By now, you've no doubt heard: Alan Didak has lived up to expectations with a big win for Collingwood. No, I'm not talking about the Copeland Trophy - I'm talking about the next court appearance by our esteemed AFL players.
It's no secret that the Magpies have long been regarded as favourites for this dubious award. With ticking time-bombs like Chris Tarrant and Ben Johnson on board, it was just a matter of time. Didak - disgraced for his earlier public row with pin-up Cassie Lane - was always a major liability. But let's go through what happened.
The word is that Didak had consumed "five or six beers" over an hour or so with a friend at a nightclub in Hawthorn. He then jumped into a cab around 1am and asked to be taken home to Kew, about a $10 cab fare. The driver was reluctant to proceed. It's not clear whether this was due to the small fare, concern at Didak's ability to pay, his apparent drunkeness or his reputation for volcanic eruptions. Given the terrible spate of taxi-driver assaults recently, we should not presume that the driver was not just displaying commonsense and reasonable care for his own safety. Let's face it: alcohol-influenced footballers plus taxis are often a recipe for disaster.
More money was offered, with the driver bidding up to $25.
"The taxi driver said he would not take me," Didak said. "He wanted $25. Obviously, I didn't think it was a reasonable price, so I stayed in the cab but he ordered me to get out." (The Australian, 7/10/2006)
At this point, Didak was being a first-grade knob and law-breaker. Who would think it's acceptable to wage a Ghandi-like, one-man, sit-in protest in someone else's cab? Only a footballer. Fortunately, a police patrol happened by, witnessed the dispute and ordered Didak out of the taxi. What subsequently transpired is unknown, but Didak ended up at the City Watch-House to sober up, where:
The club's chief operating officer, prominent former Melbourne lawyer Eugene Arocca, picked Didak up from the police station when he was released. [Eddie] McGuire said Mr Arocca saw Didak was not drunk.
Speaking to Mr Arocca, who was with him during the telephone interview, Mr McGuire said he said: "Eugs, was he sober?"
"He was sober," was Mr Arocca's reply.
Mr McGuire said he asked Mr Arocca, "Will it be vigorously defended if he's charged for being drunk?, to which Mr Arocca replied "Yep". (SMH, 6/10/2006)
Was he really drunk? The police believe so, charging him with drunk and disorderly conduct. He admitted to drinking quite a few beers fairly quickly. I guess the upcoming case on November the 8th in Melbourne Magistrates Court (AFL Division) will settle it. While his lawyer will be appearing for him, this will still count as a court appearance for the purpose of the footy betting pool. (Some smart cookie is offering $75 for each Collingwood contract, believing it will pay out $100 in a month. This suggests they believe there's a less than 25% chance of another club pipping them at the post.)
With the benefit of a few days' breathing space, it's worth examining the spin at work. First is the reaction of the club's CEO Greg Swann. He was reported in The Age as stating "There was no suggestion he was drunk, there's no suggestion of a court appearance." Uh, really? He's answering a charge of drunkenness in court. Once again, reality and public statements from a football official slide past each other without as much as courteous nod.
This "brute force" approach to bending reality to their corporate interests belies Swann's lack of sophistication. Enter the man with a PhD in Spin, Eddie McGuire. His first salvo - which I sadly cannot cite online as I read it in mX - was to claim that Alan Didak was going home, not heading out to Spearmint Rhino. Apparently, that's a franchised strip club. Only Eddie would employ his intimate working knowledge of Melbourne's sex industry in defence of an embattled player. The logic is that a player can effectively trespass and become a drunken nuisance as long he's not going to a strip club. Interesting.
Eddie's next tack was to argue that the five or six beers sunk in an hour or so did not make Didak drunk. He only seemed drunk:
"Some of the information we get is that the officer who was there thought he was a little wobbly on his feet and you tend to be that way when you've just had a knee reconstruction," Mr McGuire told Southern Cross Broadcasting today. (SMH, 6/10/2006)
Wow. Credit where it's due, he is brilliant. PBL have done well to secure his services - well-worth boning a hundred journos to help pay for genius like that.
The last piece was an appeal to the public that he must have been acting reasonably, because Collingwood learnt their lesson after the Chad Morrison TAC sponsorship affair:
For player welfare, and in line with the club's lucrative Transport Accident Commission sponsorship, Mr McGuire said players were taught to act responsibly when drinking.
He said Didak was following the guidelines. (SMH, 6/10/2006)
The underlying morality - we follow the law because we're paid to - is just glossed over. Should they lose TAC sponsorship, would they stop acting responsibly when drinking? Seen in this light, Eddie's remarks seem more like a threat to me. In any case, Didak patently wasn't "acting responsibly when drinking" or else he wouldn't have engaged in civil disobedience campaign and found himself locked up in the City Watch House.
The real wonder here is what prompted a drunken footballer to cause a ruckus in that cab. Sure, Didak is an angry young man, full of frustrations. Perhaps he was still reeling from the almost-universal condemnation of his glamazon girlfriend Cassie Lane as worst-dressed at the Brownlows? Perhaps it was frustration at missing next season due to knee surgery? Perhaps it was just plain-old interaction effects between his post-op pain-killers and the booze? We'll likely never know.
But one thing we can be sure of: as long as someone taking home hundreds of thousand of dollars a year will argue the toss on a $25 cab fare, there'll always be "dickhead footballer in court" stories.
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