Melbourne Meddling

I wanted to do my usual winners and losers summary for round 14, but I found myself continually coming back to one primary concern. So instead I’ve decided to focus on the ongoing Melbourne situation, my increasing concerns regarding how it is being handled, and the AFL administration’s influence on club’s fortunes.

Last Sunday on Channel Seven Gillon McLachlan made comments regarding the Demons coaching situation. The league’s deputy chief suggested the AFL felt “entitled” to have a say on who was the next coach of the Demons. My question is how much of a say?

Like the priority pick discussion, this creates a potentially dangerous situation. Does the AFL have to approve of the next coach? If so, why don’t they have to approve of anyone else’s hiring decisions? What if Melbourne hires someone who the AFL doesn’t see as their ideal choice? Do they overrule the Demons and all but tell them who the next coach will be?

What if the coach Melbourne wanted to hire but were told they weren’t allowed to goes elsewhere and is successful? What if the coach the AFL selects performs poorly? Do the AFL pay for him to leave too? Or do they pump the Demons with more concessions in order to save face? Where is the line? When do we stop helping them? When they win a few games? Make finals? Win a flag?

What if the AFL choose and pay for the coach, administer the reconstruction of the club, hand them a priority pick, and they make the finals in a few years time? Doesn’t every single other struggling club have grounds to complain? Why should they be left to fend for themselves because they aren’t as inept as the Demons have been? What is the point in trying to climb out of the bin yourself when if you sit on the bottom someone will come and lift you out?

Let’s take a walk down hypothetical lane. Lets say the AFL administration adopted the same “we will have a say in who is your next coach” mentality to the Tigers at the end of the Danny Frawley era. Richmond are coming off a 4 win season, and had won just eighteen games over the previous three seasons. Richmond decide to hire Alastair Clarkson as their next head coach. He was a valued assistant during Port Adelaide’s 2004 Premiership season, and had further premiership success at SANFL level. The AFL advise against the hire. They say given the state of the team over the past few seasons they would prefer someone who had senior AFL coaching experience to take the reigns. They also recommend trying to find a coach who has a proven track record in rebuilding teams from the bottom of the ladder. They pull some strings on Richmond’s behalf, and convince Terry Wallace to take on the job. Wallace has senior experience, and took a Western Bulldogs side from 15th to 3rd and a Preliminary Final in just one season. The AFL decide he is the man to lead the Tigers forward, and all but tell Richmond that this is how it will be. Clarkon is hired by the Hawks, and their reigns go exactly as they did in reality.

Would this not have been a complete disaster? The Tiger faithful could justifiably form a lynch mob. You forced this man on our team, while our first choice is off winning flags with a club that was in basically the same position as we were. This is the reason the AFL shouldn’t have a say in who clubs appoint as coach. Because it could get messy, and it could backfire. Better to leave the clubs to their own devices in this regard. That way, their mistakes are theirs and theirs alone.

Is a similar result not conceivable in this Melbourne situation? The AFL prevent the Demons from hiring an untried coach and instead force their hand toward a Roos/Eade/Williams type. While that assistant is successful in the club he does wind up at, Roos ends up quitting midway through season three after deciding his heart was never really in it.

I’m not suggesting this will happen. Nor am I suggesting the Demons should avoid hiring a coach with senior experience. What I am suggesting is that the AFL should keep their opinion to themselves, because if they nudge the Demons in a certain direction, and it doesn’t pay off, then every Demon’s fan would have the right to feel aggrieved. There is no way the AFL would have recommended the Tigers pick the likes of Clarkson over the likes of Wallace back in 2004, and it’s doubtful they would recommend (or even accept) the Demons hiring another untried head coach over the likes of Roos and Eade.

And it’s not even dangerous from a solely negative perspective. The Demons are clearly chasing Roos, and given their debt issues, their fine for not tanking, and the fact they have to pay out the rest of Neeld’s contract, it seems impossible that they could afford such a hire on their lonesome. So what if the AFL foots the bill so the Demons get Roos, and everything turns out rosy for the Dees in the not too distant future. Do the rest of us get to mark any success they might have with a giant asterisk? Do we get to argue they are only there because the AFL all but put them there? What if they win a flag? It’s possible. After all, other clubs have been near the bottom of the ladder and turned themselves around very quickly, and they managed it without the AFL getting involved and having a say in the day to day operation of their club.

The fact I can pose these questions before anything has even happened shows how dangerous this situation is. The AFL should keep their hands out of the competition, because their interference raises questions that shouldn’t ever have to be raised. Other clubs have been near the bottom of the ladder for extended periods of time, left to their own devices, and turned it around. I don’t see why Melbourne can’t, so I don’t see why Melbourne should be treated any differently from the clubs before them. Again, I want to stress I’m not against off-field financial aid (though I do have problems with them paying out a coach’s contract for a club). What I do have problems with is the AFL intervening with on-field matters.

The AFL manipulating the competition for the benefit of certain teams, at the direct expense of others

The Melbourne situation is merely another example of this, but the ongoing Franklin situation, and related “ambassador” nonsense, is a most egregious crime. The AFL paying any player extra money that is dependent on them leaving their current side to join one certain side is farcical, and I am astonished we as football followers tolerate it. I’ve written about it before, but the AFL have all but implicitly told Lance Franklin that if he happened to leave the Hawks, and happened to join the Greater Western Sydney Giants, then he could potentially receive a boatload of money for merely being there on top of the boatload of money the Giants will pay him to actually play football. Hawthorn fans, and indeed football fans in general, should be rioting. The fact the AFL have the audacity to suggest this isn’t some sort of lure for Franklin to go there is offensive to everyone’s intelligence. They clearly want him there. There is no reason why Franklin, or any player, should receive additional money for something as arbitrary as being an “ambassador”, and if there was, it shouldn’t be conditional on them playing for a certain team. If he leaves Hawthorn and joins the Giants, it will be because the AFL willed it so through sheer finance. No other reason. Franklin will sit down and tell us he wanted a new challenge, but the only challenge will be finding a vault big enough to store all the AFL money he received.

What other competition administrators so brazenly go “it’s in our interest for this player to play for this team instead of this team, and we will intervene and pay whatever it takes for him to go there”. It’s a joke to the idea of a competition. It borders on scripted television. If they are going to start paying for some teams to take superstars off of others, then they may as well stop wasting our time and just tell us who is going to win the flag. In other international major sports it’s billionaire owners who pry the stars away from other sides, while the competition administrators try (and often fail) to devise mechanisms to at least make this harder, or increase the compensation given to the team losing out. In ours it’s the administrators doing it. The only thing they should be interested in is defining the rules of the competition, and making sure none of its competitors break them. That’s it. The AFL should not care which side finishes bottom. They should not care which side finishes top. They should not care where certain players play. This is not relevant to their job. Each team should have exactly the same salary cap. Each team should be subject to the same draft conditions. These are the on-field equalisation measures. If you cannot succeed operating within the same confines as all of your competitors, then you don’t yet deserve to be successful, and the AFL certainly shouldn’t be helping you out in any manner that isn’t afforded to every single other club in the exact same shape and form. Off-field equalisation measures are a whole separate issue and another three thousand words, so I won’t talk about them here. The main point is I don’t at all like seeing the AFL have an opinion on who needs to be good (or who can’t afford to be bad), and deliberately influencing proceedings in an attempt to manufacture a certain result (in this case the expansion sides being as good as possible as early as possible, at the expense of the other competitors).

About Adam Ritchie

My name is Adam. I started watching football with two fellow parapsychologists in an abandoned firehouse. When we’re not watching footy, we’re running our own pest control business. What do you mean I stole that from Ghostbusters?


  1. Really good piece Adam. Agree completely that it is completely not on for the AFL to have a say in who coaches the Dees, and there’s no reason to think they’d do a good job if they chose him anyway, unless it was for purely marketing or image reasons.

    As to the Franlin situation, the worse GWS go this year, especially with dwindling crowds and poor results (and now Folau doing so well in another rival code) the greater the chance the AFl will do whatever they can to get Buddy up there. So yes, they will change the rules for one guy, pay him more to play there, and make it impossible for the Hawks to match the offer legally.

    And what is marketing anyway, and why should he get so much more to do it. I assume all the players at GWS (and for that matter every club) allow their image to be used to publicise the game, do Auskick and school visits and speak to the press, so why pay a player $500K more to do that up there?

    I actually think that Buddy isn’t a good fit for the Giants and his reputation and football play will be tarnsihed if he goes. But it’s hard to blame him at double the (already large) cash he’s being offered


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