If the Richmond Football Club is really fearful that Victoria’s monopoly third party accident insurer, the Transport Accident Commission, will withdraw its $500,000 sponsorship after 19-year-old backman Jay Schulz got pinged for drink driving, maybe they should pull out that old favourite tactic of political interference.

Remember how all those politicians forced Telstra to reinstate its funding to Lifeline? Well, the TAC is also a political football because it’s owned by the Victorian government. Richmond supporters should start deluging Labor MPs threatening to never vote for them again if the TAC pulls out.

Back when Crikey was press secretary to Victorian treasurer Alan Stockdale, I played a role in stopping the TAC cancelling what was then a $400,000 sponsorship.

The Kennett Government had just fired TAC CEO Leon L’Huillier and installed Margaret Jackson as the new chairperson as controversial privatisation plans were pushed before later being abandoned. John Stanway was the acting CEO and then Richmond consultant and former Laurie Connell mate Mal “biffer” Brown decided to call him a “f*ck wit” during negotiations over the sponsorship.

The legal letter cancelling the deal was all set to be written when Mal Brown pulled two political strings. The first was to lobby then transport minister Alan Brown who was a keen Richmond supporter and the second was to ring yours truly who was also a keen Richmond supporter.

I immediately bounded into Stockdale’s office and said that some controversy was brewing over TAC dumping Richmond and it could send the club into insolvency. “There’s no votes in sending a big club like Richmond broke,” I counselled.

Stockdale, a passionate Melbourne supporter, then muttered something about Alan Brown also pushing the same line and immediately rang Stanaway and said words to the effect of “I don’t want to tell you how to run your business but I’m being told that Richmond is under financial pressure and might face serious problems if you pull out.”

Game over. Stanway was only the acting CEO and with privatisation beckoning, the last thing he was going to do was defy his shareholder minister.

Fast forward 12 years and all this will require is one of the Richmond directors to have a direct line to Labor treasurer John Brumby. One such person who could have made that call is Colin Radford, the former press secretary to John Brumby and Steve Bracks who is a passionate Richmond supporter and just happens to be in charge of corporate affairs at the TAC.

However, Radford was on the losing team during the recent bitter boardroom battle at Richmond. How ironic that he now might be the man delivering a financial bullet.

Radford will need to be careful here that a perceived over-reaction by the TAC won’t be seen as him exacting some revenge. TAC chairman James MacKenzie is a well connected figure around town and close to both Brumby and Bracks. Maybe the three of them should keep an eye on the situation given the past baggage between the incumbent Richmond board and Radford.

Peter Fray

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