Patrick Fitzgerald loads up again for his take on yet another “big week in sport”.

Speaking of crocodile tears just how many have been shed this week in the name of a money hungry, lying, cheating former Test captain who disgraced his country and the game he represented?

If I didn’t know better I could have been mistaken for thinking a cricket hero in his prime had died in a plane crash. Now Steve Waugh is an outstanding caring worldly man even if he can’t stop his own team from sledging or won’t! But while condoning his players looking to exploit mentally fragile South African players with well honed insults that no longer necessarily remain on the field, Steve took his diplomacy to another level with his “let’s remember the good things” when assessing the ultimate sanction against South African captain Hansie Cronje.

The fact is whatever good he did was more than cancelled out by the bad and trying to pretend otherwise is shamefully rewriting history. The man died a cheat and should be remembered as such. Despite his public utterances of contrition when he went to court to keep himself out of jail, little he said or did since indicated he was truly contrite for what he had done and if anything considered himself victimised. It’s somewhat ironic that Waugh looks for the good in Cronje while he and his team look for the bad when it comes to mental disintegration of their opponents on the field. Guys either be nice or be villains, which as Adam Gilchrist found last week there’s nothing quite like a bit of bad press to bring you back to your senses. But unfortunately our mouthy cricket team gets away with murder on the field while another is killed away from it.

It doesn’t say much for out future reputation and everything for our win at all costs attitude when Waugh’s successor Ricky Ponting said this week that he was shocked when South African batsman Graeme Smith went public and graphically described a series of Australian sledges against him, to back up earlier similar charges from another team mate Justin Ontong.

Ponting tended to agree with cricket writer Robert Craddock (nothing like a supportive theory from the cricket scribes) that maybe Australians did have a different interpretation of what is an offensive sledge:

“Maybe that is the case because we certainly didn’t think anything that was said to Justin Ontong was personal,” said Ponting warming to the concept. “They must have a different thought about what personal things are.” Yeah right Ricky and Mike Tyson is a vegetarian!

Another elite player fallen from grace (and it’s all his own work) is former Test opener Michael Slater. While Slater has seemingly just managed to hang on to an extension of his NSW Cricket Association contract, it would seem his way back to international cricket is now further away than ever. What’s the betting that not too many of his former international team-mates are hitting the Wailing Wall in sympathy?

Cricket sure knows how to eat its own as at least a couple of Victorian “has-beens” can now be officially confirmed as such. Colin “Funky” Miller in virtually the space of 18 months went from being voted Test Cricketer of the Year, to a very unfunky sacking at 38 as surplus to requirements with his contract not renewed. Miller, despite his colourful and late entry to the highest level of the game, can be thankful he at least got a crack when much better players had been and gone long before he played his first Test, while they played zip.

The same for fast bowler Damien Fleming, also given his marching orders after the controversial appointment of David Hookes as Victorian coach. While still best remembered for belting Tony Greig for five consecutive fours in one over of the Centenary Test on debut, he is now better known as a media pundit. With Eddie McGuire-like dexterity, Hookes is hoping to juggle both roles. I don’t quite know how you can be a fearless media pundit required to both praise and bag major sport and its combatants when you will be coaching some of them.

Should Shane Warne come off the rails at some point we await with interest Hookes telling radio blast advising Warne “to pull his head in”. Then again if Allan Border can be an Australian selector and be thought to still make a reasonable contribution to a Foxtel cricket panel without bagging his own players there’s hope for Hookes yet.

LITTLE LLEYTON IS NO FLOWER CHILD

Some of our media thought our “Lleyton” was a little hard done by when the crowd booed him off the court after he lost his fourth round French Open match following the odd temper tantrum. It was pointed out his Argentinean opponent Guillermo Canas wasn’t exactly a choirboy during the marathon four set slugfest. Yeah, but he didn’t attack a courtside flowerbed of innocent geraniums like Freddie Krueger. I’m no shrinking violet but what did those geraniums ever do to him?

But to Hewitt’s credit, he didn’t seem to be playing a loaded media game that Age tennis correspondent Linda Peace all but spelt out post defeat on Tuesday. Her strong inference was that perhaps Hewitt might have been a victim of the dark side of tennis. Namely Argentine players and positive performance enhancing drug tests coinciding with what Pearce described as “the quite remarkable Argentine improvement in recent years”. Pearce observed that Canas was displaying “some kind of Superman” quality to outlast Hewitt who had spent all his petrol tickets by the deciding set…and this after Canas had come through a previous ferocious battle that lasted almost four and a half hours.

When the media asked Hewitt about any doping suspicions given Canas’ superior strength and endurance “hasn’t crossed my mind at all” he responded. How come the Australian media doesn’t run that kind of microscope over certain of our own international sports people some of whom seems to blow up and down like Michelin men or girls? Don’t give me this bull about weight programmes and intensive training putting on that kind of bulk. So are we supposed to assume that just maybe poor old Lleyton lost to a laboratory, and he really does like flowers?

Couldn’t possibly lose fair and square!

SAM AND CRACKERS – A CUNNING STUNT?

Perhaps the less said about the purported grudge boxing challenge between two middle-aged former AFL “personalities” not unfamiliar with the media and hyperbole in its fullest flowering, the better. Suffice to say, why was I not the slightest bit surprised when after freely trading media insults at each other including the usual legal threats, one bothered to challenge the other to settle their differences in the ring? I was even less surprised when the other accepted. This is a stunt that is surprising only for the fact that one of them doesn’t need it and the other just as surely does.

Anyone who might actually end up paying to see either of these two exchanging glancing blows should get a life. For the rest of us we can sit back and watch it on THE “Footy Show”…which is really what it’s all about with at least the bigger idiot figuring it might somehow resurrect his sagging media career. Sorry Crackers but you really are yesterday’s man while Sam still has a few years left in the media motor…if not a few inches on you when you get in the ring! Still, those who profess to know reckon the younger and much bigger Keenan will prevail.

Do we care? No…only getting off on the freak value of people who should know better bothering to mount such a tawdry stunt in the first place.

Also, without wishing to be perceived as a Sam basher, his rather gay parody of Bruce McAvaney and the Talking Footy team on the Footy Shows was on a par with the snide and totally tasteless (no pun intended) use of Sydney Swans footage from their change room of a little nasal excavation taking place. There is even a limit to bad taste on the Footy Show, but this was just about as tacky as you could get.

Buckley responded that the footage was “jus-SNOT-on” (i.e. “just not on” but with the emphasis on the “snot”), somewhat ambiguously seeming to condemn the intrusion but also apparently adding to the “gag”.

So we hope Buckley was appalled and what is more the AFLPA should be hauling Channel Nine over the coals, along with the AFL because no one can argue that such intrusive TV that holds one player up to such personal ridicule advances the cause of football. In fact it shows total contempt for a player and right to some privacy within the sanctity of a dressing room.

AYRES AND OTHER COACHING CHAIRS?

Never take anything for granted in the AFL and Adelaide Crows coach Gary Ayres is dead right about not wanting to wait until end of season to find out if his contract will be renewed.

But not because as he points out he needs to do much forward planning as required for next season. Otherwise Sydney would be in the same boat by taking their time with their next appointment which won’t be Rodney Eade. Far more concerning for Ayres is that Adelaide despite his relative success this season might be looking for a fresh face regardless. If that was the case he also needs to throw his hat into the ring with other clubs like Sydney so who can blame him for not wanting to die wondering?

But this is a dangerous game. What if Adelaide keeps winning and finish top four? It’s a brave club that gets rid of a winning coach after that kind of season. But who knows what is at the back the Crows lack of action on re-appointing Ayres at this point. Maybe it’s called not getting ahead of yourself and for that you can read Richmond and Hawthorn at one end of the scale, and the Saints and Freo at the opposite end. Sydney clearly would be keen to get Dennis Pagan from next year and although the Melbourne press believe the master coach is far more likely to remain at Arden Street, consider some other aspects to encourage a Pagan move to join the Sydney heathens.

Despite the optimists, the Kangaroos’ best days are behind them and while Sydney hardly have a glorious future beckoning they could comfortably commit to Pagan for a minimum three years and at probably twice the begging price to be offered by North. Tellingly, Pagan threw it back to a TV reporter when questioned the other night about his “speculated” 15% haircut he would be asked to take in return for being given wider powers to build a dynasty. “Would you take a 15% pay cut or pay increase”, Pagan asked? But someone needs a reality check when you start linking the word dynasty with Kangaroos and throw in future tense. Increasingly they are going backward financially at an alarming rate.

Their supporter base is imploding. The 34,000 odd who bothered turning up to watch their home game against Essendon last Friday was a massive wake-up call given the Bombers’ normal following. This is the tip of the iceberg for the frosty future of North. In fact their future lies north, whether it’s as far south as Canberra or as far north as Southport.

It would appear their only hope for survival is relocation and they won’t have a bar of it. But it’s marvellous how flexible you can be with your travel arrangements when you are asked to walk the plank.

Perhaps Pagan’s pride is such that he will only stay for at least a similar package (no haircut) but against that is Sydney or even Adelaide able to afford a lot more and a fresh start after years of nuts and bolts financial survival among the desperate at Arden Street. There is also another big kicker for Pagan in Sydney and that’s the prospect of earning significantly more money to be made in off-field activities as Swans coach in a one-team town than the corporate bargain basement of North. Same applies to Adelaide and it’s not just appealing to the better instincts of Pagan, but he has a family to consider in consolidating his long-term future.

There is one other potential major plus or minus for Pagan and only he knows? Wayne Carey looks to be a certainty to saddle up with the Swans next year. Their marketing department is praying for it, their chairman should salivate at such a coup regardless of the spoilt goods and don’t worry about Carey not being capable of perhaps another two or three years still at the top. Rested and fit after a good lay off he should come roaring back with all of Sydney waiting to be the King’s castle. Fans there will view his careless affair as more a blip than a bleep!

The AFL will happily do whatever it takes to get Carey to the Swans because they know the fickle Sydney media would see Carey as the legitimate successor to the last football god who came their way from AFL…. and he’s a Wagga boy to boot. Carey together with Barry Hall would send a few shivers down the spines of their rivals. Carey and Sydney is a marketing and player marriage unlike no other for the now struggling Swans. His ex-coach would be the icing on the cake. But if not Pagan then the likes of Gary Ayres might be a ready replacement for Sydney, and surely the Swans will not want to be sitting on their hands until the Crows have run their race…but that’s exactly what they appear intent on doing with Eade at least until the finals.

How about Pagan for Sydney, Eade to North, and Ayres maybe back to Hawthorn if they don’t get a lot better soon? Still chances are Pagan will stay loyal and re-sign for a crack at that dynasty but I know what I would be doing if I was in his shoes.

At least now one club is starting to look like it is stabilising its coaching beyond this season and this will come as a tremendous shock to the Australian’s Patrick Smith. From day one he has been on the case of St Kilda’s Grant “Cornflakes” Thomas. Now Thomas with the Saints kids kicking on and senior players coming back from injury, what was looking tragic just a fortnight ago is now even being whispered as a possible late charge for the finals. As they like to say “gee a fortnight’s a long time in footy!”

What a turn up that would be for Smith though! Might just qualify him for a lifetime supply of All Bran because the effect is bound to be similar. Go Cornflakes.

At least Carlton don’t have that problem to worry about…that is, they don’t have to worry about getting the shits because they’re already giving them to their fans. The only questions that remain for them are all of the variety that makes the rest of the competition enjoy the asking.

Will they actually avoid the wooden spoon for the first time in their proud history? But wait – there’s more. Carlton has never gone through a season without winning at least one home game and you have to go all the way back to 1897 their first ever year in the competition for that solitary win. Thank you to the ABC caller who wanted to know the answer to that possibility.

So with just two more game fixtures at Optus Oval against West Coast and Port Adelaide it is conceivable that they could do just that…and finish last. No way will John Elliott ride that sort of year out and waffle on about a smooth transition of power. He will be gone but not before he’s smart enough to fall on his waterwheel rather than be voted out or stabbed by his own board!

But then you just don’t know when it comes to Big Jack. A season is a helluva long time in footy, particularly when you are going to be spending some of it in court! Maybe he can escape the noose? Nah…he’s gone!

EXTENDED AFL SEASON NEXT YEAR…BELIEVE IT!

The AFL wants it, TV more or less wants it, some clubs do and some clubs don’t. But the players will only agree if they get more money. Play an extra two regular season games while the pre-season Cup competition disappears. That’s the prospect for next year with an extended home and away season stretching to 24 games. But somebody has to pay and right now nobody wants to fork out the estimated extra $2.5 million to compensate the players.

But as the season now unfolds and trends become more noticeable it would seem there is every reason to believe that a combination of falling attendances, greater access to the number of live or slightly delayed TV games particularly in the Melbourne heartland, is seeing declining membership and attendances across the board. But isn’t the season already long enough and as the Herald Sun observed yesterday, not only are people becoming more selective about going to games even those with club memberships, but you really can have too much of a good thing. Still, it does move the season closer to a fairer draw and in the end it may be that ultimately the best interests of football can only be truly served when every team plays each other twice. But this will never happen with 16 teams. It would certainly help the draw if a couple of teams fell over but history shows that teams that disappear rip the heart out of supporters and often those fans are lost to the game for life. Like Kevin Sheedy, I think you can’t afford to lose those fans.

So I don’t think we will ever have an equitable draw without two or more teams going. But unlike Mr Crikey, as a betting man I would predict you can kiss the pre-season goodbye and the AFL will find the money under a bush somewhere and we will have a 24 game 2003 season.

STORM CLOUDS GATHERING

The Melbourne Storm is essential to any semblance of maintaining the myth that is the National Rugby League. For that reason News Corporation has seen fit to continue to maintain its existence. But for how much longer with not only declining crowds but also an under performing team? And now it seems a very unhappy team since captain Robbie Kearns was sacked as captain.

Club management spoke of the need for a team shake-up, and poor form of Kearns as the reason but this hardly seems worth the trouble it is now causing. His replacement Rodney Howe while a top player comes with the baggage of a 22-week suspension for steroid abuse in 1998 and last year was ready to quit the club and move to the UK. He’s also been rather reckless with multiple suspensions for rough play. Is this the pay-off for staying as has been speculated?

Such drastic mid-season leadership change appears to have been severely underestimated in its impact on the player group generally and this may come back to haunt management when they start preaching the value of loyalty as they embark on re-signing talent beyond this season. But that’s presuming News is willing to continue to help bank the Melbourne experiment and whatever else Stephen Mayne says about the Herald Sun and its editor, from where I sit, full marks to the paper for not sweeping this current crisis of confidence under the table by fully reporting and leading the debate on why Kearns got the flick and its poor timing.

The Storm needs to lift its game in every area and just maybe the real story is that if the team doesn’t pull the finger out and start winning and getting the fans back through the turnstiles, they’ll all be looking for employment elsewhere soon enough. Maybe the management knows this and figures it has little to lose and everything to gain by giving the team a very nasty wake up call because this year is make or break in Melbourne?

If the Storm were to disappear the call for a Melbourne Super 12’s team would grow ever louder except the Kiwis are even less likely to come to the party now and sanction such expansion.

Still, with a World Cup to come and South Africa on side, who knows how Australian Rugby might yet apply the thumbscrews to make New Zealand play ball? They can always threaten to get Qantas to buy Air New Zealand and then not fly the Kiwi teams anywhere…that could work?

CHEWING THE FAT OVER “OUR” JELENA

This week on ABC’s ‘The Fat’, I think it was Peter Wilkins who pointed out how pathetic it is that long after Jelena Dokic declared she no longer called Australia home, the media still insists on calling her “former Australian player” and so it goes. He’s so right. Get over it. But not Channel Seven’s Wednesday’s 6.30pm French Open report. Sure enough Jim Wilson rolled out the tired old cliche51. She’s gone Jim, trust us!

ANTHONY MUNDINE ALSO CRACKS THE FAT

Unfortunately mega mouth and bubble brain Anthony “I’m The Ham” Mundine has been again peddling his impersonation of an athlete on The Fat before stopping another bum in what is laughingly called a boxing match. Now it appears a sizeable portion of the Aboriginal community he purports to care so much about, reckon their brother needs another good bashing which is pretty hard to organise while he keeps fighting nobodies.

By the way, is there any sport Fat panellist Rebecca Wilson isn’t prepared to bluff her way through as either knowing something blindingly original or insightful about?

And while we’re on about TV types did we perceive a noticeable lift in Stephen Quartermaine’s Saturday night football call for Channel 10? Certainly seemed so after we gave him a burst. Next thing you know Dermott Brereton will stop trying to continually predict plays ahead of the game to show everyone how much he knows.

SPORTSBRAND

The company once known as Sportsworld, which had numerous major positions across the whole sphere of Australian sport, is no more and what little was left has, and is, being carved up and sold off by the Receivers. Doing a Kerry Packer, much like Elite Sports Properties and buying back the farm after divesting your original company interests, the founder of Sportsworld Jeff Chapman, has stepped up to the plate to buy (cheaply) the local TV production interests of the company he successfully ran for many years before selling out his interests for a lot of loot a few years back.

Now he’s snapped up operations out of Melbourne, Auckland and Dubai and is concentrating his efforts on the company’s core area of sports TV production via the newly named Sportsbrand.

Chapman is laughing all the way to the bank, but like Packer, he has done nothing wrong as he looks to take advantage of market forces and a chance to make a pile in TV sport all over again.

And in case you missed it, here’s Patrick’s sports snorts from last week…

Eddie McGuire under the media microscope more than ever over his many hats

Everyone seems to be getting on Eddie McGuire’s case these days including Eddie, but we did notice one very interesting little aspect to the spirited defence of Eddie yesterday by none other than the Australian’s Patrick Smith. Indeed not unlike this writer he has observed that there does now seem to be something of a herd mentality developing over all things Eddie, or as the sub saw it:

“Everyone’s Doing a Job on Eddie for Doing His Job”. That’s the kind of head Patrick should be proud of.

But given we now know as of Tuesday that Eddie has an aversion to leaks at his expense, where does he stand on leaks that could conceivably benefit someone coming to his defence? While it is open to speculation as to the source of the following leaked information to Patrick Smith, I have assumed it’s leaked for however else could he acquire such precise information? Information that when published in his column yesterday, muddies the waters of Lane’s public stance on his withdrawing from commentating with McGuire as Collingwood president. By printing the following Smith has managed to deflect the principle of Channel Nine having reneged on a legitimate contractual obligation, into a grab for big bucks by way of compensation. Quite a spoiler!

“His lawyers remain embroiled in delicate negotiations with Channel Nine as Lane seeks a contract payout of as much as $600,000. Bizarre.”

You can bet Lane’s lawyer didn’t leak this figure and given the normally confidential nature of any legal settlement in progress, did anyone spot Collingwood’s precise asking price as to what was considered an equitable settlement in the 5AA defamation being bandied about during negotiation? I might suggest Lane has more right to feel his confidentiality has been breached in this regard than Eddie’s angst over being dobbed in for squealing about an AFL web site poll? What would Eddie choose to do if he knew the identity of the person who leaked this dollar figure to Smith? On the other hand maybe Patrick just took a wild guessbut then that would be something else again wouldn’t it?

“Blackened” Blatter returned by a landslide for another four years

In the end the man who has promised to do all he can to deliver to Oceania direct qualification to the next World Cup didn’t so much win as leave most of his powerful FIFA executive wondering what it all means? Sepp “promise them anything” Blatter is now expected to come good on his delivery to this neck of the woods after Oceania cast their block vote for his retention.

But he is facing examination by the Swiss Courts for serious financial irregularities that if just a fraction of what is alleged was true he either needs a good lawyeror a better banker? Given the Swiss banking code of omerta and the fact that this most powerful of sporting officials is also one of their own, I really can’t see much happening ultimately that Sepp can’t explain away.

But if Australia thinks it’s on its way to the next World Cup, don’t hold your breath now he’s got his four years. As it turned out, he didn’t need our vote anyway. And knowing us, those pesky Kiwis are just itching to give us one back after we stole the Rugby World Cup from their unclean stadiums.

Ireland World Cup captain Roy Keane gets booted and no one in Ireland is laughing

Roy Keane is the bolshie captain of one of the two greatest teams in world football. You would think that all that time under the glare of the most intense spotlight with Manchester United would allow him to treat his time at the World Cup as captain also of his country, as a walk in the park. Seems he’s taken a leaf from Posh Spice and loves to moana lot! Now he’s off the park completely.

Unfortunately when Roy decided to blow a fuse and then some, he didn’t spare his manager in front of the team as he let rip with a monumental serve. Now he’s back home in disgrace having been told to get on his bike and rather than his adoring Irish fans begging forgiveness so that “rude” Roy will once again lift a nation’s spirits, they figure they’re better shot of him. Just like the manager and his team-mates who regard playing for your country as a privilege, not an excuse to show what a dickhead you are.

But here’s the sad truth. When the time comes to write his next tome “Keane as Mustard” he will get a far fatter advance because he’s been such a twat. File under Shane Warne.

Adam Gilchrist gets the blues

And oh yes Adam Gilchrist must be the only footy fan unaware that AFL president’s lunches are on the record even if the Carlton one is usually a stuck one! And while we’re bagging Carlton (and why shouldn’t we while they’re mired on the bottom), seems when Big Jack decided it was time for a change and Wes Loftes was stepping aside as Football Director for Stephen Kernahan, Jack forgot to tell “Sticks”. That Big Jackwhat a lad!

Plugger gets back

Despite the doom and gloom merchants Plugger is back in the big time this weekend. Just maybe if they had taken a risk last weekend the big fella might have risen to the occasion as champs are know to do? But the reality still shapes as one that suggest the Lockett comeback was a fantasy gone wrong. Gee Crikey would love to see him kick a bag against Collingwood but as Stadium Australia showed last weekend fairy tales rarely come true!

Australian soccer shambles gets cornered

Four Corners must be getting ratings fever. Two footy probes in about six weeks or so must be an ABC record of some kind?

While the usual suspects were trotted out and some others were spoken to but never made it to camera, fortunately a few Crikey favourites scored some airtime. But we reserve our special praise for the on-camera performance of former NSW Liberal Party Director, Remo Nogarotto.

Nogarotto who helped put together the original Northern Spirit NSL franchise which at one point could be viewed as technically insolvent, has since been rewarded for his efforts by now chairing the all but insolvent National Soccer League. The NSL as the country’s premier soccer league operates under the auspices of the all but insolvent Soccer Australia. Its chairman is another former Liberal head kicker Ian Knop. Knop was elevated after stabbing his old boss in the back with a mandate to steer Australian soccer back to solvency. It’s marketing partner IEC which is presently suing SA might argue the jury is still out on that one!

The Four Corners program makes it clear that if IEC was to succeed in getting a significant settlement against SA over a long-standing rift concerning commercial deals entered into by a previous SA administration (with ties to Labbozeta on both sides of the fence), the game could virtually be left bankrupt.

So we have the current chairman of SA trying to sift through the corporate wreckage of Australian soccer after decades of neglect, incompetence and accusations of fraud and corruption ringing around the game and some of its leading protagonists. Even SA’s own recent report into its current problems acknowledges its past incompetence in agreeing concurrent conflicting commercial deals for Internet as well as a well-honed ability alienating sponsors. Who better to right the sinking SA ship therefore than Knop who was previously a staggering success as failed politician and chairman of the insolvent Canberra Cosmos NSL club. Is there a recurring theme to all of this?

Well let us not beat ourselves to death on that point except to add Jeff Kennett was a little bit more modest in providing some insight into how he, Nogarotto and Knop, and even the odd Labor pal like former Soccer Australian chairman, David Hill, last August helped orchestrate or more precisely ambush then Soccer Australia supremo, the remarkably resilient former Club Marconi president Tony Labbozeta. The man who most frequently now wears the blame from so many in soccer for its past ills.

Following an earlier Four Corners program on the sins of soccer in 1994, the Australian Soccer Federation commissioned an inquiry headed up by Justice Donald Stewart. He recommended then that Labbozeta should cease to be a Soccer Federation commissioner and that he shouldn’t in future hold office in the organisation or in any other soccer body. But it wasn’t until the election of David Hill in 1995 as new SA chairman following a nice handball from fellow NSW Labor cohort Neville Wran, that Hill went hard at Labbozeta who was forced to stand down from the board.

Typically though Labbozeta never went very far and by February 2001, he was not only back but running the whole show! That is until that fateful night of August 3rd, last year when the final pieces of a well-orchestrated coup fell into place. Earlier Labbozeta somewhat unwisely had called for a spill for a fresh election of the board of SA so he could get rid of recalcitrant board members and replace them with his ticket. During what Four Corners rightly shows to be a very dirty campaign, the gloves were off and some very handy operators got to work to ambush Labbozeta.

The previously loyal Labbozeta number two, deputy chairman Ian Knop was persuaded to secretly switch camps and head the rival ticket. So when South Melbourne President George Vasilopoulos took yet another pre-eve phone call from Jeff Kennett telling him to dump Labbozeta, poor George didn’t appear to be reading the numbers right. It took a typically withering warning from Jeff that he was backing the wrong horse and he had better ditch his old mate, for another decisive and symbolic nail to be hammered into Labbozeta’s coffin. Classic political treachery was used to outsmart Labbozeta and for the likes of Kennett, Hill and Wranthis was one sweet victory. To this day and on Four Corners Labbozeta still has difficulty coming to terms with the fact that Knophis friend who he invited to his 60th birthday, did him in and he didn’t see it coming.

So an assorted bunch of Libs’ and Labor boot boys did over Labbozeta and installed the now management consultant Knop to help settle old scores and make with the new broom. But since then not much has changed. Soccer Australia is still a basket case, the NSL is full of clubs on the brink of being insolvent themselves, we again failed at the last hurdle of World Cup qualifying, and many of the usual suspects still help run the game. But now they also continue to cop the occasional broadside from Jeff. Kennett told Four Corner what the game basically needs is his kind of enema that will see the current set up go down the toilet and in its place appoint an AFL-style independent commission of high profile smart business people. He won’t say it but Jeff would probably fancy becoming the Ron Evans (AFL commission chief) of such a set up.

Be that as it may, our Jeff is absolutely right to make the case. It is the only palatable and responsible way for soccer to be run free of all the parochial self-interest that the game is constantly afflicted with. But the current SA board, the NSL and the State Federations just won’t cop voting themselves out of the equationor at least maybe not until they are officially broke if IEC prevails in its court battle?

So in the nine or so months since Knop has taken the SA chairman’s job, the game has lurched from one crisis to another and he appears no closer to saving the game from itself judging by his performance on Four Corners, along with his recent tirade against the idea of a Melbourne-based Asian backed team entering the NSL. He couldn’t even bring himself to agree he had been disloyal to Labbozeta. But if you wanted to look for the biggest goose on the show it had to be Nogarotto.

We simply don’t have the space to reiterate all the strange alleys his career has gone down including overseeing his own State party ending up about $3 million in debt by the time he moved on, but any reading of the program transcript from Monday should suffice to show why Nogarotto continues to face serious questions on his track record. It is somewhat ironic that he and Labbozeta who he succeeded as Club Marconi chairman in a bitter election battle are still dealing with past ghosts as they single-mindedly ploughed their own furrows in the game.

But to make it easy for you we at least include here a rather telling excerpt (which unfortunately can’t convey the personal charisma of the man) as Four Corners tried to get to the bottom of how Nogarotto came to leave the door open for four former Northern Spirit employees to invest in the then chronically under-funded NSL newcomer that was losing money hand over fist from 1998 through to 1999, when they got involved.

To read the full transcript of the program “Final Whistle” which investigates how Australian soccer on the field has been throttled by the performance of administrators off it, go to http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/s565607.htm

The reporter is Quentin McDermott.

RENE LICATA, (former director Northern Spirit): Crystal Palace was owned by a man called Mark Goldberg, and Mark Goldberg had made a lot of money through the stock markets through his interests in business, and launched his company on the stock market and made millions out of it.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Mark Goldberg invested $1.5 million in the new club. He asked his brother-in-law, accountant Allan Novis, to become the club’s finance manager, with Nogarotto at the helm. The biggest blow came when Mark Goldberg, the owner of Crystal Palace and Northern Spirit’s largest shareholder, went bankrupt. It meant there would be no further investment from him.

REMO NOGAROTTO: It was clear that, er, he wasn’t able to go on with it. And, er, local shareholders had to basically capitalise the business moving forward.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Nogarotto told Robbie Slater about Goldberg. But he left the door open for Slater and three fellow employees to invest — former Socceroo Graham Arnold, former England international Ian Crook, and former Socceroo physio Bill Collins.

ROBBIE SLATER: He said, “Oh, there’s so many investors that wanna get involved, and — and, er, we’re talking to this one, that one and all these ones.

I said, “Oh, well, Rem, you should, you should get me involved, you know, me and Arnie and that,” as a joke. And, ah, as it turned out, he, sort of, turned around and looked at me and said, “Oh, that’s not a bad idea.”

And it grew from there.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Did you persuade them to invest?

REMO NOGAROTTO: They sought independent advice on that investment.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: But were you encouraging them?

REMO NOGAROTTO: No. They quite fittingly sought and procured independent advice. It’s not my role to cajole or convince people. It is my role to ensure that they seek independent advice, which I indeed encouraged them to do and which they procured.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Did you warn them that the club was in trouble?

REMO NOGAROTTO: I encouraged them to seek independent legal advice. They were obviously aware of certain issues involving Mark Goldberg.

Um, that invitation to seek leg — legal advice was undertaken and, ah, yeah, I encouraged them.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Slater, believing his money would help secure the club’s future, took out a loan and bought shares worth $210,000.

He’s still paying off that loan, and his shares are worthless.

ROBBIE SLATER: We found out, later on, that, ah, our money went in, went into the club and virtually, a few days later, went out of the club.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Where did it go?

ROBBIE SLATER: To pay creditors.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Why?

ROBBIE SLATER: Because the club — as we found out later — was in, you know, massive — had massive problems, massive debts.

ALLAN NOVIS: (Finance Manager) I don’t know what was said to them or whatever, but they did put money into the club. And essentially it went in retiring debt.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: So the money — They were persuaded to invest. They put their money in and it went straight out again to pay the debts?

ALLAN NOVIS: Yes.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: What happened to their investment when they made it?

REMO NOGAROTTO: Well, their investment, as with the investment of every shareholder, went into the, er, running of the club.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Well, we’ve been told that it went straight out again to pay the debts.

REMO NOGAROTTO: Well, it went into the running of the club. Whether some of that cash went towards retiring creditors, ah, whether some of it was used as working capital moving forward, ah, it went into the running of the club.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Just after he made his investment, club physio Bill Collins had a rude awakening.

BILL COLLINS, (Director of Football, Northern Spirit) It was the following day that, er, a member of staff at that particular time come up and said to me, “Bill, don’t — I hope you haven’t put any money in here. I hear that you’re gonna invest in the club.”

And I said, “Well, yes, I have.”

And he said to me, “Look, the financial state that this club’s in at this particular time,” he said, “I would advise you not to do that.”

But unfortunately it was too late at that stage.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: What transpired in that conversation?

ALLAN NOVIS: Well, basically, he just asked me some questions.

I don’t remember specific questions.

And, um, well, I was just surprised that he made an investment.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Internal accounts obtained by Four Corners show that when Slater and Collins bought their shares, the club was making heavy losses.

The club made a loss of $2.8 million between June 1998 and May 1999.

Shareholders equity, then, was minus $1.1 million.

Those losses were pretty large, weren’t they?

ALLAN NOVIS: If the loss is funded and creditors are getting paid, then the company’s not insolvent.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: But it would be true to say that some of the bills were not being paid until Robbie and his friends invested in the club.

ALLAN NOVIS: Yes, from memory that would be true.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Remo Nogarotto insists that all the club’s creditors have now been paid off.

REMO NOGAROTTO: Robbie Slater and every other player has been paid.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Have they been paid their wages?

REMO NOGAROTTO: They have been paid their wages.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: In full?

REMO NOGAROTTO: In complete settlement.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: In full?

REMO NOGAROTTO: In f-f — Well, I’m saying to you, Robbie Slater has been paid his wages and is — has accepted settlement of his wages, yes.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: But he hasn’t been paid the full amount?

No, he has accepted a settlement of his wages.

Yes.

QUENTIN McDERMOTT: Robbie Slater’s settlement was, in fact, $12,000 out of the $27,000 he was owed.

Former club physio Bill Collins is still owed $19,000.

The troubled Northern Spirit now belongs to the Scottish club Glasgow Rangers.

Remo Nogarotto insists it’s a good outcome.

REMO NOGAROTTO: Reality is that the Northern Spirit did not fall apart. It was sold.

ABC Four Corners (2002)

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