Crikey is broadening its repertoire into AFL AGMs and our Sydney man
Neal Woolrich had some excellent exchanges with Eddie McGuire at the
Collingwood AGM this week. We’ve also just added the transcript of
Neal’s interview with Steve Price about the AGM.

Just ask Eddie McGuire.

Eddie Everywhere has been
Collingwood President for the past three years and has overseen the
dramatic transformation of the club from perennial September
holiday-makers to, well, perennial September holiday-makers.

In fairness to Eddie, the club was a financial basket case when he got
on board and he has turned it around remarkably and delivered one of
the higher returns among the Melbourne-based clubs in 2001.

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But Eddie’s methods are starting to grate. The continual plugs for
Collingwood in his numerous media outlets and a labyrinthine series of
related party transactions that makes the Knowledge Nation noodle look
like a maze fit for a 3 year old to solve are ruffling plenty of
feathers among rival clubs.

So when Crikey asked me to join him at the Magpies’ 2001 AGM, I was
only too happy to go along and see if we couldn’t throw a few curly
questions Eddie’s way.

Neither Crikey (a died in the wool Tigers fan) nor I (an old Fitzroy
supporter) care too much for the Magpies, so we’re more than happy to
see them languish outside the 8 and probably wouldn’t mind too much if
they fell in a heap.

But going into the viper’s nest at Victoria Park to ask the tough
questions of the multi-hatted Eddie McGuire was a challenge we
relished.

The Collingwood board and constitution does not make it easy. Only
social club members can vote and they have to turn up on the night as
no proxy votes are counted. And members who cannot make it are only
allowed to appoint another member as their proxy.

To get into the meeting, me and Crikey mentioned we were journos and
were ushered into an area at the back of the social club, conveniently
located right next to the bar.

Crikey was instantly recognised by the scores of internet-savvy
Collingwood fans, including “Insiders” presenter and doyen of the ABC
Right, Barrie Cassidy. Crikey had a brief chinwag with Barrie, who said
he’d been a lifelong supporter (of the club, not Crikey) but this was
his first AGM.

Given that Eddie Everywhere knows Crikey who has driven around England
and Scotland with Eddie’s sister and stayed with his Scottish
relatives, it was up to yours truly to try and pull a swifty to ask the
tough questions of Eddie whilst Crikey lent on the bar next to the
Liberal candidate who stood in the Federal seat of Melbourne and
another state Liberal MP.

So after grabbing a copy of the accounts for me and Crikey, I snuck up
to mingle with the great unwashed and took a seat four rows from the
stage, directly in front of the lecturn.

When it came to moving or seconding motions or even asking questions,
you had to clearly state your name and medallion number and Eddie
jokingly warned that “we know where you live”.

At this stage I was thinking I was in the poo, given that I had no club
medallion and was not wearing in Magpie paraphernalia, but I bit the
bullet and thought I’d wing it anyway.

Having heard a few people yell out their numbers when moving or
seconding motions, I decided to adopt a number in that general vicinity
and worked up a cunning pseudonym.

The PR staff dropped the ball because when I got up and said my name
was “Martin James, member number 3506”, no one challenged it so I got a
clear run and asked four questions in a row – the first four of the
night and the only questions on the accounts.

Thankfully, the board was not handing around a microphone so no-one at
the back could hear my questions which probably reduced the heckling a
touch – although the questions did not go down well when you consider
that Eddie received a 45-second standing ovation for his fine
leadership of the club.

When finished questioning I was looking for a quick way out to avoid a mild lynching.

There is no doubt Eddie has helped turn around Collingwood’s finances
as he told the meeting that when he became President three years ago
Collingwood had just turned over $14 million and lost $1.2 million.

Revenue has since increased by 57 per cent to $22.23 million and this
year’s net profit of $855,533 represents a $2 million turnaround.

This year’s profit was helped by a $1.2 million increase in AFL
distributions to a record $5.49 million but you can’t deny that Eddie
has transformed the sponsorship side of the club with revenue of $7.17
million this year – almost triple the level when he took over.

Eddie was pleased to announce he signed both Mick Malthouse and major
sponsor Emirates Air for a further three years which dovetailed into my
second question about whether we really wanted to be taking cash from
the national airline of the United Arab Emirates when they were one of
only three countries to recognise the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Eddie said the new deal with Emirates means that Collingwood is
fetching 70 per cent more than any other team for its jumper making it
“the most valuable sporting real estate in Australia”.

He deflected the Taliban question by stressing the UAE were one of the
first countries to condemn the September 11 strikes and as long as the
Howard government allows Emirates Air to fly to Australia, it’s all
right with Collingwood.

There are plenty of related party transactions and potential conflicts of interest that swirl around Collingwood.

Eddie joked that director Ian McMullin “owns Spotless” when the reality
is that his father and uncle control about $50 million worth of shares
in a $1 billion company.

However, Ian McMullin is a senior executive at Spotless which received
$732,000 for food and catering from Collingwood in the year to October
31.

The accounting at Collingwood also looks a little unconventional as the
club committed to settle a dispute with previous caterer AVS for
$375,000 but then decided not to provide for this in the accounts. Very
curious.

Deputy president Nuno D’Aquino found the going too heavy at Pacific
Dunlop and quit the board this year after just a few months as a
director but he’s more than happy to continue with Collingwood and was
to accompany McGuire and club CEO Greg Swann in meetings over the
relocation of Collingwood’s home base from Victoria Park to Olympic
Park.

Nuno retired as deputy chief executive of Carlton and United Breweries
earlier this year and CUB, which gave Collingwood $375,000 for
sponsorship this year, also sold the club $52,736 of beer.

The other related party transaction disclosed in the annual report was
the $2600 sales commission paid by Collingwood to Sportsview Pty Ltd,
the company in which Eddie McGuire is a significant shareholder.

Sportsview was created by McGuire and Steve Vizard and snapped up the
internet development rights from Collingwood, Carlton, Melbourne and
Hawthorn on 10-year deals where Sportsview got to capture the majority
of the revenue stream, but also fund the development of the sites.

Eddie pointed out that Telstra have agreed to pay $25 million over 5
years for the rights and they are in heavy negotiations with Sportsview
right now about this.

McGuire and Steve Vizard sold a 22 per cent stake in Sportsview to
listed company Multemedia for $2.9 million in the 1999-2000 financial
year, but this has since been written down to $1.2 million suggesting
the whole business is worth $5.45 million.

In response to my question, McGuire sung the praises of the Sportsview
deal for all concerned saying that “it costs Collingwood not a bean”
and “we get all the upside”.

But it would appear there was the prospect of some serious riches
before the April 2000 tech wreck as Eddie told the meeting “If we had
floated at that time we probably would have made the Waverley sale look
like a side-show.”

Get Brad Cooper off the board

The other issues I raised included colourful Sydney-based director Brad
Cooper who only made 9 out of 13 meetings and is caught up heavily in
the HIH collapse.

McGuire defended Cooper’s attendance record due to his recent business
troubles and said he is attempting to put his affairs back in order in
London at the moment.

And the audience didn’t want to hear a bad word for Cooper given that
he lent the club $1.5 million interest free for 3 weeks during the year
and also paid $100,000 to bring Jimmy Barnes down from Sydney to
perform at the MCG during a Collingwood game this year.

Eddie said he wouldn’t have minded it he’d danced on the roof but we
would just like to point out that the interest free $1.5 million loan
for three weeks saved Collingwood about $10,000 so it is nothing to
write home about.

The fourth and final issue I raised concerned the potential conflict of
interest between Eddie’s role as an outspoken club president and his
duties to the AFL as anchor at the host broadcaster.

Eddie said he’d canvassed this with the other 15 presidents who were
comfortable and was delighted that so many radio and television
football callers were Collingwood supporters.

The AGM then heard from captain Nathan Buckley, coach Mick Malthouse
and new life member Michael Christian before the floor was open to
general business.

Eddie reflected on the conflict of interest issue remarking that “we
had a few (questions) there that we got through” but he was not keen to
prolong general questions as he kept referring to the free bar
available at the end of the meeting and that it was getting pretty hot
up on stage.

The dozen or so members who spoke during general business raised
football type issues such as unruly behaviour in the social club, who
the club was drafting, the lack of after match functions, preserving
Victoria Park and the possible move to Olympic Park.

No one else appeared to care about the conflict of interest or
financial issues because the meeting got a real sense that McGuire has
turned around the finances and has his heart and sole in the club. And
that’s what they want to see in a President – the only missing
ingredient being finals success.

Eddie answered every question I put to him frankly and certainly his
answers went over smoothly with the members. And he did encourage
members to not be intimidated and ask any question they thought it
appropriate.

But Eddie made plenty of comments which were “pushing the envelope” and
might come back to haunt Eddie when the club isn’t travelling so well.
We’ll explore these in more detail below.

First though, a few observations on the Collingwood AGM process.

The football club AGM is nothing like its big corporate equivalent.

First of all, people are actually interested in what goes on at
football club AGMs. Collingwood has around 30,000 members yet it
attracted around 300-400 attendees to its AGMs in a year where there
was no contested election and no controversy surrounding its on- or
off-field performance.

Compare that to the major corporates, many of whom have several hundred
thousand shareholders yet would struggle to get 1,000 attendees at
their AGM.

And despite Eddie’s assertion that “you can’t run a football club like
it’s a second rate milk bar” these days, Eddie’s adhesion to the AGM
formalities leaves a bit to be desired.

Usually a chairman stands aside when it comes to his own re-election
and allows the deputy chairman to conduct that part of the meeting. Not
lovable Eddie. Instead he simply makes a waving gesture to an imaginary
figure behind him and carries on.

And most directors exclude themselves and their associates from voting
for them in their election. Not the people’s president. In fact, he
insisted on his lovely wife Carla moving the motion that Eddie be
re-elected.

Ah, but that’s just nit picking. We’re no second rate milk bar at Victoria Park.

With his eye on the ratings, Eddie conducted the meeting in an informal
manner and left the “boring bits” to CEO Greg Swann. Swann received the
ultimate hospital handpass from Eddie when obliged to read out the
minutes of the 2000 AGM.

Eddie opened the AGM the way he ended it – with a rousing rendition of
the club theme song. The fans clapped along as the players were
shepherded into the meeting when it started, while fans and players
sung along to the theme song at the close of the meeting.

Luckily this impostor has seen Fitzroy robbed by the maggots in white
enough times against the Magpies to know the Collingwood theme song
word-perfect. Sitting right under Eddie’s nose and having asked a few
questions which would have irritated the members around him, I was for
once glad to know the Magpies’ theme song, as it saved me from certain
exposure as a fraud.

But it still turned the stomach to have to belt it out and feign enthusiasm.

Before the formal business of the meeting – although there wasn’t too
much ‘formal’ about the way the business was conducted – Eddie played a
motivational video that had been used to pump up the players during the
season. The punters cheered enthusiastically as the relived past
glories of Phil Manassa’s stirring running goal when the 1979 grand
final was all but lost, Mick McGuane’s 7 bounces and goal against
Carlton, and some Peter Daicos magic in the 1990 finals series against
West Coast.

Eddie presented a Life Membership to Michael Christian and joked “who
would have thought ten years ago when you were renting my spare room
that I’d be presenting you a Life Membership, Chriso. He still owes me
rent!”

Chriso did not do the requisite 10 years on the field but what the
heck, he’s an old night-clubbing mate of Eddie’s so give him one
anyway.

Another recipient of a Life Membership was one of those surrogate
mothers around footy clubs who takes in youngsters and had that look
about her that suggests she would deliver an almighty flea in the ear
if they ever played up. It was revealed that this stalwart has for many
years made the players’ lunches on a voluntary basis, coming in three
days a week during the footy season (which is now almost 11 months a
year including the lengthy pre-season) and working from 7am to 4pm each
day.

When you consider that there must be scores of such people doing unpaid
work for football clubs, it puts into perspective how perilous their
already shaky finances are.

Eddie waxed lyrical about the club’s strong community involvement –
setting up a soup kitchen in the suburb, feeding Collingwood children,
liaising with ATSIC – and expressed his desire that the club be a
“community leader”.

All well and good, but if this footy nut’s recent experiences in the
outer are anything to go by, Collingwood still has a long way to go to
educate its supporters about the niceties of racial tolerance.

Later in the evening Eddie elaborated on the club’s ambitions as a
“community leader” – they proposed a new social club in the battler
belt suburb of Lilydale to “expand Collingwood’s social and gaming
interests”.

What a coup! More pain and misery on those who can least afford it!

Eddie also commended the members on their loyalty, saying “every person
here should be justly proud. Sponsors get on board because they know
Collingwood people stick.”

Perhaps, but they most certainly know that they will be getting
innumerable mentions in Eddie’s various media outlets. The Footy Show,
his Herald-Sun column, even “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”.

No plug is too tangential.

When the floor was opened for general business, all sorts of grievances
were aired, with varying degrees of relevance to the constituency at
large.

One member complained of the “disgusting behaviour of the social club
members at the Carlton game” and was jeered when he opined “too much
liquid was being served”.

Eddie jokingly responded that when the new social club enclosure at the
MCG is completed, perhaps “the old shower will be back”.

While I haven’t the foggiest what “the shower” is, judging by the
squeamish responses in some quarters, it probably has something to do
with Collingwood supporters using their bodily emissions on
unsuspecting opposition supporters and / or players.

While Collingwood is a club in touch with some fine old traditions, this is one it would probably do well to eschew.

But question time at a footy club AGM generates far more passion than
the corporate equivalent. At Collingwood there were around a dozen
issues raised, and question time was probably cut short after Eddie
constantly reminded supporters that their questions were eating into
free beer time.

It’s a bit incongruous that people should be more passionate about
their football clubs than the companies in which they own shares.
Although, judging by the Collingwood AGM, your typical passionate
football fan probably isn’t your typical blue rinse AGM-attending
shareholder.

Still, footy fans invest perhaps $200 a year in memberships and get riled if their club isn’t travelling well.

Shareholders invest their life savings in companies and would be lucky
to pick up a pen and cast their vote even when their life savings are
being systematically flushed down the toilet.

Having had my say at the Collingwood AGM, it was time to take the issue
of Eddie’s conflicts to a wider and far less sympathetic audience.

Enter Steve Price.

I put in a call to Crikey’s old sparring partner Pricey just after 5pm
the day after the Collingwood AGM, and told the producer that I wanted
to talk to Steve about the Collingwood AGM and Eddie’s various
conflicts.

I only got on air just before 6pm, but it was well worth the wait and this is the transcript of what was said:

PRICE: Neal in Glen Iris hello.

CRULLERS: G’day Steve, look I was at the Collingwood Foot Club AGM last night and I must say I was a little, 05

PRICE: Good luck!

CRULLERS: yeah thanks, I was a little bit disappointed with the lack of
scrutiny that the other members put on Eddie McGuire as far as his many
conflicts of interest go. I was the only one to get up there and ask
any questions on the accounts and raise Eddie’s conflict issues. The
only other questions that came from members were all footy related
things such as their move to Olympic Park and new membership deals and
things like that.

PRICE: What conflict does he have that worries you?

CRULLERS: Well one in particular was his role now as a Channel Nine
commentator. I am a bit concerned that this $100 million deal that the
AFL has got with Channel Nine, Channel Ten and News Corp, that the AFL
will put a bit of pressure on Eddie to be quiet as Collingwood Club
President. We saw him speak out recently about the concessions given to
Sydney and Brisbane and I’m just a bit concerned that if things like
that arise in the future then the AFL will be putting pressure on him
to be quiet now that they have got this new partnership with Channel
Nine and all the others in the TV consortium.

PRICE: Neal I think that the conflict of interest is unworkable and I
don’t think Eddie should be able to do both jobs because the people who
consume – and I actually wrote an editorial today about this and I
haven’t used it – the people who consume The Footy Show on Channel 9
get a raw deal because Eddie can’t be completely straight and honest
and tell those people everything he knows because he can’t, he simply
can’t do it. Because, as a president of the AFL, he is told things that
he is not meant to pass on to the public. The other problems that I
have that you wouldn’t have given you ‘re a Collingwood person, the
other problem that I have is this issue of Collingwood sponsors being
seen regularly on The Footy Show and whether their sponsorship to
Collingwood is linked in to these appearances on The Footy Show where
no other president is able to do that because they don’t run The Footy
Show.

CRULLERS: Yeah, well that’s right, Eddie was boasting last night that
Collingwood advertising on its guernsey is now 70 per cent more than
any other guernsey so we don’t know about any of these deals behind
closed doors as to whether Eddie has got to give plugs or not.

PRICE: Well we kept seeing people like the boss of Wizard bob up on The
Footy Show last year, Mark Bouris, because Collingwood was playing for
the Wizard Cup. Well is part of the deal when they sign it that they
get to appear on The Footy Show and why is it that Eddie can give away
airtime on Channel Nine to Collingwood sponsors and indeed I know that
at least one other AFL club in Melbourne has lost a sponsorship because
they were not able to offer that same appearance.

CRULLERS: I mean another classic example was on Who Wants to be a
Millionaire he mentioned Emirates Air when there was a question about
the United Arab Emirates.

PRICE: I’m surprised though Neal if you’re a Collingwood person that
you’re not completely enamoured with Eddie and think he is doing a
wonderful job. He has declared a great profit, the club would appear to
me, from a playing perspective, about to break into the eight. They
picked up Scott Cummings today and I would imagine they will play
finals next year.

CRULLERS: That’s completely right Steve and he has turned around the
club financially and onfield they are just about to make it I think,
but things like these conflicts eventually come to roost. You want your
club directors to be absolute cleanskins otherwise these things might
turn around and bite you in the bum in the future. We want to be as
scrupulous as possible and we want the best financial result and
performance results but we don’t want controversy dogging us in the
future.

PRICE: Neal, we will remember we had this conversation.

Ends

When you’re in the cut and thrust of live talkback radio, you need to
pick your target carefully and get to the point, so you can’t waffle on
with esoteric arguments that will have Pricey reaching for the mute
button.

Luckily I struck a chord with Pricey straight away and jumped in
quickly when I heard Pricey pausing for breath to keep the ball rolling
and canvas a couple of issues.

While I never actually told Pricey that I was a Collingwood member, he assumed that was the case and I did fail to correct him.

I put that omission down to my eagerness to keep saying my prepared
pieces and stay on air rather than any sinister plan to engage in
wanton deception.

But a subsequent caller did smell a rat:

PRICE: Glen in Mt Waverley hello.

GLEN: Steve good afternoon, that Collingwood supporter he is lying to
you. I’ve never heard a Collingwood supporter be so clear, concise and
articulate and I couldn’t hear his knuckles dragging on the ground. Get
him down to Punt Road

PRICE: It’s true, he did speak quite clearly and it seemed that he probably had all his teeth.

GLEN: Or his facts right too, which can’t be right. They’re normally complete morons.

PRICE: Very nicely put. No just morons Glen, I’ll be back tomorrow at 4.

GET GUTNICK AND BRAD COOPER OFF AFL BOARDS

A chap called “Ivan from Richmond” then rang in during 3AW’s Sports
Tonight program with former Collingwood captain and coach Tony Shaw and
Clinton Drive Us. Crikey agreed emphatically with “Ivan’s” comments
that business types with blemished records such as Joe Gutnick should
not be getting voted onto AFL boards given that these are moderate
businesses turning over an average of $20 million a year. The agreement
was because “Ivan” was actually Crikey.

Tony Shaw agreed that Gutnick could never again visit Kalgoorlie after
the $500 million collapse of Centaur Mining but when “Ivan” started
bagging Packer mate Brad Cooper for staying on the Collingwood board
given his colorful HIH dealings, Tony Shaw leapt to his defence saying
that anyone who loaned the club $1million should get Eddie McGuire’s
support.

“Ivan” appears to have attended the Collingwood AGM and for the record
Brad Cooper lent Collingwood $1.5 million interest free for 3 weeks,
which is the equivalent of conferring a $10,000 benefit to the club
which is chicken feed. The guy is a clown who should be forced to
resign immediately.

Afterall, Melbourne QC and successful Team Vision nominee last night
Peter Hayes has lent Melbourne $200,000 for a few months without all
the Cooper fanfare.

The Melbourne AGM was a complete joke because it was chaired by the CEO
John Anderson who rejected all questions based on the composition of
the board.

Proceedings kicked off 20 minutes late at 8.20pm and the key players
already knew the result from the estimated 15,000 proxies that had come
in before the deadline 24 hours earlier.

But we had to count the estimated 400 votes cast at the meeting and
this took until shortly before midnight when all but a handful of the
1500 members who turned up had gone home.

John Anderson is a former Ivanhoe Grammar School accounting teacher and
Sheffield Shield cricketer who smacked Crikey all over the park during
a Crusaders match back in 1987 but why the hell did he cut questions
short after just 25 minutes at 9.15pm to “make an announcement”. The
announcement was that the result would not be known for at least an
hour so he then adjourned the meeting so only 10 members and Neal
Woolrich actually had a chance to address the meeting and ask a
question.

At about 9.45pm John Anderson then stood up and announced it would
probably take another 2 hours. The Gutnick camp, led by ALP national
secretary and unionist Greg Sword, were insisting on recounts so this
delayed the announcement that his ticket had been comprehensively
defeated.

The members were treated with contempt as proxy votes are normally
announced at the start of a meeting and this would have given everyone
the result without all the farting around last night.