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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Footballers Make Bad Company

In a move that has shocked even seasoned AFL player watchers, Collingwood's Alan Didak has been named and weakly-chastised for partying with Hell's Angel and alleged drug dealer and murderer Christopher Wayne Hudson. The persistent and widespread association between footballers and organised crime figures - especially bikies - can no longer be ignored and demands urgent action by footy's real fans.

The scene on Thursday, June 28 was depressingly familiar - a po-faced footballer uncomfortable in a shirt and tie, an angry club official, the salivating media and the glare of the public gaze as yet another footballer awkwardly stumbles his way through a written statement. This time, however, it wasn't another drink-driving or drug scandal. This time, the statement revealed that the ugly mutual appreciation and respect between outlaw motorcycle gang members and professional athletes had real repurcussions.

Excusing the Inexcusable: Didak's mea culpa
Source: The Age

It transpired that very late on the Saturday of the Queen's Birthday weekend, Alan Didak, Colin Sylvia and Chris Hudson were drinking together in a number of nightspots in Melbourne, including the strip club Spearmint Rhino. While Sylvia had passed out drunk, Didak accepted a lift home from Hudson and another man at around 4am. This car trip involved firing shots from a handgun out the window of the Mercedes-Benz coupe while crossing Bolte Bridge, a visit to the Hell's Angel's HQ at Campbelltown and more shots fired when police attempted to pull the car over. Didak was dropped off in the city at 6am, where he took a cab home to Kew.

Some two weeks later, Hudson was again at Spearmint Rhino in the early hours. There, he allegedly severely beat a stripper, Autumn Daly-Holt. Minutes later, Hudson was apparently attacking another stripper, Kara Douglas in downtown Melbourne at 8am when bystanders intervened. Solicitor Brendan Keilar and Dutch backpacker Paul de Waard were allegedly shot by Hudson, along with Douglas. While Douglas and de Waard have recovered, sadly Keilar died at the scene. After remaining at large for some days, Hudson turned himself in and is now facing several charges relating to firearms and, of course, murder.

Party Girls: Bashing victim Autumn Daly-Holt and shooting victim Kara Douglas.
Source: The Age

While the events were separated by a week, there is enough commonality in the locations and people involved that Didak is regarded as a witness by the police - albeit one with a terrible memory. From all accounts, Didak did not disclose what had happened, leaving some to argue that had Didak come forwards about Hudson and the gunplay that night, the murder and other violence could have been avoided. Others argue that Didak cannot be expected to anticipate criminality in others - even if they are firing handguns in the city.

However, the real issue is what Didak and Syliva were doing drinking in a strip joint with a motorcycle gang member. The nature of their relationship is unclear but may go back months. Why do these young men seek each others' company? Who, exactly, is trying to impress whom? Certainly, they have a lot in common: plenty of spare time, large amounts of cash and an unhealthy, proprietary attitude to women. It's worth noting that Alan Didak has made these pages before for his public displays of aggression with now ex-girlfriend, Cassie Lane. Similarly, Colin Sylvia has been to court for allegations that he assaulted his girlfriend Elise Whichello, also in public.

This is not the first time friendships between motorcycle gang members and footballers have come to light: the Coffin Cheaters go way back with WA's own Ben Cousins and Michael Gardiner. The word out there now is that Cousins - back from a miracle cure for his raging crystal methamphetamine addiction and eager to prove his suitability to return to the game - is once again associating with Gardiner and others with criminal connections:

The Sunday Age yesterday reported Cousins was last week at Melbourne's Beach Hotel with former teammate Michael Gardiner and Victor Kizon, brother of Perth's John Kizon [a convicted heroin trafficker], and another former Perth man who allegedly works for a company owned by the Coffin Cheaters motorcycle club.

He had travelled to Melbourne with the latter two on a private jet as guests of a Perth real estate company. (The Age, 18/6/2007)

Two years ago, the Hell's Angels allegedly abducted and tortured an "associate" of three Carlton players, Lance Whitnall, Nick Stevens and Heath Scotland. (Yes, that's right, the same Heath Scotland who was convicted of hitting a woman at a nightclub and was alleged to have done it again in Ballarat. Is anyone else detecting a theme here?)

The well-practised response from Collingwood to Didak's behaviour has been by-the-numbers: express "shock", "surprise" and "disappointment". Indicate it's touch-and-go that Something Serious might happen. Wheel out a contrite footballer mumbling some psycho-babble about personal growth and responsibility. Announce some minor restrictions (a curfew!) with regards to that one player. Wait a few days and finally, keep fielding him as if nothing has happened.

Of course, any pretensions of shock or surprise that Didak could involve himself with undesirables while attending Spearmint Rhino were severely undermined by comments made by club president Eddie McGuire last year in an earlier Didak court scandal:

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. (The Speccy, 10/10/2006)

That's right: Eddie specifically used attendance at Spearmint Rhino as an example of bad behaviour for an AFL player. Sadly, Eddie only banned his players from attending strip clubs after this sordid incident. It begs the question: why did Eddie link Didak to Spearmint Rhino - by name - in October last year? When Did Eddie find out that Didak attends this particular venue? Why did he allow Didak to attend this venue after specifically naming it in this way? Let's hope that someone with more clout than us puts these question to Eddie for a response.

Treating dangerous and bad men like children - curfews and alcohol bans indeed! - will only further infantalise them and encourage them into stupid cat-and-mouse games of monitoring and enforcement. ("Ooh ooh! I saw Didak with a beer at 12:30am!") If these scumbags don't know that it's wrong to beat up women, to hang out with bikies in strip clubs, to involve themselves with gunplay and drugs and organised crime figures, then they shouldn't be on the team. You cannot contract them into being ethical human beings who can represent their clubs with honour.

Unfortunately, most AFL fans have accepted that a number of senior and feted AFL stars have a long-standing relationship with bikies and career criminals. Drugs. Cash. Women. Violence. A match made in heaven. But it's a testament to the basic goodness of the Australian sports-loving public that Didak was repeatedly booed by the large crowd at his first match since his connection went public. (I choose to believe that this included even the die-hard toothless Collingwood fans.)

However, the public needs to go further to signal our discontent. Club officials and players are in a dangerous game of brinkmanship here, seeing how far they can push before we push back. The only language they speak is numbers: crowd attendance and club memberships. The AFL Player Spectator is calling on true football fans to ask themselves the following questions:
  • Has footballer behaviour improved since they started not needing real jobs anymore?

  • Are you consistently proud of they way your club's players deport themselves in public?

  • Has it been good for the game - or the players themselves - that footballers receive hundreds of thousands of our dollars a year in cash?

  • Does the behaviour you see week-in week-out reflect the values you'd like to see in your club?

  • Given the current AFL and club leadership, do you think it will get better or worse while the money continues to roll in?

  • Isn't there a local amateur competition in your area that could do with your support instead?

For years we've watched this rancid culture grow under the nurturing environment provided by professional footy. Enough is enough. We urge Australians to take a break from attending AFL club matches and writing cheques for membership. Please, redirect your energy, support and cash to a local competition. If, at the end of this season, the bean-counters at the AFL clubs actually see a blip in their figures, maybe - just maybe - we'll see some real changes in attitudes that will secure the long-term interests of the game.

*** UPDATE ***

Alan Didak has agreed to give evidence against his drinking buddy and sometime-driver, Christopher Wayne Hudson (formerly of the Hells Angels motorcycling enthusiasts group). While this move is to be commended, there are doubts about Didak's credibility:

Collingwood footballer Alan Didak was with Hudson on the morning of June 12, when shots were allegedly fired from a black Mercedes at a factory in suburban Campbellfield.

The court heard that Didak would offer evidence he was with Hudson on the night of the factory shooting.

It heard forensic evidence would link the firearm in the Campbellfield shooting to the CBD shooting.

However, Hudson's lawyer Theo Magazis told the committal mention hearing Didak's credibility was "very much in issue". (The Age, 7/11/2007)

While it's unlikely that the prosecution's case hinges on Didak's evidence, it does highlight the potential problems that arise when footballers' underworld experiences are "managed" by club spin-doctors.

Citations: The Age, 18/6/2007; The Speccy, 10/10/2006; The Age, 7/11/2007

Word Count: 1720

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  • You are right to say that the further infantilisation of AFL players will only lead to more trouble. I also hope that people don't forget too quickly the terrible details of Alan Didak's "Bogus jouney" either.

    By Blogger Nick, at 6:33 pm, July 18, 2007  

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  • Great to see you keepin' up the good work, Greg.

    I hope to read your thoughts on the recent video featuring has-beens Michael Voss and Steven Lawrance, and current champions Simon Black and Fraser "The Pee-Train" Gehrig. The assault cases will go to court next month but Voss's lawyer wants the case thrown out as the CCTV footage was leaked is detrimental to his clients getting a "fair hearing".

    Living in Melbourne you've no doubt heard about this but in a nutshell it involves;

    *ejection froma fairly popular Melbourne pub

    * forcefully shoving a woman to the ground

    *king hitting

    *hitting people with their hands in the pockets; AND


    Can't wait to read your thoughts and commentary!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:32 pm, July 18, 2007  

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  • Thanks for the comments.

    Yes, for what it's worth I had a quick spray on that footage here, but we're still "experiencing technical difficulties" so it's not showing up on the Update feed.

    I also joined the fray over at YouTube, where the footage was aired, to vent my disappointment.

    There's nothing like seeing a 100kg millionaire pushing a girl to the floor to make you realise the kinds of people we're dealing with here.

    By Blogger Greg, at 11:09 pm, July 18, 2007  

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  • Well done, Greg.

    I was wondering when you were going to have a go at this sordid tale, and may I just say, you didn't disappoint.

    By Blogger Dikkii, at 1:02 pm, July 23, 2007  

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  • hello?

    Your records of shame against AFL players obviously date back several years. I'm sure that even people with your pea-sized brains would understand that that means your smear campaign is based on a population base of thousands of individuals. Your accusations are directed at 10 or so individuals - or < 1% of players. Since you are armed with such a vast database of information, perhaps you could tell your readers what the percentage of such misdemeanors is for the population at large. Make sure that your provide reliable evidence of your figures if they are to be taken seriously. The truth is that the incidence of such misdemeanors is about the same for AFL players as it is for the male population at large. Again, make sure you provide reliable evidence. And that does not include anecdotal evidence.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:26 pm, January 09, 2008  

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  • I think Anonymous above is missing the point. AFL players receive great adulation and are unavoidably role models for the youth of Australia. In exchange, they are paid large wages which derive directly from the large size of their audience. Therefore, not only should their behavior be better than the general population, it should be beyond reproach. There is no room for people like this in sport.

    Would you like your teachers behaving like this? If not, then you should wonder why you're OK with sportsmen behaving this way. An average kid will try to emulate the sportsman well before they try to emulate the teacher.

    Complete idiot.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:50 pm, August 16, 2008  

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