efforts," said Laidley. "Thank-you for all you've done for me." Several of the older players suspected something was up and on Monday Brent Harvey, Simpson, Drew Petrie and Daniel Pratt all called the coach to ensure all was well.

By mid-morning yesterday they knew they had lost their coach. President James Brayshaw broke down when it came to his turn to address the shocked players and most embraced Laidley after his speech to the group.

But by late yesterday Laidley had still not spoken to North chief executive Eugene Arocca. For months there has been speculation that Laidley and Arocca had fallen out and the Laidley camp believed the CEO wanted a new coach. He was not expected at the Laidley household last night. Caretaker coach Darren Crocker was.

"People say I fell out with the players but they will all be here later," said Laidley. "So will the president. Relationships at clubs don't usually end like this and I'm proud of that it has here."

As the ex-coach and his wife Jo prepared for last night's farewell drinks at their house involving the players, Brayshaw and most football staffers, the lengthy presentation Laidley had prepared for tomorrow's scheduled meeting with the club's coaching review panel sat unopened inside a computer on the Laidley's kitchen table.

In the end the break with North was quick and clean. A financial settlement was resolved at Arden Street before the press conference and it is understood Laidley – contracted until the end of October – has been paid out in full.

It was also mutual. Although North had indicated last August that Laidley would be offered a contract extension by the end of 2008, the club's woeful capitulation against Sydney in week one of the finals along with a series of messy player issues had irrevocably damaged the relationship. The results this season had not improved Laidley's prospects.

Both Laidley and Brayshaw admitted yesterday that the coach had unofficially offered to resign after the finals loss.

Still they embarked on this season with hope and optimism with Brayshaw admitting to The Age earlier this year of Laidley that: "As good as he is as a strategist and genius, I believe, in match-day terms, he needs to work on the other stuff."

Brayshaw went on to add: "To his credit, he has put his hand up and really worked on his relationships around the club. The feedback we are getting is terrific."

Not only was the on-field scenario – injury problems have hurt the club like several others – hurting Laidley, but his decision to stick to the round-16 contractual deadline caused the club to put in place a coaching sub-committee that stymied the week-to-week football operation.

Laidley was reportedly told that the sub-committee's formation had been leaked to the publication Inside Football by club director Ron Joseph and his insecurity was compounded.

Glenn Archer, whose Stride Management handles 10 North players, was appointed to the sub-committee in a conflict that heightened the tension, tension that rose again last Friday when football boss Donald McDonald was asked whether he believed Laidley should stay. McDonald, a consultant to the sub-committee, is understood to have refused to answer. No wonder he, according to Laidley yesterday, cleaned him out of beer on Monday night.

Thirty-seven people, including players, have been interviewed by the sub-committee, which has now been disbanded as Brayshaw and his mentor and brother Mark look to rebuild the club's football operation.

Laidley will now not present the overview of his coaching career that he spent five hours writing last week. In the end it probably proved a worthwhile exercise and one that might prove handy as he presents to other clubs towards the end of the season.

Meanwhile, the former coach, who seemed to have a weight lifted off his shoulders yesterday, is planning a trip to the US with his wife before considering his next move.

He would have loved to have coached North to a premiership and didn't but history should record that three finals appearances in six seasons was a commendable effort given what he was up against.

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Swans honour club greats

Herald Sun
June 17, 2009

Sydney's ex-skipper Paul Kelly might not share current captain Brett Kirk's love of meditation, but their approaches to playing are the same. Give it everything you've got.

It says so on a plaque on the change-room wall at the SCG, where Kelly describes himself as "a bloke that had a go".

"I'm glad I'm not playing now," Kelly laughed on Tuesday as he launched the club's inaugural Hall of Fame dinner to be held at Melbourne's Crown Casino on July 18.

"It (yoga) was half in when I was here (1990-2002). There's still debate whether it's good or bad.

"It's individuals isn't it? I like the ice baths.

"You might leave me out of the yoga."

Kelly, a plumber and father of five from Wagga, came to Sydney with little idea about the club's history and no concept of the potential burden of taking on the No.14 jersey, previously worn by triple Brownlow Medallist Bob Skilton.

Kelly went on to win his own Brownlow in 1995, despite coming from a rugby league background.

"When I came to the Swans they hadn't been here that long and we were sort of all over the shop a little bit anyway," Kelly recalled.

"With Roosy (coach Paul Roos), the culture and the history is jammed into the kids as soon as they get drafted.

"They are sat down and shown videos and `this is who we are, this is who went before us and make sure you know it'."

Four-time club champion Kelly's name is prominent in this induction and the 39-year-old is clearly chuffed.

"It's great. I didn't appreciate it really until the last couple of years when you are looking from the outside and you sort of realise what you did and who you were and that sort of stuff," he said.

"When you are doing it, you are just doing it mate. You are trying to be as good as you can be that week."

Kelly said the club's 2007 dinner to celebrate 25 years in Sydney was "the best footy function I've been to". He said next month's event will be another landmark occasion for the Swans.

From a list of about 1500 players who have played for the club since 1874, selectors have trimmed their squad to 90.

The number of inaugural inductees hasn't been announced but Kelly is keen to see the AFL's all-time leading goalkicker Tony Lockett honoured.

"I often get asked who was the best player I played with. Tony Lockett would be my pick," Kelly said.

"People were coming to watch Plugger. He was dragging them in.

"I don't think we've had that since then."

Skilton says he's thrilled at the way the football world now regards the Swans, who are 10th on the ladder and shooting for a seventh successive finals campaign.

"The thing that I'm proudest of our club now is for the first time, as far as I'm concerned in my lifetime, we are now respected as a football club," Skilton said on Tuesday.

"Other clubs have chosen to copy the way we've gone about it. Our cultures and whatever else."

Skilton said he loves watching gritty midfielder Kirk, describing him as the game's best on-field leader.

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Canberra rejects AFL bid as it waits for 18th club

Dan Silkstone
The Age
June 16, 2009

The AFL has been rebuffed in an attempt to secure more games in Canberra for the next two years as the ACT Government demands a significant stake in the planned western Sydney franchise in exchange for its investment.

League boss Andrew Demetriou and his Sydney lieutenant Dale Holmes travelled to Canberra yesterday to meet with representatives from the ACT Government. While the AFL was hoping for a greater financial commitment from Canberra, Demetriou was given the opposite news.

The national capital, wanting more to show for its investment in football than occasional visits, will cut back from hosting four matches this year, to just two or three for the next two years.

"We will be saving our pennies for the introduction of the 18th club," ACT Sports Minister Andrew Barr told The Age.

"We want to continue AFL in the Canberra market until then but we certainly won't be upping the amount of money we provide. The AFL were interested and asking for some more but we have said no. We will look to focus our resources on the 18th club in two years time."

That will mean cutting the NAB Challenge match played at Manuka Oval, a fixture that has drawn poorly in recent times. There is also a strong chance that the NAB Cup pre-season match may also be jettisoned.

The ACT will pay $400,000 for two home-and-away matches each year but is prepared to put in a multimillion-dollar investment to buy a significant stake of the new western Sydney franchise.

Demetriou has said, since the territory entered negotiations, that there was no guarantee the club would bear that name. Barr said his government had significant money to invest but wanted a say in team colours and name, as well as a seat on the board.

"We were very pleased to see Andrew Demetriou say it was unlikely to be called western Sydney," Barr said.

"We've asked for a proper footy jumper, a traditional jumper with an identifiable brand, not some new-age concoction like we see some of the new franchises in various codes wearing. We want a strong brand that could be shared across Sydney and Canberra."

Those backing the Canberra push favour the name ACT/NSW Rams — a moniker that has previously been used for a team in the under-18 competition and which they believe covers western Sydney's pastoral history and the current grazing industry in the ACT.

The government also wants a separate playing jumper for Canberra home games, of which there could be up to half a dozen each year. Canberra is determined not to be seen as a minor or weaker partner in the potential new club.

"Given the comparative levels of support in the ACT versus western Sydney the new team would expect to draw more of its players from this region rather than western Sydney," Barr said. "We think it would be very difficult for that team to be successful without a very strong ACT presence."

Barr also had a friendly warning for the AFL, saying that other potential recipients for government largesse were circling. It has already agreed to underwrite a Canberra bid for soccer's A-League to the tune of $2.5 million.

"Given the fact that the FFA (Football Federation Australia) are actively considering our A-League bid and rugby union is expanding, one would think the AFL would want to maintain content in this market," he said.

A deal for matches at Manuka for the next two years is expected to be unveiled at the final match hosted in the territory this year, during round 17.

The Western Bulldogs played a home game in Canberra earlier this year but Barr does not expect that to continue, believing the club's negotiations for a move to Darwin are likely to prove fruitful.

"That would leave Melbourne as the most likely (to play matches in Canberra during the next two years)," he said.

Canberra's A-League bid leader Ivan Slavich met with FFA chief executive Ben Buckley yesterday to press the capital's case for an elite soccer team.

Canberra's bid is believed to be the most complete of the four competing for a 12th A-League licence but FFA is also wary of ignoring western Sydney.

After admitting a second Melbourne club last Friday, FFA will decide on the final A-League expansion franchise within the next four weeks.

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Hall brain fade costs Swans

Samantha Lane
The Age
June 8, 2009

Barry Hall was spared no mercy from his exasperated coach Paul Roos, who said the volatile forward's three consecutive 50-metre penalties had been the turning point in a narrow loss to Hawthorn yesterday.

While Roos doubted Hall would be suspended by Sydney's playing group for his string of final-term offences, it is the latest in a long list of on-field crimes in the spearhead's controversial career.

It is also a particularly ill-timed transgression for the 32-year-old, whose contract expires this year, with the Swans to review their list during the mid-season break.

Hall was dragged immediately by Roos after he single-handedly caused the ball to travel from inside Sydney's attacking 50-metre zone to Hawthorn's goal line. It gifted the Hawks a goal when they were only four points up in a tense final term.

Hall's first infringement was for verbal abuse after Jarryd Roughead marked in front of him. He then swung an arm at Roughead and contacted him high before being sanctioned again for subsequent manhandling of Sam Mitchell.

"I think clearly that's the turning point in the game," a despairing Roos said after the eventual 11-point loss.

"You could sit here and we could dream up fictional reasons or you could get to the source of the problem and that was clearly a massive turning point in the game."

Swans Brett Kirk and Adam Goodes tried to calm Hall down before the team runner ordered him from the field, much to the delight of the jeering crowd. Roos did not talk to Hall on the bench but after about three minutes was sent back on.

Goodes said each player had been asked to identify key words before the game.

"Hally put his hand up and one of his words was that he wanted to be aggressive during the game. I said (after the match): 'Hally, you are aggressive but sometimes you step over that line. I thought today that pretty much cost us.'

"The game's bigger than individuals at this football club and we know that and we know that it cost us a goal and that it cost us the momentum."

Hall had been booed from as early as the first term following an accidental clash with Xavier Ellis that sent the Hawk to the bench with a bleeding mouth and nose.

Hall has already worked extensively with a clinical psychologist for his blow-ups on field. He was suspended for seven matches after king-hitting West Coast's Brent Staker in round four last year.

Soon after returning, he spent a further fortnight out — at the club's direction — after taking a swipe at now retired Collingwood defender Shane Wakelin.

"To put it in perspective, it wasn't anywhere near what he did last time," Roos said last night, referring to the Staker incident, "but … it's probably surprising because he's been in good form and we're actually doing really well as a team.

"Obviously the group's disappointed, the coaching staff's disappointed, I'm sure the fans will be disappointed … there's no point painting a rosy picture about it, everyone saw what happened."

Hall was addressed by his teammates soon after the match and while the three 50-metre penalties will be reviewed in more detail by the club today, Roos thought it unlikely the forward's peers would suspend him again.

"I wouldn't think (it would lead to) something like that," he said. "It's straight after the game, we've briefly discussed it as a group but I wouldn't think there would be anything like that."

Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson joked he was elated by Hall's transgression. "In games that are an arm wrestle, especially with the conditions today, to get a goal like that put a smile on our face."

Hall also gave away a further four free kicks yesterday and Roos conceded the key forward was consistently frustrated by how he was being umpired. "We've addressed that with the umpires' department on many, many occasions, but we know nothing's going to change and he knows nothing's going to change, so you've got to accept the way it is."

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Aussie footy sampled free agency in 1972

Jon Anderson
Herald Sun

May 28, 2009

Australian football's only previous dalliance with free agency came during a 10-month period between August, 1972 and May, 1973. Legal advice at the time convinced VFL clubs (most against their wishes) to permit the introduction of a ruling that allowed players with 10 years service to move to another club without a clearance.

Six took advantage, with Barry Davis (Essendon), Doug Wade (Geelong) and John Rantall (South Melbourne) joining North Melbourne.

The others to move were George Bisset (Footscray to Collingwood) Carl Ditterich (St Kilda-Melbourne) and Adrian Gallagher (Carlton-Footscray).

North Melbourne, which also attracted Ron Barassi as its coach, benefited most, moving from wooden spooner in 1972 to sixth in 1973, and second in 1974.

Davis captained the Roos to their inaugural premiership in 1975, while Rantall was arguably best afield. Wade booted four goals that day and finished with 223 in his three years at Arden St.

The ruling was abolished when the other 11 clubs complained loudly about North Melbourne picking up three super players.

Wade, one of the players to benefit from the 10-year-rule, is now in his 11th year as a Geelong committeeman. And he is strongly opposed to free agency.

"Thirty-five years ago we had very little chance of moving clubs, unlike today's players. The amount of time clubs put into players, both on and off the field, means they should have some control of them," Wade said yesterday.

"I'm not a fan of the concept at all, in fact, I couldn't vote for it after any length of time. Isn't there a draft, both national and pre-season, for today's players?

"Not too many players today don't get well compensated and don't end up getting what they want. Do we want a situation like the US or English soccer?"

The issue of free agency has been raised on an irregular basis ever since the experiment with the 10-year rule.

In 1996, then AFL Players' Association president Justin Madden said he was confident free agency would come in "when the collective bargaining agreement ends in 1998".

Seven years later, in 2005, AFL Players' Association chief executive Brendon Gale promised his body would "be taking a long, hard look at it".

In March this year the 16 AFL club captains met at Docklands (aka Etihad Stadium) for media opportunities and a meeting about issues of concern.

High on the agenda was free agency and a poll from that day showed 14 to be in favour, and in most cases strongly so, with two unsure.

Adam Goodes, co-captain of Sydney and a player with 10 years service, has been his club's AFLPA delegate since 2000 and on the AFLPA executive from 2004.

When asked in March about free agency, he was adamant it should be introduced "sooner rather than later".

"It makes sense and seems totally fair that a player who has given good service to his club, and obviously that length will cause most discussion, would be given the chance to move," Goodes said.

"Most players are in favour of free agency. It happens overseas in the big sports, so why shouldn't it here?"

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Seven sets tone in battle for TV rights

Caroline Wilson
The Age

May 28, 2009

Channel Seven has launched the battle for the next AFL broadcast rights, with network boss David Leckie signalling to league bosses Seven's preference to roll over the current $780 million agreement for another five years.

Leckie is believed to have spoken with the AFL in recent weeks and indicated the game's historic rights holder was keen to remain involved and that the total five-year package from 2012-2016 could be worth more than the current deal.

Negotiations have begun in earnest for the next media agreement. Six days ago, the AFL forwarded a set of terms and conditions for the next broadcast deal to channels Seven, Nine and Ten.

The AFL has been unable to indicate whether it will be selling a nine-game-a-week home-and-away series involving 18 teams or a competition involving eight weekly games, with some uncertainty surrounding the introduction of an 18th team out of western Sydney.

"We can only sell eight games at the moment because the 18th licence hasn't been issued," said AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou last night.

"It would be irresponsible of us to do otherwise.

"Our plan is well advanced to appoint an advisory board for the western Sydney team by early July and we would need to have a licence in place by the first part of next year to be in line with the Gold Coast roll-out this year."

Demetriou refused to comment on the document forwarded to the three commercial free-to-air networks last Friday.

It is believed Seven has sent the document to its legal team and that the AFL has held fast to its traditional view that the annual home-and-away series remain fixed, and not moveable in the fashion of the National Rugby League competition.

Demetriou confirmed the AFL had been in talks with all networks in recent weeks, despite the fact the current five-year agreement is not halfway completed.

The 2012-and-beyond package looms as the first in three broadcast agreements in which Channel Seven does not hold the first and last bidding rights.

Currently in partnership with Ten, the two broadcasters have a complex contractual partnership that specifies a joint bid in the first instance next time around with various conditions attached. Although Ten has met the AFL in recent weeks, the network was not part of the Seven strike.

Seven executives refused to comment last night but Leckie's move was influenced in part by the recent roll-over of the American football broadcast rights, another multi-network agreement.

Under the Federal Government's anti-siphoning broadcast laws, Fox Sports, which broadcasts four of the eight weekly home-and-away games but no finals, cannot bid for the AFL rights — Australia's most expensive sporting media deal.

However, the Nine Network, which has an agreement with Fox Sports to broadcast the 2012 London Olympics, has indicated through its executive Jeff Browne that it plans to be part of the next AFL bid.

Media experts such as Harold Mitchell have predicted the next AFL media deal could be worth $1 billion over five years.

While Leckie, who was not available for comment last night, indicated to the AFL that the next rights package would be worth more than the last, the billion-dollar figure has not been raised.

The AFL recently added former Nine boss Paul Waldron to its team, and conceded it needed to improve its expertise in the broadcast media area.

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We'll move grand final to Sydney: AFL

Greg Denham and Patrick Smith
The Australian

May 19, 2009

The AFL has threatened to take the grand final away from its traditional home, the MCG, if a satisfactory financial deal cannot be struck with the Melbourne Cricket Club and the MCG Trust over increased revenue to clubs.

MCG Trust chairman John Wylie confirmed last night that AFL Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick had warned that the league was prepared to shift the biggest match of the season to Sydney unless it extended the offer placed before the AFL last Friday.

The league and the 16 clubs last week rejected a new offer over the next 10 years from the MCC and the MCG Trust because of the fear factor associated with what they describe as a short-term fix.

A 14-year "black hole" appears to be the major stumbling block in negotiations between the MCC and the AFL and its clubs as the football industry strives for a better financial deal to play at the MCG.

Western Bulldogs president David Smorgon, acting as chief delegate for a sub-committee acting on behalf of all clubs, yesterday said the murky area in negotiations related to a 14-year period leading up to 2032, when the current MCC-MCG Trust-AFL contract is due to expire.

The MCC-MCG Trust is only prepared to guarantee clubs an additional $60 million in match returns and benefits for the next decade, and Smorgon said clubs feared they would have to take a backward step, and possibly again "go cup-in-hand" after the new offer expired in 2019 and before the MCC-MCG Trust's current contract with the AFL ends.

"Andrew Demetriou (the AFL chief executive) and us have said all along we want a long-term fix, not just for the short term," Smorgon said. "A 10-year deal is a short-term fix."

MCC chief executive Stephen Gough said yesterday a 10-year goodwill deal was better than nothing, adding that the MCC and MCG Trust were unable to offer the clubs a longer-term financial commitment.

"That's the big issue," he said. "The MCC is responsible for debt and responsible for upgrading the facility. Our existing debt will be roughly $200 million by 2019 and because of the potential unknowns, we can't possibly commit beyond then."

Gough said that if the MCG's Southern Stand needed to be upgraded within the next 15 years, "we couldn't take on more debt, as well as continue to provide extra money for the clubs".

Wylie said the trust was prepared to extend the deal in line with its current contract with the AFL, which runs until 2032.

"We told the AFL we were prepared to look beyond 10 years so long as any new extension was of mutual benefit and that there was no obligation to extend it," Wylie said.

Gough said: "In 10 years' time, we'll know the landscape a bit better and if, when and what funding will be needed for capital works. We are going outside the contract as a matter of goodwill to assist the clubs and in return we are seeking a short extension to the contract."

The MCC currently carries a debt of about $320 million for its redevelopment of the northern side of the MCG.

It is understood the AFL considered the MCG Trust's offer for this year only, which would have enabled it to extend its contract by a year to 2033. But that also hinged on a full contract review involving all parties over the next six months.

Under the current contract the AFL has with the MCG, it must play a minimum of 45 home-and-away games each season and a minimum of four finals, including the grand final, at the ground. It also carries a "reasonable endeavours" clause to play 10 of the 12 highest-attended matches during the premiership season, and a similar clause that ensures the venue is attended annually by at least 2.1 million football patrons.

The latest 10-year MCC-MCG Trust offer to the AFL and its clubs is to provide an additional $100,000 per home team to MCG tenant clubs, and an additional $1 per patron over an annual attendance of 2.1 million each year. It would extend that to a $2-per-person deal for attendances over 2.5 million each year.

In exchange, the trust wants the AFL contract extended by five years to 2037 with a minimum commitment of 46 matches each year, including the grand final.

It is believed the AFL's comeback position was that it would not commit to playing any games other than the grand final at the MCG during the five years. The AFL also wants a $1 million bonus payment for each year attendances pass three million.

It is understood the AFL will press the Victorian Government to fund future capital works at the MCG. Demetriou and Fitzpatrick are scheduled to meet the Victorian Premier John Brumby and Wylie on the issue later this week. Smorgon and Collingwood president Eddie McGuire will also be present.

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Meeting of minds that gave Aussie football its rules

John Harms
The Age

May 17, 2009

The first rules of football as we know it were codified on this day, 150 years ago, writes John Harms.

Today's date, May 17, is of great significance to the nation – especially its footy lovers. Not that many of us know about it. On May 17, 1859, at the Parade Hotel, in Wellington Parade, East Melbourne, four men from the committee of the fledgling Melbourne Football Club (and maybe the publican) nutted out the first rules of football as it was to be played in the Australian way.

Although it has benefited from many other influences since – the Irish influence, the indigenous influence, the local influence – football as we know it is linked to this meeting.

This date is barely known because a different foundation myth exists. Over the years, the public memory has been consumed by the events of August 7, 1858 – the so-called first game of Australian football, between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar School in the Richmond Paddock. The AFL chose this date as the focus of its 150th anniversary celebrations last year, a logical follow-on from the centenary celebrations of 1958.

That game retains a symbolic significance. But historians tell us it wasn't even the first game – football matches (ad hoc games played by a variety of rules) had been played in the colony for years, and football-like matches had been played in indigenous communities for generations.

When it comes to football celebrating a single day, May 17, 1859, is far more appropriate. It was the day when Australian football was codified; the day influential men of football agreed on specific laws. These laws were publicised and gained currency.

In cities and towns, when the instigators of football clubs decided on the rules by which their clubs would play, many chose the rules prescribed by this meeting and further meetings of the Melbourne Football Club committee. Of course, clubs modified the rules as well, and the laws inherited local quirks.

While details of the meeting itself are sketchy, quite a lot is known about the characters involved, and about the rise of football around that time.

In 1858 a push to make football more organised led to the formation of the Melbourne Football Club. The problem was, depending on their backgrounds, and the schools they had attended, its members understood football to be played under a variety of rules. This needed to be sorted out.
On May 14, 1859, after a practice match within the club, players elected a committee. Four committee members met at Jerry Bryant's Wellington Parade pub. Bryant was not on the committee, but he was a sportsman. He had played as a professional for Surrey Cricket Club in England and been involved in the Surrey Football Club, which had its own rules.

William Hammersley was a local journalist. He had played cricket as a gentleman amateur with Bryant at Surrey. The illegitimate son of a prosperous Englishman, he had attended Trinity College, Cambridge.

James Thompson had also been at Trinity. A journalist, he wrote for the Ballarat Times before becoming theatre critic for The Melbourne Morning Herald.

Tom Smith was present as well. Known as "Red" and later as "Football" Smith, he was the classics master at Scotch. He had played in the August 7 match. The son of a Protestant merchant, he had grown up in Ireland and studied at Trinity College Dublin. Gaelic football had not been codified at that time.

The final committee member at the meeting was Tom Wills, Australian born, and educated at Rugby. Having returned from England, he had built a reputation as a cricketer and a character. He was loved by Melbourne crowds.

Accounts of the meeting differ. Hammersley claimed Wills wanted football played by Rugby rules, but the others thought such rules were too specific to Rugby.

It seems discussion would have focused on topics such as how rough the contest should be, when the ball could be handled and how the ball was to be returned to play? The meeting outlawed hacking: the custom of kicking opponents in the shins. It also prevented a player from picking the ball up; he could only handle it when marking a kick. Until mavericks ignored the rule, players could not run with the ball (as was the case at Cambridge but not at Rugby). It was a game of kicking and scrimmaging.

The limited number and scope of the rules made the game ill-defined, and the sizeable gaps gave football room to develop. This committee met from time to time in 1859 and later years to discuss and modify the rules. Its rules became known as the Melbourne rules, and while it is unlikely they were universally prescriptive, they were certainly influential. Other forms of football were codified and won disciples. But many stayed with the local game. From then until today, the rules have been organic, changing according to the desires of the footy community.

So this is an important day, when two journalists, a teacher and a sporting hero sat down in Jerry Bryant's pub to codify over a few beers a game to which they were attracted. The handwritten document survives, found in a tin chest in 1980 by Bill Gray, then the curator of the MCC Museum.

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Quick fix for West Sydney

Caroline Wilson
The Age

May 8, 2009

The western Sydney team scheduled to enter the AFL in 2012 would require better players and a stronger list in its debut season than the fledgling Gold Coast side which preceded it.

A group of club experts handpicked by the AFL to formulate the list rules for GC17 met yesterday at league headquarters to tackle for the first time the game's proposed and problematic 18th team.

Mindful of ongoing sabotage from rugby league and the AFL's relative anonymity in the western Sydney region, the group agreed the new team would need to be more successful over a shorter period of time in its fight for local support.

While no concrete decisions were made, yesterday's talks put forward several proposals to springboard the western Sydney side into the competition with short-term success including handing the team a mandatory uncontracted player from each of the existing 16 clubs.

The group also debated the relative merits of drip feeding high draft picks and concessions over a period of several years or simply handing the new side more draft concessions in its first year along with a more generous salary cap.

Former Brisbane Lions chief executive and current Swans football boss Andrew Ireland warned the AFL that a western Sydney side would suffer significantly from a "go home" syndrome given the lack of football culture in the region, with Ireland reportedly arguing for stronger player picks and an extra total player payments spending money as a result.

The western Sydney team looks almost certain to be handed the Australian Capital Territory and the Riverina district of southern NSW as its exclusive zone.

With a working party to govern the birth of the team in the manner of the GC17 board led by John Witheriff that is being formulated, the AFL has not yet decided whether to launch the 18th side into an under-18 competition next season directly following the Gold Coast model. That scenario seems unlikely, certainly in terms of the TAC competition.

The prevailing view was that a different model would be required to launch the new team given the tougher market and the obstacles set up by the Sydney scholarship scheme that is available to all AFL clubs.

Stronger ties with the ACT and the Riverina seem inevitable with the side proposed to play at least two home games each season at Canberra's Manuka Oval.

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An extra $3m bought Hawthorn a premiership flag

Greg Denham
The Australian

May 8, 2009

Premierships may come ahead of schedule, as Hawthorn's did last year, but they rarely come cheaply.

By their own admission, the Hawks' 2008 flag was not in their initial five-year planning set almost two years earlier, but the premiership was set up by a $3million boost in football department spending.

Hawthorn, which also made a record $4 million profit last year, was by far the leader in increased football department expenditure.

It spent $12.3million in 2007 before adding another $2.9million to its main football department resources last year, according to confidential AFL figures obtained by The Australian.

The Hawks spent $10.9million on their football department in 2006 - $1.2million below the league average - when they won nine games.

The following year, spending increased by $1.4million and the result was 14 wins and the club's first finals appearance since 2001.

So it was no surprise to see Hawthorn go all the way in 2008 with overall football department expenditure of $15.15million, which ranked it fifth overall behind Sydney ($16.93million), Collingwood ($16.38million), West Coast ($16.23million) and Fremantle, which spent $15.22million on its football department.

The Hawks' biggest increase in spending on the 2007 season was on its players, adding an extra $1.3million in salaries, including finals bonuses.

Another club on the rise, St Kilda, reaped the benefits of an administration willing to spend more on its football department.

After increasing their spend by $1.7million in 2007, the Saints lifted it a further $1.3million last year to a total of $14.26 million, still slightly below the league average and a long way short of top spender, Sydney, which created a new record with expenditure just below of $17million.

The best example of the AFL's uneven playing field last year was the Swans, compared to the Western Bulldogs, who sat second from the bottom of football department spending with an outlay of $12.85 million.

The Bulldogs, however, were able to win three more games than the Swans and despite having a football department with more than $4 million less in assets than Sydney, managed to beat them by 37 points in last year's second semi-final at the MCG.

North Melbourne, which had the lowest football department spend ($12.67 million), won one fewer game than the Swans.

Nine clubs came in under the average of $14.45million, which was skewed by the high spending by the Swans, Collingwood and the Eagles.

Sydney became the first AFL club to pay its players more than $10 million. The Swans players earned $10.42million, of which $728,000 was outside the salary cap and funded by the AFL for a cost-of-living allowance.

While coaching figures did not collectively rise over the 16 clubs, fitness and conditioning jumped by almost $3 million to $17.2million. Also on the rise was recruiting and list management costs, which went up across the competition from $7.6million to $10.1million.

Collingwood had the most expensive recruiting and list management department in the business and it spend $1.23 million on identifying new talent last year. The competition average was $631,000 of which the Western Bulldogs spent the least on recruiting at $381,000.

But the large volumes of money spent on football departments did not always directly correlate with success.

The grand final was played between Hawthorn and Geelong, which were the fifth and sixth biggest spenders.

Also, the top four spenders won eight games fewer than the bottom-four in football department spending - Port Adelaide, Essendon, the Bulldogs and Kangaroos.

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League's expansion plans are based on flawed TV revenue gains

Roy Masters
The Age

May 5, 2009

Doubts over the $100 million upgrade of the Sydney Showground as the home of the AFL's 18th team are unlikely to curb the code's expansion plans, scheduled to be ratified by the AFL Commission next month.

AFL clubs have fallen for the pitch that an additional game a week, from the entry of a Gold Coast team in 2011 and a western Sydney team the following year, will generate an additional $50 million a year in TV revenue.

Simple arithmetic casts serious doubt on this. The AFL's $780 million five-year TV deal translates to $156 million a year, or each of the existing 16 clubs generating $9.75 million annually in TV revenue.

How will the Gold Coast and western Sydney generate more than double the average figure for clubs in the existing TV contract, already inflated because Channel Nine's owner, the late Kerry Packer, sought to outbid a Seven-Ten consortium on his death bed?

Nine is extremely unlikely to bid next time, and Foxtel, which bought half the AFL games off Seven-Ten, can't justify a big spend on the basis of selling subscriptions on the Gold Coast and western Sydney.

There might be a few AFL lovers on the Gold Coast who haven't bought Foxtel subscriptions because they are not interested in the Titans, but western Sydney households hooked to pay TV have become so because they are committed to rugby league and soccer. So why the bullish push by the AFL, particularly chief executive Andrew Demetriou, for two additional teams?

Demetriou has used many a forum to point out 56 per cent of the advertising spend in Australia originates from NSW and Queensland, where the AFL has two clubs. In other words, 44 per cent of the advertising budget comes from the rest of Australia, where the AFL has 14 clubs.

If the AFL can locate an additional two teams in NSW and Queensland, Demetriou reasons it can cut into that 56 per cent spent.

This assumes businesses will buy advertising time and space with a code that is consistently outrated on free-to-air TV in NSW and Queensland and doesn't attract the same Foxtel viewer numbers in the Gold Coast and western Sydney as the NRL's under-20s competition. Suppose, long term, an additional two teams in this rich advertising territory works. What happens in the interim to the nine clubs in the poorer Melbourne market? Some will die because the annual AFL payment per club will fall dramatically. It will cost an additional $40 million a year for five years to sustain the two clubs. Geelong chief executive Brian Cook says the western Sydney licence will cost the AFL a subsidy of $20 million a year.

The AFL vigorously denied a claim 18 months ago by Gold Coast Titans boss Michael Searle that the GC17 licence would lose $100 million in the first five years, yet the announcement of the licence came with an underwriting payment of $100 million over five years. Searle says: "The question is, 'Do the AFL really expect within that time the Gold Coast team will generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining in 2016?' Eventually, the cash has to dry up, the Melbourne AFL clubs will cry about salary-cap concessions, draft picks and a quarantining of local talent."

The Age understands Seven and Ten are committed to a joint broadcasting pitch. So what will be the result of Demetriou's strategy? Expansion leading to contraction? Start clubs on the Gold Coast and western Sydney that drain AFL coffers of $40 million a year, cut the annual grant to Melbourne clubs such as the Demons and Kangaroos, who had the hide to refuse to relocate north when offered … and watch them die?

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Umpire comments

Hawk president takes $5000 fine option

Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett on Thursday snubbed the AFL and decided to pay a $5,000 fine for criticising the game's umpires.

ABC Online reports: The AFL had wanted Kennett to attend an umpiring seminar as well as watching a video of the laws of the game.

In a statement, Kennett says it is time for the club to move on and in future his public comments will be as bland as those of the AFL.

Message to Hawthorn members ...

Kennett responds to the AFL

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hawthorn Football Club


Please find my response to the AFL this afternoon.

I have decided to pay the fine for the reasons I have articulated in my letter below.

As much as I would like to have pursued the issue, it is better we all get on with what we are about and that is winning games.

And secondly you could not put it past the AFL to impose sanctions on the Club, such as loss of Premiership points, if the matter was not settled, and that we would not want.

So let the matters of substance be settled in the court of public opinion.

Sorry if I have caused you distraction. Be assured my future public comments will be as bland as those who seek to control us.

See you all at the MCG on Saturday.

Go Hawks.

Jeff Kennett

My letter to the AFL is as follows:

Mr Adrian Anderson
General Manager – Football Operations
Australian Football League

Dear Mr Anderson

I refer to your letter of 28th April 2009 in which you, on behalf of Mr Demetriou and the AFL, have seen fit to reject the entirety of my explanation and decided to impose a fine on me for comments I made on 18th April 2009.

As my comments were not umpire or incident specific, were hardly outrageous, and expressed views that are felt by many in the community, one can only assume that you had already decided to fine me before receiving my letter of explanation.

I wish to state again, that my concern is with the inconsistency of umpiring, and the difficulty increasingly being faced by umpires, as a direct result of the number of rule changes imposed by the AFL on our game, and secondly, the heightened focus on individual umpires as a result of the AFL sanctioned microphoning of umpires during matches.

It is my view that both of these issues are of concern to a majority of the public. Further, that in sanctioning me for what were factual comments, expressing a commonly held view, the AFL is again shooting the messenger rather than addressing the fundamental issues.

Your letter of penalty has given me two options, one that I be sent to what is best being described as umpiring school, or secondly, to pay a fine.

Your first option, umpiring school, only further puts the umpires under a microscope. It would take time before I could clear my diary to provide for the three hours you believe this schooling would take, and until I had completed my three hours of re-education, the media would continue to focus on umpires and this issue. Not to mention what they would justifiably expect from me, once I had completed this re-education.

I personally think that is unfair on umpires.

In your letter you have referred me to the Sanders Report, the National Review of Umpiring. I have already read that document and perhaps should not find it unusual that in justifying your sanctioning of me, you have relied on your interpretation of certain recommendations in that Report, but clearly the AFL does not embrace other recommendations.

In short, you interpret those recommendations that suit the AFL’s purpose but ignore those that don’t. Another AFL inconsistency.

Finally, in terms of the re-education issue, regardless of the number of DVDs, Reports and explanations that I would be subjected to, my complaint is not with the education of the umpires per se as they do a task of work under very difficult circumstances.

My complaint is that the AFL, by consistently introducing new rules, further confuses the umpires and the public and that once the umpire’s education is practiced on the field, there is unfortunately, because of the plethora of rules, confusion by individual umpires as well as inconsistency between any of the three umpires that might be adjudicating on the day.

You have cleverly pointed out in your letter that soccer only has one umpire, and of course you are correct. I personally am not opposed to that concept, i.e. one umpire per game, as it would certainly ensure consistency of umpiring throughout each game, allowing for the obvious mistakes that might be made by an umpire, or any of us from time to time.

In determining my position on this issue, I have decided in the interests of my Club, and to be quite truthful, in the interest of umpires, that it is best that this matter be resolved as quickly as possible to allow all parties to get on with their primary function. Umpires to umpire, and in my case, to oversee the conduct of affairs of the Hawthorn Football Club and to allow our players and coaches to compete on the field.

I have therefore decided, with regret, to pay the fine that you have levied. With regret because I would rather retain my $5,000, with regret because I think your sanctions are misplaced. But I am aware that unless I pay this fine, you at the AFL may well apply further sanctions against my Club which I certainly do not want to occur.

However, I do not resile from the thought process behind my comments that have now been explained to you twice, and my explanations which you have seen fit to reject.

So please find attached my personal cheque for $5,000, and as the AFL works to paint the sky grey, and limit free speech, be assured that many of us will continue to manage our affairs as best we can to the advancement of the code and those who support, not only our individual clubs, but the game itself.

Yours sincerely,

Jeff Kennett
Hawthorn Football Club

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

AFL acts on Hawthorn's criticism of umpires
Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett will be forced to attend an educational camp with the AFL umpiring department or his club will pay a $5000 fine for criticising umpires.

Jake Niall reports in The Age: The AFL has decreed that Kennett attend a meeting with the umpiring department, in effect forcing him to be schooled in all facets of umpiring – including watching game reviews and a DVD of the laws of the game.

Kennett has been given two weeks to attend the meeting or the AFL will fine the Hawks $5000, with the league treating the Hawks as two-time offenders. The AFL fined coach Alastair Clarkson $5000 after its round 17 game against Geelong last year, when he singled out umpire Justin Schmitt for criticism, saying: "He's a good player for the Cats that No. 17, wasn't he? He's a ripper."

Kennett accused the umpires of drawing attention to themselves, his comments adding to the conflict between the umpiring department and Collingwood over the Heath Shaw report and the contact between umpire Scott McLaren and player Shane O'Bree.

Kennett letter to the AFL

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jeff Kennett
Blog Article Content

Fellow Members,

As you are aware, the AFL has deemed fit to impose a penalty on the Club for comments I made recently regarding confusion surrounding what I consider to be inconsistent decisions in the adjudication of our game by umpires.

It had not been my intention to debate this publicly, as I had assumed the correspondence and arguments were to be discussed privately between myself and the AFL.

However, today the AFL has gone public through their General Manager-Football Operations, Mr Adrian Anderson, on talkback radio station 3AW, justifying the AFL’s position. Therefore I think you are entitled, as members of the Club, to read my letter of explanation to the AFL in response to their charges.

My arguments were totally rejected by the AFL and that has resulted in them imposing a penalty on the Club.

Finally, I make the point that at no time did I criticise an individual umpire, nor name one. We at Hawthorn play the ball not the man. My comments were general and the result of watching or viewing many games this year.

I am clearly still considering my position and will communicate that to you via this website in the next 48 hours.

My letter to Adrian Anderson is as follows:

27 April 2009

Mr Adrian Anderson
General Manager – Football Operations
Australian Football League
GPO Box 1449N
Melbourne VIC 3001

Dear Mr Anderson

I refer to your letter to me dated 23 April 2009.

You initially wrote to Ian Robson, our CEO, asking him to explain my comments. Clearly that was inappropriate, as a CEO can’t answer for his President. Therefore I appreciate you redirecting your letter to me.

In your letter you have asked me to explain recent comments I have made regarding umpires.

My response is as follows.

1. You take offence at my use of the words “bloody umpires”.

I used the word “bloody” out of sheer frustration. Akin I guess to the phrase “bloody idiots” being used to describe drink drivers.

For better or worse, “bloody” is commonly used in Australia today. It can I suppose be offensive, but it can also be a term of endearment, it can be a term of jest, regardless I would hardly think in this day and age it would generally be thought to be offensive but if that is your take on it so be it.

2. You refer to my “negative comments” regarding umpires on the SEN interview I gave last Saturday 18th April. I consider them to be simply factual.

My comments did not apply specifically to the Brisbane vs. Collingwood match, nor to any specific umpire, nor to any specific incident during any of the first four games this year, but was a generalisation as a result of personally attending three matches this year, and watching many more on television, I like many others find that the performance and inconsistency of umpires increasingly confusing and frustrating.

This is not necessarily the umpires’ fault alone but the result of regular rule changes by the AFL, and the increased focus on umpires by ‘wiring’ or ‘miking’ them for sound, which has made them a greater focus of attention.

The AFL sheets the ‘miking’ of umpires to the broadcasters, but this is a cop out, as the AFL attempts to control every aspect of the game. The AFL has clearly sanctioned the ‘miking’ of umpires and therefore they, the AFL, must accept responsibility for the increasingly difficult circumstances in which umpires are operating.

Again you may wish to interpret my comments as negative but I argue they are simply factual and shared by many in the community.

A good umpire should aspire to unnoticed perfection.

The AFL has made this almost impossible for umpires today.

It is interesting and again factual, that soccer, the most popular and professional code of football in the world, do not introduce rule changes annually, and do not ‘mike’ their umpires.

The practice set by world soccer allows for greater understanding, knowledge and comfort of the game and its rules, by umpires, coaches, players, supporters and commentators – and even Presidents.

You get that wonderful ingredient of simplicity of application.

It would not be a bad example for the AFL to follow.

By removing the microphone from umpires you would reduce the public focus on them, you would also eliminate the intrusion that their running commentary often creates when watching a television broadcast.

You might even consider removing the numbers from umpires backs – numbers are worn by players. If you think necessary replace them with their names to distinguish a player from an umpire. But again in soccer there are no numbers and no names. Why? To leave the umpire as anonymous as possible.

It is AFL policy that has singled out umpires to be more than unnoticed professionals.

I am sorry if you found my comments offensive but I consider them to be both factual and constructive.

I will take up your suggestion to raise the issue of umpiring at the next AFL Presidents meeting, in the hope that we can have genuine discussion, where the views of the Presidents will be appreciated and hopefully accepted.

May I finally conclude that if you are serious about the welfare of umpires and attracting others to serve in the profession, the AFL should very seriously review their policies that are increasingly making the umpires the focus of attention.

Yours sincerely,

Jeff Kennett
Hawthorn Football Club

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Richard Colless: Warning on west Sydney

Michael Cowley and Richard Hinds
The Age

April 30, 2009

Swans chairman Richard Colless says he does not believe a team will be entrenched in western Sydney "in my lifetime", even as the AFL moved to reassure local clubs that plans to implant a team in the region as early as 2012 remained on track.

"I'm not saying it's the wrong thing to do, but I think it would be unwise for clubs to assume this is sort of a licence to print money," said Colless, who is the longest-serving chairman of an AFL club.

"It's going to be a long, hard battle and I don't think the winning of the west is going to occur in my lifetime."

The NSW Government and AFL yesterday denied reports that promised funding for a $100 million redevelopment of the Homebush Bay showgrounds had been withdrawn and the establishment of the new franchise imperilled.

The AFL has been studying the feasibility of turning the showgrounds into a boutique stadium that could accommodate crowds of about 25,000 for some of the western Sydney team's games, with larger-drawing matches to be played at ANZ Stadium.

But the NSW Minister for Sport, Kevin Greene, said a formal request for funding of the showground's development had yet to be made.

"I understand the AFL are still looking at their options on this issue and we are more than happy to speak to them when they are ready," he said.

"They have not yet made a proposal for the Government to respond to."

While AFL boss Andrew Demetriou would not comment yesterday, NSW-ACT AFL chief executive Dale Holmes sent a letter to all AFL clubs in Sydney reassuring them that plans for the west Sydney team were proceeding.

"On Monday … the commission made it clear that it understands the challenges ahead and is committed to the 2012 target date," he wrote.

"There are a number of stadium options being discussed and we will continue to discuss them with a range of stakeholders, including government."

With the AFL entrenched at ANZ Stadium and the proposed team to have its training and administrative headquarters at the new 10,000-seat AFL-cricket stadium in Blacktown, the league is confident it has the facilities in place. The greater challenge will be in finding fans and corporate support.

Former Blacktown mayor Leo Kelly, a strong supporter of the AFL's push into the west, claimed any potential loss of government funding was a "minor hiccup", but local interests had been told last week there was no change in the expansion plans.

However, Colless said it was important the public understood the difficulties of expansion, noting that where there was "a massive outpouring of support for a Super 14 franchise" when the Western Force were established in Perth, there was no such demand for AFL in western Sydney.

"That doesn't invalidate doing it … but what I continue to say unrepentantly is there is a not a natural demand for it, so understand this is going to be an unbelievably long haul and it's also going to be a substantial drain on the AFL system's coffers," he said.

"(Geelong CEO) Brian Cook volunteered four to six weeks ago that he thought it would cost the AFL system probably $20 million a year, and that's not an insignificant amount of money … if you do that for, say, 10 years, it chews up a substantial amount of money that could be deployed somewhere else."

While the Swans have been careful to avoid going head-to-head with the NRL, as the AFL would do in western Sydney, Colless said he doubted the new franchise would harm the Swans as long as its introduction was properly managed.

"I don't fear for our viability because I think the strategic importance of the Swans now is undoubted," he said.

"But what you won't be able to do with this new team is offer discounted seats, and discounted sponsorships, because if you do that, you cannibalise what's taken us nearly 30 years to build up.

"That's why I think the amount of subsidisation is going to be massive and (that) it's going to be open-ended. Now that in itself is no bad thing and if the AFL has the financial clout to do it, it might be the greatest strategic move in its 100-odd year history.

"But as long as people understand this is more than just a consequence of the economic downturn, this is fundamentally supply and demand."

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Western Sydney venture a giant leap of faith for AFL-kind

Richard Hinds
The Age

April 29, 2009


Establishing a team in western Sydney is the AFL's version of the Apollo project. Unless you are an astrophysicist - or, in this case, a footbophysicist – the best reason to believe it is possible is the sheer conviction of those certain that a second Sydney franchise will provide a giant leap for their game.

Inevitably, those just as certain Neil Armstrong would have found more AFL supporters on the moon than Andrew Demetriou will in Rooty Hill are looking for tell-tale signs of hesitation and indecision – particularly a backdown on the projected 2012 start-up date.

In that context, some might seize on the slight equivocation of Demetriou who said after Monday's commission meeting the west Sydney team still had to present a business case before the 2012 start-up date was set in stone. It might even be suggested the "bullish" AFL boss and his fellow commissioners were wavering in their commitment to the game's riskiest, and potentially, most expensive enterprise.

However, in admitting that the West Sydney Whatevers would be "much more difficult to establish" than the Gold Coast team, Demetriou merely acknowledged a simple truth – that this expansion project will be like no other the league has attempted.

In the 14 months since AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick went public with the AFL's plan to expand, the west Sydney project has been overshadowed by efforts to ensure the 2011 launch date for the Gold Coast franchise. That was only achieved last month thanks to the Queensland Labor's victory in last month's election, which assured the new club a stadium.

Starting with Monday's commission meeting, where NSW-ACT AFL chief Dale Holmes presented a progress report on plans for a second Sydney team, the spotlight now falls on west Sydney. That means the media and, in turn, the public will start to examine the significant question – can an AFL team be successfully implanted in soil that has, at the very best, been lightly tilled?

Previously the AFL had expanded to cater for the demand of would-be spectators demanding a stake in the elite competition. In west Sydney they plan to create a team designed to "service the market" by generating interest in, and helping develop, the code – something they believe the Swans cannot and have not done across the length and breadth of a large and diverse city.

Holmes's presentation focused on comparisons between the west Sydney and Gold Coast expansions and made it clear the league had significantly greater challenge here because of the differences in "the maturity of the AFL football community and marketplace in the two areas".

Indeed, compared with the implanted Whatevers, the Gold Coast will be a relatively organic creature. The Meter Maids do not have the deep roots of the AFL's previous no-brainer expansions – West Coast and Adelaide began with the support of entire Aussie football supporting states; Port Adelaide and Fremantle were nurtured by relatively large and fiercely partisan communities. But the strong Southport Football Club provided a platform, the (slightly over-estimated) ex-pat Victorian community underpins the supporter base and businessmen associated with Brisbane (as either the Bears or Lions or both) have provided natural and experienced leadership.

Holmes said he left Monday's commission meeting believing there was still strong support for the 2012 start-up date, while admitting the expansion remained a "dynamic process". Rather than providing more wiggle room on the establishment timeline, Holmes says that merely underlines the most compelling point made to the commission – that regardless of when the team plays its first match the game's development in west Sydney remains a very long-term project.

Meanwhile, it is anticipated a list of 35 candidates will be whittled down to an advisory board of six to eight members by late June. Depending on how you look at it, they will have the honour of founding the Whatevers or the toughest job in Australian sport.

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AFL's ground rationalisation costs clubs

Jake Niall
The Age

April 16, 2009

A GENERATION of kids never had the privilege of standing near the "animal enclosure" at Moorabbin. They haven't jostled for a spot under the windsock at Windy Hill, haven't experienced the unique hospitality, and saliva, that Victoria Park extended to visitors from other clubs.

If they're lucky, they might have caught a game at the most pristine of the old fortresses, Princes Park, before it was closed as an AFL venue.

Some would say good riddance to suburban grounds, which were antiquated hovels in comparison with the comfortable, shiny Docklands, the refurbished MCG and the modern interstate venues. These local grounds, symbols of the old Victorian order, were sacrificed on the altar of progress and the national competition.

We were told that these grounds had to go, for the sake of the game and the economic future of the clubs, which were better off closing the run-down family home and renting either at the MCG or what is now known as Etihad Stadium.

Ground rationalisation, the '80s agenda pushed by the current Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel, was an example of the AFL's willingness to make the tough business decisions in the game's long-term interest.

Those who had misgivings about jettisoning all the old grounds were merely foolish romantics who didn't understand the AFL's hard-headed wisdom.

These sentimental Luddites were blind to the dollars and sense of ground rationalisation. Preserving club histories and identities was just narrow parochialism.

Funny how ideologies get mugged by reality and history bends in an unexpected direction.

As the AFL struggles to obtain a fair deal for its clubs at the MCG and Docklands, it's become apparent that these old grounds were over-rationalised. How much better off would the clubs be financially if the AFL had kept at least one of its suburban grounds?

The AFL has huffed and puffed about shifting games interstate, tried to get the State Government to heavy the MCG Trust, and yet negotiations remain mired in Middle Eastern mode. The MCG has a contract and doesn't need to budge. What the AFL doesn't have — and even delusional romantics understand this — is leverage.

There is no third ground, because, in its sociopathic drive to remove all vestiges of suburbanism from an expanding competition, past AFL administrations forced the closing of the smaller grounds. A policy that made a certain amount of economic sense, was over-cooked and the clubs have been badly burnt.

Consider the negotiating tactics available to Andrew Demetriou and co, who, to be fair, inherited the two-stadium agenda. "If you don't give the clubs a better deal, we'll …" Build another stadium? Move games to Geelong or Canberra? It's not easy to complete that sentence with a feasible threat. The MCG is controlled by a trust, Etihad is privately owned and its shareholders want the best possible return.

The logical ground to have remained open for business was Princes Park, which, until recent renovations, could still accommodate 35,000 in relative comfort. It would have required relatively few dollars to upgrade to AFL standard — Carlton went broke building the ground, in the belief that it would find a niche as Melbourne's third (or more optimistically, second) stadium once Waverley was turned into real estate.

Clubs have, belatedly, woken to the fact that bums on seats doesn't necessarily translate into dollars. Geelong makes about as much from a typical home game as Richmond earned from a sold-out MCG in round one. Had the AFL sufficient foresight to keep a 25,000-35,000 boutique ground, the low-drawing games against Freo, West Coast, Port et al — some of which are sold off to other states — would earn a pretty penny.

The AFL, sadly, failed to heed its own dysfunctional history with the MCG. The league created Waverley, in part because it was sick of being ripped off and dictated to by the Melbourne Cricket Club.

How did the AFL's decision makers, otherwise pretty astute, fail to read the play? Well, the obvious point is that they envisaged fewer Victorian clubs — at least two and maybe three teams were expected to merge or relocate. But, instead, we've seen the birth of new clubs, with the 17th and 18th babies on the way. The additional games won't draw many fans in Melbourne. Ideally, they'd be hosted by a low-cost, smallish capacity ground.

They call it a boutique stadium. I call it a suburban ground.

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League pushes north with new TV commercial

Caroline Wilson
The Age

March 10, 2009

The AFL'S national television advertising campaign has declared itself "In a LEAGUE of its own" and placed some of football's biggest stars in the centre of the most famous sporting venues and events in the world to prove it.

Brisbane Lions and Sydney captains Jonathan Brown and Adam Goodes are two of the opening attractions in the commercial born largely out of last year's historic 150th campaign which failed to engage the northern states.

The AFL's push to create new franchises in Queensland and NSW lost significant momentum last September when a dismal crowd of less than 20,000 turned up to watch the Swans defeat the Kangaroos in a sudden-death final at ANZ Stadium.

The Lions' attendances and TV ratings continued to plummet, creating a massive headache for the AFL. The Swans were particularly vocal about the random nature of the promotion of their home games which occasionally went to air after the games had been completed.

The Bill Hunter-voiced commercials had little relevance for a Sydney market its home club was attempting to lure to games and the AFL was told as much by the Swans. As a result the league brought in its advertiser George Patterson's Sydney team to redefine not only the AFL's message but its placement of commercials.

The "In a LEAGUE of its own" commercial was filmed largely in Victoria but mocks up venues such as the Happy Valley racecourse in Hong Kong, a bullring in Mexico, a Canadian ice hockey rink, boxing at Madison Square Garden, London's Wembley Stadium and the home of the New York Mets.

In a further salute to NSW audiences, Kieren Jack — whose father Gary starred with Tina Turner in the successful "Simply The Best" rugby league commercial — stars in the advertisement as part of a sequence involving Port Adelaide's Chad Cornes, who smothers Jack and Collingwood's Leon Davis in an ice rink and which finishes with the ball being hit to Brownlow medallist Adam Cooney in a bullring.

The action then moves to Adelaide's Nathan Bock, Lion Daniel Merrett and Melbourne skipper James McDonald who kicks the ball to Gary Ablett who evades racing cars at a major international event to kick the ball to Matthew Pavlich.

The sequence is then picked up in turn by Justin Koschitzke and Daniel Wells in the middle of Wembley and finishes with Lance Franklin into a group of Essendon players competing under lights at the MCG.

Every AFL club is represented in the commercial which also features Dean Cox, David Hille, Brett Deledio, Aaron Davey and Chris Judd who evades giant basketballers in a supposed NBA clash.

Not only has the AFL worked closely with its broadcast partners to ensure the campaign is given significant airplay, it has also worked to improve the timing of the commercials in a bid to increase lagging crowds in Brisbane and Sydney and continue to push attendances at Carrara.

The AFL has refused to divulge details about the campaign which will be unveiled to the industry later this month at the 2009 season launch and shown for the first time on television on Sunday, March 22 — four days before the Richmond-Carlton season-opener at the MCG.

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Stadium stalls; AFL's Sydney doubt

David Hastie
Sunday Herald Sun

March 1, 2009

The AFL's ambitious push into western Sydney has stalled, with the league yet to submit plans for the $100 million redevelopment of the Sydney Showgrounds at Olympic Park.

Almost a year after then premier Morris Iemma gave the AFL $40,000 for a feasibility plan, the AFL confirmed on Friday it had not submitted anything.

The new stadium is to be the home base for a proposed 18th team, to be introduced by 2013. The NSW Government is understood to now be reluctant to help fund the stadium's reconstruction.

The Sunday Herald Sun has learned NSW premier Nathan Reese is far from sold on the AFL's plan to expand into rugby league's heartland. Several sports in NSW struggle financially, including basketball and racing.

A spokesperson for Mr Rees said this week the AFL had not contacted the Government about the plan.

A government insider said there was "little chance" funding would be agreed.

"The big concern here is the AFL doesn't seem to be certain that this can work."

The AFL refused to comment this week about its commitment to the Showgrounds redevelopment.

The $30 million redevelopment of Blacktown's Olympic Park in western Sydney into a 10,000 capacity venue and training base is on schedule to be completed by June.

It may be called upon as the team's home ground should the AFL push ahead with its expansion.

NSW Sports Minister Kevin Greene said the Government was still waiting for the AFL to provide detailed plans for the proposed team. Mr Greene said he would support a second team, but he would not comment on the probability of government funding.

The West Australian Government has shelved plans for a $1 billion stadium in Perth to replace Subiaco Oval. The AFL also must strike a deal with the Queensland Government to redevelop the Carrara stadium in time for its proposed Gold Coast side's entry in 2011.

It was revealed this week the Gold Coast would not gain the AFL's 17th licence unless government funding for the redevelopment was secured.

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Delay in stadium financing puts Gold Coast bid in doubt

Greg Denham
The Australian

February 26, 2009

The Gold Coast will not be granted the AFL's 17th licence unless funding for the redevelopment of the stadium at Carrara is guaranteed.

It was revealed the hitch in the GC17 bid consortium being awarded the next licence, which had been put on hold by the AFL for four months, is because multi-million-dollar grants from the federal and Queensland Governments have not yet been signed off on.

Another hiccup facing the code's expansion in southeast Queensland relates to next month's state election and whether the incumbent Labor government can guarantee its funding pledge before it goes to the polls.

The AFL on Wednesday declared the Gold Coast's entry into the competition would not proceed unless its stadium deal was fully guaranteed.

And that's despite a $5million commitment to establish and underwrite a team this year in the Victorian-based TAC under-18 competition, the first step in developing a club to be ready for AFL participation in two years.

After what seemed a formality a few months ago, the AFL has still to receive state and federal funding commitments for the project, which is estimated to cost between $120million and $130million.

It is understood the Gold Coast City Council has promised $20million to upgrade Carrara, while the AFL is putting in $10million.

The AFL has been working on the Queensland and federal governments tipping in an equal split of about $100million. The league's plans to upgrade the Carrara facility include increasing seating to 25,000 from its current capacity of 8000, as well as upgrading a number of player and administration facilities.

AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan, who is overseeing the Gold Coast's scheduled entry into the AFL in 2011, would not comment when contacted.

But AFL sources remain optimistic of getting the government funding necessary to bring the Gold Coast stadium into line with other major AFL venues.

"You can't commit to funding that hasn't been approved," an AFL source said. "Negotiations are progressing well and we've certainly had positive signs, but in saying that we thought that was the case three months ago."

Bid chairman John Witheriff said he had no knowledge that the licence was dependant on government financing of the Gold Coast stadium.

"That's the first I've heard of that," Witheriff said. "All that is news to me."

Rather than the more costly option of building a new stadium to host AFL games in southeast Queensland, the league has settled on Carrara in the short term. That decision was also buoyed by the Queensland Government's decision not to hold the AFL to an existing contract that required the new club to play all home games at the Gabba in Brisbane until 2015.

Should the Gold Coast be granted the 17th licence, it is unlikely to pay for the privilege, despite the past five clubs to enter the expanded national competition - West Coast, Brisbane Lions, Adelaide, Fremantle and Port Adelaide - each paying $4million for their licences.

The consortium - Witheriff, Graeme Downie, Alan Mackenzie, Bob Gordon and Dale Dickson - believes it has achieved all entry criteria placed on it by the league last year.

The criteria included a minimum prospective membership figure of 20,000, which has escalated to more than 45,000 pledges, a major sponsor, 11 support sponsors and 100 business partners as financial contributors.

Witheriff said any stalling of the licence by the AFL had no impact so far on the club's on-field development and progress. Under senior coach Guy McKenna, who has a two-year contract, the Gold Coast will make its debut in the under-18 TAC Cup competition in April. It has already signed eight teenagers and has a squad of 40 players.

The Gold Coast will not appoint its first chief executive until it is granted a licence and little has officially progressed since last August when its CEO search was narrowed to seven.

Dickson, chief executive of the Gold Coast City Council, has firmed for the position following St Kilda chief executive Archie Fraser's resignation to join soccer's A-League as its new chief.

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Rewrite rule, says lawyer

Greg Baum and Andrea Petrie
The Age

February 21, 2009

The lawyer who acted for Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell in his successful appeal against a four-match suspension for rough conduct says the rule is virtually impossible to understand in its current form, gives players no understanding of the limits they must observe and should be rewritten immediately.

Terry Forrest, QC, won mitigation of penalties in two high-profile striking cases against Sydney's Barry Hall, but had not previously had to unpick the rough conduct rule. "I found it an extremely difficult rule to understand," he said.

So, he said, did four eminent QCs, three on the appeals board that cleared Maxwell yesterday, and David Jones, the chairman of the tribunal that convicted Maxwell on Tuesday. "All are extremely highly regarded in the legal community, almost icons," said Forrest.

Forrest said the guidelines to the rule are riddled with double negatives and in a crucial clause do not even make clear whether the "player" is the offender or the offended. It reads: "When determining whether the conduct was unreasonable, consideration should be given, but not limited to, whether the player is not, or would not reasonably be, expected to influence the contest.

"Is the 'player' the opponent, or the player charged with the reportable offence?" asked Forrest. "That's ambiguous in itself.

"In the significant paragraphs, there are two 'unlesses', overlaid by three alternatives, overlaid by a qualification, which embraces six potentially relevant factual considerations, overlaid by an onus — and then a duty.

"All of that says to me that as soon as the reasons (for the appeals board's verdict) are published, and before the home-and-away season commences, this rule ought to be reviewed as a matter of urgency, and drafted in a much simpler language, so that the clubs, the players and the administrators know where they stand.

"No player, reading the rule now, would have any idea of the limits and the possibilities facing him. It wouldn't be hard to draft it more elegantly."

AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said the thrust of the rule was clear, as summed up by its last clause: "The onus is placed on a player who elects to bump to do so legitimately. He has a duty to avoid significant contact to an opponent's head or neck where reasonably possible."

But Anderson also said that since the tribunal and appeals board had come to different conclusions in the Maxwell case, the AFL would examine the appeals board's decision to determine "if any clarification to the rules was required".

An explanation of the AFL appeals board decision to overturn suspension will not be revealed until next week.

In direct contrast with Tuesday's tribunal's findings, the appeals board yesterday found that Maxwell's contact to young Eagle Patrick McGinnity was reasonable and within the rules and that the head contact was accidental. McGinnity broke his jaw in the incident and will miss for three months.

The decision enables Maxwell to play against Richmond on Thursday. It has also written Collingwood into the record books for becoming the first club to have a tribunal decision overturned on appeal since the system was introduced in 2005. The first 10 appeals have failed.

Forrest successfully argued during the 90-minute hearing that Maxwell had no reasonable alternative but to bump McGinnity in the circumstances.

Had he gone for the ball rather than bumped McGinnity there would have been a "serious risk" of injury to both players as well as Maxwell's teammate Anthony Corrie who was nearby, Forrest said.

"Putting his head over the ball with Corrie and McGinnity coming like a freight train is not asking him to execute a realistic alternative. It was a situation fraught with potential for injury".

Counsel assisting the AFL Jeff Gleeson, SC, suggested the safer alternative would have been for Maxwell to pull out of the bump but Forrest argued it would be very difficult for a professional footballer to explain such a decision to his coach, in this case Collingwood's Mick Malthouse.

"That is not our game. I'm a 10th of a second away from impact, I'll pull out of this. I'm only the captain … Sorry Mick," he said.

Gleeson requested a 10-minute break in proceedings and upon resuming, Collingwood's appeal was amended to include an error of law relating to the question the jury was asked to consider on Tuesday — whether Maxwell had a reasonable alternative to contest the ball. Forrest argued it should have included the options of tackling and shepherding.

The original appeal was on the basis that the tribunal's decision was "so unreasonable that no tribunal acting reasonably could have come to that decision having regard to the evidence before it".

After less than five minutes of deliberation, the appeal panel of Peter O'Callaghan, QC, Brian Collis, QC, and retired Victorian Court of Appeal president and 1961 Hawthorn premiership player John Winneke emerged to uphold the appeal.

"It is of our opinion the appeal should be upheld. We'll publish our reasons later," appeals board chairman O'Callaghan said.

After the hearing, a relieved Maxwell said he felt vindicated.

"I always felt that I did every thing right in the circumstances," he said.

Football operations manager Adrian Anderson said any clarification or refinement to the rules surrounding bumps would only take place after the full findings had been received.

"But if need be we'll do what is necessary to reconfirm our position on bumps," he said.

"We received a report from the Medical Officers Association two years ago urging us to take action and we introduced two rules, one to protect a player with his head down over the ball and another that said that if you've got the option of going for the ball or tackling and you elect instead to bump, if you cause damage to your opponent's head or neck you'll be held responsible in that situation.

"Last year's injury report showed that we had the lowest incidence of head and neck incidents for AFL players on record and we don't plan to deviate from our position."

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Japan learns to love Aussie footy

Peter Wilson
The Australian

January 7, 2009

Twenty-one years ago I received a phone call in Tokyo from one of my bosses at the Sun News-Pictorial with what seemed a straightforward assignment.

Two Australian football teams, Essendon and Hawthorn, were planning to play a promotional match in Yokohama. The newspaper had heard the organisers, Fuji TV, were going to hold a curtain-raiser involving Japanese players.

I was the local correspondent for the Sun-Pic, now the Herald Sun, so I called Fuji TV. Their idea was to put on a game between Keio and Waseda universities, the most distinguished of the nation's 600 private universities. Sporting contests between them are like Oxford-Cambridge matches, so Fuji TV was sure they would get plenty of local attention.

"But can they play?" I asked the producer handling the match.

"Umm ... no, not yet," he said.

"Well, who will teach them?"

"Will you?" he asked.

His strategy for finding Aussie football coaching talent was to ask the first person he came across with an Australian accent. Sadly for him, that was me.

I laughed and told him even though I was from Melbourne I could barely play the game, let alone teach it. Oddly enough my sport as a kid had been judo and my footy career peaked with two games warming the bench for the Parade College under-13Bs.

I promised that when they found some real coaches I would come along to training sessions as an assistant.

But the search for real coaches in Tokyo got nowhere, and a few weeks later I was politely told I was the head coach. In fact the only coach. For both teams.

My interpreter, Hiroshi Osedo, and I had lunch with the leader of the players, a madly enthusiastic Keio student named Takeo Iida. He spoke little English and I had no Japanese. Iida-san had been to Australia on an exchange visit and was intrigued by the game, although he had never played.

Some of the other volunteers had played soccer and a few had been on a rugby field, but Aussie footy was totally exotic. That novelty was the attraction, along with a chance to get on television, which they figured might help them with girls.

So we had a coach who could not coach, players who had never played and no common language to talk footy. How hard could it be to introduce a sport to a new country?

Hiroshi thought the whole thing was hilarious but promised to help, mainly in the hope of seeing me make an idiot of myself.

A correspondent's life is too busy and unpredictable to take on regular sporting commitments but our match was only two months away. I assumed that after the game we could all forget footy and regain our Saturdays.

The VFL turned down my appeals for help because it was only interested in selling TV rights to the Japanese, not in getting them to play the game. The Australian embassy was also no help because it could see no trade advantage in having a bunch of kids playing our game, even though I pointed out these were elite universities and the students could one day be influential.

So my family sent me a coaching manual for teaching primary-school players and Hiroshi set to work translating terms such as torpedo punt. I found two Australian bankers who knew how to umpire and convinced a mate who could play the game to come over from Hong Kong for our first training session, a two-day camp at the base of Mount Fuji.

The first lesson began with 30-odd fit young guys sitting silently on the training pitch while I held up a mysterious object in my right hand and tried to sound authoritative.

"Kore wa football desu!" ("This is a football!") Thirty faces nodded earnestly, absorbing this information with as much concentration as if I had just shown them a working model of a combustion engine.

Fancier things - kicking, hand-balling, the rules and the scoring system - had to wait until we spent hours showing them the quirky way an Aussie football bounces.

They worked ferociously and lost a lot of skin on the grassless training pitch, but commitment and bonding were no problem. While Australian kids their age might be self-conscious in the showers, we shared a huge hot bath that first night, laughing and forming a chain to scrub each other's backs with soap.

We slogged away every Saturday, scouring Tokyo's outer suburbs for any open piece of ground, preferably with grass, where we could practise with the half-dozen balls provided by Fuji TV.

I was 26, only six or seven years older than the players, but at first they treated me like a middle-aged professor or sensei. I was dreadfully unfit and within a few weeks they were all better players than me, although I thought it would hurt morale to let them know quite how incompetent their coach was.

They put on a good show at Yokohama baseball stadium in front of about 15,000 people and a decent TV audience. In fact Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy and Hawthorn's Alan Jeans seemed pleasantly surprised by their performance. They both remarked that our best player, Katsutoshi Ishibe, had real talent.

That was supposed to be the end of my lost Saturdays but something unexpected had happened. These guys had become my friends and by now I had learned it was hard for foreigners to make genuine friendships in Japan. I had found that bonds of friendship in Japan rely on sharing some defining link, such as working for the same company or coming from the same village or school, rather than simply meeting somebody and finding that you like them.

That makes Japanese society a series of tight social circles. And if people are always insiders or outsiders, then foreigners are the ultimate outsiders. More often than not, foreigners are treated as if they are more charming and interesting than they really are, but I was sick of always being treated as if I was special and different.

To have normal friendships I needed a circle or bond of my own, and I had stumbled into one with Aussie footy. I decided to keep at it.

For the next three years I would be dragged out of bed, exhausted and hung-over, for the long Saturday morning drive into the suburbs to lead training sessions or matches against teams of Australian bankers and language teachers. Somehow we even ended up with an Irish team made up of Gaelic football players who had been lured to Tokyo by the strong yen of the 1980s.

The local office of QBE Insurance donated money for jumpers and the Fitzroy Football Club sent some footballs. But that was the only help we received.

After the games my tiny apartment would be packed with players, beer and pizza. Their English improved to the extent that a few ended up with Australian accents. My Japanese got nowhere but I did pick up some loyal, solid mates.

Iida became a close friend and perhaps the strangest Aussie footy fanatic in the world. He had footy magazines shipped to Tokyo and would ring me in genuine distress to report things such as Paul Salmon hurting an ankle.

One Saturday morning when I was more tired and hung-over than usual, I was sitting in Tokyo traffic in a car packed with students, wondering why I was spending my time doing this, when the best rover in Japan, Akio Nakajima, leaned over from the back seat and turned on the cassette player.

Out blared the Coodabeen Champions. A car full of kids who could barely speak English began singing along with "I'm DiPierdomenico, all the way from head to toe..." When they also knew the words to the song Never Turn Right at Burke Road, Malvern (Or You'll Be There All Day"), I just shook my head.

I left Japan at the end of 1990. On grand final day five years later, I had another of those "is this really happening?" moments. I had returned to Tokyo for Iida's wedding at the Hotel Okura.

After his bride, Akiko, had changed from a kimono into a Western outfit, they entered the ballroom to the applause of 500 guests. The music then started up for the bridal waltz, sending my table of footy old boys into cheers but leaving me laughing. Never before had Up There, Cazaly featured in a traditional Japanese wedding.

The former ruck-rover sitting next to me had become an executive for one of Japan's biggest trading companies, travelling the world buying wheat.

In fact, he confided with a guilty smile, he had switched tens of millions of dollars in contracts from Canada to Australia "because I like Australia".

Over the next decade or so our contact dropped off into the occasional exchange of cards and I assumed the game had died out in Tokyo. Last year, though, I received an email asking me to come back for the end of season awards night to mark the 20th anniversary of the Japan AFL.

It was a wonderful trip, with lots of pub time catching up with my old players, soaking up news of their children and their careers with the pride of an uncle, even though our age difference had all but disappeared now we were all in our 40s.

Teams are now spread across Japan and sides tour Australia each year. Two Japanese footballers even play semi-professionally in Australia.

The awards night was in a swish Tokyo hotel with the ballroom full of black ties and elegant dresses befitting the Japanese version of Brownlow Medal night.

When it came time for the big award I had another of those "is this happening?" moments when I was called up to present the best and fairest player in the league with something I had only recently heard about.

I muttered something about friendship being the most important thing in the game, then handed out the eighth annual Peter Wilson Medal.

Sitting down in something of a daze, I was told a player named Michito Sakaki had won the medal twice and went on to train with Essendon. He played in the semi-professional Ovens and Murray Football League.

Charles Brownlow was a genuine player and talented administrator and he had a rather bigger impact on the game than me. But he made one mistake by dying a year before the Brownlow Medal was launched.

You should have stayed alive, Charles; these things are fun.

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to be continued ...

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