Australian Football

 

 

AFL Membership Slogans 2013-2017

What do the clubs say they stand for?

Adelaide Crows
Flying away

Brisbane Lions
It's Alive!...Maybe

Carlton Blues
Swapping the silver spoons for the wooden spoons

Collingwood Magpies
Side-by-side in scandal

Essendon Bombers
The most hated of teams

Fremantle Dockers
Send in the clowns!

Geelong Cats
Good, even elite, until it really matters

Gold Coast Suns
Football or the beach? The beach it is!

Hawthorn Hawks
Not the coolest kid on the block

North Melbourne Kangaroos
From butchering shinbones to road kill

Melbourne Demons
Like Collingwood, they like white powder

Port Adelaide Power
Statistics matter and Port has 119 reasons not to forget history

Richmond Tigers
From eat'em alive to eat our own alive.

St Kilda Saints
Can't ever say Saints' fans are band wagoners

Sydney Swans
Blood is thicker than water

West Coast Eagles
The AFL equivalent of McDonalds

Western Bulldogs
On welfare and on the move

GWS Giants
A marketing disaster on a par with AFLX

 

 

 


Essendon Bombers

Essendon Bombers

The smug self-righteous wankers get what they deserve

   

Just as every story needs an antagonist, every sporting competition needs a team to hate. In the AFL, both Collingwood and Essendon compete for the title as most hated. Collingwood’s claim is based on the fact that there supporters are bogans whose poor sense of social graces has them at the bottom of the social order. In contrast, Essendon’s claim is based on its image as the clean-cut jock that gets the girl while the good-natured new kid is left holding the drooping flowers like a loser. In a culture that typically favours the underdog, Essendon's success and clean cut image has them typically insulted as "smug self-righteous wankers"; a term commonly applied to achievers that have no obvious socio-economic deficiency.

In many respects, Essendon's image as a club for smug self-righteous wankers came about by being a model club. It has won a record 16 premierships, focussed on player development instead of player buying, stood up for its Aboriginal victims of racism when the AFL wanted racism swept under the carpet, and ironically, took a principled stand against blood doping and drug use when other clubs started using sports science to get an edge on the field. The principled history on a range of issues ultimately came back to bite the club in the arse during its supplement scandal in 2013. A century of taking the high moral ground allowed the AFL to make Essendon a scapegoat with little sympathy from other clubs who finally had the chance to see the tables turned.

The country clubs - Essendon's rivalry with Geelong

A lot of Essendon's culture could be attributed to its geographic location. In the 18th century, it represented a comparatively middle-class area that was mostly protestant. As well as its location resulting in Essendon drawing from a higher socio-economic class, its north west location made it a gateway region into Melbourne for footballers in country Victoria. Like Geelong, the infusion of country values resulted in Essendon players usually trying to win by being the most skilled rather than hitting opposing players from behind (like slum Collingwood and its magpie mascot.) A bit like Geelong, an Essendon team at its best has been the most exhilarating sight in football and the two "country" clubs hold the records for most dominant seasons and winning margins.

In 2016, the rural influence on both clubs led to the inaugural “country” game. While it offered the perfect photo opportunity for players to pose aside chickens while chewing some hay, the festival atmosphere wasn't conducive to building the dislike that makes for a good rivalry. In short, the game has always had a hole where the king hit from behind should have been. On the positive side, there has been some fond memories of exceptional games of football that come when two skills focussed clubs play at their best. In particular, round 6 1993 when Geelong full forward Gary Ablett kicked 14.7 while Essendon forward Paul Salmon kicked 10.6 to led the Dons to a four goal victory.

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Rivalry with North Melbourne Kangaroos

Essendon's rivalry with North Melbourne goes back to the very beginnings of the VFL. In 1896, Essendon joined the working class inner city Catholic suburbs of Carlton and Collingwood in leading a break away from the VFA to form the rebel league (VFL). Largely because it wanted North West Melbourne for itself, Essendon had North Melbourne excluded from the VFL. In the VFA, North became a powerhouse but their premierships always had less status because they were in the inferior league. Naturally, they looked upon Essendon with envy as the Bombers won over majority support in the region.

In 1922, Essendon tried to put feuds in the past by agreeing to merge with North Melbourne so it could enter the VFL. Admittedly, it wasn't all altruism on Essendon's behalf. The Dons needed a new home ground and North's was in a perfect location. With the merger agreed in principle, North disbanded and sent their players to Essendon. This was highly problematic for the VFA as North was their only inner city club thus a key asset in their battle against the VFL. To protect their asset, the VFA persuaded the State Minister for Lands to veto Essendon’s move to North's home ground. With Essendon unable to move, the merger was called off. Essendon found another ground but with North Melbourne’s champions Syd Barker and Charlie Hardy now playing for it. Although it was not Essendon's fault that the merger was called off nor was its fault that North had given it its best players, North held a grievance as it watched its champion players run around in the red and black.
In the VFA, North reformed before entering the VFL in 1925. Unfortunately, it took decades to recover from its lost players. It was not until 1950 that it truly had a chance to act on its grudge when it met Essendon in the grand final. It lost by 38 points. Naturally, being put in their place did little to endear North fans to Essendon.

In the 1990s, North finally did some things to irritate the Dons to make the rivalry more than a one-way hatred. Firstly, they won the 1996 premiership after Essendon had lost a preliminary final by a point to the Sydney Swans. The feeling of 1996 being a lost premiership became a powerful motivator for Essendon to beat North over the subsequent years. The motivation was enhanced in 1998 when Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy referred to Kangaroos executives Greg Miller and Mark Dawson as ‘marshmallows’ due to their reputation for softness. In defence of their executives who had their feelings hurt, Kangaroos fans brought marshmallows to throw at Sheedy as he walked the boundary line. Ironically, as the soft marshmallows bounced off his jacket, Sheedy was reportedly thankful he hadn't referred to the Miller and Dawson as old boots or rotten tomatoes. Furthermore, rather than express his hurt feelings, Sheedy later said that being the target of a marsh mellowing had been a great promotion for confectionary and helped the Kangaroos draw a crowd.

In 1999, Essendon again unexpectedly lost a preliminary final by a point, this time to Carlton, and went on to see North claim the premiership. Once more, it fuelled the desire to defeat the Kangaroos to quell the feeling of the lost premiership. The following year, Essendon met North in a qualifying final and annihilated them by 125 points. It then went on to claim the 2000 premiership.

 

Rivalry with Western Bulldogs

Just as helping North enter the VFL was a thankless endeavour, so too was the case with Footscray Prince Imprerials (now Western Bulldogs). Footscray had rightly been excluded from the VFL in 1896, not because they drew from similar geographic area to Essendon, but because they were shit and referred to themselves with silly monikers like “the Prince Imperials.” The exclusion was positive for Footscray because without the big clubs, it had the opportunity to find some success. (Which often came with the aid of bribery.)

In 1924, Essendon won the VFL premiership and agreed to play Footscray who had won the VFA premiership. The winner would receive the title of "Champions of Victoria." Because the VFL was the premier competition, there was little for Essendon to gain and all to lose from the match. If it won, it was the expected outcome. If it lost, the significance of its VFL title was diminished. For this reason, the VFL had resisted such championship games for over 30 years. Furthermore, Footscray had a history of trying to bribe opposition clubs to throw games. A loss would inevitably led to bribery accusations. As the old saying goes, play against dogs and you'll end up with fleas.

While Essendon had everything to lose, Footscray had everything to gain with a victory strengthening the club's argument for admission into the AFL. Sure enough, Essendon lost. Post-game, Essendon players claimed they had been approached to throw the game. Even though the Essendon whistle-blowers stated that they personally had rebuffed the offer, they believed that some of their team mates had taken the cash. Instead of investigating, the VFL invited Footscray to join the VFL along with North Melbourne and Hawthorn. Rather than thank Essendon for taking the game that allowed them into the VFL, Footscray fans made Essendon their most hated club for making the bribery allegations. That chip they had on their shoulder when they entered the VFL has never been removed.

Developing a clean cut culture then infusing some mongrel

While the Victorian championship game was good for Footscray, it was not good for Essendon. Player disharmony from bribery accusations led to a drop down the ladder. It was not until 1942 that Essendon again tasted premiership success on the back of captain coach Dick Reynolds, one of only four players to win three Brownlow Medals. As a clean-cut athletic go getter that opposed drinking, gambling and late nights, Reynolds was the antithesis of the Aussie larrikin and the typical Collingwood fan. Nevertheless, he espoused behaviour that won football games. With Reynold's valuing fair play and skills, more premierships came in 1949 and 1950.

As well as a premiership, 1949 also saw the emergence of full-forward John Coleman, whose name is honoured in the award given to the leading goal-kicker of each season. Unfortunately, because defenders were unable to beat him with talent, they would provoke him, which resulted cost him a place in the 1951 grand final and an Essendon victory with it. In the last match of the season, Coleman was targeted by Carlton player Harry Caspar. After having a boil on his neck being constantly pressed and being punched twice, Coleman retaliated. As a result, both players were reported and both were suspended for 4 weeks - despite umpires acknowledging that Coleman had struck out in retaliation and they had not protected him. As well as being un-fair in that Coleman was retaliating, giving both equal punishment was unfair as Carlton were out of finals and therefore punishments was more severe for Coleman as it deprived him of finals. In the years to come, Essendon fans would continue to experience déjà vu their principled stands were ignored by governing bodies, leading to some unprincipled actions that were in turn punished by the governing bodies.

Essendon added two more premierships in the 60s. The 1970s were a barren time as VFL clubs started bankrupting themselves by throwing money at players from rival clubs to build their lists. Meanwhile, Essendon continued to focus on player development, which was honourable but also a bit naive.

Even though the 70s were barren on the field, it was a time of transition for Essendon's identity. Firstly, it invested in a social club for players and supporters to bring both together like a family. Secondly, it broke 39 years of tradition by bringing in an outsider, Des Tuddenham from Collingwood, to be its coach. Essendon wanted Tuddenham's toughness as it felt it had become a bit too nice. While Tuddenham won admiration for his imposing size, he allegedly had the very Collingwood habit of mistaking other people's property as his own. After four seasons with the Bombers, he returned to his Collingwood nest where his property transgressions were less problematic.

With tradition broken, more outsiders were brought in as coaches. This included Fitzroy legend Bill Stephen and Geelong legend Bod Davis before the club struck gold with Richmond back pocket Kevin Sheedy in 1981. Whereas Stephens and Davis were very skills and process orientated, Sheedy was an innovator with a touch of mongrel. In addition to mixing up strategy and player positions, he liked giving second chances to campaigners low on skills but heavy in courage.

Rivalry with Hawthorn Hawks

In 1983, Essendon's new found courage was tested when it lined up in a grand final against the Hawthorn Hawks. There they wrote the first chapter of a rivalry that read like the script of a Hollywood movie. After winning three premierships in the 70s, Hawthorn entered the 80s with a tough reputation built around hard men like Leigh Mathews and Dermot Brereton that physically dominated players before destroying them on the scoreboard. Sure enough, Essendon was physically dominated and then destroyed, losing by a VFL record of 83 points. Historically, clubs that suffer large grand final defeats usually fall down the ladder as they just can't recover from the shock to their psyche.

But Essendon did recover and in 1984, they came back for more. The Hawks won both matches in the home and away season to maintain their psychological edge. They met for a third time in the second semi-final. Essendon put up a good fight but ultimately the Hawks had their measure and went through to the grand final. Sheedy, however, had noticed that Hawthorn players were sniffing something during the breaks and subsequently asked Victorian Police Officer, Iain Findlay, to uncover exactly what it was. Findlay later concluded that Hawthorn players were sniffing a mixture of eucalyptus and ammonia in a bid to "open up their lungs and clean the airways." Even though the Hawks were using the smells of a public urinal to gain an effect similar to a Viking berserker, they were insulted by the notion of using performance enhancing drugs and vowed to make Essendon pay. In the grand final two weeks later, Hawthorn had that chance. The match started much it had in 83. By quarter time, Hawthorn was almost four goals up. By half time, they were five goals up. For the third quarter, Sheedy took radical action by mixing up positions. It stemmed the bleeding but still left the Bombers four goals down at the final change; a margin no grand finalist had ever overcome. With an admirable loss seeming like the only hope, the Bombers piled on nine goals to set a VFL/AFL record for the overcoming the largest three quarter-time deficit to win.

To its credit, Hawthorn was likewise able to recover from its grand final defeat and in the 1985 grand final, the two clubs locked horns for round three. The grand final commenced with Brereton starting a brawl, but Essendon would not take a backward step. For two quarters, both teams kept it close but by three quarter time, Essendon had edged out to a five goal lead. It was time for Hawthorn to do what Essendon had done in the previous year. They couldn't. Worse, they capitulated to a humiliating 78 point loss.

Although Essendon and Hawthorn have not met again in a grand final since, the physical memories of the encounters have continued in characterise many of the subsequent home and away matches. In 1988, Dermott Brereton charged through the Essendon huddle in his standard provocation mode. On one hand, Essendon could have been congratulated for not retaliating but Brereton’s unchallenged actions gave the Hawks the impetus to push out to a 4 goal win.

After retirement, Brereton joined club management. By  2004, he had risen to rank of club director and addressed the club at half time as they played the Bombers. There, he instructed the Hawks to "draw a line in the sand". In other words, play dirty. Spot fires begun at the start of the third term as umpires lost control. While attempting to mark the ball, Essendon Jason Winderlich received a knee to the head from Hawthorn’s Chance Bateman. While being led from the ground groggy and bleeding, Winderlich was struck by the Hawks’ Campbell Brown, an act later described by Essendon's Matthew Lloyd as “one of the most disgusting things I've seen on a football field”. While Essendon defended themselves, they made it count where it matters most - on the scoreboard. Essendon went on to kick 9 of the next ten goals. After the game, four Hawthorn players were suspended for a combined total of 15 matches. One Essendon player was suspended for one. 8 Essendon players were fined for melee as a result of trying to protect their team mates from Hawthorn sniping.

 

 

More bad blood boiled over in 2009 with Essendon needing a win for a spot in the finals. Down by almost four goals, Essendon captain Mathew Lolyd shirt fronted Hawthorn's Brad Sewell and knocked him out cold. A melee once more broke out. As Essendon re-grouped, Mark McVeigh addressed the group and stated,

‘that was unbelievable, the Captain has just made a statement, let’s back him up, protect him and go on and win this game’.

Essendon rallied to go on to win the game by three goals.

Even though it was a fair shirt front as the ball was within 5 meters, Lolyd was suspended for four matches under the AFL's new rule interpretation that punished outcome rather than actions. This largely marked the end of the physical nature of Hawthorn/Essendon matches. In 2019, Hawthorn captain Ben Stratton tried to re-ignite Hawthorn's traditional ways by pinching Essendon's Orazio Fantasia. While it might have been in the spirit of Mathews and Brereton adapted to the times, it didn't have the outcome as Essendon and Fantasia once made it count on the scoreboard with another Essendon victory.

Pinching and stomping; very Hawthorn like

Rivalry with Collingwood and taking a principled stand on racism

In 1990, Essendon’s rise to the top of a ladder coincided with a rise by Collingwood Magpies and culminated with both playing off in the grand final. It was a close first quarter but on quarter time, Collingwood player Gavin Brown felled Essendon player Kieran Sporn. To stick up for his team mate, Essendon's Terry Daniher felled Brown. This sparked an all in brawl that even pulled in support staff such as which Collingwood football manager Graeme Allan - who king hit an Essendon runner.

 

 

In the second quarter, the umpires basically gave the game to Collingwood. Under the guise of “maintaining order”, umpires became very whistle happy or more specifically, very keen to give free kicks and 50 meter penalties to Collingwood. On the back of the umpiring help, Collingwood pulled out to 6 goal lead by half time. It was a lead that Essendon was just never able to bridge.

It was a particularly sweet victory for the Magpies as they had lost their previous EIGHT grand finals. For Essendon, it was a particularly painful loss because delirious Magpie fans couldn't stop talking about it. So much so, five years later, Essendon organised the inaugural ANZAC Round clash. Collingwood was sought out to be Essendon's opponent largely due to the bad blood from 1990. Reflecting the mutual feeling between the clubs, the first Anzac Game was unexpectedly sold out 40 minutes from the start of the match with another 20,000 people still outside. A see sawing game finished with a draw. Such was its success, it became a permanent fixture on the AFL calendar where it has been sold out before game day ever since.

As well as starting the ANZAC tradition, the 1995 match also exposed a different attitudes to racism between Collingwood and Essendon. Two years after Collingwood president Allan McAlister stated that Aborigines needed to "act like white people" if they wanted respect, Collingwood player Damian Monkhurst referred to Essendon’s Michael Long as a “black bastard”. Long made an official complaint, leading to a long mediation session and then an AFL media conference, where Long was instructed by the AFL to smile for the cameras and state he was now happy. But Long was not happy. As a result, coach Kevin Sheedy was not happy, nor were high profile team mates like James Hird and Mathew Lloyd happy. Nor was the Essendon football club happy. With Long refusing to back down and the club giving him its support, the AFL was forced to implement an anti-vilification policy. It was the implementation of the policy that allowed racism to be cleaned up in the AFL and for Monkhurst and Long to subsequently shake hands and resolve their issues.

Despite both teams playing in the biggest match outside the grand final each year, the solemn culture of respect associated with ANZAC Day has perhaps eroded some of the hatred that makes for a good rivalry.

Rivalry with Richmond

Both Richmond and Essendon jumpers make use of a sash but jumpers aside, historically the two clubs have not shared many cultural similarities that make for a good rivalry. Richmond was traditionally an inner city catholic working class club that hated other inner city working class clubs like Collingwood and Carlton. As a outer suburb Protestant club, Essendon was just too different for Richmond to worry much about.

Essendon gained some infusion of Richmond culture in 1983 via ex Tigers backman Kevin Sheedy who added mongrel to an otherwise clean cut playing unit. In 2005. Sheedy noted that another commonality between the clubs was an appreciation for the contribution of Indigenous players to the AFL. Essendon then initiated the annual Dreamtime at the G match, with the combination of the two club's colours also matching the colours of the Aboriginal flag.

When the Dreamtime game was first launched, Richmond had been a joke of a club for almost three decades; rarely rising above 9th on the table despite equalisation policies being designed to ensure no team stays out of finals for long. For this reason, the success of the game arguably owed more to both clubs appreciating its meaning rather than a dislike of the other.  

More cultural cross-over occurred in 2010, when former Essendon player Damien Hardwick took over the reigns as Richmond coach and led them to three premierships by 2020. As the two cultures drew more close, tensions between the fans have also increased. Much like is the case with Collingwood, however, a mutual desire to celebrate the Aboriginal contribution and acknowledge that commonality in the other club, perhaps tempers the level of hostility that should be associated with annual crowds in excess of 80,000.

Rivalry with West Coast

The best rivalries are based around similarities of culture or competition for fans in one area. The Essendon West Coast rivalry is one of the few that can be attributed to genuine difference. Essendon is a club with character, history and tradition. West Coast is boring, soulless and could best be described as the football equivalent of McDonalds. It started as a publicly listed company that was formed with the sole intention to make money. It has a generic mascot, uninspiring club song and tends to appoint dour coaches. Specifically, personalities something akin to a national forest or a humourless German that doesn't drink beer.
Although it is soulless, West Coast is a financial behemoth that had regularly played finals. In the 1993, West Coast were the reigning premiers and met a young Essendon team nicknamed the baby bombers as a result of its youth. The game was tight and with 30 seconds to go, Essendon full forward Paul Salmon overcame his goal kicking yips to sail one through for a 2 point victory. As Kevin Sheedy walked down to the ground, he let his emotions out by waving his jacket about his head. It was an act of emotion that helped carry the Dons to the premiership that year.

Back in front of their TVs in Perth, West Coast fans saw in Sheedy something that they were missing in themselves. The following year, when they hosted the Bomber and emerged victorious, they let out their inner Sheedy by waving their jackets above their head. The following year, the Bombers won in Melbourne and celebrated with jacket waving.

 

7 years later, Sheedy gave the rivalry a less festive edge when West Coast player Mitchell White felled Essendon player Mark Johnson. During the break, Sheedy stormed onto the field pointed at White and made a throat slitting gesture. Sheedy was later fined 7,500 dollars while White went unpunished. Sheedy explained that a seagull must have flown into Johnson's eye. (Despite its past mimicry, West Coast fans didn’t make throat slitting gestures when seagulls flew into their player’s eyes.)

Rivalry with Carlton

Historically, Carlton’s rivalries have been with fellow inner city clubs Collingwood and Richmond. The rivalry with Essendon has largely been based around both clubs competing to have the most premierships (16). The importance of this title to Carlton was seen in 1999 after they lost the grand final to North Melbourne. Despite losing, many fans felt the season was still a success as they had unexpectedly beaten flag favourite Essendon by a point in the preliminary final and this stopped its charge to 16.
Whereas competing for the title of most successful AFL club helps explain some of the rivalry, the real bite comes from different attitudes towards ethics. Whereas Essendon has historically been a club with principles, Carlton has historically been a club without any. It's hard to forget that Carlton was a club that was invited to the prime minister's residence in Canberra after winning the 1982 premiership and duly stole all the Lodge’s silverware and ignored legal threats that demanded its return. It's also hard to forget that ongoing and persistent salary cap cheating resulted in it being stripped of its first 2 draft selections in 2002 and fined $900,000. Its also hard to forget its deliberate tanking in 2007 to get draft selections; an act that was akin to cutting in line at the soup kitchen. It is also hard to forget that Carlton's best and fairest award is named in honour of a white collar criminal who spent three months in Pentridge Prison.

Ironically, it was Essendon setting some of its principles aside in the use of supplements 2012 season that led to harsh penalties of its own and an added spark to the contemporary rivalry. As Carlton has struggled over the subsequent two decades to return to anything resembling a premiership contender and went on to collect 6 wooden spoons, it has looked back to the 2002 draft penalties to explain why it has been so shit. Essendon's return to premiership contender undermines Carlton's excuse. Specifically, Essendon was excluded from the 2013 finals season (with Carlton taking its place), fined $2,000,000, excluded from first two rounds of the 2013 and 214 drafts and had 13 players suspended in 2016. Despite four years of media criticism, court cases, uncertainly, draft penalties and exclusion from finals, Essendon was able to make finals in 2017. Considering Carlton's journey since 2002, making finals has been a remarkable achievement for Essendon. In a classic case of selective use of statistics, Carlton fans are in the habit of counting the days since Essendon have won a final. A more worthy use of statistics would be number of wooden spoons won since the last premiership. With SIX spoons to one, Carlton has Essendon covered.

Rivalry with Brisbane

It would be wrong to say Essendon has a rivalry with Brisbane yet much of Essendon's contemporary problems are owed to losing a grand final after a principles stand against Brisbane's win at all costs mentality, and those problems are always a thorn when Essendon plays Brisbane.

In 2000, Essendon played arguably the most dominant season in AFL history as it lost only 1 game on the road to the premiership. In 2001, it again made the grand final where it squared off against the Brisbane Lions, a club that had started experimenting with performance enhancing medicine. Initially, these experiments came in the form of caffeine tablets for extra stimulation but soon escalated in having small plastic stents inserted in their elbows so that players could be given oxygenated blood transfusions and saline drips at half time.The process had a lot of parrallels with blood doping illegally used by professional cyclists.

The Lion’s medical science program was well known and given the tick of approval by the AFL. Instead of copying them, however, the Bombers took to the field for the Grand Final with black armbands over their forearms in silent protest of the Lion’s actions. The Bombers went into the half time break ahead on the score board but they couldn’t compete with the half time transfusions and ended up losing by 5 goals. Lion’s player Jason Akemanis later defended the program by saying,

"It's probably the best medical advance I've seen for a long time because it took all the injury rates to nothing in the second half."

Essendon Black Armband

In the 2001 Grand Final, Essendon players wore black armbands in silent protest of the Lion's medical programs. After Essendon were over-run at half time, Hird took the mantra that if you can't beat them, join them.


Although it might have been noble to say that it is not whether you win or lose, its how you play the game, that principled position cost Essendon a premiership. When Hird returned as coach in 2011, he took the mantra that if you can't beat them, join them. Essendon soon started recruiting high performance managers who had previously had success at other AFL clubs such as Geelong, Melbourne and the Gold Coast Suns. These included "The Weapon" (Dean Robinson), "The Professor" (Stephen Dank), and "Dr Ageless." (Shane Charter).

Five years later, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland concluded the the three sports scientists probably collaborated in the 2012 season to inject the Essendon players with Thymosin Beta 4.

In the five years between Essendon hiring the sports scientists and the Court of Arbitration concluding they did something illegal, Essendon almost died a death by a thousand cuts, largely because they acted according to principles, which were in turn used again them.

Standing by principles leading to death by a thousand cuts in the ASADA case

Sometime in early February 2013, Andrew Demetriou, the CEO of the Australian Football League, was informed that the Federal government would be calling a press conference to announce that performance enhancing drug use was widespread across multiple football codes in Australia. Demetriou allegedly responded to the news by calling Essendon on the 4th of February where he said he had seen evidence the players had used performance enhancing drugs. Demetriou instructed the club to invite a joint investigation by ASADA and the AFL in order to attain a “managed outcome.” In response, on the 5th of February 2013, Essendon publicly announced that it had reported itself to ASADA over its concerns with its supplements program. (It has been alleged that in response to Demetriou's call, Bombers chairman David Evans shredded documents relating to what the players were injected with. Ironically, this would subsequently led to Essendon being punished by the AFL for poor record keeping.)

While the acceptance of the investigation was principled in the sense Essendon believed sunshine was the best remedy in response to Demetriou’s allegation of drug use, it was also a mistake because it compromised legal rules that exist to stop corruptive exploitation of power. Firstly, because the AFL was investigating its own employees, it used rules that compelled players to answer questions. This allowed ASADA to bypass its rules that demanded that those who are being investigated have rights to silence. The right to silence is also a long standing legal right that protects individuals against power exploitation. Ironically, Andrew Demetriou’s alleged actions of lying to Essendon by saying that the AFL had irrefutable evidence of performance enhancing drug use and then offering an inducement of a “managed outcome” if it invited an investigation, were examples of why the right to silence is important legal right. It was a bit like a police officer telling parents that their child has been selling drugs but they would get off if they invited the police to come in to search the house. Such an investigation might reveal other things used to punish the parents while the child might never have been a drug seller.

Secondly, when an institution is allowed to investigate itself in partnership with the organisation that decides the punishments, there is a strong likelihood that key players in the institutions will skew the investigation and punishments in a way that serves their own self-interest. For example, if the government of the day were allowed to partner a corruption watchdog in the investigation of corruption in politics, there would be a strong risk that the government’s leaders would skew the investigation against the opposition party or rival individuals in the same party.  Sure enough, the AFL skewed ASADA’s investigation of AFL drug use so that it was limited to Essendon. Those not investigated were 10 other clubs with a supplement programs. Also not investigated were individual players who Stephan Dank stated had supplied drugs to. Specifically, Dank and Robinson claimed they had given one Gold Coast player, Nathan Bock, the banned drug CJC-1295 but Bock was not banned. In another case, text messages acquired by ASADA communicated that, in 2012, Stephen Dank and Melbourne Demons club doctor Dan Bates established a supplement regime at the Demons that included the injection of Thymosin - the peptide that got Essendon players banned. ASADA never explained its decision not to prosecute a case against the Demons despite a paper trail indicting the use of the same drug at Essendon by the same sports scientist. (1)

Also in 2012, Hawthorn was using “orthokine therapy” that involved extracting the player’s blood, putting it in glass beads in test tubes, then re-injecting it into the player to counter the pain and inflammation caused by a natural chemical known as interleukin. In the USA, the procedure was banned as there were few independent trials of the technique and it was similar to blood doping that was used by Lance Armstrong. Hawthorn’s defence was that it was performance enabling rather than performance enhancing. (2)

Aside from a selective prosecution, the AFL also skewed the proposed punishments so that the competition would not be compromised by Essendon players being banned. Instead, it had a predetermined position that the club would be fined, excluded from finals, excluded from two drafts and Essendon coach James Hird would be suspended for a year while players would be free to take the field.

Meanwhile, Dean Robinson, the architect of the program, was given a pay-out and found himself straight into a job with KPMG, the AFL’s official auditor. Given that Robinson had no background as an auditor, it was odd that the AFL would have such "confidence" in an accounting firm that employed him. Suspicions in the football world were that Robison was threatening to disclose what he had done previously at Gold Cost and Geelong, which would pull other clubs into the scandal.

 If Essendon players had indeed taken performance enhancing drugs, it would have been a perversion of justice for the players not to be banned. It would also have been a perversion of justice if the AFL offered ASADA a deal to use the AFL’s investigative powers to target Essendon in return for not prosecuting a case against any other club. It would also have been a perversion of justice to ban a coach who does not have the responsibility to provide scientific oversight just as it would be a perversion of justice to ban a coach as the punishment for salary cap breaches signed off by a club’s accountant and CEO. While the coach might be a public “face” of the club, levels of responsibility and oversight fall elsewhere.

Essendon started dissenting when it heard rumours of what the AFL was proposing. Although it could accept being fined, kicked out of finals and excluded from drafts, it could not accept officials like James Hird being punished for things they were not responsible for. As a consequence, they launched the “Stand by Hird” campaign in which 10,000 banners were distributed to fans showing their solidarity with the coach. The action of Essendon fans sparked a public relationships war between club and AFL, with the AFL leaking rumours to justify Hird’s sacking.

On the 2nd of August 2013, ASADA released an interim report that stated Essendon had used terrible documentation but it found no clear evidence of drug use. The AFL subsequently made the rumours official. Hird had to accept being sacked as Essendon coach, and the club had to accept being excluded from the finals, excluded from two drafts and accept a $2 million fine.

Hird and Essendon continued to resist the proposed sanctions, which in turn resulted in the AFL leaking stories to the media to justify the need to punish Essendon. This culminated in a radio station introducing a crying woman as the mother of an un-named Essendon player. Through tears, the woman asserted that there was too much compassion for Hird and none for her son. (It is widely suspected the woman was not really a mother of a player as no Essendon player ever said he recognised the voice.) Placing the woman on the radio had the desired effect as Hird took one for the team and accepted a personal punishment for the actions of others.  

Both Hird and club believed that the acceptance of AFL sanctions would be the end of the issue; however, in 2014, a change of leadership at ASADA seemed to undermine the agreements the AFL and ASADA had come to. Ben McDevitt, the new ASADA CEO, issued 34 players show cause notices that alleged that they had been administered the peptide Thymosin beta-4 (TB4).

Although no test had ever returned a positive result for TB4, the players had signed a consent form for the use of “Thymosin.”  In one interview, Essendon sports scientist Stephen Dank said he injected the players with Thymosin Beta 4 and in another he said he injected Thymosin Alpha 1, which was legal. TB4 is a naturally occurring substance in the body. At the time, TB4 had not been found on ASADA’s banned list but ASADA later clarified it was banned as it may have been performance enhancing due to its potential to help repair damage to the body. Although there were few clinical trials showing it had benefit, TB4 had long been used by body builders due to its perceived effect to aid recovery. In a sense, Thymosin was a bit like Chinese medicine in that there was cultural use supporting its efficacy but no clinical trials.

If Essendon players accepted their guilt, they would only be suspended for three preseason games. Despite being nothing more than a symbolic punishment, the players refused out of principle. Shortly after the show-cause notices were issued, the Essendon Football Club and James Hird challenged the legal validity of the joint investigation that ASADA had conducted with the AFL. They argued that any evidence collected by the AFL in a compulsory interview was inadmissible for an ASADA investigation. Many legal minds believed Essendon and Hird had a very strong case but they lost. Perhaps the case was weakened by the fact that they had accepted the process.

Hird appealed but lost again. He considered taking it to the High Court but just ran out of fight. After the appeal failed, the case moved on the AFL anti-doping tribunal, which found the players not guilty as it could not be comfortably satisfied that players had used TB4.

WADA responded by appealing the verdict, with the appeal set for Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland. In the end, the justices basically concluded that if a supplement program was going to exist, it probably would be using the only form of Thymosin that had not been proven to be useless. That was sufficient to get 33 players banned for year.

If one takes the position that the federal government was sincere in 2013 when it announced widespread performance enhancing drug use across multiple codes, then the outcome of the ASADA investigation was a perversion of justice. Firstly, Demetriou's ctip off to Essendon painted a disturbing picture of a the AFL CEO trying to limit the investigation to one club, which allowed all other supposed drug cheats to evade capture. Secondly, to fool Essendon into asking for investigation prior to having any evidence of drug use, painted a disturbing picture of Essendon players being denied fair process. Thirdly, to punish Essendon prior to receiving evidence of illegal drug use painted a disturbing picture of a likely deal between the head of ASADA and the AFL CEO for a punishment that would hurt a club but spare a competition from the pain. Finally, to punish a coach to allow players to go free – even though it is players who are responsible for what goes into their body – painted a disturbing picture of an AFL CEO trying to find a scapegoat so that the competition would not be impacted.

Just as Demetriou's actions painted a disturbing picture of a a CEO trying to pervert justice, ASADA's decisions not to prosecute compelling cases against other clubs can be seen as strands threading into a cable of a deal that likewise perverted justice. Firstly, ASADA had evidence that Dank worked with Melbourne doctor Dan Bates to inject players with thymosin at Melbourne. There is no logical reason to conclude that Dank changed the version of Thymosin from what he used at Essendon. Secondly, there was no logical reason not to prosecute a case against Nathan Bock given that the case against him was strong. Thirdly, there was no reason for ASADA not to ask for a joint AFL investigation into all other AFL clubs that had supplement regimes unless ASADA had made a deal with the AFL to limit the investigation to one club. In isolation, each thread is circumstantial but together they make a strong enough case to indicate corruption in ASADA.

Due to their principles, Essendon suffered four years of media leaking designed to break those principles and accept a perversion of justice. Ironically, if the club had less principles, it may have suffered far less. Maybe 33 players would still have been suspended but it would have only been for three preseason games and they would not have had four years of media campaigns sowing fear and uncertainty. Maybe the players would not have been suspended because TB4 use might have seemed insignificant in comparison to Human Growth Hormone that had allegedly been used at Collingwood or CJC-1295 at Gold Coast. Maybe without the whole media scandals alleging drug use, ASADA would have prosecuted cases on evidence available rather than due to political pressure to produce an outcome.

Membership slogans

2013 - Whatever it takes
2014 - Don the sash
2015 - Are you back in for 2015? 
2016 - Don the Sash
2017 - Be part of our comeback story

Review

All of Essendon's slogans need to be considered in the context of performance enhancing drugs. 'Whatever it takes' was read as 'what did we take?' 'Don the sash' over your needle prick. 'Are you back for 2015?' because star players wont be here for 2016.

Suggested slogan

It's over.

Roy Morgan research

Essendon Bombers supporters are:

2001 when compared to other Australians

  • 46% more likely than the average person to be in the 14-24 age group;
  • 16% more likely than the average person to be single;
  • 20% more likely to say they wear clothes that will get them noticed.

2004 when compared to other AFL supporters

  • 34% more likely to be aged 14-24
  • 24% more likely to believe that freedom is more important than the law

2006 - When compared to other AFL supporters

  • 51% more likely to be aged 14-24
    33% more likely to work in sales
  • 26% more likely to choose a car mainly on it's looks
  • 36% more likely to believe it only feels like a holiday if they leave Australia
  • 46% more likely to really enjoy going online to chat
  • 24% more likely to have been to a nightclub or disco in the last three months

 

Essendon Bombers theme song

See the Bombers fly up, up!
To win the premiership flag.
Our boys who play this grand old game,
Are always striving for glory and fame!
See the bombers fly up, up,
The other teams they don't fear,
They all try their best,
But they can't get near,
As the bombers fly up!

It is hardly the kind of lyrical genius that would bring a tear to the eye of John Lennon or Bob Dylan. It is also interesting to note that whilst the other clubs sing about loyalty, unity or courage, Essendon sings about "glory and fame". It could be argued that such motivations make it an attractive club to the wanker element in society. Unfortunately, with 16 premierships, the wankers have had a lot of fame to sing about.

After injection revelations of 2013, it was suggested "fly up" should have been changed to "shoot up."

 

Essendon jokes

1)A reporter from the Herald Sun asked James Hird: "Are all Essendon players conceited?" Hird replied: "I don't really know, but I'm not."

2) Mathew Lolyd was talking to a very pretty lass about the game he had just played. For almost three hours, he talked about the marks he took, the goals he scored and how it felt to hear the crowd cheering. The lass gave a bored sigh and Mathew realised he was being a little self-centred. Like a true gentlemen he said: "Enough talk about me. Let's talk about you. What did you think of my game today?"

3)"Hirds playing on Loyld, fumbling around for the ball and probably his
pen to sign the autograph book..."

4) What are the first five words an Essendon coach in a three piece tailored suit hears?
"Will the defendant please rise"

 

Icon

  • John Coleman - Glamour full forward.
  • Dick Reynolds - Clean cut rover. Gained lots of glory and fame with a record three Brownlows.
  • Michael Long - Rubber man with freakish skills. In retirement, fancied himself as another Nelson Mandela.
  • James Hird - Golden boy! Courageous, highly skilled pretty boy who can play almost any position.
  • Paul Van Der Haar - Aka the Flying Dutchman. Blonde centre-half-forward with an impressive mullet.
  • Terry Daniher - Half-forward-flanker who looked a bit like Cooch from Footrot Flats.
  • Mark Harvey - Blonde centre-half-forward with an impressive mullet. Very courageous.
  • Simon Madden - Evergreen mobile ruckman.
  • Tim Watson - Started playing seniors at 15. In later life, was named father of the year.

1) Demons in damage control Posted Thu 18 Apr 2013, 8:47pm
Updated Thu 18 Apr 2013, 8:48pm

https://www.abc.net.au/7.30/demons-in-damage-control/4638096

2) Hawthorn Set the Pace with Injection Science
Samnatha Lane Septer 25 2012

https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/hawks-set-the-pace-in-injection-science-20120924-26hhg.html

 

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