Recent revelations by Sydney Football Club Chairman Richard Colless of the abusive phone conversation with AFL Commission Chairman, Mike Fitzpatrick came as a surprise to many. However claims of the corruption that led to the AFL trying to steer prized spearhead Lance “Buddy” Franklin to expansion club Great Western Sydney was a surprise to very few.
Least surprised were the ever faithful Essendon fans who have cried foul for 3 years while backing their embattled Coach who they believe was also victim to the AFL’s corruption and bullying tactics.
In 2014 James Hird’s wife Tania Hird spoke out on the ABC's 7:30 Report about the treatment her husband had received. When asked why Hird accepted sanctions, Tania responded “He didn't plead to any breach of the player rules, he wasn't found guilty of any breach of the player rules. In the end, it was the threats and the bullying of the AFL to the club and to himself.”
Hird's Lawyer, Stephen Amendola said of the AFL officials “Well they looked to behave like a bunch of cashed-up bogans who thought they could do what they wanted.”
The bullying and poor treatment of club officials from the AFL did not start with Hird. The lawyer representing Dean Bailey in the AFL's 2012 investigation into tanking at Melbourne, Chris Pollard, claimed that Bailey was threatened by the AFL to accept a sanction, even though the club was cleared of wrongdoing.
“Threats were made that (Bailey) probably didn’t have a great future in the AFL football industry and Dean was concerned with that in terms of financially supporting his family.” Pollard told the Herald Sun in March 2014.
However, what strikes as odd is the starkly different reaction the mainstream press has had when considering the claims made by Bailey's representatives, Hird's representatives and now Colless. With Bailey, it was widely ignored. Having recently passed from lung cancer at the time of the revelations, Bailey was not remembered for his contribution to football as a player, but for the tanking saga that put a stain on his career.
Hird was treated with disdain and an aggressive campaign to discredit and humiliate the coach. Reports from all mainstream media were used to paint the former champion in a negative light. He was portrayed as irresponsible, negligent and at times a deliberate cheat.
Any action or inaction taken by Hird on a day to day basis was used against him - even to the point where direct actions and financial contributions to assist the club pull itself out of the saga were declared “selfish” and he was accused of trying to hide the truth.
Even recently, Hird’s recent claims that people in the media were silenced and forced not to report accurately on the saga were ridiculed, most prominently by a member of the AFL Media in an online footy news show. The reporter scoffed at the allegations and asked “who is being silenced”?
The Straight Dope, authored by The Australian writer Chip Le Grand did cite an instance of the press being silenced. An investigative reporter from the Herald Sun was silenced when Andrew Demetriou contacted News Corp chief executive Kim Williams to have this reporter sacked, and upon refusal, the AFL stripped the reporter of their accreditation to cover the finals series (Le Grand 2015). Combined with Demetriou’s attempt at mocking Le Grands birth name, “Homer” on radio in a bid to discredit the reporter is just two instances where the AFL made attempts to silence the press who did not report as the AFL had wished.
Colless however is treated with more respect. His allegations are considered shocking, despite the constant echo of “I told you so” from Essendon supporters. It has finally sparked the suggestions that the AFL Commission Chairmans role is untenable and pointing out that the AFL's handling of the Adam Goodes' booing saga was poor.
Why is the difference in the handling of the cases so different? You can relate the public reaction to the bullying of Goodes to the bullying of Hird and Essendon and come to the same conclusion. The only difference is that the AFL stood against the bullying of Goodes (and rightfully so) but in contrasting irony, instigated and facilitated the public and private bullying of a whole football club and its coach.
One journalist on twitter was lamenting how a difference in opinion on the reasons behind the Goodes booing should not result in public denigration; however this very journalist has denigrated Essendon supporters and public figures that defended Essendon or Hird. It is hypocrisy at its finest.
So maybe it is time for the general public to piece together the information before them and understand what happened at Essendon in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Le Grand's book is a significant eye opener, particularly into the backhanded "make a deal" means taken by the AFL to achieve its ends. Maybe it is time to put aside the football rivalry, jealousy and tall poppy syndrome Australia is so known to cultivate.
The public is rightfully very happy to stand behind Adam Goodes and Richard Colless as they are suffering from the bullying at the hands of the AFL, but now it is time to stand up for Hird, Jobe Watson (who now is under fire for taking a trip to England to see the Ashes tour - and a study tour to visit elite EPL clubs while recovering from a season ending injury), and the rest of the Essendon players, past and current who are still not supported on a day to day basis except for the faithful.
It is time for Australia to reclaim our game.