Why Essendon’s breathtaking arrogance and legal manoeuvring has to be admired.

James Hird and I have very few things in common but one similarity is that neither of us will be coaching Essendon next year.

The similarities end though, in that he will be paid for not doing that and I continue to receive no payment from the club whilst I maintain my distance from them.

I note that Essendon will post a loss for 2013, in part due to the $2M fine they received from the AFL. If they wanted to save money, I would have happily volunteered to not coach the club for a far smaller amount than Hird will receive for doing the same thing.

To call the latest instalment of this sorry saga a joke, a sham and a farce is to give it credit it doesn’t deserve.

The dealings behind the scenes put to shame any corporate wheeling and dealings I have seen or been associated with in corporate life and would earn the respect of unscrupulous car salesmen, real estate agents and politicians.

In an effort to make this ugly issue go away before the season’s showpiece, the AFL finals, the league administrators and Commission rushed through a deal that has come back and placed large teeth firmly in their behinds.

The AFL has effectively been outwitted by their employees, by the very people who are supposed to be subject to the rules of the Commission. Essendon, credit where it is due, have trumped their masters and done as they please. The threat of significant legal action against an organisation well known for wanting to do private deals in lieu of public and legal brawls, meant Essendon have done better out of this than they should have.

The fines are immaterial, as this money gets drip fed back to clubs in monthly instalments, so that is all window dressing and funny accounting. The Melbourne tanking fines are a clear indication that fines are meaningless.

The suspensions of Hird and Corcoran were headlines, but to be paid whilst not doing your job, (much as it must have severely irritated Hird to have any semblance of dirt on his cape) means nothing. Hird as recently as last night has been publically assured by his Chairman that he will return to coach the club in 2015, and there’s no way that Mark Thomson (fined but then in receipt of a salary increase) would stand in his way.

The AFL CEO, as is his want, belittles and ridicules anyone who says that he is not in possession of the facts, then quietly finds out he is wrong about Hird being paid. The compromise?  A lump sum as a pre-Christmas gift?!

If this was a corporate situation, the Board will have been removed or at best, the CEO asked to step aside. Failing in your duty of care to the organisation or, worse, your employees, can get you jailed or barred from holding director positions in the business world. Better administrators than Demetriou have fallen far whilst still showing better displays of competence in their roles. As he starts what will surely be his yearlong farewell, his credibility and prospects for a significant leadership role post this one would have reduced I am sure.

What is out of the AFL’s hands is what the AFL always dreads. They don’t like things they can’t manage or influence. ASADA are on the horizon, and WADA don’t look in a mood to deal with the AFL the way the AFL is used to managing affairs that impact them. Already, the AFL has taken a knock with their suspension of St Kilda’s Saad being challenged by ASADA for its (supposed) leniency. This does not augur well for the Essendon players.

My estemmed colleague Craig Little posed a number of important and very good questions in the 2013 Footy Almanac regarding Stephen Dank.

What substances were the players given? And why don’t Essendon know? Simple questions that should have simple answers.  These two are the cornerstones of the problem. To blame this lack of knowledge on the silence of a single man is simplistic and means there’s a chance the Switkowski report may have been light-on in its criticisms.

We don’t know what they took. We do know James Hird will get a full year’s salary whilst being barred from performing his role. We do know that Mark Thompson will take on a more senior role and salary in 2014. We do know that all action against Bruce Reid went away. We do know that Essendon will mount a vigorous defence of their termination of The Weapon. We do know Paul Little hates to lose.

In a bizarre way, you have to admire Essendon. They have fought for what they believe is right, showed breathtaking arrogance, outwitted the AFL in legal arguments and come out of this well. The asterix against their 2013 ladder position will eventually be like the one against Murali’s wickets.

When Essendon sacked Matthew Knights and appointed James Hird, they started the return of Essendon as the villain. Under Knights, the club was no longer feared and hated, more pitied and passed by. The Hird coup signified a closing of ranks, a refusal to care what others thought of them and a desire for an us-against-them attitude that had been so successful under Sheedy.

In the long run, the players will suffer. Livelihoods will be innocently lost, careers cut short, health possibly compromised.

The club however will blithely carry on. They have shown they don’t care, they have shown they will fight, but most of all, they have got away with it as a club, so far.

If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Well said Sean. I am reminded of a Hunter S Thompson line about Richard Nixon – “the scum also rises”.
    People thought I was booing Jobe Watson when the Bombers played here last year. I was just clearing my throat.
    Bring me the head of Demetriou and Hird on a pike and I may be consoled. Otherwise prepare for the ugliest AFL season on record. I just can’t decide whether to despise the AFL or Essendon more.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Spot on couldn’t agree more, Sean . Demetriou and the , AFL have been utterly incompetent and , Ess have got off so far v lightly we wait for , WADA etc and Hird should have been banned for life for lack of duty of care
    V thoughtful well written article , Sean

  3. Great piece Sean,love it. The latest episode with Hird’s wife doing the ‘unscripted doorstop interview’ with the HUN….please!!!!, the battle is being waged in the two Melbourne daily’s , with the Age having a direct feed from AFL house, and the HUN with it’s Napier street love fest, through that duffle coat wearing moron Robinson.
    The AFL had the chance to punish them through the geratest weapon it has in its armoury..the fixture. As ANZAC day comes around in 2014,the minutes silence will be for the inaction of the league to show true leadership,and for a football club that believes one past greats image far outweighs the health and welfare of its current playing list

  4. Andrew Else says

    Unsure if the fines are immaterial Sean. I realise that the club receives money from the AFL, but all clubs do. Of course we’re looked after by the fixture as Cowsheded says, but unless the removal of these fixtures were part of the negotiated penalty, then how could they remove them as well? If they did remove them, we would get more money from the AFL anyway as that’s how it works.

    Whether anyone on this site likes it or not, the penalty was negotiated because the two people that work at ASADA couldn’t get a result before the finals and that’s what the AFL wanted. The Bombers have clearly done the crime but the AFL has set the time.

    The fines and the investigation cost the club $3.9m in 2013, and, given that Little hinted at the AGM that they may settle with ‘The Weapon’, it seems there is more to come in 2014. Yes, throw in Hird’s $750k and there is a lot of coin going out the door.

    Members were assured on Monday that this money wasn’t being taken from donations to the new facility, so my guess is that spending in the football department will lessen (maybe one less coach, or coaches on smaller salaries) or reserves/assets will be dipped into. Whichever way you look at it the club has been weakened and is now in a very precarious financial position. They’re banking on a few good years on-field but anyone who follows sport knows that can be risky business.

    From what I heard at the AGM, Little and the board have the support of the majority of the members, but there are certainly many (not a small minority) who are a lot less than thrilled.

    Of course the infraction notices threat isn’t going to go away either, but we hardly got off scot free financially. The effects will be felt for many years

  5. It astounds me the great number of the #StandbyHird brigade have yet to twig that President Little Big Man is having a larf at their expense. Their blind faith is astonishing, and almost sad. Despite Little’s squillions he is beligerantly squandering a lazy million of their club’s funds, all the while going cup in hand to the members to spare a dime for their new facilities.

    Vlad is on his last legs and they may rejoice at claiming that scalp but ultimately the scars of this shit fight with City Hall will take years to mend.

    I think Cowshedend the ANZAC Day game may have been kept as is because it’s Collingwood’s home game and that would amount to punishing the wrong club.

  6. Davey Gravey says

    I have to say I have a lot more sympathy for the AFL than others appear to. At a bird’s eye view, the whole affair is of course Essendon’s fault. What complicated things was that Hird and Essendon refused to be contrite and take their medicine. As was stated above by Andrew, ASADA was not close to completing their investigation before finals, hence it fell to the AFL to package up some kind of compromise that wouldn’t be challenged by either Essendon or Hird and his legal and PR counsel.

    The AFL essentially had to find the tight space that existed between Little and Hird to prize them apart on a mooted penalty that at least one had to agree upon. Against that was the spectre of Julian Burnside and Ian Hanke as Hird’s praetorian guard and the media’s watchful eyes.

    Did the AFL fail to pick up on the omission of Hird’s wage in the agreement? It seems unbelievable to me that it did and that maybe there was a bit of nudge nudge wink wink about it. Or maybe the AFL was legally advised that it might be the site of a legal challenge – the pan-handle to beat the AFL with.

    Then this fact was leaked to the media, seemingly designed to embarrass Demetriou. It was part of a pattern, such as the claim about the Demetriou ‘tip-off’ to Evans. From the public relations perspective, I found this petty, aggressive and foul to be frank. The flippant and condescending treatment of Reid who almost lost his licence, the impugning of Evans in the ‘tip-off’ saga, the bad faith negotiations all leave a bad taste in the mouth.

    The AFL had to navigate terrain littered with land-mines. So many groups had their own strong views about what was too much and what wasn’t enough that the AFL were placed in an impossible position.

    The hiring of the Howard-era advisor, Ian Hanke, whose business Media and Political Counsel offers to ‘undertake confidential desktop reviews or develop original intelligence to assist clients in their endeavours’ has been creating spot-fires for the AFL aimed at damaging their reputation,sadly it would seem with some effect.

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