If there’s one thing that can be said about football fans, it’s that they are extremely fickle.
It’s the highest offense of all when your club is portrayed in a negative light, yet when others are on the chopping block, the greatest sense of joy can be found.
The Melbourne Football Club’s tanking investigation has been muddied by public perception.
Contradictory to what everyone believes, the case of Melbourne’s guilt that they allegedly, that being the key word, lost games at the end of the 2009 season to collect the priority pick and second pick at the National Draft is not as open and shut as it has been made out to be.
First of all, the Melbourne Football Club itself will face no penalties as of the date when the charges were made public. Those who have been charged are three individuals whom are CEO Cameron Schwab, former head of the football department Chris Connolly and former coach Dean Bailey. Unless circumstances change or earth-shattering evidence comes to light, there are no charges or penalties that the club will receive.
Now comes an even more lucid point that needs to be made, clearing the air regarding whether Melbourne actually tanked in the first place and why football supporters accept this as fact without solid evidence proven via due process.
At the risk of jumping the gun, there is no known documentation, audio or solid admission of guilt that beyond reasonable doubt that convicts these three individuals or any other side in the history of football of throwing games on purpose, at least currently.
The only evidence that suggests that the Melbourne Football Club threw games of football on purpose is a Dean Bailey’s so-called ‘admission through gritted teeth’ at his final press conference as coach and Brock McLean’s ‘On the Couch’ interview, which he has now retracted and rectified his comments to the investigators.
Then we have the alleged existence of the vault meeting, in which Connolly allegedly instructed coaches to orchestrate losses in order to secure draft picks. As the case has played out, no one as of yet has been able to verify with evidence or an admission of guilt that a) such a meeting ever took place and b) instructions were given to tank.
What throws this even further into chaos is in the first half of the 2009 season, Melbourne finished with one win and 10 losses playing normally. After the alleged order had come in to throw games and ‘experiment with new game plans’, Melbourne then went on to win three and lose eight in the second half of the season. Bizarre behaviour for a team ruthlessly intent on getting a priority pick at the draft.
The infamous Richmond game, in which moves were allegedly made to throw the game at three-quarter time, ended with Melbourne in front when the siren went.
Other alleged evidence includes players and staff being disgruntled at being moved on at the end of the season, which again, doesn’t equal a grand conspiracy off the bat. Usually when a side finishes last on the ladder, a lot of people get turned over to rectify that bad a season.
The 800 pages of evidence also need to be looked at without jumping to ridiculous conclusions. 800 pages of evidence does not equal 800 pages of guilt, but shows that the AFL investigators want to give AFL prosecutors a wide enough sample before convicting senior officials of a serious offense, as well as avoiding a lengthy Supreme Court case if they get it wrong.
Such evidence is testimonies from employees which outline the day-to-day football operations at the Melbourne Football Club circa 2009, with some interviewed numerous times.
What muddies the water even further is the revelation that even the AFL isn’t entirely happy with the way AFL integrity officers Brett Clothier and Abraham Haddad handled the process, and have been accused of “pressuring” people into changing their initial statements.
This still doesn’t quell the widespread and misconceived notion that the three individuals being looked into are already guilty of tanking before due process has been able to judge that. Similar things are said of Hawthorn in 2004, Collingwood in 2005, Carlton in 2006 and West Coast in 2010. Opposition fans have perpetuated these myths in order to justify why other clubs ended up with a priority pick and picked up star players at the draft that their clubs missed out on.
Anyone close to football finds this case extraordinary and the instances of clubs tanking as absurd. This is because as they understand, in such a competitive field with high stakes, the manipulation of games in order to lose is unfathomable and goes against every fibre of their being.
Football fans would want to hope that they would view this in a more critical light, rather than working on blind assumptions that a grand conspiracy exists. If reasonable evidence shows that Schwab, Connolly and Bailey tanked on purpose and they are convicted after due process, then that’s fair enough and we can roast them on the open fire together.
However, until then, the entire case needs to be viewed in a completely objective manner. Fans of opposition clubs, who are revelling in the schadenfreude of the Dees’ situation, need to take a step back and view the evidence again detached from their personal affiliations.
The debate has turned into mudslinging and the court of public opinion should be adjourned until further notice.