For Justice John Middleton’s Consideration: AFL On-Field Injustices – Real and Perceived

With the ASADA/Essendon investigation nearing its conclusion, it seems to me that Justice John Middleton’s no-nonsense, common sense approach should not be lost to AFL.

Furthermore, it is my intention to bring the Almanac’s discussion around Justice Middleton’s work back to on-field matters.

Never mind technicalities and spiral notebooks, there have been plenty of injustices, be they real or perceived, over the years to consider.

I’ve chosen to focus on the AFL era that did not feature Big Footy or social media, the 1990s.

I’m sure you have some of your own…


Adelaide v Fitzroy, 1991 – Rod Jameson



Back when modern-day HQ darlings, the Sydney Swans, were 14 years off their famous flag, it was the fledgling Adelaide Crows that was seen to be club favoured by the AFL top brass.

Pitted against them on this night in ’91 was Fitzroy, a side that the AFL wanted to be rid of and a suburb that was years away from a hipster renaissance.

Victorian Channel 7 viewers watched on in horror as a series of baffling decisions led to Rod Jameson slotting the match-winner. If the modern-day football fan thinks that the ‘holding the ball’ rule is currently at its lowest ebb, the ruling that lead to this goal is recommended viewing.

Speak to any old Roys fan, and they’ll tell you that this game summed up their plight of the time.

The Crows got very good very quickly, and nearly won a flag in their third season, but were denied in ’93 by the Bombers in the Preliminary Final thanks to a 42 point comeback.

In Fitzroy, the AFL eventually got its man.


Adelaide v Geelong, 1997 – Leigh Colbert


Before the Cats were a modern-day powerhouse that could sleepwalk their way through close games, they were a club that couldn’t take a trick.

Nothing summed up this ‘handbagger’ era more than the 1997 final series, which saw the 2nd-placed Cats playing the 7th-placed Kangaroos under lights at the MCG in the first week. Never mind that the G was the Roos’ home ground and that night games were their specialty.

With the Roos’ ladder position due to W Carey’s shoulder surgery from earlier in the year, their form, with Carey back, was better than any other 7th-placed side you’ll see, and they steamrolled the Cats.

Due to a quirk in the Final 8 system of the time that meant that first week winners were given home ground advantage over first week losers, despite their ladder position, the Cats were then shipped off to Footy Park to play the 4th placed Crows, who had defeated the 5th placed Eagles.

With the game at a crucial point near the end of the third quarter, Leigh Colbert hauled in this big grab that wasn’t paid. What could have been a shot at goal for a 14 point lead turned into a ball-up and the Cats lead by 8 points at 3 quarter time.

As you can imagine, the Crows were willed home by their fans and won by 8 points. They went on to win the first of back-to-back flags.

The Cats didn’t play finals the next year, and only played in one more (for a loss) before 2004.

Colbert left the club at the end of 1999 for the Kangaroos. He retired in 2005.



Essendon v Carlton, 1993 – Steven Silvagni



Back in a time where a footballer could remain nondescript to non-fans, there was one man who on Brownlow night could generate a PHWOAR from those ladies who didn’t list AFL in their interests during the season.

The dark, slick hair against the navy jumper was certainly alluring, and many umpires were seemingly transfixed as SOS wrapped his limbs around full-forwards of his era like sirens on Fabio in his fans’ favourite romance novels.

On this day, Grand Final Day 1993, Michael Long danced around the awestruck Blues and delivered a flat, Kernahan-like ‘helicopter’ kick to the goal-line. In desperation, Silvagni launched to stop it and claimed that his finger did indeed brush the Sherrin.

Fortunately for Dons fans, the goal umpire was able to see past the classical Italian name and classical Italian looks and instead saw a man who would eventually be revealed as having another classically Italian trait – a fondness for cash payments.

Sorry SOS, you didn’t touch it. That was just a whisper of air from the flag slipping through your fingers.


Essendon v West Coast, 1996 – The MCG celebration that shouldn’t have been



West Coast fans will remember well the agreement which existed in the 1990s which decreed that there must be a final at the MCG on every weekend of the finals.

Not for the first time, the Eagles were stitched up by this agreement, and despite finishing 4th in 1996 and winning their first final at home against the Blues, they were required to play 6th-placed Essendon, who had lost interstate to the Bears the week previous, at the Bombers’ home ground.

Having knocked the Eagles out of the finals in ’93 and ’95 (with Barry Young shutting Fraser Gehrig….yeah that’s right), the Dons were confident and K Sheedy urged as many fans to get to the game as possible.

With a crowd of 85,656 fans (mostly bathed in satanic red and black) showing up, the Bombers led from start to finish and gave the Weagles a glorious slamming that looks just as good when viewed today.

Those in the stands that day would struggle to forget how easy the guy in the Bombers’ number 5 jumper made the game appear to be. It was almost like he thought that the whole shin-dig was just an excuse to show how good he was.

“So confident”, they said. “Pure class”, said many more.

I recall a report at the time that suggested it was almost like the player in question had gone to the bench late in the last quarter just to fix his hair, before coming back on to kick another goal (11:20 mark)

It’s just a shame that what helps you on the field might not necessarily help you once you get off it.

About Andrew Else

Andrew has self-reported to this site as a lifetime Essendon supporter. He also played local footy for Lara and Melbourne Uni Blacks.


  1. Melbourne Dogs 1997. The umpire was so bad and crucified Melbourne so hard he quit on the Monday.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    The bigger injustice of 1991 was the way the Final Six worked – the loser of 3v4 (St Kilda) was eliminated, while the winner of 5v6 remained in.

    This was recast in the following year.

    Some others might be churlish enough to bring up Libba’s apparent goal in the 1997 Prelim or even question why Adelaide was able to lose in the first week of the 1998 finals (after finishing 5th) and still win the flag. But not me

  3. Dear Mr Else,
    I have considered your submissions carefully and note that the Essendon Football Club was the ultimate beneficiary of the 1991, 1993 and 1996 controversies that you refer to. As such any penalties that the AFL bestowed on the club in 2013 were long overdue.
    My forthcoming judgement in EFC/Sun King V AFL/ASADA will consider all judicial principles including obiter dicta; mens rea; caveat emptor and “you had it coming to you”.
    Hon J Middleton Esq

  4. Dave Brown says

    Yep, there’s no explaining that 1991 decision. 1997, (with my Crows eye in) while very clearly a mark, is more defensible in terms of an injustice:
    – Eagles faced the same venue injustice having to play the Roos away in the 2nd week despite the higher minor round finish.
    – it was in the 3rd quarter when Geelong was kicking with a not insubstantial wind. They would not have been favourites to win from that position anyway.
    – rewind that footage 10 seconds and you’ll see the Geelong player awarded a tripping free as he is clearly seen kicking a Crows player on the ground.
    – the margin should really have been 13 points as the last Geelong goal at the death came off Mark Bickley’s leg.

    In conclusion, your honour, the umpiring was so awful that evening that it still strikes me as bizarre that one of the worst decisions of the evening, in the third quarter, is singled out as the only injustice and the difference between the teams.

  5. I watched the Adelaide v Roys decision without sound. If you hadn’t told me what it was for, I would not have been able to tell you. Don’t you have to have the ball in the first place to be called for holding it?


  6. matt watson says

    The AFL gifting Brisbane the merger with Fitzroy, which made no sense then and still doesn’t.
    Anthony Rocca’s ‘goal’ in the last quarter of the 2002 grand final which wasn’t paid.
    Brisbane’s living away from home allowance and the two extra players they had on their list, which they used to win three consecutive premierships.
    Sydney’s cost of living allowance, which they used two win two premiership and recently draft Franklin and Tippett.

  7. Right Matt, I’ll bite. The living away from home allowance was used to keep the wealthy clubs down south from taking advantage of Brisbane drafting, developing and then losing players who wanted to go home. It was, if you like, an incentive to stay against the lure of family, friends, fame and familiarity. The key factor for it was the loss of Nathan Buckley who wanted to play finals footy. Even with the allowance, he still chose to bail from the club that gave him an opportunity.

    During the golden reign, Brisbane players chose to take reduced contracts in order to spread the allowance with younger, developing players so the salaries had a smaller disparity between highest earners and lowest. A type of footy socialism if you will. Rather than paying over the odds for a superstar or two and filling the rest of the team with serviceable hacks who couldn’t handle the big occasions.

    I can see a reason why you could be upset with Sydney and their use of COLA to afford Lance and Kurt, but I suspect the cost will bear fruit in a year or two when Sydney lose the mid tier players who will look elsewhere for the coin. To continue bleating about Brisbane shows a complete lack of understanding of the context of the allowance, as well as how it was applied and the desire to be part of a champion team.

    It is further justified by the current hole Brisbane is currently in, (admittedly exacerbated by the poor recruiting decisions of the Voss era), highlighted by the loss of 6 draftees last year. Arguably, those losses might be the re-making of the club into a finals contender if the new kids continue to develop and they find some talls to back up Leuenberger, Close, Freeman etc. Maybe even do a deal to get Lachie Keefe back to Queensland where he belongs?

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