The political turmoil around the Collingwood Football Club continues to build.
Jeff Browne has declared his intention to become president. In response, the club issued a strong statement rebuking him – good on them for coming out hard. It’s the first bit of genuine character this administration has shown. Unfortunately, though, scattered throughout the statement are some worrisome rejoinders.
For example, “coup” has become this administration’s watchword. Watch out! There’s a coup happening! First it was supporter David Hatley with his petition, and now it’s Jeff Browne. The club seems to think that if they use the word often enough, then they’ll engender sympathy or support or something or other. Me, personally? I’m just getting sick of the word.
Then you have the sixth paragraph, which reads:
“In any case, there is no vision, no ticket, no compelling strategy for you to consider or for us to step aside for. How could any board entertain a request to step aside without first knowing these things?”
I wholeheartedly agree with this. Well done, Mark Korda and company.
At the time this statement was released, Jeff Browne and his ticket had expressed none of this publicly.
A couple of days later, Jake Niall wrote an article in The Age entitled, “Magpies challenger outlines coach plan, rejects ‘power and privilege’ gibe”, which featured Jeff Browne talking about his plans.
Despite the article’s title, Browne said a lot but actually said very little: he rejected that he’s privileged, stated that Mark Korda was part of the administration that oversaw the salary cap debacle (this we already knew), that he couldn’t make a call on Buckley (neutral position) and that if they were to appoint a new coach, they’d go through a rigorous process to find the best candidate available.
Does that tell you anything you didn’t already know? Or which wouldn’t be the responsibility of any board? The only real insight was that Browne named which three members he’d carry over from the existing board (Jodie Sizer, Neil Wilson and Christine Holgate). I imagine the reason he disclosed this was to refute the club’s accusation of a lack of strategy.
Of course, as far as offering a vision for the future, Browne’s not beholden to me, the media, or anybody else, so he doesn’t need to tell us a thing. He might have detailed plans that he’ll release at a later date. But given the information we do have, I wouldn’t be falling all over this campaign just yet and hailing him Collingwood’s saviour. The only problem is that, at Collingwood, we do love our messiahs.
On the flip side, the incumbent board has also offered “no vision”. Do they stand for anything other than a perpetuation of everything we’ve known? If they don’t, that’s a concern. If they do, well, we’d like to know it – if they’d declared that from the moment Korda officially became the lone president, if he’d shown the Collingwood faithful he had a strong plan to lead Collingwood into the future, then this turmoil might’ve been avoided.
But whichever way you want to cut it and present it all, here’s the thing that not one of the powerbrokers seem to understand: the growing unrest in the Collingwood camp is not the product of current on-field fortunes, or even an accumulation of missteps over the last ten months.
This has been building for over a decade.
I know there remains a fanatical support towards Eddie McGuire. He saved the club – that’s the narrative, although two of the cornerstones of Collingwood’s rebuild early in his tenure (moving the club to the MCG, and the Emirates sponsorship) he inherited from the Kevin Rose administration, which has never been awarded the credit it deserves for safeguarding the club’s future. McGuire initially opposed the move to the MCG and, according to former board member and author of “Kill for Collingwood”, Richard Stremski, also originally opposed the Emirates sponsorship.
Still, after a spectacular decline in the 1990s, the first half of McGuire’s reign did see Collingwood rise in AFL ranks to become an on and off-field powerhouse, playing in the 2002 and 2003 grand finals, repeated finals campaigns and culminating with the 2010 flag.
Unfortunately, in the second half of his reign, McGuire unwittingly oversaw the club’s unravelling, which began with the succession plan. It hasn’t worked. That’s how simple this is. It hasn’t produced a flag (and close enough isn’t good enough – you can ask a litany of previous Collingwood grand final coaches about that).
All it’s actually done is driven the club to repeatedly go all-in on Nathan Buckley, like the administration have become obsessive-compulsive about validating the legitimacy of the succession, and if they have to break us all to do that then, by God, they’re going to give it a whirl.
That meant trading premiership heroes out, backing a rebuild during a time expansion clubs were monopolizing the best young talent in the country, and a four-year exile from the finals. While there might be counters about what Buckley inherited and what he had to contend with, there are also sliding doors arguments about what might’ve happened had the succession been postponed or cancelled.
The eventual payoff would’ve seemed to be skyrocketing up the ladder in 2018. Here’s what Collingwood were building to. All the pain would’ve seemed worth it. Well, almost. Since that grand final, the club’s on-field performances have gradually deteriorated, concluding with the eye-sores we’re witnessing today.
After the Geelong game, Buckley somehow had the temerity to advocate they were getting there. Now he’s telling us they don’t mean to be so defensive. It’s just the way things work out. With analytical breakdowns like that, I’m all for this regime! More of the same, please. Well, maybe not. Definitely not.
Throughout this entire block, we’ve also had various McGuire gaffes, such as comments about Adam Goodes, Caroline Wilson and Cynthia Banham, and some questionable explanations as to why they occurred. All the other club presidents combined in the last decade have not collectively made as many disastrous and distracting gaffes as McGuire had.
Also, just last year, we had McGuire come out hard against Covid breaches, only for vice-captain Steele Sidebottom to take an inebriated late-night excursion; McGuire then doubled down, only to have Buckley and assistant coach Brenton Sanderson decide to go out for a spot of tennis the very next day. McGuire can’t be blamed for how personnel let him down, but you would’ve thought he’d be a little more selective with pronouncements that could come back to bite him.
Then there have been administrative issues: Mick Malthouse rejecting the director of coaching position to which he signed, the revolving door of football managers, the left-field appointment of Graeme Allan (which drove football manager Neil Balme out), the big contracts to an ageing and struggling Daniel Wells, as well as to Chris Mayne, the overall list management, the contract back-ending and now this salary cap debacle that smacks of a scorched-earth policy.
To top it off, Graeme Wright is hinting that the salary cap issues aren’t quite untangled just yet, despite McGuire assuring us on Footy Classified that the cap’s in terrific shape. Next, he’ll probably declare a good source of nuclear power would be to fire Chernobyl back up.
Of course, all this has been part of McGuire’s post-presidency glibness when it comes to Collingwood. The latest offering is when he condescended to a concerned David Hatley on Footy Classified, like everything at the Pies was okay, when it obviously isn’t it. How many symptoms do you need before you diagnose issues? If Collingwood were a person, they’d be in the ICU.
Moreover, how can McGuire assert that everything he tried to ensure wouldn’t happen (the political upheaval) is now happening and yet be oblivious to the fact that he and the second half of his presidency – and many of the decisions he made or oversaw – are large motivators in all this? This hasn’t just emerged from nowhere. The iceberg that sank the Titanic was out there well before it came into view.
Also, how can Mark Korda have the audacity (or perhaps it’s just ignorance) to be indignant that anybody would dare to challenge his administration and repeatedly declaim them? And, finally, how can Jeff Browne expect anybody to jump on his coat-tails when we – the fans – are given zero indication that we’re not just going to get more of the same?
This is what I find the most galling, and the most disheartening.
I appreciate every club goes through problems. But Collingwood has had so many over the last ten years, and for what? Two years (2018-2019) of contention with a patchwork list? That’s our reward for enduring six years of a painful (and some deem unnecessary) rebuild, horrible on-field performances and a string of off-field issues?
And now we’re being asked to sit patiently and loyally through another rebuild and ignore everything that came before? We’re expected to give our unquestioning trust when this era has done nothing else but raise questions? Sure. Hand over that Kool-Aid. I’ll gulp it down. No problem at all.
Also, if Buckley was driving a cultural reinvention when he took over, where has it got the club? Jordan de Goey has had various indiscretions under Buckley’s watch. Jaidyn Stephenson had his betting transgression in 2019. Vice-captain Steele Sidebottom wandered drunkenly out into the night when strict COVID regulations were in place. Lachlan Keeffe, Josh Thomas and Sam Murray all had drug infringements. At least when these things were happening on Mick Malthouse’s watch, the team was winning.
Again, I appreciate every club will experience collective and individual lapses, but – and throwing in the result of the 2018 grand final – I don’t see anything dissimilar to what I’ve seen before with Collingwood. Where is the point of difference? Why is this the course we took? What have we built but more of the same?
And this is the thing – the thing that McGuire, Korda, Browne and any other potential candidate needs to get through their head: this has been a long, long, long time coming. There were already people who desired a fresh voice and a new direction prior to any of the most recent issues. But now others have joined the chorus and we’re worried that more of the same is on the horizon. To label us all simply as malcontents is to dismiss a very real problem.
Hatley continues to use the word “disconnected”.
The club doesn’t seem to be aware that over the last ten years, they have made a series of decisions that systematically but accumulatively divorced themselves from their core supporter base.
They’ve become a fiefdom in which they govern by their own laws, are answerable only to themselves (if there is indeed a genuine accountability), and see the rest of us only as vassals from whom they demand an annual tithe.
Well, that sort of behaviour was only going to last so long.
Here we are now: the revolution.
That’s why McGuire was forced to fall on his sword.
That’s why this petition is circulating.
That’s why Browne has emerged as a challenger.
It’s not a whim.
It’s not about current performances. They’re just symptomatic of greater problems.
And it’s not about change for change’s sake.
Many supporters are sick of what Collingwood’s become, the mechanisms that were implemented and choices that were made which drove the club to this point.
If there’s to be a bright new future, and if the supporters are to rebuild their trust in whoever leads the club, then Collingwood – as a whole – needs to do some soul-searching to work out why it’s come to this, what they truly want to be about, and where they want to go in the future.