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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Shock! AFL Team Gets A Clue!

In a breathtaking sign of cluefulness, West Coast Eagles management takes a principled, reasoned and sensible line on its players' off-field behaviour. Recent comments from senior club figures have been backed up with meaningful action following the weekend's outbreak of scandals in WA's top team. Whether this heralds a seachange in AFL attitudes or simply an isolated case of thoughtfulness remains to be seen. I'm sceptically optimistic.

The major disgrace belongs to West Coast's Ben Cousins. This man is meant to embody "the best and fairest" that the AFL competition has to offer; his Brownlow Medal is a testament to that. He's also the captain of last year's Premiership runners-up and is one of the League's highest-paid stars, reportedly worth over half a million bucks a year.

By now, the story is familiar: on the 12th of February, Cousins was driving home from a friend's wedding reception when he spotted a booze bus. He abandoned his gold Mercedes-Benz 4WD (with passengers inside) some 50m up the road and did a runner. (Ironically, a photo of him in full flight adorns this year's AFL Record!) The pacey mid-fielder outstripped police, who caught one of his slower mates. He then appeared at one of Perth's leading eateries:

"There was a knock at the door and we were around the back having some wine and cheese," a Bluewater Grill staff member said yesterday. "One of the managers went to answer it, but we obviously can't open the door to strangers.

"There was a guy at the door with a pair of pants on and no shirt on and she asked him what he wanted through the door."


They went to the front door, and that was when the bar manager said, 'You're Ben Cousins', and he said, 'No I'm not'.

"But the bar manager insisted and eventually Ben said, 'I am Ben Cousins'.


"I've got no doubts whatsoever it was Ben, but it wasn't until we'd read the media reports that we were able to put it together. He was panting and the bar manager said he looked a bit drunk and was asking for water. He stayed at the restaurant for about 15 to 20 minutes, but he didn't come in. It seemed really odd at the time." (The Age, 20/02/06)

This fool later realised he had no choice but to turn himself over to police. He may face minor charges including obstructing traffic by leaving his $140,000 car on a highway. He denies he was drunk. (Hey Ben! When a man with your connections and rumours flees police and appears sweaty, addled and shirtless in public ... best to say you're drunk, n'est pas?) He's still not co-operating fully with police. Cousins also failed to co-operate with police on an earlier matter involving playing gangsters with underworld figures involved in a shooting and stabbing at a Perth nightclub.

Ben Cousins Kisses His Luck Goodbye
Source: ABC Online

The only ray of light in what could have been just another spoilt footballer story has been some comments by the club leadership, including chief executive Trevor Nisbett:

"If he has done that and he has run from a booze bus, well obviously it's a ridiculous thing to do," he said.

"Because he like any other citizen should have gone through the booze bus like everyone else has to."

Mr Nisbett said Cousins had to learn to be answerable for his off-field behaviour. (ABC Online, 18/02/06)

Hallelujah! I think this man actually gets it! Footballers are bound by the same laws as regular citizens; what's more, as role models they must be ever vigilant to the impact of their actions. (For example, WA's Attorney-General has expressed alarm that Cousins' behaviour may spark copy-cat incidents.) This was followed up with direct and decisive action. I detect something of Trevor Nisbett's hand in Ben Cousins' announcement that he'll surrender the West Coast captaincy. Was he pushed or did he jump? In my view, overpaid prima donnas with a history of selfishness, blame and immaturity don't accept responsibility for their mistakes. I'm betting he was told he was gone either way.

The second West Coast scandal was the relegation of troubled star Michael Gardiner to the B-leagues. This man has been warned time and again for his mysterious "off-field behaviour". This has only ever been alluded to in the media, though it's worth noting he has been linked previously to the same underworld figures with drug connections as his mate Ben Cousins.

There have been persistent rumours over the past two seasons that Gardiner's off-field excesses had led to a fallout with coach John Worsfold.

Worsfold did not mince his words when asked about the fallen star at a press conference following Friday's intraclub match. West Coast was a highly disciplined club, Worsfold said. One player had not met the club's standards. That player was Gardiner and he was being banished to the WAFL. (The Age, 21/02/06)

Seen in light of Cousins' forced stand-down, this suggests that the West Coast Eagles are sick and tired of the shame brought upon their club by a couple of renegade players and are getting serious about cleaning it up. The club's management should be roundly applauded for their efforts in this.

But, with dark mutterings in the media about further drug scandals breaking this year as the new anti-doping protocol comes into effect, it may be that the Weagles are just getting ahead of the pack for what could be a big shake-out in our footballers' more salubrious lifestyle choices.

*** Update ***

Twelve months after the above incident, Ben Cousins has been dropped by his club for his drug-related issues. He has headed to the US for rehabilitation. Everyone claimed to see it coming, except his club. If only they saw the signs ...

Citations: The Age, 20/02/06; ABC Online, 18/02/06; The Age, 21/02/06

Word Count: 1009

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Footy Thugs Cop Soft Sentences

In Melbourne, the County Court (AFL Division) has disappointed once again in releasing violent AFL bruisers onto our streets. Three dickheads who went on a bashing spree in Federation Square, leaving a trail of damage and hospitalising a number of people, have managed to dodge jail. Even the one with priors for violence. Hard to understand, isn't it. Oh, did I mention they were good at playing footy?

Collingwood's Dane Swan and Williamstown's Aaron Ramsay (VFL, footy's second-tier comp) both got off with "community-based orders". Kade Carey (from Essendon's VFL team), nephew of disgraced footballer Wayne Carey, also copped a CBO plus a suspended sentence. Here at the Speccy we've been following this case closely for some time - from crime to preliminary hearing to plea - and are mighty let down at the sentence.

Let's just step through it:

  1. Kade Carey "has a previous conviction for assault" (Melbourne Herald-Sun, 11/2/06). Not sure when, who or how, but this is not his first time.

  2. In December 2001, at Federation Square, Kade Carey inexplicably launched himself at a passing motorist.

  3. Lauren Marriner, the driver of the vehicle, told police that she saw three men standing on the side of Flinders Street. Then one of them ran at her car.

    "As I got closer to the males, I slowed down so I wouldn't hit them. As I was still moving slowly, the larger guy ran at my car, ran onto the bonnet and jumped on my windscreen 'body slam' style," Ms Marriner told police. (The Age, 25/1/05)
  4. Kade Carey then "initiated the fight, beating up a cleaner and three security guards with the help of his two mates." (Melbourne Herald-Sun, 11/2/06).

  5. Kade Carey led the assault that left the cleaner and one bouncer in hospital. One witness "told police that two of the men had stopped attacking the security guards but the third had continued kicking a guard until the police arrived." (The Age, 25/1/05)

  6. Dane Swan and Aaron Ramsay scarpered off down St Kilda Road. Kade stayed behind and was arrested at the scene. "The court was told Carey resisted attempts to arrest him, punching a police officer in the face before being subdued by capsicum spray." (Melbourne Herald-Sun, 11/2/06).

What absolute disgraceful conduct from these three men. Surely, this kind of public melee warrants the strongest possible condemnation from our justice system. What was the response from the County Court's Judge John Barnett?

The judge described his actions as "stupid and arrogant", but ... acknowledg[ed] that Carey was provoked.

He said Swan and Ramsay joined the fight to defend their friend. (Melbourne Herald-Sun, 11/2/06).

No comment. Readers can draw their own inferences about the implications of that. Final tally for their drunken violence spree:

  • Kade Carey. No jail time. Two months suspended sentence. Fine of $3000. 200 hours of community service.

  • Aaron Ramsay. No jail time. No suspended sentence. No fine. 120 hours of community service.

  • Dane Swan. No jail time. No suspended sentence. No fine. 100 hours of community service.

Source: The Age, 24/1/05
Dane Swan (left), Kade Carey (middle) and Aaron Ramsay (right) at last year's hearing.

Some people may scoff at the leniency of the sentences. Well, I'm sure it's got nothing to do with these boys being good at footy. No siree, no playing favourites in this town. So presumably all citizens can attack a female motorist, a cleaner, three bouncers and a policeman. You can even put a couple in hospital (by kicking, according to one witness). Hell, even if you've got prior convictions for assault - you'll still not lose your liberty! Plus, if it's one of your idiot mates doing the offending, you can step right in and help dish out some biff without even risking so much as a fine. That'll make Victorians feel safe in public places.

It's enough to make you wonder: what does it take to get put in jail? (They probably reserve jail time for the really serious stuff - like contempt of court charges arising from questioning a judge's sentences!)

One thing I'll say in defence of the judge though: he gave Kade Carey the "toughest" of the sentences; fair enough, given the massive preponderance of his guilt in all this.

I just hope that these young men use the opportunity for the three or four weeks of "unpaid work" to do something positive for the community. No doubt it will just be signing footballs at a primary school somewhere, or pouring beers at their team's social club. But they could make a positive contribution by publicly denouncing the warped values and alcohol-fuelled violence that permeates AFL culture. Sadly, I don't think this is the last we'll be seeing of these three idiots.

*** UPDATE ***

In a first for The Speccy, we've published a long interview with the ringleader of this sordid affair, Kade Carey. Kade speaks about the circumstances of the assault, the court case and the fall-out on the rest of his life.

Citations: Melbourne Herald-Sun, 11/2/06; The Age, 25/1/05; Melbourne Herald-Sun, 11/2/06; The Age, 25/1/05; Melbourne Herald-Sun, 11/2/06; Melbourne Herald-Sun, 11/2/06

Word Count: 826

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Courts Clogged By AFL Footballers

Melbourne Magistrates Courts (AFL Division) risks being swamped by widespread lawlessness from current and former AFL players. The backlog stems from a spate of criminality that shows no sign of abating. It's not yet clear if current facilities will be able to accommodate the surge in demand for court services, or whether the Victorian Government will need to examine options for upgrading capacity for processing Aussie Rules footballers.

The latest footballer to take up precious time in our courts is David Dench, captain of North Melbourne's 1977 premiership team. He has been charged with conspiracy to defraud, theft, obtaining property by deception and furnishing false information. These charges stem from a massive (alleged) fraud involving maintenance contracts with a local university:

The elaborate conspiracy involved Victoria University being invoiced for millions of dollars for work that was not done.

Police allege that Mr Dench's maintenance company invoiced the university for $4.7 million of maintenance work which was not done.

They allege the fraud involved more than $10 million between 1996 and 2001. (The Australian, 6/2/06)

This comes hot on the heals of former Collingwood player Peter Grahame Hall's massive con (at least $600,000 worth). Not only should you question whether or not to lend money to AFL players - you might want to rethink going into business with them too.

The next miscreant to front the courts will be Carlton's Heath Scotland. He's been charged with recklessly causing injury in "an incident" in May 2005. The Age believes this incident occurred in a bar. It's not known at this time if this was the Ivanhoe Hotel where, a couple of months later, Heath Scotland (along with teammates Lance Whitnall and Nick Stevens) was present during the abduction and torture of his "associate" Brendan Schievella by suspected underworld figures.

This comes on top of last week's court appearances by Melbourne's Colin Sylvia for allegedly kicking his girlfriend and Hawthorn's Campbell Brown for taking on a cash machine in a 7-Eleven. We're still awaiting the County Court's judgment from the guilty pleas by Kade Carey, Dane Swan and Aaron Ramsay for the bizarre and inexplicable Federation Square rampage and gang bashing.

With all this activity, the Melbourne Magistrates Courts (AFL Division) may have to look into upgrading its facilities. Any talk of a public-private partnership (much loved by the Brumby state government) with the AFL Tribunal should stay that way: just talk. It's hard to see how the cause of justice could be advanced by having the AFL's own pseudo-judiciary passing judgment on its prized investments. It would be like having a dog breeders guild determining whether or not their million dollar stud pooches should be destroyed for biting people.

A fairer and more practical suggestion would be for courts to use fines that reflect the millionaire status of many footballers. To really speed things up, the Parliament could look at reversing the presumption of innocence in cases involving footballers. That, and the sensible use of cattle runs, holding pens and corrals should really get things moving through the courts.

Given that AFL footballer crime is only going to increase, this problem isn't going away. What other suggestions are there for the smooth administration of criminal justice for our footy players?

*** UPDATE ***

More light has been shed on the mysterious investigation into Heath Scotland. Yesterday he appeared in the AFL Division of the Melbourne Magistrates Court. It's alleged he slapped a girl in the face after arguing with her in the ladies' toilets at Crown Casino. Ironically, the club was called The Next Blue - referring perhaps to the Carlton player or his penchant for arguing in the dunnies?

Rumours have been circulating that Heath was sporting an oversized fur coat, matched with a large felt hat (with a feather in it) and a bejeweled ornate cane at the time of the incident. These rumours are almost certainly false and we should point out there are many reasons why a man would slap a woman while arguing in the toilets. Sadly for Heath, none of them are good.

*** UPDATE ***

Good ol' Heath. Turns out the lady in question wants an apology for copping a back-hander from him. He's boxing clever, hoping to make an apology part of a "diversion" (whereby he has to do community service or some other cop out).
Outside court, when [Scotland's lawyer] Mr Balmer was asked if Scotland was prepared to apologise, he said: "Maybe, it depends on whether it is a matter appropriate for diversion.

"It's still got to be considered and accepted and its not cast in stone yet," he said. (, 3/07/2006)

What a champion - no apology unless he has a written guarantee to get away with the assault, well, "Scot" free. You sure are one legendary human being, Scottie!

*** UPDATE ***

Deputy Chief Magistrate Paul Smith bowed to the inevitable yesterday, and let Heath Scotland off. At the urging of the police, Heath's in a "diversionary program" now, whereby he pays a fine (less than a week's wages) and provides a written apology. No community service, no jail time and - get this - no conviction. Why? Because he wants to be a fireman when he grows up, and an assault conviction would jeopardise that.

Isn't the point of a criminal records check to exclude angry women-beaters from jobs where their lack of self-control threatens the wider community? Doesn't this decision undermine that very function? Still, he'll stand out somewhat with his fur-lined fireman's jackets, feather in his helmet and garish jewel-encrusted axe:
The court previously heard the woman met Scotland in the toilets before an altercation broke out. Police allege Scotland flicked his drink at her and that when she attempted to push him away, he struck the right side of her face with an open hand. (The Age, 19/9/2006)

Maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe Heath was enraged by her blatant violation of the fire code and, thinking quickly, he was merely dousing her cigarette? Who knows what kinds of tortured reasoning our justice system comes up with to ensure these men aren't unduly hindered in their activities.

Citations: The Australian, 6/2/06;, 3/07/2006; The Age, 19/9/2006

Word Count: 1068

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Footballer Won't Take 'No' For an Answer

Hawthorn's Campbell Brown won't take 'No' from anyone - or anything. He's had his day in court for last year's drunken assault on a 7-Eleven ATM that refused to give him money.

In a hearing of the Melbourne Magistrates Court (AFL Division), Campbell answered charges of criminal damage, wilful damage, using insulting words and using indecent language, stemming from his big night out on June 19th, 2005.

Just after 5am, he staggered into a 7-Eleven and fronted the Automatic Teller Machine.

Brown removed an out-of-order sign from the machine and tried to withdraw money. Told it was not working, Brown verbally abused a store employee. As Brown left the store, he struck and cracked the glass entry.(The Age, 3/2/06)

Many of us have found ourselves in a 7-Eleven at 5am. Most of us have been disappointed - usually by the sausage roll we've foolishly bought. But it takes a special kind of arrogance and belligerence to doubt the "out-of-order" sign on the ATM while dismissing helpful suggestions from the staff. Launching a volley of abuse at the staff and mounting an attack on a building? That's pure Aussie Rules footballer for you: angry, stupid, lawless and rude.

While the incident was likely taped by security cameras, the footage has yet to surface. No doubt the broadcast rights are being hotly disputed behind the scenes.

As for young Campbell, well, he'll likely be put into a "diversion program" for first-time offenders. If the intent is to divert him from further crimes, they could do worse than divert him from the AFL and into something useful and respectable. Like working the 5am shift at a convenience store.

Citations: The Age, 3/2/06

Word Count: 282

Tags: footy, court, booze

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Bogan Courtship Lands Demon in Court

Colin Sylvia may be the star Demon recruit (imp?), but he's got a lot to learn about romance judging by last weekend's efforts. To help with the love lessons, a magistrate has spelled out in some detail the requirements: cut out the violence and threats! Sadly, the magistrate has misunderstood the nature of bogan lovin'.

Colin Sylvia, After Agreeing Not To Attack Elise Whichello.
(Until February 2007)
Source: The Age

The cause of the couple's dispute remain unknown, although Colin has been in the press lately for his "repeated groin complaints". The incident (allegedly) started in an Albert Park road at about 3:30am very early Sunday. Colin Sylvia and his girlfriend of two years Elise Whichello had a public blue while both were quite pissed. This is not at all unusual and is an integral part of one of nature's greatest mysteries, the bogan lifecycle. (All bogans are conceived within 30 minutes of a dust-up. It's why they're constantly so angry.) Unfortunately, their courtship ritual was interrupted by a passing witness, described by The Age a "business consultant" (3/2/06). While the witness was understandably concerned at seeing the slight Ms Whichello on the receiving end of a kicking from professional sportsman Colin Sylvia, he must be either recklessly brave or terribly naive about such matters. I would no sooner intervene with a bickering bogan couple than take a bone from a pack of American pitbulls. Leave it to the police!

At this point, it was alleged in court, Colin Sylvia threatened to kill the witness if he "went to the police" about the matter. This echoes the use of illegal death threats by Simon Goodwin to silence witnesses to his bad behaviour. Are we seeing a rise in death threats by AFL footballers? It would be only natural, as the stakes get higher, to have dim, violent men increasingly resorting to intimidation like this.

Next, Elise Whichello indicates to police that she will be applying in court to have Colin Sylvia put on an intervention order (apprehended violence order). Not unreasonably, in my view. (After all, the Brownlows are months away and she has plenty of time to secure a guernsey.) But once in court, Ms Whichello dramatically rescinded the order. This may leave casual readers puzzled, but I assure you that the withdrawn-intervention-order is all part and parcel of bogan romance. (It serves a similar function to jewellery in mainstream courtships, along with tattoos and six-packs of Bundy.)

The upshot was that "[Magistrate Jeanette] Maughan put Colin Sylvia on a 12-month order with conditions that he not assault, harass, threaten or intimidate Ms Whichello." I don't understand why courts make these deals. He's already not meant to do those things. And why not extend the order to cover everyone, not just his missus? You'd think that magistrates - negotiating from a position of strength - would get a better outcome. You know, get the accused to agree to something in addition to just obeying the law, in relation to one person, for 12 months.

"[S]he warned him that until February next year he was not to breach the order." I would hope that he would continue to abstain from violence and death threats for well into 2007 - and beyond. Sure, it's asking a lot of an AFL player but if we don't set the bar a little higher how will they improve?

Colin's club docked him about a week's pay. And young Colin's response to this kerfuffle? "[W]hile Sylvia accepted the order, he did not admit any of the allegations". And why would he when he's on top of the world? He's an AFL rising star and answers to no one! Colin's take on it was suitably subdued: "It was just an argument between us (he and Ms Whichello) two and (the witness) got involved. That all it is ... He said something and I said something back to him and said I threatened him. That's the end of the story." Public drunkeness, assault by kicking, making threats to kill, apprehended violence orders ... pfft! Just part of the giddy thrills of bogan passion.

*** UPDATE ***

Colin Sylvia was sanctioned by the Melbourne Demons for missing his club's much-vaunted 1am curfew. He lasted about a week before staying out too late and missing a recovery session the next day.

Sylvia's lapse in commitment comes on top of his stand out performance in the International Brawl Series. The penalty for staying out past 1am is a one week suspension and a $5,000 fine - a sterner punishment than that meted out for his alleged assaults and death threats, described above. Certainly makes it clear where the club's priorities lie, don't it? But then, unlike missing training, kicking your girlfriend doesn't affect your on-field efforts - as long as you take care not to strain your leg whilst doing it.

Citations: 3/2/06

Word Count: 697

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