The Last Word on Andrew Demetriou

Toorak Mates Andy and Jimmy


Stephen Alomes – The Last Word on Andrew Demetriou…as AFL CEO


Australian Football The People’s Game 1958-2058 (pp 118-119)

(available from


AFL ‘Arrogance’?

Ever since Allen Aylett was booed at the 1983 Grand Final, popular tradition has

assumed that the AFL, personified by its supremo, is arrogant. It is out of touch and not

open to what the ordinary footy follower wants. Recurrent negative depictions of AFL

CEOs focused on their stumbling manner in reading out the Brownlow Medal votes and

their reported arrogance (and, for Andrew Demetriou, what was seen as a smug smile). The

CEO is the target for accusations of AFL corporate arrogance and is blamed for everything

that is wrong with football. The supremo is condemned for not listening to the clubs,

particularly Victorian clubs, and for ignoring ordinary football followers and loyal club

season ticket holders (with far too many Grand Final tickets going to ‘the corporates’).


Other criticisms include mistreatment of AFL members, ticket prices and, outside Victoria,

the travel pressures faced by interstate clubs. Others concern fairness for clubs (the draw and

player draft rules) and the laws of the game themselves, which seem to endlessly change, as

do umpires’ interpretations — a subject guaranteed to produce intense anger.

Many Victorians assume that the 1980s–90s extended league and the 2000s northern

expansion, to Greater Western Sydney and the Gold Coast, is simply bad for football.

What they mean is that, like the 1980s–1990s merger proposals, the national orientation is

not always good for the nine clubs in Melbourne and the one in Geelong. Correctly, they

assume that the AFL is not focused on their interests alone. However, the AFL is right. In a

national culture, nearly all communications systems and a majority of national companies

are based in Sydney. As Australian Football competes with global sports, not developing

Sydney further is not a viable option. Similarly, ‘SEQ’ (south-east Queensland), from the

Gold and Sunshine Coasts to Brisbane, is another major growth region, where new rugby

league and soccer clubs have also targeted the growing demographic.


Critics of Andrew Demetriou have included Caroline Wilson and Grant Thomas,

controversial and outspoken former St Kilda coach. Demetriou came into the job declaring

that grassroots supporters were the number one priority and that it was crucial to ‘bring

the game closer to our supporters’.17 Increasingly, his management style has been described

otherwise. While endorsing his performance in 2006 after three years in the job, ‘Caro’

wrote that ‘Demetriou has his detractors and he will never be everyone’s cup of tea. He

can be arrogant, bad-tempered, even sarcastic at times’ and is ‘best avoided on the rare

occasions when he does not get his way’. However, she praised his effectiveness as he ran ‘the

competition passionately and completely’, and defended his pay levels, which grew from

an original $560,000 to eventually four times that sum, more than $2 million, in 2011.18


While the AFL Commission deserved praise for its big deals, there have been negatives.

They have included suggested blacklisting of critics, such as the sudden removal of an MCG

luncheon host, Jim Wilson, who had criticised the AFL, and an unwillingness to respond

to suggestions that came from the outside, from those who were not, in the reported insider

language of AFL House, ‘family’. The AFL demanded naming rights of all regional leagues,

a demand with monetary menaces, as it was the major funding source; thus the Tasmanian

administration became AFL Tasmania. Even Victorians grew to dislike its habit of ignoring

this traditional football state. Ross Oakley used to understate the island state’s population,

while Demetriou’s remark, ‘we love Tasmania’, after rejecting a Tasmanian team in the AFL,

sounded like ‘tough love’, if not a Hollywood line about a Mafia kiss.


Richmond coach Terry Wallace suggested that the AFL was really Happy Days because

the organisation never admitted it was wrong. A miscellany of insider outsiders laid into

the CEO. Ex-Carlton president John Elliott called him a dictator, as did former Victorian

premier, Hawthorn president Jeffrey Kennett. Forthright commentator Grant Thomas

complained of his ‘arrogant and self-centred behaviour’ as ‘a rule unto himself ’, particularly

regarding match fixturing.19


Andrew Demetriou did not seek popularity but sometimes was unwise. Suggested errors

included attending an Andrea Bocelli concert at Rod Laver Arena with AFL Commission

president Ron Evans, when just across the footbridge Geelong was playing Essendon in

a knock-out semi-final in the rain. Nor did he appear to question the appropriateness of

Richard Pratt as Carlton president, despite the serious legal matters facing him. Buying a

$7 million pile in Toorak might not have increased the empathy of ordinary supporters,

while Demetriou’s demand for black tie at the Brownlow, even as the fashion declined,

seemed an oddity. Bloggers were even harsher. They blamed him for bad umpiring, tribunal

errors (for example, ‘our top player [wrongly] suspended’) and for changing, or just ‘stuffing

up’, the game. The blog language and labels were characteristically subtle. Asterisks after

an ‘F’ suggested where he might go, and comments included ‘Vladamir and his lapdog

(angry) Anderson’; ‘Demitrov and Andersonov’; ‘king of the AFL’; ‘U R A JOKE Andrew

Demetriou’; and ‘highly overpaid’.20 Caroline Wilson defended and criticised Andrew

Demetriou. He was not only ‘the face of the AFL’ (and therefore, like every League CEO,

a target for disgruntled supporters) but ‘he runs the league as a dictatorship which is not

necessarily a bad thing’.21


The AFL, in its arrogance, had done several good things. Its educationally based policy

for out-of-season recreational drugs was in advance of other sports systems. It bravely and

successfully took on two even more arrogant foes, the World Anti-Doping Agency, led by

Canadian lawyer Dick Pound, and the declining Howard government. It had built Australian

Football into Australia’s leading sport with commercial media contracts providing money

for game development. Given that New South Wales and Queensland were not part of

football’s traditional heartland, it was confident enough to take the costly plunge into two

new clubs, Greater Western Sydney and Gold Coast.


Journalist Damian Barrett defended the benign dictatorship in 2009. Under the headline

‘Demetriou not afraid to get others offside’, he argued that in challenging the demands of

a proposed soccer World Cup, which would take over grounds and interrupt the season for

ten weeks or more, Andrew Demetriou was just doing his job. He was ‘paid — well — to

run Australian football … [and] he effectively controls the livelihoods of thousands and

thousands of people in this country’ and 16 clubs, some with turnovers of more than $50

million a year. Why, indeed, should a national game, and an important social, economic

and cultural and sporting activity, or ‘industry’, just shut up shop because the big stage of

the World Cup might come to Australia? Soccerophiles failed to recognise a significant part

of the AFL CEO’s job description — ‘he is always prepared to be Mr Unpopular. In fact, he

sometimes achieves great things for Australian football when playing that role.’22


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good article one failure not mentioned is not establishing a national reserves comp . The Afl is spending millions on expansion which is logically defended yet is stuffing up all the other major states by ruining there own comps which could be fixed at a fraction of the cost they are spending on expansion on a reserves comp . It is idiocy to have teams in the same comp SANFL , WAFL , VFL which have different agendas the real cllubs with trying to win the flag while AFL sides are concerned about developing there own players to get ready to play AFL . Lunacy !

  2. Steven the $66-00 Question. Where/when is the book available?


  3. Thanks Glen

    The book is available from the publisher, Walla Walla Press:



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