The Age’s chief football writer Caroline Wilson loves to dish it
out and last night she was set upon by various AFL luminaries on Eddie
McGuire’s Footy Show. Patrick Fitzgerald assesses the motives, outcome and damage.
Hawthorn coach
Peter Schwab was sacked as club coach on Wednesday, after his club has
endured a nightmare season, and now faces a looming election battle for
control of the club.

But
the surprise was not that the club after many announcements to the
contrary gave Schwab the bullet a year early while also paying out his
2005 contract estimated at $300,000, but the lame manner in which word
leaked out even before the players themselves were told and news
conference convened.

This led Hawthorn captain Shane Crawford to comment perhaps too
honestly on hearing the news from media, that the players being kept in
the dark seemed fairly typical of a club all at sea at present. Chief Age football writer Caroline Wilson was unimpressed by his response when she wrote in yesterday’s Age:

Crawford’s
initial televised response was – as has become his habit of late – all
about Shane Crawford. His coach had been sacked from a club that has
been his home for the best part of 27 years and for whom he had played
in three premiership teams. And yet when confronted by a television
camera, the captain of the club could only bleat about how
disappointing it was for the players not to have been told first before
the media had turned up at the club.

He even criticised the club, implying the Hawks were unprofessional in
their handling of the situation, which was a bit rich given the
headaches Crawford has caused the club of late.

And of course, Crawford earns at least double the amount that Dicker
will be paying out Schwab. It is believed that more than one club
official spoke to Crawford regarding his petulance and advised him to
show more sensitivity in future.

She
also wrote in the same article that club president Ian Dicker had taken
it on himself to seek to personally pay out the final year of Schwab’s
contract.

Last night on the Nine AFL Footy Show,
before discussing the Hawthorn crisis with Crawford, and club great and
board member Dermott Brereton, host Eddie McGuire clarified earlier
reporting claiming Ian Dicker, would pick up the estimated $300,000
final year pay out, was in fact wrong. It would be paid by the club. At
that point no mention was made of Wilson.

Years ago Footy Show viewers couldn’t tell if the hugely
entertaining slanging matches between one-time panelist and former
Hawthorn champ Jason Dunstall, and the show’s ubiquitous chief stirrer
Sam Newman, were actually those of two people who hated each other. Of
course it was all stage managed.

As
no doubt was the manner of the introduction last night of Caroline
Wilson into panel proceedings during the Crawford-Brereton segment,
that led to what looked and sounded very much like a Wilson witch-hunt.
The manner in which The Footy Show displayed its dark side,
also seemed to suggest that even the normally polished Eddie McGuire
stage-managed good cop-bad cop routine went a lot further than he might
have been anticipating? Eddie did his usual clever defence of a footy
journo being perhaps unfairly maligned on the one hand; while also
getting in a few comments to indicate his own displeasure with her, but
all the time working the sideline as the rest of the team put in the
boot apart from Brereton. As Wilson’s fellow Age scribe and
multi-media commentator, as well as being conflicted Hawthorn board
member and helping oversee the club’s deeply troubled football
department, Brereton finally spoke up for Wilson after everyone else
had got in their best blows.

As
with the Newman-Dunstall dust ups, viewers need to appreciate that what
often passes for outrageous comment, isn’t always as spontaneously
combustible as it might appear? Which is perfectly legitimate,
otherwise it would actually make the show far less dynamic without this
kind of strategic guidance. But you also need to understand that like
any such show, there are scripted gags and key lines faithfully
delivered by panelists to help kick start agreed topics to better
stimulate an unfolding panel “frission”. In no way does this emasculate
spontaneity once the pre-ordained touch points are in play, that then
allow for Sam and Eddie to pontificate on, or more often than not fire
up Newman’s invective against an intended target, while the panel also
put in their two bob’s worth! But essentially the Eddie and Sam tag
team plays good-cop, bad cop and that’s the symbiosis at the heart of
the show.

And so to last night when Caroline Wilson was put on the Footy Show
spit (again), but this time the panel really hammered her, and it’s
easy to see why when this season she has given Shane Crawford, Channel
Nine and the Footy Show and the totality of their network
relationship, a decent spray or three! How interesting that the panel
last night included two other players particularly, who along with
Crawford have been savaged in print by the redoubtable Wilson on more
than one occasion and clearly judging by last night’s comments deeply
resent her journalism. To his credit in best good cop tradition though,
McGuire did make the point at one stage when realizing his panel was
foaming at the mouth, to both players and Newman that they had to
accept criticism, and in Sam’s case, if you hand it out you can hardly
complain when you’re also being shot down.

Now all this makes for typical cod-panel dramatics that makes The Footy Show
so popular with its audience, even if it has shrunk somewhat from more
halcyon days, but still leaves its own network NRL rival trailing in
the ratings. But last night as you can judge from the following
transcript, Wilson was done over with some real venom. While Newman’s
contributions are typical, Fevola and Brown’s comments would have their
clubs cringing today, and it will be interesting to see if The Age responds to this kind of pack attack on Wilson in tomorrow’s paper.

Crikey
has put together a transcript of the show with reference to their
attacks on Wilson, but it’s also instructive to understand what led to
the simmering resentment of the likes of Fevola and Brown, as well as
the Footy Show and Nine, who have all been on the receiving end
of Wilson’s brand of hard hitting journalism. Yet it is Crawford for
whom Wilson saved her most fearsome criticism in her articles this
year. But perhaps it says something for him or more likely the wiser
counsel he is now receiving, that he left it to others last night to go
where chose not to follow.

It’s
also worth noting that Jason Dunstall, who like Brereton has various
media contracts, is also conflicted as a Hawthorn board member. Now in
what is becoming a contagion, he has been further elevated within the
Hawthorn camp to become acting interim CEO in the near future while the
club spends the next few months recruiting a new CEO.

THE CAROLINE WILSON FILES

Hawks fail to confront Crawford by Caroline Wilson, July 4, 2004

The
plan to televise Crawford’s “year in the life” documentary this week
has not helped his relationship with his club. The Hawks did not need
this now. Former premier and Hawk supporter Jeff Kennett spoke
pointedly last month about key club personnel and their slavish
devotion to Channel Nine. Kennett added that no one ever saw Nathan
Buckley clowning it up for his club president’s network.

Kennett was spot on. While Eddie McGuire is president and Mick
Malthouse coach at Collingwood, a documentary such as the one going to
air in three nights involving a Magpie would not have been allowed and
certainly not during the season.

So
many things have gone wrong at Hawthorn this year and yet no one
appears to have shown the initiative to confront the captain. “Shane,”
someone should tell him, “it’s not all about you. Your club is on the
bottom of the ladder. Everyone’s job is on the line here. Take some
responsibility and stop blaming everyone else.” But the Hawthorn
Football Club that would have done that is only a distant memory now.

Then later:

It is also
Crawford’s right to hit back at his critics, whether it be through his
own mouth or his mother’s. It is his right to muse over himself, his
girlfriends – as he did so strangely in his book last year – and his
sexuality. It is his right to flirt with and run away from groupies on
camera and walk around naked on national television. No one ever
expected him to be Michael Voss.

But it is also our right to again pose the question: Whatever happened to the Hawthorn Football Club?

Fevola’s rating dips by Caroline Wilson, May 25, 2004

Brendan Fevola: has been appearing regularly on The Footy Show.

When Brendan Fevola sought Denis Pagan’s blessing to appear as a semi-regular on The Footy Show this season, the Carlton coach gave a typically Paganesque answer.

“This will make you or break you, son,” he said. With hindsight, Pagan
was too soft on his unreliable forward. And his words have come back to
haunt him. The only party to have benefited from Fevola’s decision to
join the Channel Nine team is Channel Nine.

Perhaps
the coach knew he would have another Nathan Brown situation on his
hands if he barred him from television. But it is also true that the
old-fashioned Carlton men wish Fevola would sell his house on
media-street, hang up the white boots, get a hair cut and turn his
attention to the contested ball.

Then later:

During those crucial minutes in the final term, Fevola dropped his
head. He played for frees and he spat the dummy. It was the same
petulant, individualistic performance we saw against West Coast in the
first quarter before Fevola was dragged and returned after the first
change to kick six.

Because Fevola is not a leader. Certainly not yet. And Pagan, while he
probably wishes he could, knows he cannot pull him from the television
at this late stage, however poorly Fevola comes across at times. Modern
football ethos dictates as much.

FOOTY SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Isn’t it interesting that Western Bulldogs panelist Luke Darcy as one
without any real axe to grind that I can see with Wilson; ended up
being the panelist who shoe-horned Wilson into the middle of last
night’s proceedings as Brereton and Crawford were being grilled over
Hawthorn’s 2004 season implosion and Schwab’s sacking.

We start at a point where Newman and Brereton are having an amusing
exchange about whether Brereton himself might coach the club for the
rest of the season if Schwab now stepped aside.

Participants: Sam Newman, Eddie McGuire, Dermott Brereton, Shane Crawford, Brendan Fevola, Luke Darcy, Nathan Brown.

Sam: If he (Schwab) said he didn’t want to go on, would you take over as coach – seven of them (games)?

Dermott: No…and you can’t count. There’s six.

Sam: Oh well. Would you go on if he said he didn’t want to do it in all fairness? You wouldn’t go on and do it yourself?

Dermott: No.

Luke: Crawf’…sorry Derm! Crawf’ you’re sitting there with a
broken arm and you know… Caroline Wilson has written an article and
potted you, and you’ve had enormous things go wrong, and you’ve
probably got a number of things you can pursue in your life. You
could maybe go and pursue acting or whatever you want to do. Have
you ever sat back and thought: “Maybe I’ll give it away, maybe it’s too
hard. The club aren’t going anywhere and I’m just going to pursue
something else?”

Shane: Well my acting’s going worse than my football! At
the moment the way the football club is…it’s you know…it’s a sorry
state the situation we’re in. We’re bottom of the ladder. But
that’s just people’s opinions and I try not to get too involved with
what they’re thinking. I sort of believe in myself, and if they
want to pot me they can pot me. Yeah so that’s pretty much it. If
they want to say things they can – that’s their
opinion.

(Eddie then introduces footage of Jason Dunstall being interviewed
about his new CEO role before they then discuss a whole raft of
Hawthorn issues before finally Sam pops up with the Caroline Wilson
“Dorothy Dixer” to Eddie)

Sam: May I just ask you a personal question about the media. Why would Fairfax persist with Caroline Wilson?

Eddie: Aw don’t start this all of this…!

Sam: No I’m just asking you?

Eddie: Well Caroline Wilson last year…

Sam: No…I…let’s not kids ourselves. Caroline Wilson last year won
the AFL Media Award for…I think she was won it the last two years, and
certainly has won half a dozen in recent times…

Sam: You’re summarizing her achievements…

Eddie: No. She won a Quill award for journalistic excellence –
she may not write what people like to see, and she’s fixed me up on
plenty of occasions in the newspaper. She’s obviously into Crawf’
and defends herself against people who have a go – but so do we. As you
say, you’ve got your forum and she has hers. I’m not defending
Caroline Wilson but as I said…

Sam: Sounds like you are?

Eddie: No. You asked me why you would hire her and keep her there
and I’m telling you why. She’s a journalist of rare ability who is
quite fearless.

Sam: Unbelievable isn’t it?

Luke: Ed do you think because she’s female in the football world
she feels as though she’s got to load up bigger than anyone else our
there just to have some sort of influence?

Eddie: We might ask Caroline to come on one night just to answer these questions. I can’t answer that one?

Dermott: Just the fact is Ed regardless of what’s said, people read her articles

Brendan: She might write a bad article if she comes on The Footy
Show. Apparently if you come on The Footy Show you play bad the
next week.

Nathan: She writes pathetic articles.

Eddie: I’m not saying she doesn’t have her faults…don’t worry
about that! As I’ve said I’ve been very critical…we’ve had some
very heated debates in the duration.…

Sam: Aghh…spare me!

Eddie: But you asked me the question and I’ll give you the answer.

Sam: Aw…there’s no answer!

Eddie: She’s a multi-award winning journalist; she’s a female which
makes a point of difference if you like as well. But maybe the
other point you’re right.

Sam: That’d be true!

Eddie: Maybe she goes harder because she has to break through the
glass ceiling of a male dominated sport…but I don’t know?

Sam: It’s alright to go hard at it, but would there be any danger of being vaguely accurate?

Nathan: She did break through a long time ago. It just
seems like she writes the same articles over and over again. It
gets a bit monotonous at times, I think. She bags the same people
over and over again. I think some of her articles are pathetic.

(Panel mayhem where comment is indistinguishable as audience claps)

Eddie: I can’t believe I’m defending the media in the week that
I’ve been stitched up by Media Watch and half a dozen others. But
having said that she’s not there to be a cheer leader for you blokes
either.

Sam: But that’s not the point Ed?

Eddie: She not another person asking for an autograph. She’s there to actually delve…

Sam: Be credible at least! You’ve got to be credible.

Eddie: I don’t think you can say she’s not credible?

Sam: Are you serious? She’s not credible that’s it…she’s irrelevant.

Eddie: She’s totally relevant….everyone’s gone nuts all of a sudden.

Sam: (highly agitated) Because…because you know why?
Because she’s not credible, that’s why we’re speaking about her.

Dermott: What gives you the right to speak about her? You walk
out here and flash your whizzer out here, and you think you have the
right to say she’s not credible?

Sam: She ain’t credible mate.

Dermott: No matter what you write, people read her
articles. Fairfax want people to read her articles you silly old
fart.

Eddie: Crawf we’ll finish on this. Crawf’ you used your
mother in your documentary…had a bit of a go at Caroline Wilson.

Sam: God no!

Eddie: Not an over the top one I might admit, I think she may
have over reacted a touch in writing an article before the doco went to
air, defending her position which didn’t have to be defended that much
– in my humble opinion, but she did line you up today. Your
thoughts?

Shane: My thoughts? Well mum always said that if you haven’t got something nice to say, you shouldn’t say it.

Eddie: We’ll go to a break.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW