Year of the farce

The doc was startled as Andrew Demetriou barged into the office and slammed the door behind him.  Demetriou smiled tightly, his brown eyes shining.  ‘Scared you,’ he said.

 

‘Had a good day, huh,’ the doc said aggrieved at his fright.  He had jumped.  His skin was still crawling.

 

‘Solid,’ Demetriou said.  He took off the suit coat.  The couch creaked as he sat.  ‘Gold Coast is improving and I love it.’

 

The doc could see through the cheerful façade.  ‘There’s more to the AFL than the Gold Coast,’ he said.  ‘Every day I see you on TV, hear you on radio or see you in print.  Andrew Demetriou is always talking about drugs, tanking and Melbourne.’

 

Demetriou’s eyes narrowed.  ‘Call me capo di tutti capi.’

 

The doc dismissed the demand with a flick of his right hand.  ‘Is that with a capital BS?’

 

Demetriou slowly shook his head.  ‘Don’t disrespect me,’ he said softly.  ‘You won’t like what happens.’

 

‘You haven’t been this happy since Cameron Schwab was sacked,’ the doc said calmly.  ‘Did he disrespect you?’

 

‘It was between Schwab and Melbourne,’ Demetriou said tightly.  ‘I had nothing to do with it,’

 

‘Schwab got what was coming to him, right?  Just like Ian Robson and Mark Kneeld’

 

‘It was between the clubs and those men.  You think too much of me.’

 

‘Not enough to call you capo di tutti capi.’

 

Demetriou nodded and grinned without mercy.  ‘I’m the boss of the bosses and that’s what you’ll call me.’

 

The doc bit his tongue gently to check his anger.  ‘Are you gonna whack me if I don’t?’  He turned his hands into pistols, eyes narrowing in a dreadful parody of a hit-man as he shot Demetriou twice.  ‘So you’ve read the Godfather.  Big deal.’  The doc blew smoke from his fingertips.

 

‘I’m the capo di tutti capi,’ Demetriou said, staring at the doc.

 

‘I don’t work for the AFL.  You’re not the boss of me,’ the doc said.  ‘You’re a patient and I’ll call you Andrew.’

 

Demetriou drew an imaginary knife across his neck with his right thumb.

 

The doc laughed.  ‘Scary,’ he said, shaking exaggeratedly.  ‘Who do you think you are, Michael Corleone?’

 

‘I’m the capo di tutti capi.’

 

‘Well capo di tutti capi, you’re doing a bang-up job of running the AFL.’

 

Spreading his right arm slowly along the back of the couch, Demetriou crossed his legs, left over right.  ‘You don’t understand how important I am.’  His voice was deadly.  ‘I don’t tolerate people trying to make me look silly.’

 

The doc smiled.  ‘People barely have to try.’

 

‘I’m more important than you are,’ Demetriou growled.

 

‘True,’ the doc said, offering a soft smile.  ‘No one has ever lambasted me in a cartoon.’

 

‘That’s right,’ Demetriou said softly.  ‘I know you’re trying to upset me.  But no matter what people think, I’m not a cartoon.  I run the AFL.  I have important meetings every day and people call me capo di tutti capi and then I go to the media and say I just made a smart decision.’

 

The doc tugged on his tie and tried suppressing a sigh.  Damn footballers, he thought, glaring at Demetriou.  Retired footballers were easier to handle if they went into the media or the private sector.  Those who stayed in football were constantly striving to create a successful legacy, no matter how successful they’d been.

 

Demetriou had been a good average footballer, playing 106 games mainly on the wing with North Melbourne and Hawthorn from 1981-88.  His exit from North Melbourne at age 26 seemed surprising.  That he could only manage three games with the Hawks in 1988 is less surprising.

 

‘I’m not surprised you keep coming back to see me,’ the doc said.  ‘When you retired at 27 it was premature.  You still had a few years left but no one wanted you.  As I recall you were a high school teacher back then.  The doc huffed.  ‘Clearly you’ve learned nothing since the eighties.  Now you’re running the AFL you’re still treating people like they’re students.’

 

Demetriou smirked.  ‘I am a teacher,’ he said.  ‘I am teaching people how to run the AFL.’

 

‘And whacking those who don’t learn.’

 

‘It’s not fair to blame me,’ Demetriou said.

 

The doc stared back impassively.  ‘Why not?  You’re the capo di tutti capi.  That’s what you want to be called, right?’

 

‘There are more than 700 players on AFL lists,’ Demetriou said.  ‘The clubs employ about a thousand people.  Thousands more volunteer, I have no idea what the number is.  It’s all of those people who make the mess.’

 

The doc took a sharp breath.  ‘Issues with drugs, tanking, draft manipulation and salary cap rorts have all happened under your command.  And don’t forget those handy contacts a lot of players have with criminals, you know, for girls, gear and good times.’

 

Demetriou scratched his nose and looked at the floor.  When he looked up he was defiant.  ‘Steroids and recreational drugs have been in the AFL as long as I remember.  Clubs have manipulated the draft and cheated the salary cap since they were introduced.  And tanking doesn’t exist.’

 

‘That’s why you’re here, Andrew.’  The doc grinned.  ‘You’re the boss and you’re in denial.  As you said, all those bad things have been around since the eighties and you’ve changed none of it.’

 

Demetriou grinned like a madman.  ‘That wasn’t my commission,’ he said.  ‘Expand was the demand.  The Commission said let the other shit look after itself.’

 

‘Sure,’ the doc said.  ‘And that’s what is happening, right?’  He leant forward.  ‘It’s been six months since Essendon dobbed themselves for drugs and nothing has happened except a couple of interviews.  They might finish in the top four.  They might play in a grand final.  Jobe Watson has admitted to taking drugs that may be banned.  What are you going to do if ASADA recommends suspensions in the last week of August?’

 

‘I can’t go into that,’ Demetriou said, indignant.  ‘The AFL is working with ASADA to ensure the investigation is uncompromised.’

 

‘What about keeping the competition uncompromised,’ the doc said.  ‘Why not be honest and admit that you don’t know what to do.’

 

Demetriou stared at the doc.  ‘There are things being negotiated now that will solve all our problems.  That’s all I can tell you.’

 

‘Why didn’t you say to Essendon, hey, ASADA is interviewing all your players in March and they’ll hand down their findings by April?  Why have you let the drugs investigation go on so long?’

 

Demetriou shrugged and coughed.

 

‘It’s been six months, Andrew.  How can it take that long to arrange interviews with 42 players and staff?  It’s not like you had to go looking for them.  They’re all in the one goddamn place almost every day.’

 

‘It’s about not compromising the process.’

 

‘There is no process,’ the doc said.  ‘It’s about incompetence.  The police don’t wait six months to interview criminals about drugs, not when they know where they are every day.  Essendon is third for hell’s sake.  Players that may have cheated, unwillingly or otherwise, could become premiership heroes in three months.’

 

The boss of the AFL kept his lips tight together.

 

‘What are you going to do if that happens?  Take the premiership off them?  The season would be wasted.’

 

Demetriou’s strength during difficult moments in press conferences was his glare and impassive expression.  It was also his weakness.  It didn’t vary if he was angry or confused.  He tried to look bored and the doc pressed on.

 

‘You’re just letting the shit take care of itself,’ the doc said, trying to sound like Demetriou.  ‘Drugs, that shit will take care of itself.’  He pointed at the boss.  ‘Just like tanking at Melbourne.  You handled that beautifully.  The way you denied it was happening by pretending to know nothing about footy was magnificent.  Your refusal to launch an inquiry back in 2009 showed just how strong you are.’

 

‘It wasn’t tanking,’ Demetriou said.

 

‘Oh, that’s right,’ the doc said.  ‘You fined them 500-grand for putting a ruckman on a rover.  It was manipulation at best, and you weren’t even brave enough to front the media after the fine was announced.  Because, according to the capo di tutti capi, tanking didn’t exist.  You denied it so often for so many years you couldn’t stand being proved wrong.’

 

‘It wasn’t tanking.  There is no proof that Melbourne tanked.’

 

The doc laughed.  His mouth was dry, his heart hammering.  Few people have the opportunity to abuse the AFL boss.  The doc was taking his time to enjoy it.  ‘It was gutless telling Gillon McLachlan to front the media when the fine was announced.’

 

‘He led the investigation.’  Demetriou’s eyes blazed.  He uncrossed his legs and took a deep breath to compose himself.  It worked.

 

The doc ignored the glare.  ‘It’s been a hell of a year, Andrew.  I’d consider it one of your worst.  The Kirk Tippett issue didn’t help.’

 

‘That penalty was deliberately severe.’

 

Shrugging, the doc reached for the glass of water on the round table beside his armchair.  When he put the glass down, tiredness had overcome excitement.  He felt bored.  Mean-spirited interrogation could only get him so far.

 

He persisted with the attack.  ‘Some footballers miss more than twelve weeks with injury.  You let Tippett off.  You let all involved off.  So Buddy Franklin can manipulate the draft next year to get to Carlton knowing he’ll get twelve weeks.’

 

Demetriou raised his eyebrows.

 

‘And what about all those players caught using recreational drugs?’

 

‘Our drugs policy is working.’

 

‘Sure,’ the doc said.  ‘I know you’re doing more tests but your drug policy isn’t worth a pill.  Your policy is designed to give every footballer a break.  It is not about protecting the health and wellbeing of the players.  It’s about keeping the best players available.  You’re protecting footballers and the industry.’

 

‘You’re just as dumb as that bloke with the beard who writes for The Australian.’  Demetriou grinned maliciously.  ‘I haven’t had a good story from him in years.’

 

‘I hope you’re not wondering why,’ the doc said.

 

‘We’re talking about footballers.  They are vulnerable to temptation like you and me.’

 

‘So you’ve taken drugs?’

 

Demetriou shook his head and snorted.  ‘Only AOD-9064.’

 

‘I can see you’ve been off that peptide recently.’

 

‘Ever since James Hird sacked Steven Dank.’

 

‘Got to be seen to be doing the right thing.’

 

Demetriou nodded.

 

‘You’re aware that positive drug tests lead to dismissal in the mining industry, not to mention the police and the medical profession.’

 

‘These guys are footballers, not miners, police or doctors.’

 

‘Some of them are on million dollar contracts to play football.  If you told the average man to stay sober for 400-grand a year, he’d do it.’

 

Demetriou nodded.  ‘Sure.’  He pointed at the doc.  ‘But footballers aren’t average men like you. And most of them behave.’

 

The doc ignored the insult.  ‘By virtue of athleticism and salary, footballers aren’t average men.  Bloodlines are never earned.  Responsibility isn’t earned either.  It is demanded of everyone.  You have a responsibility to leave the AFL in better shape than it was when you were appointed.’  The doc pointed at Demetriou.  ‘You’re failing, capo di tutti capi.’

 

Leaning forward, Demetriou plonked his elbows on his knees, burying his head in his hands.  ‘Running things,’ he said through his fingers, ‘is harder than teaching.’

 

‘You did what the Commission wanted,’ the doc said.  ‘Demand to expand.  All those other issues are collateral, just shit that takes care of itself.’

 

Demetriou shut his eyes, covering them with his fingers.  He looked heavier than he’d been for months, his face ashen, needing a shave.  The menace he exuded was absent.  Heaving a breath, he peeked through his fingers.

 

The doc scribbled some notes then watched Demetriou’s chest rise and fall.  His patient was a dangerous man, not physically, but by the contacts he owned.  The doc didn’t care.

‘It’s not going to get better, is it,’ Demetriou said.  ‘Not this year.’

 

The doc rubbed his chin and frowned.  He didn’t miss his double chin.  Steven Dank’s peptides were working a treat.  The doc had been treating Dank for months and made occasional allowances when he couldn’t pay the bill.  ‘You understand the reasons, don’t you?’

 

Sighing, Demetriou looked out the window, getting no joy from two women walking past.  He thought about introducing them to Dank.  They could use AOD-9064.

 

‘The shit doesn’t take care of itself,’ Demetrious said, taking his hands away from his face, revealing tired eyes and a miffed expression.

 

‘Shit never takes care of itself, not in the true sense.’  The doc shook his head gravely.  ‘You still want to be called capo di tutti capi?

 

Demetriou crossed his arms and sighed.  ‘I was a good player,’ he said.  ‘I’ve done a better job as boss of the AFL.’

 

The doc suppressed a laugh.  ‘That couldn’t be too hard.’

 

‘I was a good player.’

 

‘Sure,’ the doc said.  ‘As an administrator you’re a great player.’

 

Silence settled over the room, the only sounds two men breathing, one deep in thought, the other trying to find thoughts.

 

‘I didn’t think this year would be so bad,’ Demetriou finally said.  ‘I mean, Sydney won the premiership last year which goes to show the extra money we give them on the salary cap is working.  It makes me believe all those draft concessions and extra money will help GWS and the Gold Coast win a premiership inside five years.’

 

‘Demand to expand,’ the doc said.

 

Demetriou shrugged and smiled.  ‘I can’t worry about the foundation clubs, not when we have to prop up the expansion clubs.’

 

‘It’s clear you’re not worrying about the foundation clubs, and that’s part of your problem.’  The doc got a little angry.  ‘According to your mandate, the foundation clubs are just shit that will take care of themselves.’

 

‘I want all clubs to be successful,’ Demetriou said though clenched teeth.  ‘I want to be remembered as a great administrator, the best ever in the AFL.’

 

‘You’ll be remembered as an expansionist and a futurist, new clubs in new locations.’  The doc spoke softly.  ‘That might be some legacy but you’re jeopardising a hundred years of tradition and culture.’

 

The boss of the bosses closed his eyes, his body seeming to slump into the couch.  ‘I am doing what the Commission wants.’

 

‘Doing their bidding, right?’  The doc closed his eyes a moment, taking a slow breath, wondering the last time he yelled at a patient and wishing he hadn’t.  ‘What did you say to the Commission a few days ago?’

 

‘It’s all good, don’t worry about Melbourne or drugs or Steven Milne or anything else.’

 

‘Because they’re just shit that will take care of itself.’  The doc could feel the onset of a headache, a bad one at the base of his skull.

 

Argument had raged for months about the ruined state of the foundation clubs, about drugs, tanking, draft tampering.  He was over it.  During the sessions Demetriou showed he didn’t care about public opinion, because he figured bad publicity was a natural part of football.  Demetriou also refused to admit responsibility.

 

‘You’re answerable to the commission, right?’ the doc asked.

 

Demetriou nodded.

 

‘That’s why you’re simply Andrew, you’re not the capo di tutti capi.  The sooner you understand that, the better off you’ll be.’

 

Demetriou nodded and smiled.  ‘I am answerable to the Commission.’

 

‘You’re not the boss of the bosses.’

 

‘I know.’  Demetriou sighed.  ‘It’s a nice thought though.’

 

‘It’s fantasy.’

 

Demetriou shrugged.  ‘So what do I do?’

 

‘What the bosses want.  Prop up the expansion clubs.  Don’t worry about anything else.  Let the shit like drugs, tanking and draft tampering take care of itself.’

 

‘That’s easy.’

 

‘It’s what you’ve been doing for years.’

 

Smiling, Demetriou stood up.  He had his pep back.  He stood over the doc and offered his hand.  They shook and Demetriou turned for the door.

 

‘One more thing,’ the doc said as Demetriou put his hand on the doorknob.  ‘Don’t get upset when journalists juxtapose your legacy as a player and an administrator.’

 

Demetriou turned to the doc, puzzled for a moment, then breaking into a smile.  ‘I’ll be remembered the same way.’

 

‘That’s right,’ the doc said.  ‘A skilful, flashy player without ambition and a ruthless administrator intent on being a legend of the game.’

 

‘All I have to do is let the shit take care of itself.’

 

‘So go and be a legend, capo di tutti capi.  Don’t worry about your reputation or legacy.  That shit will take care of itself.’

 

Demetriou pulled the door open and strode through, slamming it behind him.

 

The doc jumped in fright.

 

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

Comments

  1. The Wrap says:

    Great read Matt. Loved the line – ‘Sure,’ the doc said. ‘As an administrator you’re a great player.’

    Any way we can make sure Himself gets to read it?

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