The Australian Football League is losing its battle against violent, out-of-control players. This weekend sees yet another bashing; this time it's Collingwood's stars making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Forward Chris Tarrant and utility Ben Johnson have shown up just how weak and powerless clubs are in the face of Aussie Rules players doing exactly what they want.
Let's see how the press has been covering the sadly-predictable story:
Police are investigating the incident which left a 28-year-old man unconscious and needing hospital treatment after he tried to separate two men who were fighting.
The man was treated at the Austin Hospital for mouth and face lacerations.
Collingwood chief executive Greg Swann said Tarrant and Johnson voluntarily provided statements to police and had been fined $5,000 for breaking club rules. (ABC Sport, 2/8/2006)
What exactly transpired during the brawl? Still unclear, although The Age had a few more details:
Officers are investigating the alleged assault of a 28-year-old Bayswater North man outside a nightclub at Station Pier, Port Melbourne, about 3.30am (AEST) on Sunday.
Police said the 28-year-old was leaving a venue at Station Pier with four other men when they saw a brawl in progress.
He saw a man kicking another man, who was on the ground, police said, but when he tried to separate the pair, the 28-year-old was allegedly punched from behind and knocked unconscious.(The Age, 2/8/2006)
Another report had the whole incident stemming from frustration that Tarrant couldn't get a cab:
It is understood Tarrant and Johnson had been at a 21st birthday party before going on to the Ocean Blue nightclub at Station Pier.
Club sources said that at about 3.30am, Tarrant had been waiting for more than half an hour for a taxi when he called to a couple of men getting in a car to ask for a lift. An argument broke out, which soon escalated into a fight between the full-forward and the men from the car. Bystanders also became involved and it is understood someone ran upstairs into the bar to alert Johnson that Tarrant was in a fight. Johnson and a friend, who does not play in the AFL, ran outside and became involved in the brawl.(The Age, 3/8/2006)
How does asking for a lift end up with a brawl? One can only imagine that a pissed off, intoxicated, professional footballer perhaps isn't the most polite fellow on the block, and probably not used to waiting for anything. He almost certainly never hears the word "no". Hell, he's too dumb to know that AFL players have their own friggin' taxi service, complete with secret phone number, that gives them priority over everyone else - for free! What a moron.
And by way of context, keep in mind that this shameful episode occured as the AFL announced a massive 25% payrise for these knuckle-draggers. That's right; these guys are getting paid almost $750 million bucks over five years - most of it from fans, club members, taxpayers and viewers - to play footy. And what doe we get for our generosity? Yet another weekend of violence at the hands of spoilt, angry thickies.
Still, you'd think the clubs would come down hard on these boys, right? Well, for starters they copped a $5000 penalty for breaking club curfew. (To put that into perspective, that's about one week's wages for the average AFL player.) Here's what Collingwood Chief Executive Greg Swann had to say:
"There is certainly a level of anger (in the club), different people have different levels, but these two players will, as I said, be fined and the match committee will determine whether they play or not this week," he said.
Asked if the pair could be sacked for their involvement in the incident, Swann said: "We haven't ruled anything out.
"By suspending the players does that help us win this weekend, does it send a message long-term?" Swann said.
"All those things are things you've got to weigh up - ultimately the club is here to win games of football so the match committee will go for all those things." (The Age, 2/8/2006)
Here was a chance for a club to stand up to these arseholes, tell them that they were sick of picking up the pieces, spinning away transgressions, explaining to sponsors, smoothing things with their mates in the sport media. Here was a chance to - in Swann's own words - "send a message". A message that being good at footy cannot and should not make up for running amok like lawless pricks. Swann even acknowledged that they may have to endure short-term pain (loss of two players) for long-term gain (disciplined and focused players).
Then club President and general man-about-town Eddie McGuire stepped in. No, he didn't want to 'bone' the players like a couple of under-performing breakfast hosts. Eddie had a different idea. An idea that is so selfish, irresponsible and feckless that it could only be adopted by a brain-damaged media executive panicking as he realises he's taken the reins during an unprecedented corporate losing streak:
Collingwood president Eddie McGuire was angry with the players and warned the pair they "owed" the club.
"They've got to front their teammates and their coach and they'd better get a kick on the weekend if they're selected," McGuire told The Age.
Indicating, however, that the club had little intention of dropping either player, McGuire added: "We're playing for the finals and they owe us. They're not getting the night off, you don't get a day off when you're playing the top side in a big game. They owe their supporters and they owe their teammates and they'd better get a kick."
(The Age, 3/8/06)
Get it? Instead of being made unwelcome through exclusion - sanctioned, suspended, threatened with sacking - they "have to" play in order to compensate the fans that they "owe" for breaking club rules. Yeah, those boys don't get a day off! How very convenient that this newfound "owing" concept just so happens to see Collingwood run with the list it would have wanted this weekend.
In other, unrelated news, Eddie announced that from now on, perennial poor performers on Channel Nine will be screened repeatedly as they "owe" the network. Expect to see Family Feud on endless repeat during prime time, making up for disappointing ratings. Others deemed to "owe" the network - and hence obliged to continue on indefinitely to make it up to advertisers - include Dancing on Ice, Business Sunday and Jessica Rowe. No getting let off the hook for you, young lady!
Eddie's Big Idea was echoed by hapless Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse:
"Why would I penalise our one million supporters, our 40,000 members, our partners in sponsorship and his teammates by leaving a player out of the side?" Malthouse said at the time. "I'll say one thing about discipline and that is you've got to be very careful because there are ways and means of administering it." (The Age, 3/8/06)
Oh, shut up Mick. I doubt you're so stupid that you can't see the reason why you would "bone" these two for the sake of everyone else. I understand you have to go along with Eddie's hare-brained ideas, but you could do it quietly and keep some dignity. (Mick understands discipline alright - do what Eddie says or cop it in the throat. Fancy having to take crap from both 20 year-old kids and an over-ambitious sports reporter! Poor bugger.)
So now we have the mighty Collingwood Football Club so desperate for a win it has been brought to its knees by a couple of violent, drunken kids who insist on flaunting club rules. Collingwood - in particular Mick Malthouse - is now their bitch, and everyone knows it. Poor Mick will be running, cap in hand, asking if he can get them another towel, fluff their pillows and check that they're drinks are still cold. It's not just Collingwood; indeed, all clubs are owned by a handful of their young players in their 20s. These guys can act with total impunity, knowing that nothing can shift them off the list. We've witnessed a dozen players this year in scandals that would have seen them dropped yesteryear. Not now - it's just a small financial penalty and away they go, extracting another $50,000 per year (on average). These paltry fines in place are so piss-weak that, effectively, a player has to play one match for free. Big deal.
We've seen a situation develop where no club is willing to take the hit and actually drop a player, so the players know they are untouchable. West Coast has already been preparing us for the return of Michael Gardiner. Dean Brogan's public king-hit hasn't dampened his career at all. It's like they live in two different worlds, where on-field performance can make-up for all manner of off-field scandal and lawlessness.
As Swann himself put it, "ultimately the club is here to win games of football". And with that spineless, grasping, attitude, the clubs have no choice but to pump these guys full of bravado and cash, bend over, drop trou and let them have their way.
Three developments in this sorry saga that should go on permanent record:
1. Mick Malthouse proudly showed off his new dog-collar and leash in public:
"The fact that Chris and Ben are crucial to the on-field success of Collingwood has influenced my decision. Had they been youngsters on the fringe of selection, I might have thought a playing ban was in order.
"I suspect I'll be criticised for admitting this - what's new? - but you are kidding yourself if you think it would happen differently anywhere else. Different players get treated differently.
Perhaps if we were 15th, like last year, I would be thinking differently." (The Age, 4/8/2006)
Very smart, Mick. You've just admitted to having no real control over your team. We can all look forward to more poor behaviour now that Mick's given away even the illusion of control.
2. It may turn out to that arrogance and contempt for the public kicked off the brawl:
The brawl is believed to have started after [Chris] Tarrant jumped into the back of a car with people he did not know after becoming frustrated by a long delay for taxis. (The Sunday Age, 6/8/2006)
Gee, who'd a thunk it? An AFL player - shocked that a cab wouldn't come to pick him, then staggered by disbelief that a member of the public could refuse to chauffeur him around - resorted to ugly, drunken violence. Expect to see more of this in light of Mick's roll-over.
3. Collingwood lost the crucial match. You know, the one where those two knobs "owed" the fans and so had to play? And guess who fluffed a kick at goal in the dying seconds of the match, locking in Collingwood's defeat?
With Adelaide ahead after a Trent Henschel goal at the 21-minute mark, [Chris] Tarrant's 55m shot after a free kick fell short and was rushed.
From there, Adelaide iced the clock. (FoxSports, 6/8/2006)
I wonder if he was still pissed from the night before? Perhaps his arms were tired from beating up strangers? I guess we'll never.
Still, I hope that Mick and Eddie - and Chris and Ben - all choke on their humble pie. For all their willingness to sell out decency in pursuit of a win, they still ended up losing. And now they've got a coterie of players who know they are untouchable, exposing the rest of us to more harm. Stupid, selfish idiots.
Well, the wheels of justice slowly creaked out another rotation with the news that Ben Johnson has been charged with assault:
Collingwood player Ben Johnson has been charged on summons with recklessly causing injury and unlawful assault. (Sportal, 16/10/2006)
He'll getting out his black suit, sunnies and hair-gel for his hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court (AFL Division) on Novemeber the 20th. Still, he's stared down Mick Malthouse in a battle of wills, so I doubt the prospect of a tongue-lashing from a mere magistrate is too much concern.
I wonder if Chris Tarrant will be organising a lift for him?
Here's a quote from Ben Johnson, expressing remorse at his dangerous violence and how he cried afterwards:
"I felt really sick and in a bit of a daze as well. I just wanted him to be all right," Johnson said yesterday.
"I definitely don't want people to think I go in and deliberately try to hurt someone like that, especially around that part of the body and knowing how dangerous it is. (FoxSports, 23/8/2007)
Is he talking about his vicious car park assault and kicking that left a young man with head injuries in hospital? No. Just a nasty on-field hip-and-shoulder. So why is he so worried about his reputation? Too bad his compassion doesn't extend to people he drunkenly bashes. What a shit.
Citations: ABC Sport, 2/8/2006; The Age, 2/8/2006; The Age, 3/8/2006; The Age, 2/8/2006; The Age, 3/8/06; The Age, 3/8/06; The Age, 4/8/2006; The Sunday Age, 6/8/2006; FoxSports, 6/8/2006; Sportal, 16/10/2006
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